GIVEN TO US
November 16, 2014
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
In 2012, your former pastor, Janice Ringenberg invited Bishop Palmer to be guest preacher for the 125th Anniversary. Schedule and a new assignment made that impossible. So the invitation came to me. Ringenberg emailed a second invitation to my secretary Tuesday, September 14, 2013. When she requested a visit in August or September 2014, I declined. My calendar had already been scheduled. Undaunted, Pastor Janice asked if the Bishop could come any time in 2014. Anytime was a winner. My office confirmed Sunday, November 16, 2014 and here I am. Ironically, Rev. Ringenberg was appointed to another congregation July 1, 2014. When you see Pastor Janice, tell her that one of the talents given to her by God, namely persistence, brought the Bishop to this place.
In todays’ scripture, Jesus shares the parable of the talents. It reminds us to use our gifts/talents productively. Isn’t that what this 125th Anniversary Celebration is about; remembering those who shared the gifts given to them for the glory of the God and the up building of the church? Ellsworth UMC, formerly Grace Methodist Episcopal Church is the result of 125 years of collective sharing of “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness by men, women and children in this community. Talents and gifts given to us do make a difference. For example, Coca Cola, originally known as the Pemberton Medicine Company, was incorporated in Atlanta, Georgia 125 years ago. Some of you still think “Things go better with Coke.”
Listen to a summary and commentary on Jesus’ parable of the Talent. Both will tell us what the light of the world wants us to hear today. A slave owner takes a trip. Before leaving, he entrusts a part of his fortune to three of his slaves. Each man receives 5, 2 and one talent respectively. The first two recipients double the talents received. Not sure about what to do with his one talent, the third man buries it. When the slave owner returns, he gets a report on what they’ve done with the gifts given. The master rejoices over the production of the first two recipients. He praises them with the words we use at funerals. “Well done, thy good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful in a few things. I’ll put you over many.” The man given one talent confessed that he had buried it. According to the slave, the master was harsh and judgmental. Plus, he was afraid of him. Upset that the slave buried his talent and failed to put it in the bank to draw interest, the slave owner took his talent away, gave it to the man with ten talents and banished him from his presence.
To give you some idea about the worth of one talent, commentators share three ideas. One talent is worth over a thousand dollars. Second, one talent is worth more than 15 years of wages for a slave. The disparity between slave wages and minimum salary is a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon. How unusual it is that the slave owner would entrust vast sums of his money to his slaves. Using it to escape their bondage would be a real possibility. Three, commentators expand the concept of talents to include the gifts of leadership that we possess e.g., music, finance, teaching, the work of trustees, etc.
In the parable, one wonders why two out of three men take the initiative to do something with the talents given them. The slave owner leaves no instruction. What to do is left in their hands. Is the decision to respond positively a product of fear, role expectations or the pure thrill of wheeling and dealing with more money than they could ever imagine possessing? I find myself wondering if the two men feel like some folk who work for certain politicians. After lunch, three $50 a plate dinner tickets appear on their desk. Without talking to anyone, they know it means buy the tickets whether you come to dinner or not. Failure to buy or contribute to the campaign in some way could mean job termination. They do know that the political boss will be very pleased that they have come through. Whatever the motive, one thing is clear. Two servants take the initiative to do something with the talents given them. And wonderful things happen. Best of all, they satisfy their owner.
The one page history of your church recorded numerous examples of initiatives that led to the birth of Ellsworth United Methodist Church. First, in the spring of 1889, a group of residents residing in the Ellsworth area “felt the need” to establish a Methodist Church…Grace Methodist Church…began holding two Sunday services at Shinkle’s Hall.” They “felt the need”, the need to establish a Methodist Church. As far as I am concerned, what they felt was the spirit of the living God. The spirit moved Jesus to begin his ministry in Nazareth at his hometown synagogue. The spirit moved our Lord to designate Peter to build his church upon his rock like character. The spirit moved 3000 folk to join the church on the day of Pentecost. The spirit moved John Wesley to birth the Methodist movement after he felt his heart strangely warmed on Aldersgate Street. That same spirit moved certain residents to build a church for Jesus Christ in Ellsworth under the Methodist banner. Whoever owned Shinkle’s Hall and was asked to hold worship services there said “Yes.” Even more astounding, your history stated that you began holding two services not one. One songwriter predicted that response. “Oh the world is hungry for the living bread.” How many people that caused your church to begin its journey holding two worship services on Sunday. More importantly, look at what happened to the pioneers who responded to the initiative of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Up came Ellsworth church. Second, in the fall of 1889, Ellsworth called on the financial talents of pew and pulpit to raise money to purchase a site. On June 9, 1890, a lot was purchased from Cassius and Jennie Shinkle for $125.00. Moved by the spirit of the living God, the Shinkle’s allowed the church to use their hall and sold land to build for the same dollar amount and years that we celebrate today. It cost $125.00; you’ve lived 125 years.
Based on an experience I had with a sister church of yours recently, I wonder if other non-Methodists were involved in the early history of Ellsworth. Sunday, October 12, 2014, I preached the 160th Anniversary of Chatham UMC. Then, I thanked God for the Presbyterians. They took an initiative that modeled the Golden Rule, love of God and love of neighbor. A couple of sentences lines from their historical pamphlet read. “The land, upon which the (Chatham United Methodist) church is situated, was given to you by the Presbyterian Church and Mr. and Mrs. Thayer for $225. Look at what that gift from the Presbyterians Church helped build for 160 years. Chatham UMC is strong church holding two worship services with vital and growing ministries based on Mathew 25. Because the Presbyterians embraced God’s mission to the world and worried little about aiding a future competitor, the church is located in a strategic spot in Chatham. We thank God for the Presbyterians for modeling this biblical lesson. Every mission effort is a letting go of the notion that we do church just to take care of ourselves. Embracing and doing mission is fundamental to serving Jesus Christ.
Bottom line, the only way Ellsworth UMC has made it for one hundred twenty-five years is the sharing and multiplying of collective talents used to build, maintain and grow the church of Jesus Christ for the present age. That is true for Cropsy, Colfax, and Pleasant Grove. All these good gifts have been given to the body of Christ. Many gifts, one spirit. For all the initiatives you’ve taken over 125 years, you deserve words of affirmation kin to those shared with the two servants who doubled their talents; “Well done, good and faithful servants.”
You may be asking, “What does the experience of the third slave teach us?” We are using our talents. We are trying to make a difference. He buries his talent. With regard to justice, his punishment seems out of place. But that is what he gets. Why? The slave does not spend one red cent of the talent entrusted to him. All the money is returned. Plus, the slave owner leaves him no instructions to live by. Is the slave justified in criticizing or blaming the slave owner? Some have said “yes.” Others have said “No.” Because our Lord is telling the story, there is a lesson here to be learned. Just because the slave had big problems with his owner, he is not released from doing something with his talent. We did not treat King Jesus very well on his sojourn through this world, yet Christ used every God given gift to save us.
More than once, I have blamed the business of the Episcopacy for diminishing my ability to read and play a simple hymn efficiently. In fact, the Episcopacy is not to blame. My ability to play and read music has gone to pot because I have not taken the time to practice in a disciplined way during my 18 years in this office.
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord blesses people who use their talent for the common good. You know the mantra Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, the merciful and the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. These so-called one talent persons make a difference at home, in the community and around the world. How do I know? Jesus says so. Later on in the same sermon, our Lord challenges hearers struggling with life’s problems to stop putting their lights, loosely defined as talent, under a bushel basket but on a lampstand. In other words, “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works (talents) and glorify God who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16) These are gifts of God given to them.
Quite frankly, our Lord is going to judge the church and the world on how we employ our gifts to minister to the least of these. Whether we possess one, two, four, five, ten or fifteen gifts, our beloved Lord wants to know on Judgment Day what we did for the “least of these” in need of food for their hunger, water to quench their thirst, welcome when a stranger, clothes for the naked, a friendly visit for those who are sick or in prison. Any church or person who would withhold themselves from caring for the “least of these” would suffer the fate of the man who had one talent to use and buried it. Our Lord is chomping at the bit to say Well Done to all who love him.
As each generation of folks join the church, they will have to use their talents for God’s sake. I pray that the spirit of the Lord will be as infectious and contagious as the Ebola virus. We need to let our lights shine so that others will be moved by the God in us. If we really let God use our gifts and talents for his glory, a fresh wave of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” would draw nigh. Amen.