Allow me to have a little moan. (I know! “So out of character!” I hear you say). My moan is about the loss of the “Kingdom Season” in the church’s year.
You could be forgiven for not having noticed that there ever was a Kingdom Season, because it only existed from 1988 when the “Alternative Service Book of 1980” (ASB) was upgraded and expanded in response to the “Faith in the City” report (remember that?). Then, when Common Worship took over in 2000, it ceased to exist as the Church of England lurched (bizarrely and lamentably) back into a more conservative and unadventurous structure for liturgy.
There. That’s my moan.
But since I largely ignore the requirements of Common Worship anyway, maybe I have no right to whinge.
The point of this is that we would be in the Kingdom Season at the moment – from All Saints’ Day till Advent – and we would be celebrating the Kingship of Christ, the victory of the cross, and all things joyful – associated with the completion of God’s work of salvation, before the year starts again in Advent. But since Common Worship abandoned the season in favour of “Sundays before Advent,” we now get “Long Advent” instead – readings that have pretty much the same message as Advent itself, “Be prepared”.
Nothing wrong with that message of course, but we can lose the balance. The C of E seems to be mostly pretty uncomfortable with celebration, and to retreat back into focusing on “miserable sinners” rather than “the promise of glory”. And we end up in the three Sundays before Advent with readings that can easily sound more like, “Be prepared – or else!” Misery has been our comfort zone in the C of E for most of the last 400 years, and we tend to scuttle back there given half a chance.
Today’s gospel (finally!) is a case in point. We don’t hear “well done, good and faithful servant,” even though it comes twice, we hear, “you wicked and lazy slave!” What should be essentially a parable of affirmation and encouragement becomes (because we’re Anglicans) the wagging finger of dread, “As for this worthless slave…” He must mean me!
Jesus’ listeners at the time had two famous Old Testament examples of stewards (or slaves in today’s version) in Joseph and Daniel. Both were slaves to tyrannical masters and both triumphed through wisdom and faithfulness. The first two stewards in Jesus’ parable certainly echo their stories – if you are a steward, be a faithful steward, if you find yourself a slave, be a good slave – and there’s actually nothing remarkable in what they do. It’s not that the third steward fails to produce an extra bag of gold, it’s that he knows what is expected of a steward but retreats (a bit like the C of E now that I think of it!) into a negative mind-set. In modern speech, he is in denial. He knows he is a steward, he knows what his master expects, but he puts two and two together and gets minus one. Not knowing what a steward is … or not knowing what his master expected, both of these might have been an excuse. But to know both and still go into hibernation, this is an insult to his master’s authority.
In a way, this parable would actually be appropriate to the Kingdom Season after all – if we hear it right. The “talents”, of course, are not material possessions (when was Jesus ever bothered about that?) – they are the unique spirit that God gave each of us at our creation; and the calling to be that person and have life in all it’s fullness.
So it is about the glorious liberty of the children of God – a celebration of how wonderfully we are made, with gifts and talents with which to serve God and one another. But we do also have the ability to be spiritually deaf and blind – deaf to God’s call and blind to our own true nature. If we stubbornly follow that path, our lives can be, to put it bluntly, a total waste.
But to rejoice in God’s miracle, that began “when I was formed in secret in my mother’s womb” and to seek to be the person God intended me to be – that is a true celebration of the Kingdom. And when from our heart we say to our creator, “I thank you for the wonder of my being,” that repays God’s investment a hundred times over.
So the Kingdom Season is alive and well and my moan is completely without justification!