Sunday Sermon :: November 16, 2014
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. ’Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Grace to you and peace, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Growing up, my dad was a loan officer at one of the local banks, working exclusively with agriculture loans. I grew up with a fairly good knowledge of how interest worked, how savings accounts should be used, and what an investment was. He tried so hard to make sure my brother and I knew how money really worked. I learned that saving was better than spending. I learned that money didn’t magically appear, but it was worked for. And I also learned that it’s very easy to misuse our resources. But, despite this knowledge, this story we just read, the parable of the talents, has always been something of a mystery to me.
As a young boy, I remember thinking, “What would have happened if one of the slaves lost the money in a bad investment or just spent it?” I mean, the master was pretty harsh with the guy who buried his money and didn’t do anything with it, but imagine if he returned and one of the slaves said, “Sorry, lord, but I don’t have the money you gave me, but take a look at these awesome new sandals! 50% off! Can you believe it?” I imagined that slave would be paying for that decision for quite some time! Imagine my surprise when, as I looked up exactly how much a talent is worth. Let’s number crunch for a bit. A talent is 94 pounds of gold. As of 9:15 on Thursday morning, a traditional ounce of gold is worth $1162.40. 16 ounces in a pound, gives us around $18,600, take that times the weight of a talent gives us $1,748,400. $1,748,400! And one slave had five of those! $8,742,000! That’s a lot of money! Can you imagine having that much wealth? It would be unbelievable. I think I would literally start shaking if I had that much money, I would have no idea what to do with it.
It’s very easy to read this and just think that Jesus simply wanted us to spend money the right ways. Now, I want you to know that isn’t necessarily wrong, but I tend to read it a little differently now than I did as a child. I have a different understanding of who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and how Jesus used parables. I understand, now, that Jesus isn’t just talking about spending habits. He isn’t giving us an example of a good retirement plan, wise investment strategy, or somehow trying to tell us that we need to give more money to church. Instead of spending habits, I’m convinced that Jesus is talking about living habits. Jesus isn’t interested simply in return on investment. It seems that the master in the parable Jesus tells is simply interested in that we are invested! Invested in the kingdom of heaven that he has been speaking about so much. Invested in what God is doing in the world. Invested in the welfare of our neighbors.
Last week, Pastor Jeni talked about preparation. Being prepared involves thinking ahead to the time when Jesus will come back and doing God’s work on earth, participating in what God is doing on earth, until we can’t anymore. I know that, often, we don’t think ahead that way. Honestly, most of the time, my focus, especially this time of year, is on the upcoming holidays. People who are truly thankful for what they have, like skills, abilities, money, time, energy, and, most importantly, freedom in Christ, use them to prepare for the master’s return by taking part in God’s work in the world. People who are thankful for what they have don’t hoard, but give. People who are thankful are happy that they have anything to give at all!
Now, let’s flash back to this parable and take a look at these slaves. Of the 3, two of them had one thing in common. They saw the money as an opportunity to do something. They saw this incredible wealth as a way to achieve incredible things. And my guess is that these servants would have thought that about anything they had been given. They saw the gift as an opportunity to do something. When we think of this story and expand it from simply financial investment advice and look to it as a lifestyle of generosity and opportunity to use whatever is given to us, this has profound implications. We aren’t simply talking about giving money, but giving life. We have all been given talents, and I hope you see, now, that I’m not talking money anymore (although if you do have a talent of gold, I’d like to talk to you later this week!). I’m talking about using what we have to offer praise and glory to God. I’m talking about using what we’ve been given, time, money, skills, energy, and passion, to offer a return of investment.
Now, let me say, right now, that giving money does not make you a Christian. Giving time or energy does not earn salvation. I’m begging with you, I’m pleading with you. Do not take this sermon and walk away saying, “Bryan sure talked about money a lot today!” I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about a response. I’m talking about a response to God for the unending gift of grace that we find in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m talking about using the incredible, untapped personal skills, resources, and passions that make us all unique. Using them, not hoard them. In this scenario, the only way to waste them is to not use them. Don’t bury them in the dirt and give them back to God, smelly and dirty.
I’m convinced that the slave who was punished was not punished because he simply gave the money back. I’m convinced that the slave was punished because he gave nothing of himself back. He could have lost money and the master would have said, “Well done, good and trustworthy, slave.” I’ve talked about this before that the economics of the kingdom of God is not like ours. It’s not a bottom line, finishing in the black kind of thought process. God is more interested that we use whatever we have been uniquely given to allow God to make a difference. God has done incredible work in us, and God continues to do incredible work in us and the world around us. Now, we have the opportunity to be sent out to the world. We have the chance be the hands and feet and voice of God. We have the ability to invest our time and talents and money into a cause far greater than our own. Because we have been saved by grace through faith, we have the ability to gratefully and thankfully respond.
And that’s what we want you to have the chance to do today. You may have noticed some sheets in the pews in front of you. Those are our new time and talent sheets and I want to give you a chance to look at them, consider them, and fill one out if you feel called to do so. I’ll sing a song and give you some time to prayerfully consider what talents God is entrusting to you. During the offering, we’ll have somebody following the ushers taking an offering just of these sheets. Pass them to the middle and give them as you like. You can also take this home, fill them out, and return them this week sometime. Or, maybe you just need some time to consider what you have to offer, because I can 100% guarantee that we all have something to offer, and see how God is calling you to use it.