(Hold on to your hats ladies and gents! This is a long scripture. I know you can handle it!)
Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Talents
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 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.’ 22 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.’ 23 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.’ 24 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; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 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?27 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This is one of those head scratching texts because it seems like such a harsh ending. You have to remember Jesus is telling a parable. He’s alluding to some deep truth or lesson while telling a story that conveys meaning. It’s sometimes a comparison or analogy, and even the disciples couldn’t figure some of them out. A common theme throughout our “Chosen Series” is that fear limits us from doing what we can with the talents God has given us. And that’s the difference in the third slave in our scripture, he was afraid…so he buried his talent…He let fear of the Master cripple him. God does not call us to have a spirit of fear but of boldness. The audacity of the first and second slave to double their money. If he was indeed a harsh Master than that was truly audacious. Clearly the text is talking about an ancient style of money, but in the Middle Ages talents started meaning something else, like Jack’s awesome guitar skills or Derek’s voice or Joanne’s encouragement or Deanne’s teaching.
Queen Elizabeth II says this about talent. “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.” So she says it’s all about working together. Bringing all of our talents to the table. Larry Bird, basketball player says this about talent, “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Larry Bird knows what it is to work hard. He says you can’t merely rely on talent alone, but you have to work hard to develop that talent. Soledad O’Brian, broadcaster, says this, “I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?” There’s that “fear” word again.
2 Timothy 1:6-7, 14, “ 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. God gives us this treasure that God’s entrusted to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you hear that? We’ve been given this jewel and if we hide it, just like in the parable of the talents, we will not be rewarded. God wants us to share it with others. God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others. When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.
I read an article from Relevant a few years ago called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.” “Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours. We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.” Have you ever felt like that? Or do you see your children or grandchildren stuck in that uncertain, stuck place discerning their gifts or callings? Or are you in your retirement, thinking some of those same thoughts? Where are the gifts and talents God gave me, leading me? It’s okay to not have all the answers, just don’t shut the door on an opportunity God may have for you. To any age group, God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine if we trust and believe. You may not have any idea what your actual gifts are. Have different people encouraged you along the way and pointed out the things that you are good at? Have they affirmed your talent? Their collective voices may be God’s way of showing and telling you what your gifts are. We definitely serve a show and tell God. God has a way of using multiple mediums to get God’s point across loud and clear. It may be a still small voice or it may be a resounding gong, but God will make a way.
You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb is calling you forth to share YOUR particular gift, your unique talents with the world. Whether big or small, no act of love, no sharing of your gifts, is insignificant. We’re called to only be faithful and obedient. Not to be perfect or have it all together and most of us are not called to be famous, to have a million followers on Twitter or have a clothing line. Good for the people that do. We get into this comparison cycle where we feel like God is Santa Claus and we’ve got no gift. Or not the one we want. It’s always greener in someone’s field. Don’t compare yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, and not to mention, it’s unhealthy. Trust me, we are each given our part to play in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise. Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring light to a world full of darkness. There’s a great explanation and test on The United Methodist Church’s website – http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts. The website shares, “The Spiritual Gifts Assessment helps individuals identify their God-given gifts for living faithfully as Christian disciples day by day and find meaningful ways to use their gifts in connection with others through the community of faith.” Everyone has been given gifts, it just may be you’ve never unlocked or activated yours or that you’ve forgotten.
I have loved the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance” ever since I saw it in 2000. I watched over and over again after a second brain surgery left me without the ability to speak in 2013. I remember practicing at the pulpit, a friend helping me, as I struggled that summer and fall. “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is about a war veteran, Captain Rannulph Junah played by Matt Damon, who was a talented golfer before he went to war and some things went down and he now refuses to play the game. He ends up in this tournament and his caddy, Bagger, played by Will Smith, and Harley the young local boy that is serving as the assistant caddy. When he first tries to swing his clubs, you can tell he’s getting frustrated and angry because it’s not coming back so easy. He’s forgotten how to do it, to let it flow. and Bagger says to Harley. “Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.”
Our arrogance gets us into trouble. So does when we don’t try our best or we give up. This clip is when Junah is 12 strokes back, he’s already let the self-defeating prophesy set in.
You see when we humble ourselves and listen to God and God’s leading, we’re able to be who God created us to be. If we rest, in the resting state, in the love of God for each of us we can truly use our gifts for God’s glory.
Some of us have forgotten our authentic swing. Life happened. Jobs happened. Babies happened. All the things that demand our time happened. The callous, apathetic, nature of our world happened. We are numb to the attacks in the world and we’re numb to the terror, heartache, and politics in our own country, some of us thinking that is our only means of survival to remain wrapped up in our apathy so we don’t have to feel the wounds of those around us. First of all, God doesn’t cause the atrocities in the world. God grieves and mourns right alongside us. Second of all, God is a just God and anyone who shoots the innocent is going to answer to God for it. I cling to and believe whole-heartedly in times like these, as Romans 8 says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
We forget that sometimes. Sometimes the stuff of the world, our baggage as we’ve spoken of gets in the way. We get in our own heads too much and overthink things. That basically boils down to FEAR. This is later in the movie. Junah’s gotten into his head and he’s experiencing PTSD. He’s about to give up the tournament….
“Now play the game. Your game. The game that only you was meant to play. The one was given to you when you come into this world.”
God is going to be with you every step of the way. Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.
Naomi Faw writes, “In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes. There is no one to call. I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake. This night is my garden. When will help come? Where is grace? Will I be able to take one more step? The dark night passes and no one came. Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”
Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn. God never leaves us or forsakes us. Amen?
I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door will be opened for you. The place God leads you is the place you come alive. It’s where your passions lie and it is where your deepest desires are going to be met, the cry of your heart that you’ve not even dared to speak aloud. It’s a journey of self-discovery and discovering God’s purpose for your life. Not just one purpose, it’s a myriad of instances, ways to share small things with great love. The world will see it. The world will see people who are truly authentic and it will be shining from our faces. Our one true authentic swings. God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to claim our gifts. God doesn’t call us to hoard our gifts or leave them unused because we are afraid. God gives us these talents to share with the world.
Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. We don’t need “our giftedness” to go to our heads. Sometimes we want to take the credit ourselves. It’s my talent. I’ve gotten myself to this point. I’m brilliant. I’ve gotten this promotion, house, new job, etc. all on my own.
I’m reminded of Ellie Holcomb’s song “Only Hope I’ve Got.”
I take all the gifts that You have given and I stake my claim like they’re my own,
Will You help me when I forget to remember, the good I’ve got is yours alone.
Oh ’cause I don’t wanna tell some arrogant story
Or let myself believe I’m you!
I don’t wanna be a thief who’s stealing Your glory…
Will You help remind me of what is true? The ONLY hope I’ve got, it’s You.
We need to remember that all good gifts come from above. We need to be humble and not squander the great gifts God has given. According to Marianne Williamson, “Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” As Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I’d like to be your conversation partner in this. If you get the results of a spiritual gift inventory and you’d like to talk to someone, I’m available. If you’d like to share with a trusted friend, family member, or small group what you think your gifts are and where you think they’re leading you then do it. We have to have these times of deep soul work or we grow stale.
Earlier this morning I placed stars under your chairs and I prayed over them for God to help you see what gifts and graces that God has given you. Help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your gifts for God, it makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. Notice I gave you two stars and don’t worry, I won’t give you homework every week. Part of our calling as Christians is to not just use our gifts for Christ for the world but to see the gifts of others in the world, the light shining brightly out of them, or dimly as it was for Captain Junah. I want you to give someone your other star this week as a sign that maybe you see something that they don’t recognize in themselves, or if someone does something kind for you, like carries your groceries, or let’s you get in front of them in line at the gas station, or a mother that you see at Target harried by her children as a sign of encouragement. God doesn’t just want us to accept and use our gifts, God wants us to shine our lights so that the world knows God’s love and grace and that God has given them gifts as well.
I will close with this poem called “More Than Enough.”
“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.
Still another voice persists:
“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”
Let us pray.