March 4, 2012

Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 25:14-30

This sermon was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie as part of the St. Andrew’s Stewardship Committee’s program “Growing God’s Gifts.” It is based on a sermon by the Rev. Kenn Stright.

Jesus once told a story of a wealthy landowner who was preparing for a long journey. He called his three servants and divided his money between them, each according to his ability. To one servant he gave five talents, meaning a sum of money – almost unimaginable riches. To a second he gave two talents, and to a third he gave one talent. And even the third received an amount that we would find staggering. But there was a definite dividing according to ability… maybe a better manager, a shrewder investor, who knows what the ability was.

Why is life like that? I don’t know. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution. In an election our votes are all equal, at least if we take the time to vote. But when it comes to our abilities, we are as different as different can be. God simply did not make us all the same.

There are some people here who can handle five talents; there are some who can handle only one. But we need the five talented and the one talented alike! There are some people who have great intellectual capabilities, and some who do not. There are some who have the ability to project and articulate their thoughts, and there are some who cannot. There are some who have physical prowess and attractive looks, and there are some who do not.

The important thing to remember is that each servant was given something. No one was left idle. You may not be a five-talent person, but you have some talent. We all do. And you know something? I think that there are a whole lot more one and two talent people in this world than there are five talent people. Oh, there are some people who seem to have it all! I won’t deny that. But most of us are just one or two talent servants.

The landowner now went on his journey. When he returned he called together his three servants and asked them to give an account. It seems that the five talent man had invested his talent and was able to return an additional five talents, a 100% return. So too, the two talent man doubles his money. Well done, good and faithful servant!

But what about the one talent man? He steps forward and says: “Sir, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow.” And he returns the one talent that had been given to him. The landowner, incensed, uses words such as “slothful” and “wicked.” Angrily, he takes the talent back and gives it to the servant who now has ten.

It’s interesting to note that in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel there are three parables told in a row: The Parable of the Bridesmaids, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and the Parable of the Talents. Essentially the same phrase is used in each: after a long time. The bridegroom comes “after a long time.” The landowner returns “after a long time.” The judgment comes “after a long time.”

Perhaps this is Matthew’s way of saying to us: Our master may be delayed in his return, but in the meantime, what are you doing with the talent that has been entrusted to you?

Let us be clear on one issue. God expects a return. We had better not simply bury that which has been given to us and return it when he comes. A Danish proverb states: “What you are is God’s gift to you; what you do with yourself is your gift to God.”

Jesus reminds us in this parable that God has blessed us with many talents – gifts and abilities, time and energy, financial resources and material goods, and most of all the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. God directs us to put our talents to good use and multiply them. If we do not, then we will lose them.

Well, it’s obvious that the star, or we might say the villain, of the story is the one talent man. The salient question is: Why did he choose to do nothing with the one talent that had been given to him? Why do I? Why do you? We are not really given the answer. We are left to speculate. And that is precisely what I would like to do this morning – speculate about his inaction.

Perhaps he did nothing with his one talent because he feared failure. How did he word it? “I was afraid” and I hid my talent. Fearful of doing the wrong thing, he chose to do nothing at all. This was perhaps a man who did well under supervision, but now he is left on his own and he is terrified. We tend to view him with contempt because he hid his talent in the ground. But our contempt is misguided. This was considered the traditional way of saving money in that day and time. He was being a good conservative businessman. He was not going to risk someone else’s money by buying into some speculative venture.

The tendency is to want to play it safe and not go out on a limb. He wanted to play it safe, and what is wrong with that? Simply this, you cannot love if you are not willing to risk. What is the risk of love? That it will not be reciprocated. That people will not return our love. But as the people of God, we are called upon to be people of daring. Friends, if Jesus had played it safe, we would not be sitting here this morning.

I want to be faithful to this text. So I would say to you: Go, and take risks. Take risks and don’t fear failure, especially with your God-given gifts and the opportunity presented to you through your commitment to this church.

Perhaps a second reason why this one talent man did nothing with his talent is that he played the game “if only.” If only I had been given the talent of those other two men, then I could have accomplished something.

We like to play that game too. I would love to teach a Church School class, if only I had her ability. If only I had his voice I would sing in the choir. I would support the church if only I had a little more money. It is a dangerous game because it too easily gets us off the hook.

I love the story of the 38 year old scrubwoman who would go to the movies and sigh, “If only I had her looks.” She would listen to a singer and moan, “If only I had her voice.” Then one day someone gave her a copy of an inspirational book. She stopped comparing herself with actresses and singers. She stopped crying about what she didn’t have and started concentrating on what she did have. She took inventory of herself and remembered that in high school she had a reputation for being the funniest girl around. She began to turn her liabilities into assets. When she was at the top of her career Phyllis Diller made over $1 million a year. In the 1960’s that was a great deal of money. She wasn’t good-looking and she had a scratchy voice, but she could make people laugh.

Today we are invited to use the gifts that God has given to us. We may have to stop crying about what we don’t have and start concentrating on what we do have. And the Stewardship Committee wants to help us to do this by participating in the “Growing God’s Gifts” program starting next week.

No, we’re not going to be talking about money, and we’re not going to be asking you to make financial commitments to the church. We are going to be talking about spiritual gifts – about the talents and abilities that God has blessed us with. We’ll have an opportunity to do a “spiritual gifts inventory” to help us identify our gifts, and we’ll have the chance to think about how we can use our gifts, develop our gifts, and grow our gifts for God’s glory and for the building up of the church and our ministry here.

I think there’s one more possibility for why the one talent man did nothing with his gift. I wonder if he thought to himself, “Well, my one little talent won’t make any difference anyway.” There are a lot of people who feel that way today. I dare say, if you took a poll on why people don’t vote, that would be the answer given most often. Well, my one little vote won’t make any difference. And so voter turnout is at a record low at every level of government.

Sir Michael Costa, the celebrated conductor of the 19th century, was holding a rehearsal. As the mighty chorus rang out, accompanied by scores of instruments, the piccolo player – a little pint-sized flute – thinking perhaps that his contribution would not be missed amid so much music, stopped playing. Suddenly, the great leader stopped and cried out, “Where is the piccolo?”

The sound of that one small instrument was necessary to the harmony, and the Master Conductor missed it when it dropped out. The point? To the conductor there are no insignificant instruments in an orchestra. Sometimes the smallest and seemingly least important one can make the greatest contribution. And even if it doesn’t seem to make that big a difference to the audience at large, THE CONDUCTOR KNOWS IT right away!

In the church, the players and the instruments are diverse – different sizes, different shapes, different notes, different roles to play. But like the piccolo player in Sir Michael’s orchestra, we often decide that our contribution is not significant. Our contribution couldn’t possibly make a difference. And so we quit playing. We stop doing that which we’ve been given to do. We drop out. But the Conductor immediately notices. From our perspective, our contribution may be small, but from His, it is crucial.

I just have to believe I’m talking to some piccolo players this morning, who have dropped out of the orchestra, for whatever reasons: pain, exhaustion, insecurity, criticism, laziness, or whatever… convinced that your contribution doesn’t mean a hill of beans in the bigger scheme of things. We have buried our talent in the ground. For all piccolos who won’t play, or at least aren’t playing, Jesus has something to say: Use the gifts that God has given you.

I don’t know when I spend hours on a sermon every week that it is going to make any difference at all in the life of anybody. But I do know that it is better to try than not to try. I don’t know that if a teacher makes an effort to reach out to a troubled student that it is going to make any difference in the long run, but I do know that it is better to try than not to try. When a person teaches a church school class or goes to the trouble of singing in the choir and having to show up for rehearsals, they have no guarantee whatsoever that their efforts will help make God more real to an individual. But I do know that it is better to try than not to try.

We are so used to looking at gigantic issues, such as racism and poverty and world hunger. We are stupefied by the enormity of such issues and say, “What’s the use? Anything that I could do would be so little that it would have the effect of an eyedropper compared to the ocean. Therefore, since I cannot resolve the whole issue, I will do nothing at all.”

May I remind you that when the Good Samaritan stopped to help a beaten victim on the Jericho Road that day, he did not resolve all of the social, political, and economic ills of first century Israel. But he did what he could. And that is the issue for us. Are we doing what we can, where we are, with what we have?

Let us take the time this month to consider our God-given gifts, to use them and to grow them for God’s glory. Amen.