He tells me after the sermon, “I’m a five-talent guy.” I didn’t realize pride was a talent you should develop. I could see he was proud of his. He’s a prominent doctor, has a thriving practice, a civic and church leader, too. “My son has the talent to be a physician. You are the one to convince him for me.” Great – I swallowed hard. I knew Junior loved working with his hands. To dad that smelled of another surgeon in the family. Fortunately, Gene followed his heart. He became a gifted carpenter, and earned Dad’s profound disappointment, knowing he’d buried his talent. I felt like saying, “Doc – you played your dad card and just blew it.
We hear “talents” and think abilities or aptitudes, like a gift for music, writing or art. At church I heard, “Find your talent. Use it or lose it,” with Jesus’ parable added for reinforcement. Some days I’ve wondered, “Should I have been a lawyer?” As an associate pastor, I was uneasy about moving on, and preaching each Sunday. I finally did, and I thought I was getting the hang of preaching weekly (with 2 e’s) until a church member tells me he sees I have the potential to be as good as some whacky TV evangelist he likes in Richmond, Virginia. I thought – “Oh no. Am I that bad? Was this God’s way of saying, ‘Son, think again.’”
You do know a talent in Biblical times is a coin, not an ability. It’s a coin that could weigh about 50 pounds. Imagine one of those in your pocket or pocketbook. One talent is worth twenty-plus years of wages for a day laborer – a fortune. A master entrusts eight talents to three guys. Keep in mind the story is told to the early church, anticipating Jesus’ return. What will they do, in light of this story, with all entrusted to them?
So this parable is a slam-dunk for Stewardship. Has it all – a rich guy, managing fortunes, a guy who blows it, outer darkness – teeth gnashing, weeping – fear, guilt, and punishment. It’s a great set up, “Don’t let that happen to you. Invest God’s assets wisely. God’s watching, and you’re accountable.”
Some people are motivated by guilt and fear. Like the one-talent guy, they fear God. To him the master is harsh, unpredictable and unethical. Fear paralyzes him and he gets what he fears. Do we get the God we imagine? Did the other two not fear this same master? I can hear writer Phyllis Tickle say in her wonderfully southern way, “Honey, all those boys need a little healthy fear. Keeps us on our toes.” Why? Because none of us know everything about God, and fear or wisdom, will keep us from taking God for granted. The two deemed trustworthy are not paralyzed by fearing the worst. They know how the master does business. Like the master they risk all, just as he does. They act on faith they have it right.
God is the real risk taker – by entrusting heaven’s fortune to people like us. That’s why we are here. We know that God has called us, and we want to do business as God does. That’s what God expects and wants from us – to try – to live like him – risking all for the Kingdom God is bringing. That’s stewardship. One-talent living is being too scared or ignorant to see what’s going on around us. We are Heaven’s Kingdom people. We are here to dream, risk and invest ourselves as God’s stewards.
God wants us to get it. So God sends the spirit to be with us. This Kingdom we live in – well, it’s not like the world. In God’s reign, we pray for enemies; we feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the children. In God’s realm, the sick are healed, the dead are raised. In God’s reign all of us are being made winners – unlike in the world where lines are drawn. In God’s reign you can’t improve your standing. We are all loved and drawn into God by grace, not our efforts. Our mission is to embody, and live the benevolence of God’s love. God’s reign is so surprisingly wonderful.
That’s the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s the investment God makes – risking all, betting the divine treasure on people like us – and believing we can figure out what to do. I think we know. Maybe the problem is something else.
Every so often, we see outcroppings of Heaven’s Kingdom – up close. Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania – some years ago, a troubled man shot ten children, killing five and then himself. While mourning and grieving, the citizens and families of those children chose to forgive. They offered their love, grace and financial support to the murderer’s widow and the killer’s parents. This community was possessed, not by the world, but by God. They knew what their Master would do, and followed, investing what was given to them. They welcomed and trusted God’s reign, in spite of their condition, not because of it.
Is this parable a slam dunk for a Stewardship Sermon? What do you think? Is it scary or exhilarating that God entrusts so much to us – and holds us accountable? What we will do? Remember that outer darkness place – and for the record, Jesus has already been there, turned leaves the lights on, and no one gets “left behind.”
Do you think the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master who shows up one day, after leaving the inmates in charge? I believe the Jesus we still wait for, has already returned – and will one day return in glory for all to see. Through us Heaven’s Kingdom is being established on earth. One day it, too, will come in final glory. So if God already loves us all, and we’re saved and in – why bother? Maybe that’s the only way others will know and trust the God we serve – by what we do with all the riches and blessings God gives us. That’s how the Kingdom comes among us.