Posted on Nov 19, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
In case you haven’t noticed, this time of year the days are getting shorter and darker and Mathew’s texts that we have been reading have been are getting darker, too. Jesus’ parable of the talents that we just read doesn’t exactly give us a warm and fuzzy feeling, does it? I mean it ends with that great command, “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth ” (Matthew 25:30).
But, as we come to the end of the church year, which is next Sunday, today we are challenged to think about, "What is God like?". I mean, in the church we always assume that God is a good God, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but I would argue that all to often we relate the idea that “God is a good God,” to God is always nice. But, God always being “nice” is not the God that is revealed to us in Scripture. God is always just. God is always loving. God is always merciful and generous, but God isn’t always nice, and today, that very point is made in our parable.
So, let’s take a closer look at what we just read. First, let’s remember that this is a parable, and as Matthew pointed out earlier in his Gospel, 13:34, parables were how Jesus taught and I would argue that the reason Jesus taught in parables is not because they gave us all the answers, but rather because parables are designed to make the hearer think and to ask questions. I would say today’s parable was offered to help us think about who God is and what is it that God expects of us?
In our parable this morning, the property owner represents Jesus, or God, while the slaves represent God’s people. Jesus is preparing his followers for his departure and he wants them to know that in his absence there is work to do. So we are told that before leaving on his long journey, the property owner divides his wealth amongst his three slaves. Now what I find interesting here is that the property owner didn’t just give equal shares to the three; no, he gave to each one according to their ability -- one received five talents, another received three talents, and the third slave received one talent. In other words, God knows us and God knows what we are capable of doing. The job of the slaves was to be good stewards with what they were given.
Now before we talk about what the three did, I want to make sure we understand what they each had just received. In Jesus' day, a “talent” was the largest sum of money available. Scholars tell us that a talent was worth between 15-20 years of wages to the common worker. So, when we think of it in those terms, even the third slave, although he only received one talent, he received a lot of money.
In any case, after divvying up the money, the rich man goes on his journey. Now the first two slaves must have read one of Suze Orman’s or Ken Fisher’s books on the best way to invest their money, because both of them used the talents they were given and invested them, and both did very well. But the third slave apparently didn’t trust the system, and so instead of investing his talent he chose to do nothing with it, assuming that just keeping the talent he had would be good enough.
Now when the property owner returned, we are told of the joy he experienced over what the first two slaves did with what they had been entrusted and they are quickly dismissed. But then we get to the third guy, who not only didn’t trust the system, but he didn’t think much of the master, either. The master had high expectations and the master expected that the talents he had given to the slaves would be used, for he knew that his slaves were capable of doing good and he expected them to do something with the talents they were given. But this slave feared failure. This slave feared misusing his one talent and so he did nothing, and for that he received the wrath of his master.
So what is this parable saying to us today? Well, I would argue it is saying to us today exactly what it said to those Jesus was speaking to some 2,000 years ago. Jesus invites us to offer a full-hearted response to God’s lavish gifts given to each of us for the sole purpose of using those gifts, or as one scholar wrote, “Use ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!”. God does expect that we will use the talents we have each been given, for God knows our capabilities. Or, said another way, our abundantly generous God expects us to be engaged, alert, and ready to share what we have received at all times. Make no mistake, Jesus is challenging us today to be good stewards. This parable is challenging us today to ask the question, “What does God expect us to do with what God has given us to bring about God’s Kingdom?”. Now that answer isn’t always clear, but what we do know from this parable is that God does not expect us to do nothing. God does not expect us to hold on to what we have because we fear failure. God expects us to take risks, educated and faithful risks, so that we might take the talents God has given us and give back even more.
This past week, you should have all received your stewardship packet, and in there you were asked to prayerfully consider how you will support God’s ministry here at Salem. Well today I think we might want to change that language. I think today Jesus is saying to each of us, how are you willing to take the talents I have given you to invest in my church. On December 3, when we gather to each offer our commitments, what we are committing is how we will invest in God’s mission.
Now I know for some of us, we are saying, well, I can’t answer that until I know what we are doing with our buildings. I need to know what we need to spend on the buildings so I can decide what to give to the mission budget. But this fund appeal is not about buildings; no, it is about investing in God's mission. But let me give you a little foretaste of the feast to come. The plans for the facility master plan are being finalized and will be ready in the next couple of weeks, but here is what I do know: the first phase is take approximately $1,500,000, and if we were to do the whole plan, which would give us a completely renovated sanctuary, gathering space, kitchen hall, classrooms, and meeting space and make all of the buildings on this side of the street into one building, will take, at today’s dollars, $14-$16 million.
Now I tell you that not to scare you, but to help you understand what we are being asked to do. Right now, we are being asked to commit ourselves to the mission we believe God has called us into. Then once we have committed ourselves to that, then, and only then, can we begin to ask the questions about what God expects of us when it comes to buildings. We are called today not to hold back. We are called today to recognize how generous God has been with us, and we are called to be just as generous in this world today.
Like that third slave, we can come up with all the excuses we want as to why we shouldn’t be generous with what God has given us, but to that end God reminds us today that what we have is first God’s and God expects much of us, because God knows what we are capable of, and brothers and sisters, because we are God’s there is not doubt in my mind we are capable of great things. As you leave here today and prepare to give thanks this week, I pray you remember that every blessing you have comes from God, and that God expects us to use those blessings. Amen