Sermon text: 25: 14-30
Back in January of this year (do you remember that little sliver of pre-Covid time) we gave very family at our Epiphany service a check for $100, $250, or $500. We called the project Joyous Generosity. That moment seems so long ago, but we did it, and the people of Zion took over $30,000 and create some fantastic ministry in our community.
I remember, in the midst of that event, several conversations with folks who discussed how it felt to be given this money. This feeling was described as a weight, a holy burden, an anxiety of responsibility to do the right thing with this gift that had been given. For some, this feeling was sort of a ministry quality control, the thought that since this money isn’t mine I have to be certain about what is done with it.
Imagine, if you will, that instead of peeking into an envelope with a check for $100 you were given a heavy bag of silver—a talent. Some were given five bags, some two, and some one—dozens of pounds of silver to look after. How would you feel then?
A talent is a very valuable thing. The word “talent” comes from the Greek word meaning “weight” or “sum of money.” I’ve read that a talent was the equivalent of 6,000 Denarii. That’s 6,000 daily wages. If you do the math that’s nearly 20 years’ worth of wages. Each bag of silver—every talent—would weigh about 58 pounds. For the sake of argument, in today’s dollars, if you make $20 an hour, a talent would be in the in the ballpark of 1 million dollars. A talent is a very valuable thing.
You felt the weight of our checks, can you imagine a million dollars to look after? Think about it, the FDIC is only willing to insure $250,000 in the bank. How would you feel walking around with four times that amount?
I look at the slave who was given the one talent and I know what he felt. He was terrified. He took his 58 pounds of silver and walked home, as quick as he could, straining under the weight, trying to avoid unwanted attention from this jingling bag of coins. He probably stopped every so often to look around, making sure he wasn’t being followed. When he reached his house he slammed the door, locked the deadbolts, and moved the couch in front to form a blockade. He knows that a talent is a very valuable thing.
But where to put it? What to do with it? It would be risky to actually do anything with it, it wasn’t his! The only choice is to keep it safe. The sock drawer was too obvious, the mattress would be too uncomfortable, so instead he decided to bury it in the backyard. When it was dark he took a spade and raced to dig a hole four feet deep. When the hole was ready he got the silver from the house, checked his surroundings for nosey neighbors, and when all was clear he lowered the bag into the hole and covered it with earth, exhaling a sigh of relief.
The slave was afraid of this huge gift he had been given. He was really glad that he was only given one, and not five! He had no idea how he would have kept that much wealth safe and hidden. But now he was satisfied, he had done the prudent thing to keep this valuable thing secure.
About 1400 years after Jesus told this parable the word “talent” changed in meaning, into the definition we are most familiar with today. We think of a talent as a special natural ability, aptitude, or gift committed to a person for use and improvement. There’s a never-ending list of talents: being good with numbers, picking up an instrument quickly, knowing which spices work well together, communicating with animals, dancing, athleticism, growing plants, being organized, listening, bartering, being a non-anxious presence. The list can go on forever, that’s how many talents God has given to us. And even though we’re not talking about money anymore, a talent is a very valuable thing.
Looking at this parable, here’s what I know to be true. God gives us talents—these skills and abilities—in the same way as the master gives out bags of silver. Everyone has talents. Some people have been gifted more talents than others. Some are better at using their talents than others. But no matter the number, we have all been given incredibly valuable assets from God, and it would be a shame to do nothing.
I have two questions for you as we look at this parable from Jesus.
First, what are your talents? Do you know the ways in which God has gifted you? Do you even know how much silver is in your bag?
Here’s something I would like you to try this week. I want you to find out. I want you to put that bag on the scale and see how much it weighs. Do some self-evaluation and make a list of your talents. Then, I want you to for three steps further. I want you to ask three friends to give you a list of five talents they see in you. What are you good at? With what things or situations would they come to you for expertise or help? What are your talents?
God has gifted us all and it is very likely that your bag of silver is much heavier than you originally thought.
Second question: how are you using your talents to build up the Kingdom of God, to be a more complete disciple of Jesus Christ? There are a limitless variety of gifts that God has created, which is good, because there’s an equal number of ways that people need reminded of God’s care through our ministry. Ministry occurs when our talents match up with the needs of our fellow neighbors. In those scenarios we do God’s work with our hands.
So often I hear offhanded remarks that people want to help with X problem or in Y scenario, but the need is simply so overwhelming and they feel like they cannot make a dent. I get it, one person cannot singlehandedly end poverty, hunger, hatred, racism, disease, homelessness, grief, loneliness, sexism, addiction, injustice, or all of the other challenges we face in our modern world. But we were not given out talents in order to hide them. We were given our talents to further the Kingdom.
We belittle ourselves, we belittle God’s gifts, when we think that when we can’t do everything we can’t do anything. God gives us assets in a way that is unimaginable in the real world, but then God also has the capacity to bless those talent as we use and invest them, creating truly unimaginable yields.
Even the person with one talent has a huge sum entrusted to them. For a talent is a very valuable thing and a terrible thing to waste. A terrible thing to squander in fear.
I can’t help but notice that Jesus teaches this parable and then demonstrates how it works. He speaks this lesson n the final week of his life. Jesus uses his greatest talent, his one life, and pours it out for the world. He takes his gift and invests it in us. On the cross he graces us with life and forgiveness, multiplying his gift beyond measure.
Can we follow Christ’s example? Can we invest our talent? Not for Jesus’ sake, or for God’s, but for the sake of the community around us? We cannot hoard and hide our talents when the world so desperately needs them. As individuals and as the church, we must invest like crazy.
For a talent is a valuable thing. You are a valuable person. So let us not neglect or be afraid of the gifts we’ve been given. Let us use our talents and enrich this world. AMEN