Text: Matthew 25:14-30††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††W 27th Sunday after Pentecost
A Disciplesí Talent Show
In the name of him who died for us that we might live with him, dear friends in Christ: As I mentioned before the service, in these last few weeks of the Church year we focus our attention are what we call the ďlast thingsĒ, that is, those subjects that have to do with the ending of this world and the beginning of the next.† Accordingly, last week we examined the topic of remaining faithful until the very end.† We saw through the Parable of the Ten Virgins, five of whom were wise and five foolish, the vital importance of continuing to supply faith with its fuel, which is Godís Word and Sacraments, and in this way ensure that each one of us has the extra oil on hand needed to keep lit the lamp of faith through the long, cold night of this age.† And specifically, what we want to keep alive and burning is the faith that holds we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ and his accomplished work on the cross alone, quite apart from any works of the law that we might do. We need to do this against the winds of the world and the foul gusts of breath that are devilís deceptions, which seek to blow out faithís flame.† And we need to do this even more, perhaps, to guard ourselves from our own foolish apathy and laziness that would leave our flames unsupplied with the precious fuel needed to keep them burning bright in the gathering gloom that surrounds us.
With that understood, todayís Gospel reading, the Parable of the Talents, are the words of Jesus that follow immediately after his telling about the wise and foolish virgins.† And whereas the former parable encourages us to continue to feed and supply our faith to keep it alive, this parable reminds us that the living faith we have is not a goal in and of itself; rather it is the means to an end.† Namely, our faith is meant to be put to workónot to earn salvation, mind you, thatís been done.† But an important aspect of true faith is that it naturally produces results. †Just as the flame of an oil lamp produces heat and light, so also true faith is motivated by Godís love to do the kinds of works in which he takes delight.† And thatís a good way to say it since, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts us to let our lights shine forth before men so that they may see our good works and give glory to God.† And again, the idea is not that we go around showing off the works we do as if to say, ďOh look what weíre doing. †Arenít we wonderful?Ē† No, the thought is that if youíre living the Christian faith, the good that the Lord produces in you cannot help but be seen.† It will be light in the darkness of this world Ė light that we donít cover up or hoard for ourselves; but that naturally casts its warm glow to all around.
And like I said, we donít do these good works to be seen Ė after all, many, perhaps most, wonít be; at least not in the present.† Itís just that making an effort to actually live in Christís love will produce so many positive results that by their sheer number some must inevitably be noticed.† And these will give people cause to recognize the Lordís presence and work among us. Thus they serve as a witness to the world of Godís grace and the truth of our confession of faith.
Thatís for the present anyway.† In todayís parable, Jesus indicates that there will come a day when all the good we have accomplished by faith will be put on display and evaluated.† We might think of it as the end of the age talent show, when all those who were Christís disciples on earth will display the talents they have earned for the Lord through working with the talents he initially entrusted to them.
But that might require a bit of an explanation.† When we use the word talent, we normally think of a special skill or natural aptitude.† Indeed, thatís what the word has come to mean in our language.† But talent is a word that we borrowed from the Greeks. It originally referred to a measure of weight used when exchanging large amounts of precious metal.† Remember, back then there was no way to determine the value of one kind of currency with respect to another except by weight. Anyway, a talent came to about seventy-five pounds.† So in the parable, the guy who received the one talent got seventy-five pounds of silver coins. †At present market value that would be about $20,000.† But silver was more highly valued back then.† We know that a talent of silver represented the total amount a typical worker would earn in about two years of steady employment Ė so whatís that today?† Maybe eighty, ninety, a hundred thousand dollar range?† Whatever it was, it represented a significant investment Ė and even more so for the fellows who received two or five talents.
But what precisely do these talents of silver represent?† Some people have responded that they do indeed stand for the diverse skills and abilities the Lord gives to people.† As a matter of fact, thatís why the word ďtalentĒ has come to mean what it does in English: from such a narrow interpretation of this particular parable.† Other people have suggested that a more literal approach be taken; that is, since the talents of silver are money, thatís what they must refer to: a personís financial wealth. †Iíd submit that both answers at least part right; but along with a lot of other theologians, I think thatís just the tip of the iceberg.† Itís better to understand that the talents stand for the entire gamut of the Lordís gifts that he graciously distributes to his children with the expectation that they will be good stewards of what theyíve received and put whatever it is theyíve got to good use for him.
And thatís a good place to start:† with an attitude of stewardship.† The point is that everything we have and everything we are actually belongs to the Lord.† For we ourselves have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Godís Son. And what do we have in our possession that wasnít given to us by the Lord?† Nothing, of course.† And thatís where proper stewardship begins, with the recognition there is no such thing as mine.† Thereís only what belongs to the Lord that he has entrusted to me and to my care.† And when the end of the age comes the question the Lord will ask is this: ďWhat did you do with what I entrusted to your care? Show me my talents.† And, more importantly, show me what you gained for me with them.Ē
With that in mind, I thought it might be good for us to run down a list of the things of which the Lord has made us his stewards and consider the sorts of things he might be looking for as a return on his investment because in most cases it isnít the same as the investment itself.† Iíve mentioned two already, and since theyíre the ones we naturally think of first when discussing stewardship, we might as well tackle them up front.
Money is probably the big one, right?† And to that weíd probably want to add all forms of worldly wealth: stocks, bonds, property, what have you. †Weíve all got some of it.† None of us has the same amount.† And all of us would probably like to have some more.† That sound about right?† Well, it happens that how much or little of it you have is never the issue.† The impoverished widow with her two small coins proved that when she gave more generously than all the rich people who gave much more than she did.† And the fact of the matter is that money stewardship goes far beyond how much or little you donate to the church and its various ministries.† Itís an attitude of the heart.† I mean, weíve all got to cover the expenses for the basic necessities of life.† If you donít, you become a liability to others.† So thatís the first goal.† Where we run into trouble is when we start determining what is a necessity and what is a luxury.† And donít get me wrong:† thereís nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures wealth can buy.† The Lord has filled this world with lots of wonderful things, and for those who can afford them thatís just great.† But a good steward is always mindful of a proper sense of proportion.† He doesnít see his wealth as simply the means to indulge his own selfish pleasures. Rather he understands that the more he has, the more responsibility he has to use what the Lord has entrusted to him to alleviate suffering, want, and need, to support worthy causes, to further the spread of the Gospel, and to maintain the ministry of Word and Sacrament that keeps his faith and the faith of others alive.† These are the kinds of investments that produce the gains the Lord seeks.† A good steward seeks to find the right balance.
A second kind of ďtalentĒ weíve already mentioned is just that:† the natural talents and abilities the Lord has distributed to us.† Again, the Lord has not assigned these evenly to his children.† Brains, brawn, charisma, leadership, technical skills, musical ability, you name it Ė the Lord has determined how much or little of them each of us have.† We all have them in different proportion.† And heís given them to us that we might put them to work for him in the roles that best suit the combination we have.† Two problems tend to crop up here.† One is that I might not like the role Iím best suited for and so resist it.† Then Iím not investing Godís gift wisely.† The other is that to avoid a role I might be suited for, I might ďburyĒ my talent by hiding it from view.† In the parable Jesus makes it pretty clear that he takes a dim view of either of these approaches.† A good steward recognizes his strengths and plays to them.† He serves gladly where he serves best.† At the same time he works on improving his weaknesses so that he may be more effective overall.
A third talent, not yet mentioned, that we all have in equal measure is time.† And a lot of what was said about wealth applies here. That is, we all need some for ourselves: for sleeping, personal cleanliness and grooming, recreation, and all; but the stewardship issue comes up in determining how much I think I need for myself and how much Iím willing to spend for other worthy causes.† And besides just frittering away this precious resource in frivolous pursuits, which we are all guilty of, perhaps the greatest offense to good stewardship in this category comes in the form of procrastination.† I tell myself Iíll be more spiritual tomorrow, or next week, or next year.† Thatís when Iíll pray.† Thatís when Iíll spend more time in the Scriptures.† Thatís when Iíll get around to volunteering.† Thatís when Iíll see if I can help my neighbor in need.† But investments made in time are like money put down earning interest.† The sooner you invest, the more the investment grows.† A good steward doesnít wait.† He invests the time as soon as he has it.
Okay, time, treasure, talents:† those are usually the big three we think about when discussing being stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to our care.† And thatís a good start.† But the Lord has given us a number of other things in trust that we would do well to consider.† Your body, for example.† The Lord has given you that to take care of for him.† And we show ourselves to be good stewards when we invest in doing what we can to ensure its overall health and well being.† You know, like eating a proper diet, getting enough exercise, and avoiding unhealthy activities.† And it only makes sense.† You canít be as effective a steward with your other talents if youíve neglected the temple in which your spirit dwells.†††
†And next to your own body, if you are married, the Lord has given you a spouse to take care of for him.† He or she too is a trust from the Lord Ė one that you have taken a sacred oath to love, honor, and cherish.† A good steward recognizes this, and invests accordingly in keeping the marriage relationship strong.† Similarly, if you are a parent, then the Lord has entrusted you with a child or with children to care for and to raise properly in such a way that they mature in the true faith and come to be good stewards themselves of all that God has graciously given.† †
Finally itís worth mentioning that this church is part of the sacred trust of which the Lord has made you a caretaker.† The building and grounds are part of it, sure; but vastly more important are the people here who are your family in Christ.† God has given us each other to care for.† And heís also given us what it is that unites us: our faith in Jesus Christ. Heís given us a heritage of solid doctrine and absolute respect for the truthfulness of his Holy Word.† Heís given us the supreme assurance of the Sacraments. These are treasures without price. As good stewards we want to invest ourselves in them so that our faithfulness will grow.
The questions we have to ask in all these things are:† Are we squandering the opportunities? †Are we wasting our resources?† Are we hiding our talents or neglecting them?† Are we being good stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to our care?† And if weíre honest about it, I think weíll come up with the same answer.† Weíre not doing very well, are we?
The mistake would be to be like the guy who was afraid of his Lord and who said to himself, ďNo matter what I do, it wonít be enough to satisfy him.† So Iíll just bury my talent, sit on my hands, and give it back to him when he returns.Ē† That fellow showed that not only was he lazy; but that he didnít really know who it was he was working for.† The Lord is not the cruel tyrant he imagined.† Instead the Lord is gracious, forgiving, and abounding in love.† Thatís why he appointed us his stewards in the first place, for surely we did not deserve it.† And when we go to him now confessing our faults and trusting in Christ, instead of casting us away as failures he makes more investments in us: he forgives our sin, he strengthens our faith, and he gives us his own Spirit to aid us and help us overcome our weaknesses.† He really does want us to be winners in his final talent show.
And we can be by making wise investments with what heís given us.† Think of it this way:† if you knew twenty or thirty years ago what the really valuable stocks today would be, wouldnít you have invested everything you could in them?† Of course you would have.† Now, Iíve just spent the last twenty minutes telling you what ďstocksĒ are going to pay off big for all eternity.† Letís be good stewards.† May God give us the grace to be such and the forgiveness when we fail, that we too may hear his words, ďWell done, good and faithful servant.† Enter into the joy of your Lord.† In Jesusí name.† Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!