Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Sermon Theme: “Using Your ‘Talents’ for the Lord”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Westminster Dictionary of the Bible; Online Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our talents are given to us to be shared, not buried or hidden away. One of my favorite stories is about a preacher back in the days before they had wireless microphones. His hand mike was on a long, heavy cord, and he would have been OK if he had stayed in the pulpit, but, being a hyper-energetic type who pranced and bounced all around the front of the chancel area, jerking the microphone cord as he went, he kept getting tangled up in the cord.
As he got more and more emotionally worked up, he started making more bounces and jerks and nearly tripping, until a little girl in the third pew leaned toward her mother and whispered, “If the preacher gets loose, will he hurt us?”
That question is often asked, subconsciously, because often we bury our talents and abilities for fear they will “get loose.” Yet, this is exactly what Jesus asks us to do: use it or lose it!
And that’s exactly what I did when I preached the first year I began here at St. Paul’s. Our sound equipment and microphones were very primitive back then, but having one of my degrees in drama and having studied radio and television announcing and basic microphone techniques, I was determined to show off my talents to this congregation. With no clip-on microphones, I grabbed the pulpit mike and walked rapidly toward the chancel area, when the cord snagged on my shoulder and threw me against the altar rail. Some of you may remember that.
After church, one of the Elders said to me, “Why did you do that? You knew the microphone cord was too short!”
“I was trying to use my talents for the Lord,” I replied.
In these illustrations, the word “talents” obviously means “any special abilities a person has.” Even though in our sermon text, Jesus was using the word “talents” to mean money or monetary value, the figurative use is implied. In fact, it was the English translation of this text which gave the English word “talents” its metaphorical connotation.
The original Greek word, translated as “talents” was very similar to the English, because it came to us via Latin and originally meant “monetary value calculated by weight,” in other words, an amount of money. After this parable was translated into English, it took on the figurative meaning. The Hebrew word for “talents” was “kikkar” ( ), and it too meant “monetary value calculated by weight.”
One talent in Jesus’ day was worth 6,000 drachmas. The average wage for a working man was ONE drachma a day. That means ONE TALENT would pay the salary of a working man for 16 years. So 5 talents would pay a typical blue-collar worker’s salary for 80 years. It was a lot of money!
You know of course that in a parable, something always stands for something else, as, for example, last Sunday, the bridegroom stood for Jesus. In today’s parable, investing your money wisely for the master stands for using your talents, that is, your abilities, wholeheartedly for the Lord.
As I said last Sunday, Jesus’ parables are very simple. Here’s today’s parable in a nutshell:
Before going away, a man calls his servants and entrusts his money to them. One servant gets five talents, one servant gets two talents, and the other receives just one talent. The money is parceled out according to the ability of the recipient. When the master returns and calls his servants to make an accounting for his money, the first two servants present their master with double his money. He profusely commends them. They have wisely invested the amount he gave them; he sets them in authority over a great deal more.
The first two servants are bold and venturesome. They are willing to take on greater risk for greater gain. The third servant is a timid sort. He was afraid to take a risk and so he buried the talent, believing his master to be a hard man. The master gives him a severe dressing down. In fact the master orders that the talent be taken away from this “wicked and slothful” servant, as he calls him, and be given to the servant who had ten talents. The poor servant is to be tossed into the outer darkness.
This man believed his master to be a hard-hearted person, and, as we read this, you and I want to agree with him, don’t we? He didn’t waste the talent or lose it, he still had it. To be judged worthless and thrown out into the outer darkness seems totally unfair. He was a very, very generous man to the other two servants, but hard on the timid one who didn’t use his money but hid it.
Yet the parable isn’t really about investing money, but using your talents and abilities to the utmost for the Lord. Jesus is suggesting here that those who have spiritual riches are those who have freely invested the talents that they have been given in the service of the Master. The more they invest, the more they receive.
The spiritually poor, on the other hand, keep getting poorer because they are too selfish or fearful to fully invest. The spiritually rich keep getting richer and the spiritually poor keep getting poorer.
You see, the more we try to hold onto things, whether it is money, talent, skill, time, or whatever, the less we gain from them. The more we give, the more we use what we have for the good of others, the more we gain, especially when we use those gifts for God’s glory.
All of us, I mean ALL of us, have some sort of talent. Some have more talent in one area than in others. Some have a beautiful singing voice. For others, it is having an unusually good memory or physical strength and ability. Some have a loving and caring personality that will brighten up a hospital room; some know how to cook and serve cheerfully. And so on.
Every one of us, to one degree or another, has the capability of doing something worthwhile and doing it incredibly well. Today’s parable teaches us that our talents are not to be concealed or withheld but to be used for the good of Christ’s kingdom on earth, and to be used to their utmost!
I know of one man who had a great singing voice, and he used that voice in the church choir for 15 years. After 15 years, he quit and said it was now time for someone else to do their part in providing music for the church. Like the third servant in the parable, he buried his talent. Do you think that made God very happy? Another man collected beautiful, expensive violins all his life. When he died, he had 246 of those precious violins scattered throughout his house. But throughout his long lifetime, no one ever heard one note played on any of these exquisite instruments, thus he robbed the world and God of all the beautiful music those instruments could have produced. If he couldn’t play them, he could have given them to someone who could.
To be sure, our talents are a gift from God. God does not want this gift to be idle and useless, producing no return. Each of us has some God-given purpose in life with its accompanying ability, and to sit on it and hide it is a sin. The parable even suggests that using it timidly and sparingly, rather than boldly and generously, is a sin.
The first two men who invested their talents and earned dividends, had to have taken risks to do so. Investing money then wasn’t any easier than it is in today’s volatile stock market. God expects us to take risks and not play it safe. Every time we offer Vacation Bible School to the general public, we are taking a risk. We could play it safe and offer it only to our own kids, or to specially selected kids that we know are safe, — but what kind of investment would that be?
We could make it easier for quite a few people by not having Sunday School and Adult Bible class, especially since classes are so small, but what a loss of spiritual dividends that would cause. Since donuts and cakes are expensive and no one likes to put money in the basket, we could save the ladies the trouble of making coffee every Sunday by doing away with coffee and donut time, but what a loss of love and fellowship that would cause. Yes, making coffee and serving are talents, as is listening to your fellow parishioners’ problems and hurts.
We give what we have. Not all of us can repair an electric circuit. Not all of us can play an instrument or sing a solo. No matter how insignificant our talents may seem to us, when we do what we do wholeheartedly because of our love for God who sent His only Son to die on the cross for our salvation, we are investing our talents wisely and our reward will be great. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.