November 15, 2020 Worship Sermon - "Talents and Loss"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
Does this parable seem harsh to you? It does to me, especially in a year when many people have lost economic opportunity… there are a lot of people who don’t have anything to invest with the money changers, let alone five talents, which was a lot of money. So when Jesus says, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away,” it’s hard to hear those words. It sounds like Jesus is justifying the old adage, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”
There are a number of things we need to say about this parable in order for it to make any sense. First of all, remember that most of Jesus’ followers were the have-nots. They lived a hand to mouth existence every bit as impoverished as the poorest people in our own society. Plus, everywhere else in the Gospels, Jesus offers a stern warning to the rich not to trust in their wealth… not to build larger and larger storage units to hold all their possessions. So I don’t think Jesus was telling this parable in order to justify the wealth of some people and the poverty of others.
If Jesus was telling this parable to people who had no wealth, then he must have wanted them to understand the talents as something other than money… like talents, perhaps… the kind of talents all people have. Some people are good musicians, some people are good at math, some people are good athletes, some people are good at caring for the sick. Jesus seems to be saying, “Whatever talent you have, don’t hoard it! Don’t pretend that it’s nothing. Don’t hide it because you’re afraid people won’t value it.” Use your talent! Use it to make good things happen, to help other people use their talents. If we all do that, then our talents will multiply and we’ll have lots of success stories to share with our Master.
One of the hard things about the pandemic has been that we have lost some of opportunities for sharing our talents here in church. We don’t have a choir or ushers or coffee hour hosts. Fortunately, serving in church is not the only way to multiply your talent. Most of you spend far more time at your jobs or with your family and friends than you spend here in church, even before the pandemic. Investing your talents in those ministries that take place outside of this church… that’s a really important way to multiply the effect of what God has entrusted to you.
The talents in Jesus’ parable might represent the skills that God has given us. But even more than that, the talents could represent the grace God has given us. God has offered us forgiveness, and healing, and freedom, and love. Do we just keep all that to ourselves, or do we share it with other people and make it grow? That’s the funny thing about love: love is only love if you share it. If you try to keep it to yourself, it stops being love. So the parable of the talents encourages us, the members of Christ Lutheran Community Church, to live out our mission: to share God’s love for all the world. That’s how we make our talents grow.
The talents in Jesus parable can represent skills and they can represent love; but they can also represent money. Whether you have one dollar or million dollars, use what you have in ways that will bring growth in the Kingdom of God. One of the best lessons my college economics professor ever taught me was to see every dollar as a vote. When I spend a dollar on a cup of coffee, I’m voting for more coffee. That’s the law of supply and demand. If I spend a dollar on books, I’m voting for the production of more books. Less favorably, if I spend a dollar on heroin, I’m voting for more heroin. Not only am I voting for more heroin, I’m voting for the drug lords and the dealers who brought me the heroin. I’m voting for all the guns and all the violence that it took to bring me that heroin.
My point in saying all this is to encourage you to recognize the power that you have in your wallet. Even if it’s not a lot, it’s something; and how you spend that dollar matters. As much as possible, use the dollars that God has entrusted to you to bring growth for the Kingdom of God.
Finally, I want to say something about what would happen if a person invested his or her talent and lost it. For some reason, Jesus doesn’t include that scenario in this parable, which is significant. No one in this story fails because they lost what had been entrusted to them. They fail because they hid what had been entrusted to them.
There is another parable of the talents that does deal with loss. We heard it a few months ago in Matthew 18. A servant owed his master ten thousand talents and he lost it all. Ten thousand talents! Do you remember what the master did to that servant? He didn’t call him wicked and lazy; he didn’t throw him in the outer darkness. He forgave him! A servant lost ten thousand talents and the master forgave him… until that servant refused to forgive someone else who owed him just a few hundred dollars.
If you read these two parables of the talents side by side, then you’ll realize that losing isn’t the problem. God doesn’t want us to be preoccupied with failure. As a matter of fact, as long as we use our talents for the Kingdom of God, then we can’t fail.
After all, our Master is someone who understands loss. Jesus lost it all on the cross. When he was dying on the cross, he seemed like one of the biggest failures in history. But God turned what seemed like lost into gain. Out of Christ’s loss, God brought forgiveness and healing and freedom to billions of people through history.
God can use our losses to bring gains for the Kingdom of God. And so we have the freedom to take risks in life. I don’t mean we should be foolish with our talents or use them for evil. But if we put them to work for the Kingdom of God, then we really can’t lose. Thanks be to God, who has entrusted us with such extraordinary gifts!
Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby