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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
If we could go back and give ourselves advice to keep us from making a mistake, most of us would probably take that opportunity. That is certainly true of the year 2020. If I knew then what I know now, that that Friday, March 13th at the Red Stag would be my last meal in a restaurant, I would have ordered the chocolate dessert, even if it was Lent. After I all, I would soon be giving up a whole lot more.
Mind you, it’s not just your neighbors and mine that are thinking these things. This is a global pandemic. Around the world, people are social distancing, wearing masks and being forced to quarantine. Even the humor has taken on global dimensions. What do you call the panic-buying of sausages and cheese in Germany? The wurst-kase scenario. The grocery stores in France look like tornadoes hit them. All that’s left is de brie. What’s the difference between COVID-19 and Romeo and Juliet? One’s the coronavirus and the other is a Verona crisis. Or Finland just closed its borders. You know what that means. No one will be crossing the finish line. Yes, if the corona virus isn’t about beer, why do I keep seeing cases of it? We’re all in this together. If we knew then, what we know now, we would no doubt do things differently.
For most us, the challenge of this pandemic is our attitude. We have a difficult time adjusting to new discoveries, new procedures and new executive orders. We are all wondering, when will life return to normal? How long will it be until we can freely gather with families and friends, and hug and kiss and shake hands- without fear of catching or passing on the virus? How long will it take for the vaccination to make our families safe?
For centuries people have struggled with waiting, and at no time was this more apparent than in that first generation of the Church in the years after Jesus had been “crucified, died, and was buried; descended to the dead, rose again; ascended into heaven,” and then promised that he would come again “to judge the living and the dead.” If Jesus’ followers knew then, what they knew now, they would have chosen to do live their lives differently. That is the lesson that Jesus’ Parable of the Talents teaches us.
You couldn’t find a better lesson for this time of year when we focus on stewardship. It’s not a bad lesson when churches are longing for financial support. Give to them, they need it. Frankly, it could also be fitting lesson for managing your own money. It is better to invest the talent so it grows rather than hide it in the mattress. It is even an appropriate lesson on strength, confidence and courage in the face of adversity. “God will never give you more than you can handle.” And yet you wonder, so why does he have so much confidence in me?
The mystery of the parable, however, is the attitude of the third servant. None of the three was told what to do with the talents they were given. Which incidentally, one talent is equivalent to 15 years wages. Nor were they told what to do with the profits. Two of the servants saw an opportunity and worked to grow the money. The third did not. And when asked about this, he would not take personal responsibility, but instead he blamed the master. “I knew you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.” The difference between the three was a difference of attitude.
The third servant feared his master and nothing more. Oh, if he had only known the love of his master, and the love of God, how differently the story would have ended. If he had only known the love and joy possible with the master, as the other two had known. Instead, he was too afraid to risk anything. He was too afraid to trust he had been given the means to enjoy joy of the master. It was all about his attitude.
My friends, to make the most of your God given talents, you need to develop a positive attitude and a courageous mindset towards the love of God rather than a negative attitude of fear. It will ultimately make the difference between finishing and failing, or never getting out of the starting blocks. Let me suggest three characteristics of developing a positive attitude, living courageously, and using your talents wisely embodied in the first two servants and so absent in the third. 1) Have a vision of the course that is set before you, 2) commit to preparation and using God’s gifts now, and 3) never give up.
First of all, in life as in a race, you need to have a vision of the entire course that is set before you. That is hard at this time. We are all trying to plan ahead for normal life after the pandemic, but we can see much beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas right now. The classic marathon runner is a true visionary who “sees” the entire race from start to finish. The distance is a daunting challenge, both physically and mentally. When you have a vision before you, you know that there will be hard times. You know that there will be physical hurdles: at times you are going to be running behind others; the path will not be straight, and you are going to alone. But that should never stop you from using your talents wisely. You need to have a vision of the entire course. We all need to develop a long term vision, and put aside the short sprints.
Jesus’ Parable of the Talents reminds us, that God gives us differing gifts. And from those whom he has given much, he expects much. You may have been entrusted with five talents, two talents, or even one. It does not matter the number that you have been given. God trusts you and your judgement, and has entrusted you with what you need to be successful if you dare to be positive. . What matters is how you use them. God never demands from you skills that he has not given. But God does demand that you and I use to the fullest ability the talents we have been given. You see, we may not all be equal in talent, but we can all be equal in effort and attitude. To use your talents wisely- you need to have a vision of the course before you.
Secondly, you must have a commitment to preparation and using those gifts. To run a great distance, to take on a great task, to beat the pessimistic and negative attitude you must be thoroughly prepared. This demands a decision to run the race and to get ready for that race. We all can have good intentions about what we would like to do with our talents, but it often falls short, if we are not committed to prepare and use them. A weakness of commitment means a weakness of preparation. And then one day, you’ll hear your voice saying, “Well, maybe I’ll try harder next time.”
Do not underestimate the gifts that God has given, or the power and potential that these gifts possess. God has called you his own. He has honored you and blessed you with his gifts… and to those whom he has given much, he expects much. But you need to be committed to preparation. Oddly, the reward of work well done is still more work to do. In the Parable of the Talents, the servants who had done well were not told to lean back and rest on their laurels. They were given greater tasks and greater responsibilities in the work of the master. “Well done, you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.”
By contrast, Jesus’ parable reminds us that the servant who was punished was the man with the negative attitude towards his master, and who underestimated the gift of the one talent that he had been given. He lost his treasure because he would not try; he lost his talent because he did nothing with it. He returned it to his master, in no better or worse condition, but unused. Even if he had ventured with it and lost it, it would have been better and shown more appreciation of the Master’s trust in him than to do nothing with it at all. “But from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The meaning is simple. If you have a talent and exercise it, you will be able to do more with it. But if you have a talent and you fail to use it, you will inevitably lose it. The only way to keep a gift is to use it. It is about your attitude to that gift and to God.
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells us that there can be no true faithful gift without risk, chance or adventure. But how do you and I abandon our own pride, our own self-confidence and take a chance with God? That, is an act of faith.
My friends, do not doubt. If you knew then what you know now, would you do things differently? God is giving you the opportunity today to make use of your talent. The Lord has entrusted to you the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has entrusted to you the story of God’s love and forgiveness. He has entrusted to you the story of salvation. It is your gift. It is your talent. And for those whom he has given much, he expects much -where ever you may be. So have a vision for the course ahead, be committed to preparation and using the gift, and never give up, so that when he returns to settle his accounts, he may say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.