Talents: Five, Two and One
Pentecost 26A Matthew 25:14-30.
God has given everyone in this room an abundance of gifts and talents.
Here in my hand, I have a bare stem from a grapevine; it has three grapes on it. You know when you see this stem that it is an anomaly. You know something is wrong with it; that someone has taken the grapes off of it. But here in my other hand, is a large cluster of grapes and there must be a hundred, more than hundred grapes on this stem. You know that this is the way that God makes grapes, in large abundant clusters.
That is the same way that God makes all human beings. All human beings are made with large clusters of talents, clusters of abilities, clusters of aptitudes, and clusters of resources. God is enormously generous with each one of us.
Your gifts are the sum total of all the resources that God has given to you.
Your gifts or talents are notjust your genetic abilities and natural aptitudes, although these are part of your gifts. Many of your most precious gifts are qualities and resources that have been developed in you over time. That is the way it always is. Talents, resources and abilities are developed over time. There is no exception to that.
We know that God wants us to use these gifts. God wants us to use our God-given gifts, however varied and numerous those gifts are.
What are the talents that God has given to you? What are the talents that God has poured into you?
I talked with Chris Kramer this past week, our youth director, and asked him what were the gifts that God had given to him. He, like all people, hemmed and hawed about the question and didn’t want to answer because it may sound like bragging. I persisted and he finally was willing to share. He has what I call the “ M & M” personality. He said that he was good at motivating groups of people, of being enthusiastic for idea, of selling ideas. That is true about Chris, he is a good motivator of groups of people. He also said he had the gift of music. If you have heard Chris on the guitar, piano, or sing, you know he has that gift. If you hear our new Generation X rock band, you know that Chris can motivate kids into music. He said he was good at managing, and I have seen him manage large numbers of kids successfully. Also, God gifted him with mechanical abilities. If you see Chris driving his old Volkswagen bus with his ever-resent tool chest, you know he needs to be mechanical to keep it running. I asked to speak to Heidi, his wife, and asked her about gifts that are inside of Chris. She mentioned that Chris is a great husband and has learned to be a good listener; that he wasn’t very good at listening in their early marriage, but has learned it. So it is with many gifts; they are not merely natural abilities but important qualities we learn over time. In other words, picking up these two clusters of grapes, God created none of us with a few gifts but God has created all of us to be like this large cluster of abundant grapes.
So I talked to John O’Neal, fellow pastor here at Grace, and asked him the same question as Debbie was standing at his side. John, quickly glancing at his wife, said, “The best gift that God has given to me is my wife and children.” Smart answer. And true. Some of John’s great resources are his wife and children. Knowing his family, we would all agree. Debbie quickly added that John is good at plumbing; he can fix anything. John went on to say that a gift is his genuine caring for others, his compassion that runs deep. And where does that come from? Is compassion a genetic trait? I think not. I would guess that John learned his compassion when his mother died of cancer when he was a teenager at home, and his father at that time was in prison. Who is to say how God transformed the life of this young teenager through the death of his mother when he was quite alone, facing the world. Debbie added: “People tell me he is good at one on one relationships in the hospital and that he will give you an unusual degree of objectivity if you go to him for advice.” I would quickly add about his integrity; John is wonderfully a true and genuine person. So here is John O’Neal, so very different than Chris in the blend of gifts that God has worked in him. And like this cluster of grapes in my hand, his gifts are many.
Mary Schramm has written a book entitled, GIFTS OF GRACE. She suggests that there are five steps in ascertaining and using your gifts, and I would like to walk through those steps with you.
The first step is to discover your gifts, and you always discover your gifts in relationship. You rarely or never discover your gifts in isolation. You discover your gifts through your parents, teachers, coaches, instructors, friends and others. Other people help you to discover your gifts.
The second step is to accept the gifts that God has given you. This is the art of maturity, learning to accept the gifts that God has given to you and not given to you. A key thermometer is how jealous and envious you are of other people and their gifts. If you are jealous and envious of other people’s giftedness or feel inferior, chances are you have not really accepted your own blend of gifts that God has given to you. One of the primary keys of life is to accept the gifts that God has uniquely given you, your unique blend of talents, aptitudes, abilities, life experiences, the sum total of all your resources. That means to accept the gifts you don’t have, get on with life, and use the God given gifts that you have been given.
The third step is to enjoy your God-given gifts. To take pleasure in them, to appreciate what God can do through your life.
The fourth step is to mature or develop those gifts. Like all gifts, they need to be put to work, to be exercise, developed. Nothing in this world becomes stronger without hard work and investment of time, self and energy. Just to rely on native talent and avoid the hard work of developing that gift will lead you nowhere, but will cheapen your gift and you as a person. We all know people who live off their gifts and resources and not truly discipline themselves.
And the fifth step involves all of the steps, and this is to surrender all your gifts toGod. It means to give all of your gifts to Jesus Christ. If you don’t, you will use your gifts for your own benefit...to glorify yourself or to satisfy yourself. And it’s either/or; one way or another; there is no middle ground. Either you give your gifts to the service of Christ and his mission in this world, or you don’t.
When you discover your gifts, use your gifts, and surrender your gifts, you are doing the will of God for your life. Many people ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” Very simply, you do God’s will in your life when you discover, surrender, and use your gifts to bless the world around you. It’s not that difficult. People make “finding and doing the will of God” such a complex issue. To do the will of God is to discover and use your God-given resources to make the world a better place.
As Father Abraham said in the Old Testament, you are blessed to be a blessing.
It is with this lengthy introduction that we approach the gospel lesson for today from Matthew 25.
Let’s do a Bible study. Would you please pull out your bulletin insert and also a pen or pencil to mark on your bulletin.
-As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. This opening sentence is only found in Luke’s gospel. I had added this verse to our story from the Gospel of Matthew.
Circle the word, “parable.” This is a parable. Jesus always told parables from everyday life. When Jesus told parables, I think that the people started to smile inside. They wondered what he was going to do with this story.
This is another example of Jesus choosing the common and ordinary things of life as a teaching vehicle of his Godly truth. Once again, Jesus took his parable from everyday, common life. We have heard a parable about a wedding banquet, masters and slaves, and now we will hear a parable about sheep and goats. These were all common experiences for the average Jewish person from their everyday life.
Circle the word, “Jerusalem.” Luke persistently mentions the name of Jerusalem and also gives us historical reference points.
Underline the phrase, “they supposed the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” Circle the word, “supposed.” Throughout the history of the church, this has been a persistent problem: there have been Christians who thought they knew God’s timetable better than Jesus. Such people “knew” the End of the World was coming very soon, if not almost immediately.
Circle the word, “immediately.” There are all kinds of people here in America who make a living by erroneously suggesting that the End of the World is immediate.
-‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; Circle the word “man,” and write the word, “owner” next to it. The “owner” represents God. Near the word, “owner,” write the word, “God.”
Circle the word, “slave,” and write the word, “manager,” next to it. This slave was a manager of the owner’s property, especially when the owner was away on a trip. In New Testament times, slaves were often in managerial roles.
Near the word, “slaves,” write in the word, “us.” This parable is about us.
Underline the phrase, “entrusted his property,” and circle the word, “his.” The owner/God has entrusted us with his property and resources. We need to know who the owner is and it isn’t us.
-To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Circle several words such as “five talents,” “two,” and “one.” This is at the heart of the parable.
Talents were weights of copper, gold or silver. The most common metal weight was silver.
According to the best Biblical scholars, the value of one talent was the average salary income for three years.
Near the words, “five talents,” write “income for 15 years of labor.”
Near the words, “two talents,” write “income for 6 years of labor.”
Near the words, “one talent,” write “income for 1 year of labor.”
All three were given good gifts. All three were given good talents and resources.
Circle the word, “give.” Write “gift, didn’t earn.” Not one of these servants earned the resources or talents that they were given. We need to understand that all the talents were pure gifts from the owner or God. Not one talent was earned nor deserved.
Underline the phrase, “according to his ability.” Each slave was entrusted with capital according to his ability. Jesus, the storyteller, was aware of differing people having differing abilities.
We also recall Jesus’ other teaching from the Gospel of Luke, “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”
We all know that God has given each one of us differing gifts, as represented by the varying talents that God has given to each person.
In our society, the talent is not a measure of the amount of silver but a measure of the amount of gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to each one of us. While the owner/God is away on a journey (although God is never really away from us), we are to use the varying gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to each of us.
Somewhere on your paper, write, “We are to use the talents that God has given to us.”
-Then he went away. The owner took a trip.
-The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. This slave was industrious with the capital that his master had entrusted him and he doubled the money.
-In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. This slave doubled the money.
Notice that the “five talent” person and the “two talent” person did not get into psychological games about who had the most talent. They didn’t get into games about “I am superior because God gave me five talents” or “I am half as good because God gave me only two talents.” There were no “comparison games” being played here.
Both people realized that their master and owner had given them resources and they were both to use these resources to benefit their master. That was simple and clear. They had to turn in an account of how they had used the gifts that the owner/God entrusted to them.
Similarly, Christ is our master and owner and has lent us our resources/gifts/abilities and we are to use these God-given resources to benefit our master. I am not to play the “comparison games” and compare the resources that God has entrusted to me with the resources that God has entrusted to someone else.
-But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Here is the problem. One slave buried the gift that the master had given him. It seems that this slave was embarrassed that God gave him only one talent and so he went and buried the talent that God had given him.
Remember this talent was not meager in and of itself: it was worth three years of wage. Three years of wages is a considerable sum of money. But compared to the servants who had been given fifteen years of wages or six years of wages, the gift of three years of wages seemed meager to the person who was given one talent.
Similarly, God has been generous to all of us, including those who feel that God has not given them sufficient gifts. Every one of us has received clusters of talents, clusters of gifts, clusters of resources. Each and every one of us have.
Even so, we as human beings can bury treasures/resources that God has given each one of us. We can minimize God’s gifts to us and complain, “I have been given onlyone talent.” The point is: One talent is worth three years wages. The point is: The owner didn’t need to lend even one talent, but he generously did. God’s gifts are always generous. Even the one talent gift was a generous gift.
-After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Circle the word, “long.” This is the first reference in the parables of Jesus that the “delay” would be a long period of time. Near the word, “time,” write the word “delay.” A fundamental issue for the early Christian church was the delay of the Second Coming and what to do about it. In this story, Jesus was teaching his disciples that they were to be industrious in using their gifts in his physical absence. Jesus warns us that the delay of his Second Coming may be a long time.
-Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” A person can sense the joy and pleasure in this servant’s heart as he brings the five other talents forward to show the master. Circle the word, “see.” We are often like children, bringing the resources of our labors to God and saying, “See, this is what I have done with the gifts that you have entrusted to me.”
We hear Jesus’ words, “To whom must is entrusted, from that person much more will be demanded.” All leaders of the world need to grasp what Jesus was teaching through these words. In politics, business, medicine, education, sports, church and in every area of life, there are exceptionally gifted people who have been entrusted with inordinate gifts. Jesus taught that much more will be demanded/expected/insisted of these people.
-His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Underline the phrase, “Well done, good and faithful slave.” We like to hear the phrase, “Well done good and faithful servant.” We hear this phrase on the judgment day in the Book of Revelation and also in the words of the Apostle Paul. We want those words said about us on our judgment day.
This is not a “works righteous” kind of attitude. Rather, we know that salvation is a pure gift and that we cannot earn our way into heaven. A sign of our salvation that is freely given is that we do the works that God wants us to do. Salvation is always a free gift, undeserved and unearned. Knowing that we are saved by God’s grace, we then “do” the works that God wants us to do, not to merit salvation but because God has filled our hearts with love and our actions with compassion.
And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” This slave doubled the gifts that God gave him also.
-His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” This servant hears those ringing, glorious words of affirmation, “Well done good and faithful servant. Receive the crown of glory.” Underline these words. Those are the words that all of us want to hear from the Lord on Judgment Day.
-Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” Here is the problem. The one talent person now claims that God/the Master is a harsh man, judgmental and to be feared. He is using God’s harshness as an excuse for not being faithful and using his one talent for God. The “one talent” man/woman needs to find an excuse for not being faithful in the use of his/her talents and the clever excuse for disobedience is to blame God.
We human beings are often the same today. If we don’t use the gifts/resources/talents that God has given to us, rather than blame ourselves, we blame God or evil or evil circumstances for the fact that we did not use our God given gifts.
-But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. Circle the words, “wicked and lazy” and underscore the word, “lazy.” The master calls “a spade a spade.” He calls the servant “lazy.” Simply lazy and therefore wicked/sinful/slothful. Why didn’t the “one talent” person invest his God-given resources? Because he was lazy. The lazy servant tried to blame God for his laziness but it didn’t work. God saw through his “blame-game.”
-So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. The Lord God does exercise judgment and punishment. The owner takes the talent away and gives it to the one who had ten talents. Why to the one who had ten talents? I am not sure, except for the next teaching of Jesus.
-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. To whom much is given much will be required. We know that this principle is true even if a person is not religious. That is, a common adage for the whole world is the intuitive awareness that the more gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to you, the more that life requires of you.
-As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is Matthew’s consistent phrasing that describes hell and eternal wrath/punishment. We recall that Matthew uses the phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” twelve times and Luke uses it twice. We recall from earlier lessons that this was Matthew’s Aramaic expression for the pain and torment of hell.
This ends our Bible study.
Please notice the large cluster of grapes that I have in my hands. As you look at this cluster of grapes, remember that is the way it is with you and God. The Lord God has given you and me clusters of talents, clusters of resources, clusters of gifts and the Lord God wants us to use these gifts to bring blessings to the world around us. Amen.
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