Rev. Stephen Baldwin
NT: Matthew 25.14-30
For the past nine weeks, I’ve been doing something I never, ever thought I’d do. Jiu jitsu. It’s a martial art that involves ground-based combat. Never have I been so bruised, battered, and sore. Every week, I discovered new muscles I never knew I had. First my back was sore and then my ankle and then my arm and then my groin and then my hip and then my neck. Did I mention I’ve never even been able to do a front roll? It’s totally not me.
So why did I do it? Because Harrison really enjoys it. And as big as he’s getting while also getting good at the sport, I need to be able to defend myself! I’m starting to regret wrestling with him since he was a little fella now that he’s growing up and in the 99% percentile for height and weight.
I mention this because at our final class on Wednesday, our instructor said something that really struck me. Something that reminded me of the parable of talents.
He said: Now it’s time for you to consider moving up from the beginner’s class to the intermediate class. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else in this class or that one. They are big and strong and experienced. If you compare yourself to them right now, you won’t keep going, because you’ll think you’re not good enough to compete with them. You’re not, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you continue to get better. You continue to learn and be more agile and make progress. That’s all that matters.
Something similar is going on in the parable of the ten talents. A man is going on a journey, and he leaves his “talents” with his workers. A talent is a measure of money equaling about 15 years of salary. To one man, he gives five talents. To one man, he gives two. To the last man, he gives one. Then he goes on his journey, leaving them alone to do what he’s asked them to do.
When he returns, he finds that the first man took five talents and turned them into ten. The second man took two talents and turned them into four. The third man maintained his single talent.
A lot of people give the third man a hard time, but he’s more efficient than our dog, Tuck, who takes his toys outside, digs a hole, hides them in the backyard, and then can’t find them ever again. At least the third man didn’t lose his talent!
Back to the topic, though, the man rewards his two workers who double their talents. He punishes the one who keeps his talent hidden, and the parable ends.
Televangelists preaching the prosperity gospel would have us believe the point of this parable is that if we give more money to the church, God will make us richer. If we pray harder, God will answer more of our prayers. If we amass power, God will put us in positions of power. Those sorts of abuses of scripture have plagued this passage for years.
This parable isn’t about money any more than the parable last week about the bridesmaids was about lamps and oil. This parable is about what we do with what we have. It’s about using our talents to build God’s kingdom. And clearly, God expects us to use our talents to their fullest in order that they multiply.
Everyone has different talents. Just in this sanctuary today we’ve got musicians and business leaders and a machinist and educators and florists and artists and social workers and nurses and farmers and doctors and lawyers and caretakers and full-time parents with amazing talents. If we were to compare ourselves to each other, we would always come up short, because God didn’t give any of us the same talents. God gave us different talents for us to use out in the world in order to build his kingdom!
It’s a lot like a Thanksgiving meal. The meal isn’t made by any one dish; it’s made by all of them together, alongside the people you love.
This Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for the gifts God has given us and the opportunity we have to use them in building God’s kingdom.
I’m particularly thankful to be part of churches that have decided to focus on hunger all year long through free meals, blessing boxes, Gwen’s Meals, the food pantry, and snacks for kids. None of us could do all that on our own, but together–our talents can multiply for God’s good purposes.
We don’t know when the master will return, so it’s our job to use what we have to build the kingdom in the meantime. That’s the warning the third man’s story provides us.
That warning sounds harsh, but it’s only that–a warning. Teachers use hyperbole regularly to motivate their students. Our jiu jitsu instructor told us we were looking terrific to keep us going; we knew that wasn’t true–we looked awful, but it was enough motivation to keep us going.
We never know when Jesus will return, so we best get busy using the talent God has given us to build God’s kingdom. As the old saying goes, use it…or lose it. Amen.