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The Stewardship of Talents

Text: Matthew 25:14-30

 Rev. Garry E. McCaffery

Sunday, November 15,2020

           I’d like to begin today, with a retelling of the talents parable with a few modifications:

       Once there was a king who had three sons, each with a special talent. The first had a talent for growing fruit. The second for raising sheep. And the third for playing the violin. Once, the king had to go overseas on important business. Before departing he called his three sons together and told them he was depending on them to keep the people contented in his absence. Now for a while things went well. But then came the winter, a bitter and cruel winter it was. There was an acute shortage of firewood. Thus the first son was faced with a very difficult decision. Should he allow the people to cut down some of his beloved fruit trees for firewood? When he saw the people shivering with cold, he finally allowed them to do so.

The second son was also faced with a difficult decision. Food became very scarce. Should he allow the people to kill some of his beloved sheep for food? When he saw the children crying for hunger, his heart went out to them and he allowed them to kill some of the sheep.. Thus the people had firewood for their fires, and food for their tables.

Nevertheless the harsh winter continued to oppress them. Their spirits began to sag, and there was no one to cheer them up. They turned to the fiddler, but he refused to play for them. In the end things got so bad that in desperation many of them emigrated.

Then one day the king arrived back home. He was terribly sad to find that many of his people had left his kingdom. He called in his three sons to give an account of what had gone wrong. The first said, "Father, I hope you won't be mad at me, but the winter was very cold and so I allowed the people to cut down some of the fruit trees for firewood."

And the second son said, "Father, I hope you won't be mad with me because when food got scarce I allowed the people to kill some of my sheep." On hearing this, far from being angry, the father embraced his two sons, and told them that he was proud of them.

Then the third son came forward carrying his fiddle with him. "Father", he said, "I refused to play because you weren't here to enjoy the music." "Well then", said the king, "play me a tune now because my heart is full of sorrow." The son raised the violin and bow, but found that his fingers had gone stiff from lack of exercise. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get them to move.

Then the father said, "You could have cheered up the people with your music, but you refused. If the kingdom is half-empty, the fault is yours. But now you can no longer play. That will be your punishment." (Illustration from Sermons.com)

Today we will be looking at the stewardship of talents.  As our parable illustrates, a talent was an ancient unit of money or weight.  The talent could vary in value from region to region.  This parable is also where our modern use of the word “talent” comes from in relationship to one’s natural gift or gifts.  This is how we’re going to be utilizing the word “talents” this morning as we go through this parable in order to more readily connect it to our lives and, hopefully, understand how we are using our talents.

Jesus has been talking about what the kingdom of heaven is like.  Here, in Matthew 25:14-15 he begins, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.  And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability.”

From these first two verses we can come to understand a few things.  One, the man traveling to a far country is, Jesus.  We know that Jesus has gone to heaven to sit at the right hand of God until the time He returns for judgment.  Secondly, the servants are the disciples, including you and me.  Thirdly, everything we are and everything we have is a gift from God; and therefore we are His stewards.

As stewards of God’s talents, as were the three in this parable, we find that we do not all have an equal amount given to us.  We find that God has not given to everyone alike.  I’ve often wondered why that is.  If we are all created in the image of God why didn’t He give all of us the same talents and abilities?  Wouldn’t that make building the kingdom faster and easier and more fair if we were all given the same amount, the same gifts, the same talents?  Why is life like that? I don't know. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution. In an election our votes are all equal. But when it comes to our abilities, we are as different as different can be. God simply did not make us all the same. There are some people who can handle five talents, there are some who can handle only one.

There are some people who have great intellectual capabilities, and some who do not. There are some who have the ability to project and articulate their thoughts, and there are some who cannot. There are some who have physical prowess and attractive looks, and there are some who do not.

The important thing to remember is that each servant was given something. No one was left idle.

          This is important for us to keep in mind.  God has given each one of us talents and abilities unique to who we are.  They are a special fit and they are in-line with our personality and with our capabilities.  Too often I hear people say things like, “I can’t do that.  I’m not creative.”  “So and so has way more talent than I do, you should ask them.”  “I’m only good at one thing, how does that measure up to what others can do?”

          Do any of those sound familiar?  Have you ever thought that about yourself and about the talents you’ve been given?  I know I have from time to time.  I’ve looked at other pastors and preachers and thought, “What on earth am I doing in the pulpit?  They can run circles around me and they can preach without notes and…” on and on and on I’d go comparing the gift and talents God has given me with the talents that God has given others.  When it comes to playing guitar, I’m no Eric Clapton, I’m no Phil Keaggy or Jeremy Camp, but God hasn’t asked me to be.

          What did the person given five talents go and do?  Did he go and start comparing himself to the other servants?  No.  He went and made use of what he was given and he earned five more.  He invested his talents, worked with them, developed them, and other talents were unearthed and developed as well.  He was faithful with what he had been given.  And when the master returned and called the servant to account, he was able to show he had been faithful.  He was rewarded with being able to enter the joy of the Lord.

          What about the person given two talents.  What did he do?  Did he waste time wondering why he only had two talents to work with?  Did he compare himself to the person with five talents?  Nope.  He went out and used his talents, he invested them, worked with them, and developed them, and other talents were unearthed and developed as well.  He was faithful with what he’d been given.  And when the master returned and called him to account, he was able to show he had been faithful.  He was rewarded with being able to enter the joy of the Lord.

          What about the person who was given one talent?  Okay, so this is where we run into trouble with this story.  This is where we can run into trouble in our own lives.  Listen again to what the servant who received one talent did, Matthew 25:18, “But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.”  Why on earth would he do that?  God gave each of these servants responsibility over part of his wealth.  Yes, the amount varied depending upon the ability of each of the servants.  But the expectation of each of them was the same.  They were expected to be faithful with their talent and increase it through using it and making the most of it.  Yet, this servant who received one buried it.  Why?  Verse 24, “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours.”

          This servant was afraid.  He was fearful of his master who had given him his talent.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  He was fearful of his master.  He was fearful of Jesus.  Perhaps he was afraid of disappointing Jesus.  Maybe he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do anything “good enough” for Jesus so, he chose to bury the talent.  Why use it if it seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things?  Have we ever felt this way about our talents?  Have we ever been afraid to do something because, maybe it’s not “good enough” for Jesus?  So, instead of stepping out in faith and trying, we bury our talent with the thought that someone else will do what God has gifted us to do.

          This servant was afraid.  Out of fear, he hid his talent, he didn’t invest it, or try to improve upon it, he merely hid it until his master returned.  Then, when giving an account, he returned exactly what he’d been given.  This, of course, didn’t go well for the servant.  The master was angry and disappointed because the servant didn’t even try to fulfill his lord’s trust.  He didn’t even deposit the money in the bank to gain interest on it.  He looked at his one talent and thought, “how can this make any difference?”

          One talent can make a difference though.  The use of one talent can transform many lives.  The use of one talent can start a chain reaction that causes an improvement in the lives of thousands, tens of thousands, and millions of people.

          There is a story about a little girl nicknamed Annie who in 1876 was ten years of age. Her actual name was Joanna Sullivan. She was put into a poor house for children...called the Tewkesbury Alms House in Massachusetts. Her mother had died and her father had deserted her. Her aunt and uncle found her too difficult to handle. She had a bad disposition, a violent temper...stemming in part from eyes that were partially blind due to the disease Trachoma, which left her without reading or writing skills. She had been put in the poorhouse because no one wanted her. She was such a wild one that at times she had to be tied down.

But there was another child named Maggie who cared for Annie. Maggie talked to her, fed her, even though Annie would throw her food on the floor, cursing and rebelling with every ounce of her being. But Maggie was a Christian and out of her convictions she was determined to love this dirty, unkempt, spiteful, unloving little girl. It wasn't easy, but Maggie also had been abandoned, so she understood Annie's pain. Slowly, Maggie, got through to Annie that she was not the only one who was suffering. And gradually Annie began to respond.

Maggie told her about a school for the blind and Annie began to beg to be sent there, and finally, consent was given and she went to the Perkins Institute. After a series of operations her sight was partially restored. She was able to finish her schooling and graduate at age twenty. Having been blind so long she told the director of Perkins that she wanted to work with blind and difficult children. They found a little girl seven years old in Alabama who was blind and deaf from the age of two. So, Annie Sullivan went to Tuscumbia, Alabama to unlock the door of Helen Keller's dark prison and to set her free.

One human being, in the name of Christ, helping another human being!  A young woman who used her talent, her gift of compassion, made a difference in one life.  That person then went on to make the difference in the life of another.  Helen Keller touched the lives and made a difference in countless others.

What about you?  What are the talents and gifts God has given you for the benefit and growth of the kingdom and the transformation of this world?  We know that God has given all of us talents and gifts as is affirmed in 1 Corinthians chapter 12.  Every single gift and talent is important.  If anyone of us isn’t using our gifts and talents, even if we only have one, there is something missing in the symphony of God’s kingdom.

Think about your talents, your gifts.  Are you compassionate?  You can make phone calls, send letters or cards, or make visits.  Do you play music?  You could help in worship through special music.  Do you have a spirit of hospitality?  You can greet people and tend to their needs.  Do you enjoy writing?  You could write encouraging articles for newsletters.  Working on a computer?  You could help the church reach out through social media.  Cooking/baking?  You could prepare meals for shut-ins or bake cookies as a means of saying, “we’re thinking of you.”  Do you sew or quilt or do other needlework?  You could help with making the prayer quilts, more face masks, and other items.  Are you gifted in administration?  You could help teach or help in the office.  Are you well organized?  Help keeping church history and files up to date and easy to locate.

I look out at this congregation and I see people who have all of these talents and gifts and even more.  I see people who are using their talents and gifts every day as you live out your faith and diligently go about your daily tasks.  And if there is anyone who isn’t sure whether or not they fit in or have any talent they can use, I assure you, you are wanted, needed, and absolutely have something to give.

Being a steward of our talents isn’t about how much we’ve been given.  It is about faithfully using our talents, nurturing them, growing them, developing them, and investing them for the glory of God.  We only lose out if we don’t use our talent, like the young man in the story I told at the beginning of this message.  He had the talent of playing the violin and, when that talent was needed most, he neglected to use it.  Then, when his father returned, he was no longer able to play because he had not done so when it would have made a difference.

This is the stewardship of talents: using what we’ve been given to the best of our ability.  Amen.  

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