Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Today we
continue our journey toward the end of the church year. In a mere two weeks, another
Advent begins. We will begin preparing our hearts, our minds, and our
congregation and church building once again to commemorate the coming of the
Christ child. “Where does the time go?” we ask ourselves whenever we
begin the passage from one measure of time into another. Sometimes we look
back and fondly recall pleasant events and significant accomplishments. Other
times, we remember difficulties and painful moments, or shake our heads in
regret at how much of that precious time we squandered, and let slip away
Yet even as Advent—that time of new beginnings—creeps into
our consciousness, we must confront and contemplate things of the end, and consider
a different sort of coming. Here on this Second-Last Sunday of the Church
Year, once again we hear lessons from God’s holy Word which inform and
enlighten us about the end times. We Christians dwell in days between Calvary and Armageddon, where the victory has been fully won, but the battle between heaven
and hell rages on. We await the return of our champion, Jesus Christ, knowing
that when He comes in glory and power, our final rescue is at hand.
Today our Gospel lesson is the Parable of the Talents,
and often when we hear that word, “talent,” we think of it in our modern sense
and definition. We have come to understand that “talent” is an ability or
skill or gift that has been given and then developed, intended to be put to use
for the benefit of ourselves and others.
This present definition has come about largely because
of how the term is used in this biblical parable. Many see this story of the master’s
giving of the talents to the servants as an example of how some people make
good use of the opportunities which come their way in the course of living.
As a culture, we sometimes seem more fascinated with
the talents and opportunities which others are given, more than we ever
focus on our own. Witness the numerous television programs which showcase the
knowledge or physical abilities people have, and the opportunities they are
given to achieve fame and fortune: American Idol. Jeopardy. Dancing With
the Stars. The various “Miss This” and “Miss That” pageants. Last
Comic Standing. America’s Got Talent. And plenty more, probably, some of
which you may know, but have escaped my attention.
In many cases, of course, some of the contestants seem
to be selected not because of any true talent or ability they possess. Rather,
the show’s producers must have found them just outrageous enough to provide
some shock value to audiences, or they seemed good for a laugh. Quite often,
of course, we look at those participating in these contests and we think to
ourselves, “That person doesn’t have all that much talent. I
could do better than that.” And when we’ve seen some individual we think really
has what it takes, though we might harbor a little jealousy, we respect
their abilities nevertheless. Then we wonder how on earth those who judge such
things could possibly not agree with our assessment, and have eliminated them
from the competition. It’s gotten to the point that the removal of certain
competitors caused studio switchboards and websites to be flooded with irate
viewers complaining about the loss of their favorite. The occasional death threat
toward judges on the shows has even been reported.
How sad, that so many live such vicarious,
externalized lives. They appreciate, applaud, and even benefit from the
efforts of others. Yet, for lack of motivation and with claims of lack of
time, they neglect the development and application of their own talents for
useful, constructive purposes.
That could never happen in the church, could it?
I’m sure in pulpits all over America today, at least in those Christian congregations which have this Parable of the
Talents from Matthew 25 as their Gospel lesson, there are going to be plenty of
sermons about stewardship of time, talents, and treasure this morning. That’s
not necessarily a bad thing, of course. You do need to hear
occasionally that as Christians, freed from the crushing burden of sin by the
death and resurrection of Jesus, we are to thankfully support the work of the
Gospel with generous giving of our money and labor.
If I were inclined to do so, certainly this text would
give me a great opportunity to lay a heavy guilt trip on you. I could preach
about talents, and about the proper use of the resources God has placed in your
care in this life. I could remind you that everything you have was provided to
you by God, either through the generosity of others or through the use of the
talents and abilities He has given you to earn it. I could admonish you that
Christians don’t abandon the work of the kingdom to others.
They don’t fail to support the financial and ministry commitments
that they, as a community united under the cross of Jesus, have made to further
the work of the Church. They don’t use their checkbooks as weapons to
manipulate the activities and priorities of the fellowship of Christ into which
they have been placed by God. They don’t withhold their contributions when
they don’t get their way, or direct their giving only to their own pet
activities in the congregation.
And in the final analysis, Christians only withhold or
withdraw their financial support and their best efforts when they see that a
Church isn’t proclaiming the Gospel in its purity, or isn’t administering the
Sacraments according to the direction given in the Scriptures, and then only
after lovingly confronting those who persist in such errors, and seeing no
turning from them.
Yes, this text certainly has the potential to be
applied in that guilt-producing way, and I suppose that—indirectly, anyway—I
just have. If you squirmed a bit, or looked down momentarily, or a little
resentment started building when you recognized your own place in that litany,
consider that your conviction by the Law this morning. On the other hand, if
you smiled and sat up straight and said, “I’m a generous giver and tireless
worker,” then you’re guilty of excessive pride and I didn’t get through to you
If St. Paul counted himself as chief of sinners, and
Martin Luther’s dying words were, “We are all just beggars,” you and I don’t have
much solid ground to stand on when it comes to boasting about how much we’ve
done or sacrificed for the Church.
But I don’t believe that this text really has all that
much to do with stewardship of time, talents, and money. Coming as it does
between the Parable of the Ten Virgins—where Christ warns His followers to keep
watch for His return—and His description of the separation of the sheep and
goats in the final judgment, this text and its place in the lectionary at this
time in the Church Year tells us something important. Those who have spent a
lifetime studying such texts have concluded that it speaks of more than just
the use of worldly resources.
The master who leaves to go on a journey and
distributes talents to his servants is not just entrusting some walking-around
money to them. According to one commentary I consulted, a drachma was considered
a day’s wages; 100 drachmas to the mina; 60 minas to the talent. So, if I can
still do math, each talent is worth about 6000 days’ wages—about 24 years
of income! If you got that sitting around anywhere, please see a Stewardship
or Endowment Board representative after the service!
Note, if you will, that the master is not simply making
a gift of these vast sums to the three servants. Rather, he is entrusting what
is his own property to each of them, allocated according to their individual
abilities. Each receives a tremendous amount, though, a resource almost beyond
comprehension for most of us. Certainly it would have been nearly unfathomable
for those souls first hearing this parable in Jesus’ day. They could barely
make ends meet, let alone accumulate such a vast treasure.
In the master’s absence, each of the three servants
has responsibility for the care and nurture of the talents he has received.
Two wasted no time in wisely and diligently applying the talents toward
productive ends, doubling the original amount. The third servant does not do
so well. In fact, he does nothing at all, other than hiding the talent in the
filth of the earth.
Time goes by. A long time, the text says. Upon the
master’s return, he asks for an accounting. What have his servants been up
to? What have they done with the precious treasure that was entrusted to each
The first two come forward, respectfully yet full of
enthusiasm at what has been produced in the use of the master’s substantial and
generous seed money. They hadn’t hidden it; they hadn’t squandered it; they
hadn’t used it for their own selfish purposes. Their investments had brought a
substantial return, and the master is exceptionally pleased. Not only are they
commended for their good use of his precious treasure, they are invited to
share the joy he has in what it has produced.
The third servant probably realizes his error by now.
The master is pleased with the gains of the other two servants, and he has done
nothing with the talent he was provided. If anything, he has made it worth
even less than it was to begin with, for he has tarnished the master’s talent
by burying it in the ground. With fear and trembling, he approaches and begins
The master is not pleased at all. Although the talent
was not completely lost, it certainly was not applied properly, either. The
servant’s excuses about knowing the master’s attributes and attitudes do
nothing to soften his anger. Whether it is true or not that the master was a
hard man, this servant knew that he was a lavishly generous master, and that he
had expectations of those on whom he had bestowed his generosity. For the
wasting of the opportunity, the servant is severely punished—not only losing
possession of the precious treasure which had been entrusted to him, but losing
his place in the master’s household altogether.
Jesus’ words to describe this servant’s fate, that he
will be thrown “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth,” are code words for eternal condemnation, for the
damnation of those who are not brought into eternal glory with Christ and the
This ought to make it crystal clear to us that Jesus
isn’t talking about earthly treasure here, or giving us guidance about wise use
of our God-given physical and intellectual gifts.
Rather, the “talents” referred to in this parable are
the faith and the Gospel which have been entrusted to each and every one of us,
through the working of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ, Lord and Master of the
household of the Church in which each of us is His appointed servant, has given
you faith and the Gospel, to be used productively in His service.
What will you do with this faith? What will you do
with His Gospel? Both of these are of immeasurable value, the possessions of
God which have been entrusted to you, and to all believers, while the Master is
away. They are first given to those in His household. Not to the neighbors,
not to passers-by on the streets—to you, His servants, members of the
body of Christ.
He gives you Gospel in your ears, Gospel on your skin,
Gospel in your mouths, all producing faith in your hearts. A generous
outpouring of the treasures of heaven, intended by God to produce a yield of yet
more Gospel and yet more faith—in you, and in those you encounter as you go
about the Master’s business, seeking to multiply His investment and grow His
Do you think God wants your faith and the Gospel
buried out of sight, kept to yourself? Or is He expecting that His lavish
generosity will not go to waste? Do you think that He considers inadequate in
some way how He has equipped you to apply His gifts? That His trust in your
ability to understand and take the direction He has given you in Scripture is
Where you have buried your faith; where you have
hidden away the Gospel; where you have feared doing an inadequate job of
putting them to work, repent! Don’t approach the Master and tell Him that you
were afraid of His punishment, yet didn’t want to depend on the gifts He has
given you. Simply come before Him, admit that you have failed to follow His
intentions, and likewise have failed to trust in His mercy. Don’t hand Him
back His precious treasure like a hot potato, something you don’t want to have
in your possession, or have to deal with in your life. For without those
things—the Gospel about Jesus Christ, and the faith in Him which that Gospel
produces—we have no hope of standing in the Master’s presence or remaining in
His household as He intends for us.
Instead, grasp onto that Gospel and that faith, and though
we must always remember that they are the things of God, He has made them yours
to care for, yours to use, yours from which to benefit.
So use them. Invest them for the benefit of the
household of God. Take your faith and the Gospel out into the marketplace
where those neighbors and passers-by outside the household of God are daily
going about their business, chasing after the perishable even as they are
perishing. Spread a little bit here, and a little bit there, and trust that
the Holy Spirit will direct you to people and places where it will yield great
returns, to the glory of your heavenly Father, and for the eternal benefit of those
who will hear and receive it.
Remain constant and true in the household of Christ.
Enjoy each and every day His rich and generous outpouring of life and love,
forgiveness and salvation through His suffering and death, so that when He
returns from His journey, He will call you into His happiness with the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant; well done!” Amen.