I am struck and humbled by how easily and quickly I forget about the unique place in which I live. There is a thing that happens when you tell people who don't live in Carmel that you live in Carmel. I don't know if you experienced it, but it's weird. When we first found out we were moving here, I knew nothing about Carmel except that the high school was big. When I shared that news with some friends of ours who were from South Bend, my friend's response was, "ohh Carmel...." I had no idea what he was talking about.
There is a stereotype about this region of Indiana, perhaps you have heard it. It's of course, like all stereotypes untrue and somewhat true. It's both a fair critique and an unfair criticism. It has a tinge of judgment and a flavor of unkindness. Like I said, it's weird. Being in this community now for almost 5 years, the one thing I think is very true, is there is a high pressure to be successful and that the talent pool is competitive. From athletics, to performance, to academic
achievement, to wealth, there is a lot of self-inflicted pressure to succeed. And like all things, that pressure that can be both good and bad.
That same pressure can be felt in the church. How big your church? How many members does your church have? How fancy is your church? How many programs does it offer? How's the Sunday morning performance? How does it measure up to other churches? When I first came here, a staff member showed me a full page add from another local church here in town and said to me, here's your competition. I didn't even know I was in a competition.
This morning our scripture reading is a parable that Jesus offers his disciples at the end of a long discourse about the end times. He's wrapping things up as he prepares to leave them, with the assurance that he will come again. He is leaving his disciples, like the wealthy land owner is leaving the servants and he is giving them talents to take care of until he returns. Now, here is the question, what kind of talents? Some interpreted this to mean, human ability. This would fit a familiar sentiment that famous athletes say, when they make the statement that God gave them a talent for them to use and be accomplished. It would fit the graduation speech that says, "Your job is to go from this place and use your talents to the finest, and your accomplishments will make God very happy.'
The second conventional way of reading the parable is to say that the talents mean money. The corresponding sermon goes, 'Money won't help you if you keep it under your bed. Go out and make more money, and the more you make the more you'll be able to give away.' Back in the 80's there was a commercial for Devry Institute with Sally Struthers who started her bit saying, "Do you want to make more money? — Sure, we all do." It was rhetorical question, of course the goal in life is to make more money. So, the argument could be that Jesus leaves his disciples and likes the ones who made good investments and made him richer than the one who hid the money away.
But that doesn't really sound like Jesus. Let's see if we can read this scripture and get to the heart of Jesus' point. First, the parable has four scenes. The first and second take place before the man goes on the journey.. Scene 2 is what happens while he is away. Scene 3 is what happens when he gets back. And Scene 4 is what happens to the third slave. This is the second of three parables that make up Matthew 25. There is story of the bridesmaids sleeping when the bridegroom comes later than expected. There is story of the Son of Man sitting on the throne and finding that some have not recognized him in the face of the hungry, the naked, the sick and the prisoner. And in between is this story of what happens when the property-owner comes back and finds what the slaves have done with the money. And just as the bridegroom in the first story and the Son of Man in the third story are both Jesus, so the slave-owner in the talents story is Jesus.
Why does this matter? Preacher Sam Wells argues that, "It matters because it shows what's wrong with the 'You're all very talented' interpretation of the parable. This isn't a story about what God the Father does in creation — dishing out good looks to one and basketball skills to another. Rather this is a story about what Jesus gives his disciples before he leaves them. It also shows us what's wrong with the 'get money and give money' interpretation. Because even the most dyed-in-the-wool capitalist would have to agree that the notion of Jesus preparing to leave the disciples and saying, 'Here guys, I'm giving you a few million bucks — that should see you through for a bit' is absurd. These talents are not natural abilities or big bucks, but particular gifts suited to the time between Jesus' first coming and his second."
If the talents are natural ability or money, what are they? Paul gives us some help in this realm. He talks about the gifts we are given. He talks of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues and many others.
Matthew says the gift Jesus gives the church is His body itself. When Jesus tells his disciples to go make disciples, he says to go out baptizing them in His name. Matthew says that the church will be the church will people repent and forgive one another. What then is the talent that Jesus leaves the disciples for them, and
eventually us, to use. What Paul and Matthew are both fundamentally talking about is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the talent Jesus leaves the Church for the time until He returns. And what are the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. When Jesus returns, these are the talents he will ask about.
Jesus has left the Church all the gifts it needs for the time between His first coming and His second, and that we must use those gifts or we'll be in big trouble.
Now I would be irresponsible if I did not tell you on this commitment Sunday, that we need every member of our faith community to contribute to the ministry of this church. The ministries that take place here, only exist because of the tithing and giving of every member of Orchard Park. The ability to serve, worship, provide, teach, nurture, and house is directly related to the giving of this congregation. But even our giving is not to keep the lights on, the carpets clean, the staff employed, no, our giving is so a contributing element that allows the Holy Spirit to be at work on the corner, in this town, in this state in this world. Jesus left us the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we can be generous with love, peace, hope, compassion, justice, prophecy, teaching, and the proclamation of the Word.
According to Matthew, when he returns he will ask the question, what did you do with the talent I left you? Did you use the gift of the Holy Spirit, or were you too afraid to do so? So, see, it's so much more, or rather other than what you have, or what you are good at...It's about being responsible for being a person who shows love and joy and kindness and justice to a fearful and broken world. Jesus doesn't leave us responsible with his investment portfolio, He leaves us responsible for his body and blood, for His sacrifice, for His spirit.
It is to know yourself as responsible for the lives of those dear to you and the life of the community and nation and the world. It is to be bold and brave, to reach high and care deeply. It is to hurt when brothers and sisters hurt, to be impatient and angry at injustice, to weep at the world's brokenness and rejoice at its goodness and beauty.
George Bernard Shaw wrote in Man and Superman: "This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." He goes on to say, "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
And so the invitation to the adventure of faith: the high-risk venture of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
All praise to Him.