Sunday, November 19, 2017

Year A Proper 28 2017 Risky Talents

Year A Proper 28, 19 November 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, Virginia
“Risky Talents”

Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Sometimes things have been with us so long we no longer question them. We give them little or no credence or no attention because we already “know,” there is nothing new here, so why bother.

The Gospel of Christ has been with us for 2,000 years, and the good news has been active and at work for those millennia for the betterment of all humanity. Part of the success of anything longstanding is the calcification that comes with time. So let's break out our spiritual CLR(link), and get some of this calcification off of this story we know so well.

Pop Quiz: When someone does something good for a stranger in our culture, we call them a…
Good Samaritan. Of course.

When we talk of someone who has strayed from the way they were raised they become a…

Prodigal Son or Daughter. Of course.

When someone has a special gift entrusted to them, something they do uniquely well, we say they have…

Talent. Of course.

And to this day we have Talent Shows, where we showcase people’s unique giftedness, or silliness, or whatever. All three of these, Good Samaritan, Prodigals, Talents all come from the parables of Jesus. Thinking about Talents as something you do as opposed to something you have is a departure from what the story says. But the interpretation that some have a talent that is done not held, all comes from this story. We are called to use our talents, use it or lose it, it is said. We are inspired by stories of people having secret talents who finally step forward and share their wonderful giftedness.

The world was inspired by the story of Susan Boyle, a contestant in 2009 on Britain’s Got Talent, a show that was the precursor for America’s Got Talent. Simon Cowell produced both. A middle aged woman, 49 and having lived a sheltered and quiet life in her village in Scotland, she shocked the world with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical version of Les Misérables. Ignoring the snickers when she walked out from her frumpy nature, the cynical audience was flabbergasted when she started singing. One of the judges, Amanda Hoyle said that the audience “got the biggest wake-up call ever” about judging a book by its cover. Saying she wanted to be like the singer Elaine Paige in an interview after her stunning debut, Paige responded by asking if they could record a duet, and saying that Boyle was “a rolemodel for anyone who has a dream.” Her mother had begged her to audition, saying her talent was too good to be kept in just her parish church. Since she debuted she has sold millions of albums, and transformed her life. A bullied child that always thought she had a learning disability because of being deprived of oxygen at birth, she has since learned that she was misdiagnosed and actually has above average intelligence and deals with Asperger Syndrome. Imagine if at 49 she had not taken that risk and chose to keep her talent buried in her village in Scotland. How would she have been different? How about all the people whose lives she has inspired?

Talents are like that. When we hide them away, they are not talents.

The word talent comes from the Greek word meaning a unit of measure, a weight, usually of a precious metal like gold. It was when there were so many coins that one weighed them instead of counting them. The word has just been adopted and used phonetically in Latin, English and many other languages. So powerful was this story, that it just became a part of this culture and much of Western society.

And we know the moral, use what you have been given. Take a risk and attempt a gain. You did nothing to get this. You owe it to everyone to use it. Such is the power of this story. We all know it. The word “talent” has weight even to those who have no idea where it came from.

And instead of telling the story of the one who did not use their one talent, which is so often the focus (and another of Jesus’ cautionary tales as discussed last Sunday), let us look at the ones who did what they were supposed to with what they had been given. Last week a number of you said that you were “convicted” by my approach to the 10 Bridesmaids parable, and we do not need two weeks of feeling down. So what of those who returned their talents one for one when the master returned?

The servants who were praised and rewarded did not do the flashy and showy thing, they did the simple, daily tasks and those accumulated over time. Jesus very clearly said, and too often we skip this part, “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” It has been almost 2,000 years of action waiting for Jesus to return. We, the Church Universal, has accomplished much. But the Master is still away and there is work yet to be done.

The story is told of a fan approaching the maestro after a concert gushing, “Maestro, I would give my life to play the violin like you do.” The Maestro immediately came back, “Oh, but I did.”

You see, when we have been tasked with a treasure, we play the long game. We do not go in for flashy promises or get sidetracked with pettiness. When we play the long game, we do today what needs to be done today. And tomorrow what needs to be done tomorrow.

The philosopher Friederich Nietzche in Beyond Good and Evil, link  put it this way:
The essential thing "in heaven and in earth" is, apparently (to repeat it once more), that there should be long OBEDIENCE in the same direction, there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living; for instance, virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spirituality-- anything whatever that is transfiguring, refined, foolish, or divine.
This goes against everything our culture celebrates now: immediacy, consumption, celebrity, lack of discipline. But here, very clearly, our teacher and Lord, Jesus wants us to go against the grain. He calls us to put ourselves out there and take the risks and play the long and steady game to get us to the point of having something to show for what we have been given. To risk the venture is fulfilling God’s call, and leave the return up to God. The founder of the modern missionary movement, William Carey put it this way, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

God has so blessed this Church, and this town. And God has blessed each of us. There is something that only you can teach me, and something only you can bring to this parish. “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it,” I Corinthians 12:27 reminds us. Together we have come together in a mighty way, and many of you have stepped out in faith looking at your role in this Church and in rebuilding trust and relationship in one another. As you have heard me state before, we begin with deciding to give each other the benefit of the doubt. That is not always easy when water has gone under the bridge, but it is a sign of forgiveness and essential to hope and moving forward. This week I have seen the power of God when brothers and sisters have come together in forgiveness. It was a beautiful thing. The talents of this Church, each of us collectively, is more than enough to make a difference in this town, and in this county, and in this world. Seriously.

But when we think that we are “just” a church, or “just” a bunch of silly people, or “just” anything, we sell ourselves and the God who formed us short. In fact, sometimes I wish we could just ban the word “just.” But that just won’t happen. But when we use it with people, we really need to be careful. Not a one of us is “just” anything, thanks be to God! The Talents of the Church is the collective talents of her people. “Now you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.”

When we look to where we spend our time and energies, are we taking the steps down the long obedience in the same direction? Or do we allow ourselves to be sidetracked and misled from where we should be? If we are, we are burying the precious gifts we have been given thinking that they will grow by themselves.

There is are two wolves in each of us. One good, one bad. And they are always at war. How will we know which one will win? The wolf that wins is the one that we feed.

As you cultivate your talents, which do you feed? What do you nurture? We all reap what we sow, Jesus promised us this. We all are called to account for that with which we have been entrusted.

Will we be accounted the good and faithful servants who stepped out in faith? Or will we take these gifts of grace and let them sit unused, unopened, and unappreciated. This week as you sit around your table and thank God for all that you have been given, give an eye to how to take those good and precious gifts and risk them to the honor and glory of God. Happy Thanksgiving. Blessed Thanks-living. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock