Sermon notes 11-15-20                      Risky Trust                 Pastor David King

 Matthew 25:14-30: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

If you have been worshipping with us in recent weeks, you know we have been considering together some of the parables of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel, and we have discovered that we quite often find the parables of Jesus to be rather unsettling, to say the least.  Today we have another parable of Jesus, known as “The Parable of the Talents,” that may be the most disturbing one yet.  We are disturbed by the harsh treatment of the servant who was given one talent.  We are disturbed that the one who is already rich with talents is in the end given even more, while the one who has the least has his taken away.  It seems so harsh and unfair, doesn’t it?  So, let’s see if together we can come to some kind of terms with this parable of the talents.  Let’s pray.

I want to begin by telling you about a bad move I made last week with my retirement funds (I think this really does have something to do with our Gospel reading, so please hang with me on this!).  I did something last week I have never ever done before, and that is to redirect my retirement investment accounts because of a feeling I had about something that was going to happen in the financial markets.

I have always in the past just let my retirement investments ride, so to speak.  I don’t often even pay any attention to my retirement fund.  My fund manager sends me a quarterly statement to inform me of how my pension plan is doing.  Sometimes I look at it, sometimes I don’t.  Even last spring in the early days of the pandemic when there were all those wild swings in the stock market, I didn’t bother with my investment funds.  But last week I decided I was going to be clever.

I had a feeling that the outcome of the election was going to wreak havoc in the financial markets, so the morning of the election I called my fund manager to arrange to put all my investments into funds that had almost no risk.  I spoke on the phone with a very bright young lady who tried to talk me out of it, but, I had a feeling … so I had her put all of my investments into a stable, low-risk fund.  You probably know that a fund with almost no risk also has virtually no opportunity for growth.  The next morning when I checked the news, the stock market had gone up 1400 points.

Now if you don’t know anything about this stuff, like I obviously don’t know anything about this stuff, what that all means is I missed out on an opportunity for some significant growth in my retirement funds because of my no-risk strategy.  Yes, my investment funds were protected, they were relatively safe and secure, but they could have become much more.  I went with my feeling about what was going to happen in the financial markets … but to be perfectly honest I have to admit that that feeling I went with was fear.  The bright young lady I spoke with advised me not to move my investments, but I did it anyway, because I didn’t trust her advice.  So, guided by that paralyzing combination of fear and lack of trust, I made the decision to eliminate risk, and I lost an opportunity that I can’t get back.

So let me bring us back to the parable of the talents, and the first thing we need to be clear about is who the various persons in the parable represent.  It may be stating the obvious, but the master who entrusted his servants with his property before going on a journey is of course God.  The servants are none other than us.

The next thing we need to know is what a talent is, or what it was in biblical times.  Originally a talent was a measure of weight, specifically of gold or silver.  The monetary value of one talent was somewhere between 15 and 20 years of wages—it was a lot of money!

Today we no longer use the word “talent” as a monetary value.  We commonly say that people have talent in areas such as music, or in athletic ability, or in business skills, or in leadership, or in certain professions.  The word “talent” used in that way is derived directly from this parable.

We followers of Jesus believe that talents are God-given, and that we are called to cooperate with God to utilize and develop the talents God has given us.  We know that talents are not given equally, that no one is talented in every area, and that all talents are needed to accomplish God’s purposes in the world.  That is part of the lesson in this parable.  God gives people differing talents.  In the parable, one servant is given five talents, another two, and another one.  Jesus knew and taught that people have different talents and diverse gifts, all of which are needed in his kingdom.

What matters most is not the talent we have, but how we use it.  God does not require of us that we use talents that we have not been given, but God does expect us to use the talents and abilities we have been given, and God certainly does not expect for us to hide them.  This parable teaches us, not that we are given equal talents, but rather that we are equally responsible for using the talents we havebeen given. Whatever talent we have, whether small or great, we are called to use it in serving God and our fellow human beings.  It has been said that some are given talents to draw plans for a cathedral, some compose music for its organ, some carve the stone, and some build the road to the door, but no one is without some gift or talent essential to the building.[1]

Another emphasis of this parable is that God expects an increase from the talents He gives us.  We are called to risk our talents by using them for the common good.  There is always some form of risk involved in using our talents: we have to risk time and energy to employ our talents, and yes, there is also the risk of failure.  But our talents cannot increase unless we risk them by using them.

When we invest money, we have to put it at risk in order to make more money.  I missed an opportunity last week to grow my retirement account because I was afraid to expose it to risk, and I didn’t trust the advice I was given.  In the parable, the one-talent servant failed for those same two reasons: fear and distrust.  He said to his master, “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”  He did not risk his talent, because he did not trust God.  He even blamed God, represented by the master.  He said to his master, “I knew you to be a hard man.”  The reaction from the master is severe, and this is where we really get disturbed by this parable.

The one-talent servant returned to the master what he had been given. Why was his punishment so harsh?  Simply put, he was punished for not trying.  He did not lose his talent, but he didn’t do anything at all with it.  It would have been better for him to have risked it and lost it than not to have risked using it at all.  But he buried it in the ground, and by doing so he deprived God’s kingdom of something essential.  He could have used his talent for the common good, but he was afraid to risk his talent, so he buried it in the ground, and he received his master’s condemnation.

The one-talent servant failed to receive the praise of his master that the other servants received.  Had the one-talent man only trusted God enough to risk his talent, he too would have entered into the joy of his master and Lord.  Notice that the master said of the first two servants that they were good and faithful.  They had the faith, the trust to risk their talents for the sake of their master.  The identical statements of praise to each of the first two servants indicate that it was not the total amount earned that was important but rather their faithfulness in utilizing the talents they were given.

Okay, but what are we to make of maybe the most disturbing statement of all: that to everyone who has, more will be given, and to the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away?  Think of it like this.  If a person has a talent, whether it be playing golf or playing piano or painting or writing or surfing or public speaking, the person who exercises that talent will be able to progressively do more with it.  But the person who fails to exercise it will inevitably lose it.  The more we use a talent, the more proficient we become at it, and the more opportunities God will give us to use that talent in serving God and our neighbors.  But if we fail to use the talent we have been given, we will lose the talent and the opportunity to use it.

Now, in case this all might leave someone feeling like you have irretrievably wasted your God-given talents, let me come to a close with some words of encouragement.  I mentioned earlier that last week I lost an opportunity that I can’t get back to grow my retirement fund.  But even though I can’t get that opportunity back, there will be others.  I have already gone back to the bright young lady and asked her to redirect my retirement funds so they have more of an opportunity to grow… and I plan to leave it alone from now on!  My retirement account is a really poor and insignificant example, but the point I want us to remember is that, if we feel we have wasted our talents, there will be other opportunities.  Our God is the God of unlimited second chances, and it is never too late to use and develop the talents God has given us.

The main lesson for us in this parable is that we are to live in courageous faith in the God who has entrusted us with whatever talents he has given us.  Talents are given to be used for the sake of God’s kingdom, not buried.  When we trust God enough to risk the talents God has given us, even if we lose what have been given, we will not ultimately fail.  May God grant us to live adventurous lives of risky trust, so that one day we will hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your master.”  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] The Interpreter’s Bible; Volume VII; Abingdon Press, New York/Nashville; 1951; p. 558.