Matthew 25: 14-30
“For 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.’

SERMON The Parable of the Talenta Nov 15, 2020

Clarence Jordan, author of the Cottonpatch gospels once said that a parable from Jesus is like a Trojan horse: you let it in and Bam! So let’s see what happens today as we look at this parable that is familiar to many….The Parable of the Talents.

At first glance this seems to be a story about risk-taking….about our willingness as followers of Jesus to go ahead and put our money, our bodies and our talents on the line. The guy who puts it all on the table earns the praise of the master and the guy who shoves it under his mattress earns his condemnation. In fact it says he gets thrown into utter darkness where he’ll weep and gnash his teeth.

In some ways this parable is reminiscent of how Jesus tells us not to hide our lights under a bushel…but to let them shine for the brightly in this world. This is an absolutely legitimate interpretation of this story, one I have preached before and probably will again some day. But parables are like works of art….they evoke many different reactions…and they are open to many different understandings. And this week I was struck by something new.

The story begins by saying that there was a man who was going on a journey. In fact Jesus tells this story while he is on a journey….he tells it as he is headed to the cross. It is in the very next chapter that Jesus is betrayed by Judas, marking the beginning of his end.

And then I saw it…the Trojan Horse in the room that I hadn’t seen yet. It has to do with that word “talent.” The Greek work is “talanta” and in some ways it is unfortunate that it gets translated as Talent. Because talanta is not a special ability that a person has. It isn’t our little light that shines. It was worth a heck of a lot more than what any of us will ever have in our investments no matter how bullish the market becomes.

Jesus wasn’t saying, “Use what is in you, invest what you have for the kingdom.” He was talking about a coin that was the largest denomination of currency at that time. I should probably be translated, “A huge bucket full of solid gold” or “the winnings from the biggest lottery ever.” Even just 1 talanta would have been worth the same as 16 years of labor. 10 would be worth 160!

This amount of money would have staggered the mind and imagination of its recipients. Jesus personally never would have seen that kind of money – this is an outlandish hyperbole – one that suggests that it’s really not about my talents or yours, my skills or yours, or the amount we’ve got in our checking accounts.

No, the parable seems to be speaking about something of much greater value….something of virtually unimaginable value…whether 1 talanta or 5, we’re talking about something that is priceless, like that pearl that is more precious than gold, about which Jesus spoke earlier.

On his way to the cross, nearing the end of his days with them, Jesus is telling his disciples that they are about to be entrusted with the whole operation….with everything he ever said or did to teach them about the power of God’s love and the nature of God’s kingdom. He’s telling them that they were going to be entrusted with the nothing less than the whole kit and kaboodle ….the good news of Divine love….that is the pearl that is more precious than gold, the talanta that is priceless in this parable.

The problem is that we tend to think of these servants as individuals. Individualism is one of the real curses of American thinking. But whenever Jesus was addressing his disciples in the gospels, he was addressing the church. WE….WE have now been entrusted with making the love of God incarnate…making it real in this world.We have been entrusted with the ministry and mission of Christ.

Churches fail to see it all the time….or we forget it….or we bury it beneath too much programing and petty concerns, beneath personal rivalries and overly zealous-righteousness, beneath the wrappings and trappings of religion, piety and power struggles. All too often the gospel gets buried by churches.

And when we do that it’s not just our talents and abilities that get buried. It’s the very love of God that longs for expression. It is Jesus’ message and ministry. The Master has entrusted the likes of us with all that love demands….with nothing other and nothing less than the new life that Christ gives ….a life that embodies service to the last and the least,
doing onto others as we would have others do unto us, seeking the blessings of peacemaking and poverty of spirit, taking care of Lazarus at the gate, turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, laying down our swords, bearing the burdens of our sisters and brothers, visiting the prisoners, setting captives free, taking care of the widows and orphans and welcoming the stranger, binding up the brokenhearted and building God’s kingdom right here on earth.

This is what the master has entrusted to his servants. This is the bucket filled with gold that is never to be buried….the Trojan Horse of this Parable….not our personal skills and individual abilities, but the gospel of Christ….the unbounded and bottomless love of God for ALL people…ALL people….no exceptions. And this explains why the master of this parable reacts so severely when he finds out that one of his servants has buried it.

Oh, I know. The burden of this may seem too heavy at times, but we do not carry it alone. We carry it together. And we can hold one another accountable when we start to bury it beneath the rubble of religion.

One of the things that I have found fascinating about being church in this time of a pandemic is that in some ways we have been freer than ever to pour out that love into our community. Do you guys realize all this church is up to these days? Really, it’s astounding.

CAHOOTS….we’re trying to support our police here in Lompoc through a program based on the reality that a lot of 911 calls do not require a response from people carrying guns. This is the work of peacemaking, folks.

Housing for unhoused veterans……we are seeing if there is a way to develop a piece of our land so that those who served our country don’t have live out on our streets. This is caring for the least folks.

Taiko drumming…..I got to visit with that wonderful group last week as they worked hard (and it really was hard) to try to build their next drum. What a beautiful group of people….and this is an expression of our welcome of ALL people no matter their beliefs or religion….a sign that God’s love knows no bounds and it transcends every cultural difference.

The prison….I saw how you showed up for those car caravan demonstrations we had last summer and while there is still a lot of work to be done things really are better there now. This is an expression of Jesus’ command to care about those sitting in prison, which, by the way, comes up just a few verses later in Matthew’s gospel.

And Jim has been overwhelmed by the amount of food you have been donating to the food pantry. They now see him coming and go out to greet him. When did we see you Jesus? “When I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”

And then there’s all your ongoing care for one another….making sure we are also tending to the needs of Christ’s body so that the body of Christ remains strong and alive. The cards, the meals, the calls, the check in. This reminds us that loving our neighbors as we love ourselves means that loving ourselves matters and you are so good at that. Thank you church.

Friends, the doors to our sanctuary may be closed right now, but the talanta that has been entrusted to us is being spread all over the place. Divine love is overflowing…even in a pandemic. It’s amazing. BUT let’s make sure we keep going. Because we have been entrusted with God’s talanta. That is the Trojan Horse of this Parable.

Bam….I do believe that it got me.

Let us pray: O God it may sometimes overwhelm us when we think about what you have entrusted to us….we may sometimes feel unworthy of it….and yet by the power of your love, in the power of your spirit we are worthy. Yes, we would be your ministers in this world….sowing seeds of hope where there is despair and light in places of darkness….reaching out to the last and the least, the lost and the little…a community that lifts and loves and laughs in the joy of serving you. Thank you O God. Thank you for entrusting us with your work. Amen.