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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Investing In the Kingdom - 11/15/2020

What the heck is a talent anyway?

Well, literally, it’s a whole lot of coin in a bag. It’s very inconvenient to carry, maybe even dangerous. A talent is a weight of coins measured into a bag or chest. As legal tender it was equivalent to about 16 years of wages for the servants receiving them in the parable. As weight, each talent would have weighed about 70 pounds or so.

I remember a scene from a favorite movie call Rob Roy with Liam Neeson as the title character. It is a raw, yet hopeful story of life and death and honor in 18th century Scotland. In one part of the story, a young man is sent in Rob Roy’s stead, as a servant of the clan, to settle accounts with one of the “bad guys.” He was sent to pick up a loan needed keep the clan alive through the Scottish highland winter. The money was legitimately owed to the Rob Roy clan, but the “bad guys” didn’t really want to give it up.

So instead of paying the money out in notes – something easy to carry and transport – it was paid out in many bags of heavy coin … maybe even five talents worth, or maybe only one talent worth … which would still have been like adding nearly a whole second person for the horse to carry on the journey back to the highlands. It was intentional, of course. The extra weight slowed the horse and made the servant an easy target for the “bad guy” to catch and attack under the cover of night. He killed the servant and took all the money back.

So I think the first thing we are to understand about this parable is that it represents a huge and overwhelming transfer of wealth … even for the servant who received only one talent – only 16 years of wages, only 70 lbs. of coin to deal with.

This parable directly follows the parable of the ten bridesmaids from last week. It is part of the same teaching and Jesus is continuing to describe and help us grasp what judgement in the kingdom of heaven is like. In the kingdom of heaven – the one we people of Christian faith profess to be living in already – God seeks to overwhelm us with abundance. God wants to shower us with grace, care and providence beyond our wildest imaginations. Many of us have experienced that abundance.

In this earthly expression of the kingdom of heaven, some do have less then others, when you get right down to the counting. In the parable, however, even the servant with one talent has more than enough to live healthy, happy and safe.

The response to this overwhelming abundance God desires from us is that we put all that we have been given to good and creative use so that other’s too experience that overwhelming shower of God’s grace, care and providence.

Notice in the parable the master is gone for a long time – a lifetime perhaps – before he comes back to “settle accounts.” To our ears, planted as we are in a world that expects and strives for everything to be instantaneous as possible … to our ears this may not mean much, or it may even sound like an inconvenience. But truly it is a gift. Time is one of God’s greatest gift … just ask the one who is dying or the one who is mourning.

The servants of this story are charged with the care of an overwhelming treasure of Master’s abundance, and given this “long time” to invest it into the world all around them. And when they do, over the course of that “long time” the abundance multiplies and flourishes.

I is on these “investments,” Jesus intimates, that God’s judgment will be made. And notice the emphasis really isn’t on the details of these investments. It is almost as if it is a given that when investing God’s talents, the results are worth the effort and cannot do anything but multiply and flourish – even if it takes more time than we fast-paced people are likely to give it.

The emphasis rather, seems to be on the effort to do the investing. The judgement we are being counseled to avoid here, is the judgment faced by the servant who only made the effort to hide God’s abundance well, so that it could not be used, or marred, or multiplied, or coveted, or shared by anyone … not even by the servant himself, by the way.

***

By the world’s standards, I am a rich person, entrusted with at least one talent, I would say. And as someone who strives to live as a servant of God entrusted with talents, I like this parable.

I like that it reminds us to push back against our tendencies to hoard what we treasure.

I like that it asks us to look at all we have as gifts from God – our health, our time, food in our bellies and a safe place to lay our heads at night, and all those other pretty and gleeful toys of life. It’s all from God and it’s all entrusted to us temporarily.

I think the abrasiveness of this parable is important because it reminds us that our investments are meant to create new ways for God’s abundance to enter into the world – especially where creation suffers, where people are in ill-health or feeling desperation, where there is hunger or no safe place to lay one’s head at night. Obviously, none of these places of suffering can be made whole with talent that is buried – at least not until God intervenes and entrusts the talent to other servants.

So, I think this is an important parable for us Jesus-followers to hear and hear deeply from time to time. What talents has God entrusted to us as individuals, as a faith community or a synod, and how are we investing it and where have we perhaps buried it?

Thanks be to God, we have been given some time, each of us a lifetime, to figure this out. “So,” as the Psalmist sings today, “teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Ps 90:12)

We don’t even have to go far when seeking that wisdom for how we should invest our talents, because Jesus already gave us a solid jumping off place in the cornerstone of his preaching. You may remember it. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are merciful, whose intent is pure. Blessed are the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness or reviled on account of their Jesus-following ways. (Mt 5:3-11)

This Parable of the Talents is typically a good meditation for us and our Christian journey through this world. It centers us in our identity, humbles our egos and pushes us into the world to invest the talents God entrusts each of us with.

“That’s all well and good,” I kept thinking this week. However, we are not in typical times and so what does this parable mean to us who may feel like our entire lives are buried right now? Everything is hidden away; nothing seems to flourish and multiply right now under the heavy weight of this virus.

Here we are, servants of God, entrusted with God’s talents, and then told to keep our distance from one another, to isolate as much as possible and avoid gatherings, to be diligent about our singularness.

And yet, we have been entrusted with God’s talents and encouraged to invest them, pandemic or not, trusting that where we place of gifts of God, they will multiply and flourish.

So, what are we supposed to do?

I must tell you, I’m not quite sure what the answers are – I’m sussing that out for myself too. I do know, however, that God made us a creative lot. The quilters cannot meet as normal right now, but that didn’t stop them from contributing 76 quilts to Lutheran World Relief. We cannot gather for Sunday School right now, but that does stop Eden Sunday School from coming to your house. We cannot put on a big community Thanksgiving dinner this year, but that is not stopping people from delivering meals to hundreds of shuts-in and families living in food insecurity.

If we will look for them, the opportunities to invest God’s talents will make themselves known, right here in our own community and beyond too.

For instance, in our Wednesday night adult study group, we have started reading and discussing a book by Pastor Lenny Duncan called Dear Church, A love letter to the whitest denomination in the U.S., Pastor Duncan writes this: “This country informed me of my blackness in the way it often informs little black boys and girls: with death. It greeted us with gun culture and a fear of black bodies and the knowledge that we will be held to much different standards than the white children around us.

“When I talk about reparations, it is these moments of brokenness that I want to see made whole again. Reparations means restoring the sense of childlike wonder I lost. It means making eight-year-old little boys feel safe.” (pg.43)

It got me thinking a lot about the people we met doing ministry in Columbus, Ohio, a few years ago. They do the sacred work for uplifting eight-year-old black children beautifully and so I should invest God’s talents there. The pandemic cannot stop me.

The possibilities are only limited by our imaginations and willingness to follow where God leads. And these investments don’t have to be in the headlines or anything either.

I heard an interview with a nurse who contracted the virus and was on a ventilator in an ICU for a while. He nearly died and at one point when he was gouroing downhill fast, a nurse leaned down and whispered a prayer in his ear. He said it changed the way he nurses others for evermore. And I thought, there it is. God’s talents invested in the Spirit of the beatitudes, multiplying and flourishing abundantly.

So, I’ll end with a pray for us servants of God entrusted with God’s talents, even in pandemic.

God, your imagination in working your life-giving ways in us and through us is greater than even the entirety of your creation. And we are thankful that you created us with even a flicker of that divine imagination. Help us to envision the kingdom of heaven on earth as vividly and abundantly as you do. Entrust us with your talents of grace, care and providence so that we may share them with others, especially those who suffer. And when our time ends and the day of judgment comes, we pray all the ways we invest your love continue to multiply and flourish in the name of the one who Redeemed us for this work, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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