Lectionary Reflection for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
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. Matthew 25:14-15
Got Talent(s)? America does. Britain does. As of April 2014, more than 58 countries have a franchise of Simon Cowell’s Got Talent television series. Some amazing acts and some not-so-hopeful hopefuls have stood in front of the judges to show their talent to the studio and television audience; occasionally, acts become YouTube sensations viewed around the world and sign lucrative recording contracts. This week’s parable has me wondering how our churches and individual disciples would fare if we had a “faith and mission” version of this show. How would we be judged on the use of our God-given, Spirit-fed, and Jesus-led talents?
Let me put it another way. With Jesus’ parable in mind, would your congregation be a five talent church? Or might you more realistically fall somewhere in the range of two talents? Surely you aren’t a one talent church, are you? What has God given to you–both personally as a disciple and corporately as a faith community? How’s that for a stewardship sermon starter?
No one really wants to be a one-talent person or a single talent congregation. We aspire to the greater, albeit modestly expressed, glory of making it to the final round. We want to be like the citizens of Lake Wobegon (of Prairie Home Companion fame) “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” The idea of being a “one-trick pony” or a “one hit wonder” can be a fairly terrifying possibility. Our culture lifts up excellence as virtue and quantifiable results as appropriate measures of success. Average isn’t good enough; we want to be number one.
Consider how many of our congregations act like the one talent slave–burying what’s been entrusted to them within the well-preserved walls and halls of mainline nostalgia. Instead of seeing their single asset as something of great value, as holding significant potential, and of possessing the possibility of multiplication, such congregations hoard what they have in fear of having even less. They don’t even take their ministry and mission talents to the audition phase of life’s showcase.
The biblical talent, of course, was not a TV show but rather a measure of weight and value. Depending on the source, that value ranges from several thousand dollars to 20 or more years of average working wages to fantastic wealth. In short, a talent is nothing to sneeze at. Even being entrusted with only one talent is to be given abundance and to be entrusted with the responsibility of faithful and fruitful stewardship.
So what’s the difference between a one talent disciple or congregation and those with two or five talents? We can take a hint from Cowell’s popular media franchise. It’s more about having the will to put yourself out there and share what you have. It’s about faith and relationship and hope. Multiplying one’s talent(s) requires making connections, taking risks, telling stories, and building meaning. It’s not about self-preservation or clinging to what used to be. It’s about vision and abundance. Got talent(s)? Of course you do! So use what you have like there’s no tomorrow and enjoy the journey. Put yourselves out there, be good stewards of the gifts entrusted to you, and believe that the God of possibility is with you every step of the way multiplying your humble gifts and talents for the sake of the good news.
Consider incorporating an “Uncovering our Buried Talent” time in worship. Invite the community to contemplate what talent they, personally, have “buried” and why they have done so. Has it been because of fear of failure? Perhaps they have worried about being judged by others or have felt inadequate to the task. Some people will have had negative experiences that have compelled them to bury their gifts. Others may simply have been unwilling to take risk. Include in the bulletin a half-size sheet of paper with this or similar wording: “My buried talent is _______________. I pledge to dig it up and use it for God’s glory within this community of faith and/or in the world. I will commit to praying for the fruition of the many buried talents of my sisters and brothers in Christ, and I will trust God to work a new thing in me as I become a better steward of my time, talent, and resources.” You can invite people to sign their names as an option and to bring their pledges forward as part of the offering. If you are having a stewardship Sunday, consider making this event part of your plan. It is important to help disciples understand that stewardship involves all aspects of life–including our secret and buried talents. Everything comes from God, belongs to God, and eventually returns to God.
Why not use this week’s parable as a springboard to a real, live “talent” show. It’s an opportunity to have fun, to build community, and to reach out to others. Let your youth plan and host the event. Trust them and let them lead. Support them with prayer and resources, but give them the space and freedom to make it their own ministry project. Invite them to consider the talents within the community, as well as the gifts and talents the congregation has to offer to the wider community. When done right, not only will you have an awesome event, you’ll also have a tangible teaching opportunity for intentional faith development. You can also consider linking the epistle lesson (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) to this event, particularly verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”
Most children are familiar with some sort of story about digging for buried treasure. Tell them a simple version of how the master entrusted treasure to his slaves and how two of them used the treasure/talents to build more treasure while one went and buried his talent so that it couldn’t even see the light of day. Bring out a large wash tub or plastic tub filled with sand or some other substance in which you can “hide” treasure. Hide small dollar store items to represent the various kinds of talents children might have that they don’t easily recognize. Let each child in turn “dig” for treasure without looking at what they’re digging for. You’ll have to think on your feet with this activity. For example, a small hand mirror might represent that the child has the ability to show others that they have talents or to reflect the light of Christ. A tiny flashlight might represent shining Christ’s light into scary or difficult places. A heart might represent the ability to share God’s love. A package of cookies of a candy bar might represent that you can share the sweet truth about Jesus and/or feed someone who is hungry. A pair of socks might represent sharing clothes to keep someone warm. You get the idea. The gifts need to be general enough to apply to all disciples but you will need to share them in a way that is specific and affirming to each child. Finish with a prayer that each child will recognize his or her own buried talent and begin to use it in a way that brings glory to God and helps others see the face, hands, and heart of Christ.
(Photos: Wikipedia, Sebastiaan ter burg, Bill McChesney, Creative Commons License. Thanks!)