Sunday, November 23, 2014

“What Talent Has God Given You? Who Benefits From It?” (Matthew 25:31-46)

In the movie “Dead Poet’s Society”, actor Robin Williams plays the part of an English teacher named John Keating.  The setting is an elite prep school for boys, and Keating is an unorthodox teacher whom invites several young men to embrace a love of poetry and to “seize the day,” to stop and think about what you are doing with your life and consider doing something extraordinary.

At one point in the movie Keating invites the young men in the Dead Poet’s society to look at the pictures of former young men who once walked the halls of the elite prep school. As they look into the faces from the schools past, John Keating says to the young men: “They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

I love to watch the audition stories from the shows like America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and Britain’s Got Talent.  Perhaps you’re a fan, too---that moment when someone who’s led a rather obscure life surprises the audience.  I’d like to share Sam Bailey’s story from 2013’s Britain’s Got Talent:  Video Link.  A diamond in the rough—and no one is more surprised than her!!!

In Matthew’s telling of the Parable of the Talents, or Investments, Jesus alerts us to an astounding reality---God has invested God’s self in us.  Gifted us with talents; ability, time, and money.  We are not self-sufficient.  We are God sufficient.  If we lean in we can almost hear God say to us, “Carpe diem.”  (You) seize the day. (You) take risks. This is the FIRST surprise in our parable from Matthew.  By the grace of God, we ALL are talented!  AND NO ONE IS MORE SURPRISED THAN OUR SELF!!!

On the back of your bulletin you will find a few lines.  I’d like for you to take two minutes to reflect on your unique talents—God hasn’t forgotten anyone. (Two minutes for reflection here.)

Now, I’d like you to find one person and share what you’ve written about yourself.  Now, I already know you are a tad bit uncomfortable.  I already know that most people are quite shy about their God-given gifts for fear of boasting.  However, it’s often when we wake UP to our unique self, our gifted self, that we wake UP to the giver, to God.  God wants us to see God’s handiwork within us.  So share with a neighbor your God-given blessings and uniqueness.  

Now, let’s all take a little moment here to reflect on what we heard, and to give God thanks for God’s generosity in US, and in our neighbors, and in our church.

Having discovered our God-given potential, a question that naturally follows is, “What does God mean by giving me this gift, or gifts?  Does God have an idea as to how we should spend our talents?”   This is the SECOND SURPRISE  hidden in the parable of the talents—God has given us talents and named their purpose.  In keeping with Matthew’s understanding of Jesus, we turn back a few chapters to Matthew  12:15 where we read the job description for “God’s Chosen Servant”:

“Here’s my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.  I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.  He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.  He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings JUSTICE to victory.  And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Were we to move ahead a few verses (to Matthew 25:31-46) we’d encounter Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats where we hear:
34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’”

What’s the purpose of God’s investment in us?  We are to do the work of justice.  What does justice mean?  “Just behavior is a concern for fair play, even handedness, and impartiality.”  Jesus, we understand, “Showed no partiality.”  Everyone is beautiful and deserving of a home, the right clothing for the right season, healthcare, and education—food on the table, meaningful work.  The children of God make the least of these a priority—like Jesus.

 What Matthew wants to know in his Parable of the Talents is this:  Are we matching our job performance to our job description?  Are we “throwing our lives wide”? There’s always a learning curve in a parable.  If there wasn’t, why tell them?  Why tell people what they already know?  Jesus told parables to wake us up to what we don’t know.  And what we might not know today is that we have a tendency to turn our talents in on ourselves, to bury our lives in apathy and busyness and greed and never expose two very important truths:  One, we are here by the grace of God and that makes us very talented.  Two, we are here to change the world in which we live; to tackle the big problems. 

In the parable, the third servant ignores the master’s directions, abandons the job description provided by the master, and hides his talent from everyone.  No one benefits from his talent—his life—least of all the least of these.  

Do we see any resemblance between the third servant and ourselves—how we have arranged our congregational life together?

Jesus, on the other hand, surrendered to God’s directions (love of God, love of neighbor), fulfills the job description (justice, fair-mindedness), and shares his inner light with all who would receive him.  He doesn’t withhold God’s blessings from anyone, nor does he simply share his talents with a few close friends.  Instead Jesus took great risks---spending a great deal of time with those persons on the outside of what was considered holiness, looking in; the gentiles—the non-religious persons.

I’d like for you to take one more minute and list the names of persons who benefit the most from your God-given gifts.   I’d like you to take another minute and make a similar list of the persons who benefit from our congregation’s life together.  

How much of your time, and our time together, is spent in justice work?  If we were to seize the day together---who “least of these” would we help, and how would we help them?

Let us pray:  Fair-minded God, give us the courage to embrace your life within us—and take great risks to share it with the least of these, YOUR children, OUR neighbors.  May we, like Christ, throw our lives WIDE.  Amen. 

(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener, Central Christian Church, Billings, Montana on November 16, 2014.)

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