Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
(1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-30)
November 19, 2017
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +
I have a confession to make.
Many, many years ago I said, “If there’s one thing I’ll never do, it’s teach.” Or, I might have added, stand up in front of a room full of people and talk. After all, I’m one of those introverts who love a quiet morning, a cup of coffee, and a good book—or a good computer!
But teach I did, for thirty years at VSU. Why? Well, let’s go back to my first year, when I walked into a freshman class, and it suddenly hit me. I am looking at time itself! The students in front of me are both the present and the future.
This class came from all ends of the earth. There was the son of a lawyer, sitting next to a student who worked full-time to pay tuition, sitting next to a young, unwed mother. There was a first-generation college student, who, I found out, was afraid to write about her heroine, Civil Rights advocate Rosa Parks, because she was black and I was white. I could go on and on. The girl with the olive complexion came from Libya; the boy with dark hair from Japan. They were all filled with possibilities, ones that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.
But there were also the students in the back row, caps pulled low, hoping that if they couldn’t see me, I wouldn’t see them. Their books were unopened; their notebooks—we used notebooks and pens in those days—were full of blank sheets of paper.
No matter. Looking at all of them, I was excited about the talents they possessed. Talents! Abilities! What would they do?
That’s why it’s fun to run into former students who say, “Hi, Dr. Marks, remember me?” “I’m about to retire from my accounting firm,” one said some weeks ago as we both waited in line in Publix. I’ve heard all sorts of things, from “I’ve just been volunteering at the Soup Kitchen” to “I’ve just published a short story!” The possibilities are endless.
It’s really inspiring to see others discover what they do best. So when I saw that today’s reading from Matthew was about hiding one’s talents, I thought—yes! That brings back memories of my students, including the boys in the back of the room. I wonder to this day whether they had ever considered what they would do when they grew up—really grew up. Did they have dreams? Or talents?
When I was around five years old, I wanted to be an archeologist. Well, it was probably a paleontologist, but I didn’t know that word. We lived in New York—in a brownstone basement apartment—and my mother would take me to the Museum of Natural History. I’d stand fascinated in front of the skeletons resurrected from the ground—the tyrannosaurus rex, the brontosaurus, the triceratops. Today I satisfy my curiosity with a subscription to Archeology Magazine. And a good thing, too: I’m happy that I spent my career as an English professor, although, as I said, teaching the one thing I said I’d never do!
So, back to talents. In Matthew’s day, the word “talent” refers to an amount of money—a huge amount: one talent of silver would have paid a skilled worker for nine years, or an ordinary laborer for 15 years or so. What’s interesting is that the figurative sense of the word “talent”—a special ability or aptitude—developed from our reading from Matthew.
Here we have a man —the Master—who hands over his wealth to his servants before he goes on a journey. We might think the man is one of those scribes or Pharisees with long robes and a proud disposition, but we’d be wrong. Look at the context—something your English teacher probably told you to do a long time ago—look at the beginning of Matthew, Chapter 25, which says, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.“
Clearly, we are looking at a parable, a metaphor about how we behave in that kingdom. Suppose, then, it is God—the Master—who entrusts his servants—meaning us—with a treasure. Suppose He is the one who gives us talents, no matter how we define that word. And we are to make the best of them; we are to use them, make them grow.
That’s what two of the servants do—they double in value what they have been given. Think about it. It’s rather like asking a good friend to care for your African violet while you are away. And when you return, you find to your joy that it has flowered!
The third servant, however, takes his talent and buries it; he hides his light under a bushel basket, so to speak. And then, when the Master returns, the servant accuses him—accuses the one who trustingly handed over his treasure—of being a “harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed.” Yet that same Master is the one who rewards the two obedient servants by putting them in charge of many things, and who also invites them to “Enter into the joy of your master.”
So what’s the lesson? Be like those servants who have gone out with a small gift and have returned with hands overflowing. Use your talents! If you are creative, then paint to your heart’s content—give the world a visual perspective. If you love numbers, help people with their taxes or figure out how space and time intersect. Or feed others or write or help heal. It doesn’t matter; we are all God’s servants, gifted with talents. They are there; you have them.
And if you use your talents, if you make them flourish and grow, you are hand in hand with the Creator. You have that invitation, you know; it will come when I am finished, when we all are so privileged as to receive the sacrament of new life at communion. There is the gift that God is giving to you, putting it into your hands so that you can make it grow.
And so I say to you, let us do exactly that—let us “encourage one another and build up each other”: let us “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation”:
“Let us go out into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit!”
In His Holy Name. +