What are your priceless talents?

Adrian MacKenzie, 19 November 2017

1 Thessalonians 5: 1–11; Matthew 25: 14–30

Just like Mark Byford a few months back, I come before you to speak as a lay person. One of you. Without any special training, just with the talents God has given me. This morning I pray, in some small way, I may use my talents to break open the word of God.

Before I immigrated from Australia in 2013, I had decided to ‘shop around’ churches before settling into a parish. I had been attending the same church for 33 years, and thought it a great opportunity to experience the world! After first attending the Ash Wednesday service at St Matthew’s I headed to St Paul’s in early Lent.

On my first Sunday here – now almost five years ago – Revd Peter Seal preached on stewardship and financial giving, one of the toughest topics for a preacher. His approach on that fateful Sunday is likely the key reason why I have not yet shopped around for a different parish in England! Let me explain why.

My first recollection of this morning’s gospel, the Parable of the Talents, is from the mid-1990s. I was a young man of 21 or so. I had been elected to the parish council as a warden after serving the previous couple of years as an ordinary member. As a council we were grappling with how to engage with our community on the topic of stewardship and financial giving. In my former parish during the 1980s, ‘stewardship’ had become a dirty word after a few failed attempts with external consultants advising on how to raise the level of weekly financial giving in the parish.

It was during this time we decided on a different approach to stewardship, centred around the gospel for this morning. We focused on exploring stewardship as an expression of our individual contributions of time, treasures and talents to grow God’s kingdom.

As a parish council we wrote a letter to each person or family on the roll, including the text from this gospel and a $5 note to symbolise a talent. We were challenging the parish to respond to this parable, deepening their response to God (and hopefully increasing the weekly giving). Releasing approximately $1,000 in funds was a bold move for a parish that was only just financially viable.

As you might expect, our people responded in a variety of ways. There was a flurry of social and fund-raising activities – cakes baked, wines tasted and craft sold. New people signed up to rotas to give more of their time. All great ways to grow community, raise funds and develop the talents God has given us. However, just like in the parable, other parishioners returned the $5 and still yet others kept it for themselves (all anonymously as you might expect!)

So – if you can recall Peter’s annual sermon on stewardship – the approach of this parish to ‘healthy conversations’ about money and stewardship deeply resonated with my past experiences as a Christian leader within a parish. Immediately I felt at home.

I would, however, like to dig deeper into this parable from Jesus. In preparing for this morning, as you might expect, I have been sitting with and researching this gospel. And much like my children’s story in the service a few weeks back, when you read between the lines it turns out to be quite shocking.

In ancient times a talent was a unit of mass, likely in the tens of kilograms. Some references suggest that just one talent of gold in biblical times was equivalent to 15 years’ salary! 15 years! The original audience of this parable, I assume, must have been chuckling to themselves. Which master entrusts 15 years’ salary to a servant when they go away? Not to mention 30 years’ salary (two talents) or 75 years’ salary (five talents)! No wonder the third servant was fearful of losing his master’s talent. I too would be somewhat fearful of the consequences if someone gave me 15 years’ salary worth of money to look after for a while.

The original audience must have been chuckling to themselves. Which master entrusts 15 years’ salary to a servant when they go away?

As best I understand it, typically these parables from Jesus try to provide insight into the way God’s kingdom works. And this story left me wondering, what is going on here? One way I have heard God talking to me as I sat with this text was this:

  • God has entrusted me, Adrian, with his talents – not just money, but gifts and skills – for this lifetime
  • these talents are priceless in value, and he only asks that of which I am capable
  • my invitation into God’s kingdom is to use these talents according to my ability.

My response: I keep hearing these words over and over again:

  • God trusts me with his talents
  • do I grow these priceless talents?
  • or am I too afraid that I might muck them up, so I bury them?
  • God trusts me
  • do I trust him or am I too afraid?

On reflection I suspect, just like you, I respond similarly to all three of the servants in this parable. Yes, all three.

I have invested, developed and grown some talents, returning those to God. For example, my involvement in the church – serving, children’s stories, intercessions, small groups, leading Sunday school, parish council, synod. In my job I am a leader of people, trying to do so with compassion (rather than ruthlessness) and forgiveness (rather than callousness), humanising (rather than de-humanising). As a parent and husband, I am trying to create a family environment that reflects God.

And yet I have buried other talents in the ground: the ones that take even more personal sacrifice, that cost precious time and wealth (when I would rather curl up in the warmth of my own home and blot out the rest of the world).

I have buried talents in the ground. I struggle to name these talents, because it is where the hard work between me and God needs to get done.

I struggle to name these talents, because it is where the hard work between me and God needs to get done. And I keep shying away. Is it more sacrificial ministry in the church? Or changing career to a job that further grows God’s kingdom? More volunteering for needy causes or activism to change an unjust world? Or just becoming a more supportive partner, father and friend? I am not sure; but I do know I have buried, priceless talents which should be grown.

In conclusion, what is the invitation before us this morning? How might we approach this coming week differently from the last?

God is inviting us into communion with him, into his kingdom. Through Jesus he has given us hints on what is required and what to expect. He has entrusted us with priceless talents and expects us to grow the kingdom with them.

Do you know what your priceless talents are? Have you buried some of them in the ground? Do you have the courage to get out the shovel and dig them out, clean them up and start to nurture them, growing the kingdom of God? Amen.