"You've Got Talent! Now What Are You Going to Do With It?" November 13, 2011; Pentecost 22

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of God will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.
So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Saviour Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Matthew 25:14-30
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his servants 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. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

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Will you pray with me? Generous-hearted God, open our human hearts to receive all that you want to give us today; bless our hearing and speaking and doing, so that all our works and prayers may be a blessing to others, and thus acceptable in your sight; in the name of your child and our friend, Jesus Christ, amen.

What do we do with what we have? How do we spend or use what is ours—our money, our possessions such as our home, our car, clothes? How about our friends, our families—how do we treat them? Do we get all the use we can out of them and then toss them aside like a used Kleenex? That might be OK for clothes or a car, but not people—nor ideas or emotions or relationships. We feel a responsibility for those, don’t we? We know that how we treat people and feelings matters.

The talents Jesus is talking about—in the parable, a talent is an amount of money, a lot of money—a year’s salary. Imagine someone giving you a year’s income, all at once—a lot of money. Now, the first two servants invest the money they are given, and so get a return, and have something to give their master when he comes back—even though there is some risk involved, as with any investment. But they take that risk; and for both of them, their investment doubles. Now that last man—he buries his talent, rather than risk losing it. And yet what happens? He’s the one who is condemned, who did not do what he should have done.

This parable is where we get our modern meaning of “talent;” people over the centuries have understood that Jesus is talking about our gifts—the skills and capacities and abilities God has given us. It matters what we do with them, whether we use them or do not use them.

How many of you have heard of sins of commission and sins of omission? A sin of commission is when you do something you know you should not do—steal, for example. That’s a sin of commission—you did something, you acted, you “went with it.” Commit comes from the Latin, ‘com mitteo,’ to go with something or someone, to act or to do. A sin of omission is when you do not do something you know you should have done—ignored an opportunity to help someone, perhaps. You did not “go with,” you did not act or do—‘om-mitteo,; in the Latin. And that third man, my friends, committed a sin of omission. He had the opportunity to use the gift he was given, and he did not; instead, he fearfully hid it away.

Notice that he is the only one who says that the master is harsh and unforgiving—the others don’t seem too worried about the master’s reaction, because they both risked large sums of the master’s money. If he was as harsh as the third man says, would they have run that risk? I don’t think so—they had much more at stake than the third man, and if he was really as harsh and cruel as the third man says, would they have risked so much money, run the danger of his fury for an even greater loss? It sounds to me like rationalising—that third man wanted an excuse not to do anything, he was afraid of risking anything at all.

We all are given talents by God, and in different measures. Maybe we have only one talent or gift or skill or ability; maybe we have two or three; and maybe we have six or eight. The question is not how many do we have, but—what do we do with them? By the way, this applies to finances too—it is not how much money you have or give, but what you do with it….

By the very fact that we are given this gifts, we are also given the responsibility to do something with them, to use them, and to use them for good, as the first two men did, and as the third man did not.

A tremendous tragedy was revealed at a US university this past week. We do not know all the details, we probably never will—and that’s OK, for the sake of the victims. I am not here to say who is wrong is and who is right, or where the fault lies. But it raises urgent questions about responsibility, doesn’t it?

To those whom much is given—athletic, creative, or musical skill, leadership of a nation, university, corporation, church, spiritual sensitivity, a calling—much is expected—honesty, reliability, respect for justice, courage. Somewhere along all the line, this seems to have failed in that university. If some people in authority knew of something—and it seems that they had to have known something—why did they not report it to the proper authorities? When momentary expediency or fear or arrogance take the place of justice and protection of the helpless, in other words, responsibility—simple humanity has flown out the window.

If someone suspected something, it should have been acted upon—not reported up the authority chain, but action, and follow-up and protection. As clergy, I am what is called a mandatory reporter in many of the states of the US--everyone is a mandatory reporter in Canada, as you know. If I even suspect abuse of any kind, I must report it—by law. I don’t really require the law, I would report it in any case, but the fact remains that somehow the system broke down there.  Someone didn’t report what they should have, or someone didn’t respond as they should have, or someone didn’t follow up, or a combination of those.

I am not trying to be the judge here—that is up to someone else. But I do want us to see the point here—people who had responsibility, who had gifts and skills—of leadership, teaching, guidance—did not use those skills as they should have. It seems clear that some people knew there was a possibility of child abuse, and yet they did not act on it. Those who did not report or follow up on what they knew or suspected bear a heavy burden of responsibility; they may have allowed further abuse.

A lack of responsibility for the gifts they were given. Most of us don’t face situations as horrendous as that revealed last week. But nonetheless, we do sometimes abdicate responsibility for our skills, graces, gifts, talents. We decide we are too tired, have too much else happening, are too important, too poor, too rich… to do whatever it is. There are other things that are more important, or safer, or will give us more prestige or a better reputation. In effect, we bury our talents, whether we have one or many. We bury them.

Whatever our gift or talent might be, we have a responsibility to the One who gave it to us, gave them to us, to use those gifts and talents properly. To do otherwise harms us and others.  I don’t think we need to look any further than Pennsylvania to see the results of gifts misused. 

You all know what your talents are—your gifts--and if you are not sure, let’s talk. There are spiritual gifts inventories available online, and we offer one as part of our membership classes. What gives you energy to get up in the morning? What keeps you working when the others go home? What pulls you to sing or dance or cook or study or create even when you are tired or have other things to do or the other people in your life have other things they want you to do? You know what your passions are—that is where your gifts lie. Use them—use your gifts, your talents—don’t bury them. God has given them to you for a reason. Finding that reason, learning how to use your gifts in God’s service, and then doing so—that is the responsibility of God’s gifts to us.

Do not bury your talents. Use them. In all God’s names, amen.