Parable of the Talents
What are YOU going to do with the resources that God has entrusted to you?
This is the question at the core of today’s Gospel: the Parable of the Talents. We all wrestle with this question in some way.
What are WE to do with what is entrusted to us?
Jesus tells us: Go out and use them…invest them in good works…build them up. Be a part of God’s work of Love. This will lead to joy. Whatever you do, don’t bury them, don’t hide them. Don’t be afraid. This will lead to anguish.
The Parable of the Talents has deep personal significance for me. Twenty years ago I helped form a Mission Discernment group here at GS in which we spent time delving into this parable. In fact, this Mission Discernment group formed out of the question:
Am I using my talents in the best way for the greater good?
At the time, I was 40 years old, a busy mother of three. I was practicing law, juggling family and work life, and seemingly engaged fully with life. Yet something was stirring. Deep In my soul, I felt an inner restlessness, a questioning. I’ve since learned that this is called Divine Discontent.
I went to Bruce McPherson, the interim rector at the time. I said, “I believe that God may be calling me to something new. I keep wondering: Am I using my talents in the best way for the greater good? Am I really I living out the Gospel in an intentional way?
I convinced him that there must be other people wondering the same thing. We came up with the idea to form a Mission Discernment Group and I was to lead it while being a participant.
The group’s purpose was to listen individually and corporately for how God was calling us. I spread the word and a core group of about eight or nine became part of this Mission Discernment Group. We met twice a month on Tuesday evenings in the Smith Room- we sat in a circle with a candle in the middle and opened with silence. We each committed to spiritual practices such as daily prayer, scripture reflection, regular attendance at worship, and listening for God in our everyday routine.
Let me tell you this way of meeting took some getting used to because it was very different from committee meetings that we were accustomed to. Instead of focusing on our own to do lists and agendas we tried hard to listen for God’s agenda, which slower to emerge. It was so counter-cultural!
Discernment is a gift and practice that’s open to everyone. It means trying to listen for and respond to God’s call. It is an attitude of listening and paying attention in all of life. It involves trusting that God is always at work guiding and loving us through.
The Parable of the Talents was a reflection assignment for the Mission Discernment group. In Jesus’ day, a talent was a measure of currency worth more than 15 years of wages of a laborer. That master entrusted his servants with a lot! Oh, how I wanted to be like the first servant who invested the master’s money and earned two-fold. But I recognized that I was much more like the third servant. Full of fear- fear of failure, of rejection, of discomfort, and of doing something vastly different. Being like the first servant was very RISKY!
At the time, I came upon a gem of a book by Elizabeth O’Connor called Eighth Day of Creation: Discovering Your Gifts. Elizabeth was a member of The Church of the Savior in Washington DC- a vibrant church heavily invested in mission work serving the poor. In her book, she offered key insight into the Parable of the Talents:
· Each one of us is given raw materials to create a new earth. To build up the Kingdom of God. To build love and goodness. And for healing, reconciliation, and repairing.
· Our gifts and talents are on loan from God. We are responsible for spending them in the world. We are accountable.
· The one who invests his or her talents in the greater good will experience joy! If we don’t use our gifts for the greater good, there is anguish.
· We have a responsibility to INVEST those gifts into the continuing creation of the world. We become co-creators with God. We are part of the 8th day of creation.
This presented quite a vision…and a quite challenge.
Two years after we began the Mission Discernment I took a risky step to resign from my law practice so that I could focus my gifts and talents in a new way- to found Well for the Journey- a nonprofit that encourages spiritual well being, connection, and community through innovative programs. Discernment is at the core of the way that the Well operates and the work has grown immensely. That bold step led to great personal joy and to serving thousands of people locally and globally now that the world is on Zoom. It would never have come to be without the encouragement and investment of community.
In 2020 the world has turned upside down. The pandemic, racial and civil unrest, and polarization reveal the urgent need for healing and love. This is our work as people of faith. God has entrusted us with lots of resources, gifts, talents but we are physically distanced with more shut downs looming. Participating in God’s creative work may look different than we think.
In his book, The Way of Love, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “Our job is to do our job in God’s great movement of love in this world.” Further, “It is impossible to know, in the moment, how small acts of goodness will reverberate through time. [This] is empowering and it is frightening– Because it means that we are all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love.” (p.139)
What are you going to do with the resources that God has entrusted to you?
I want to encourage you to take some risks. Just like the Parable of the Talents - No risk, no reward. I’m not talking about taking risks with COVID. I’m talking about taking inner risks- risks that lead to vulnerability and growth. Inner risks that get us out of our comfort zones. To let go of certain mindsets, perspectives, and fears.
The work of love is risky. Such as forgiving someone who has offended you. Listening to someone with another viewpoint- leaning in out of curiosity rather than passing judgment and keeping your distance. It may be taking on a spiritual practice that opens you to possibility. Or offering kindness and tenderness when confronted with hostility.
Here is a concrete example of risky and messy love. Since summer, almost 20 people have been part of the Sacred Ground classes via Zoom here at our church. It’s a 10-part film-based program in which we explore race and racism in the context of our faith. Each one of us has our own reasons for participating. For me, my heart was cracked open by a combination of events in the spring: George Floyd’s horrific death and an intimate, intense conversation with two friends who are black men who, by all accounts, are wildly successful. They’ve made it. But they shared with me some of their personal experiences of how life is very different as a black person. I was horrified, heartbroken, and stirred up. Up until that point I had wanted to bury my head in the sand and let others do this work. Like the third servant in the parable.
But I can’t bury my head any longer. Our society is at a breaking point and I wonder what my role is in this time and place. This is another example of divine discontent- of being stirred up and moved to do something.
So I committed to a summer of listening, learning, and discerning. Since I’m experienced at leading groups, I volunteered to lead a Sacred Ground group. To take the very rich materials that has been created by the national Episcopal Church and help others and myself move through it. Perfect opportunity to listen, learn and discern.
Talk about risk. Exploring issues of race is hard work. It is humbling and uncomfortable. I wouldn’t choose to watch these documentaries on my own, but knowing that I am part of a group with others who are also wrestling with these issues gives me courage and hope. It’s been challenging to learn painful parts of history, and enlightening to hear new viewpoints, listen to others’ stories, and offer our collective prayers. Sacred Ground has been one of the most important programs I’ve ever been a part of. The people in our group are sacred companions who provide light and hope during this dark time. This is the work of faith- the kind of faith that calls us into the healing work of love.
I don’t know where we go with this, but I do know that God is leading us.
We’re all in this together.
In conclusion, friends- be generous and be brave with the unique gifts, talents, and resources that God has entrusted you with. You are a key part of the 8th day of creation. No risk, no reward. Be bold. There you will find joy. Let’s try to be bold together. Amen.