More Than Thanksgiving
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 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.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
24 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; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
There is a church I know up north. And in the early part of the twentieth century, it was a huge church. It had a famous pastor, a great location, and an incredible sanctuary. The sanctuary especially is amazing. It can hold up to 700 people within it, and still today leaves you with a sense of wonder and awe as you step through its doors. It has beautiful organ pipes in the back, a balcony that wraps around the back and sides, and great giant pillars that seem to reach up all the way to heaven. And in those early years, even with a sanctuary that size, the place was packed every Sunday morning.
Now this church taught and preached the gospel to those inside its doors. It did the business and work of the church decently and in order. It paid its bills, had a large endowment, owned expensive real estate, had talented pastors and musicians. But everything it did was for those already in its doors. It never took risks. It never thought about change. It failed to look outside of itself, and see that there was a whole city of people that they could welcome in.
And slowly, but surely, this community of faith that once burst out the doors, began getting smaller and smaller. And by the year 2,000 this church, in the heart of a city of millions with a sanctuary that could hold 700 people at a time, this church was down to 8 members worshiping together. 8 people.
In Jesus’ parable, he is speaking to a group of religious leaders of his own day who are doing much of the same thing. The Pharisees get a bad rap in the gospels, but they were actually going out to where people were, teaching, serving, and helping. But in the Temple here where Jesus is speaking are the Sadducees and other leaders who only waited for people to come to them. They teach about the law, they do everything properly and in order, they offer sacrifices and recite the correct prayers, they have a huge treasury at their disposal. But everything is for those inside their walls. There is no risk, no change, no steps to welcome new people or share God’s love with the world. Everything is for those already there.
In this parable, Jesus is reminding them that all that they have (and all that we have) is a gift from God. Our resources, money and talents. But more than that too. The good news that God loves us, God has called us, God has claimed us as a people, those re gifts too. And they are huge gifts. The amount of money Jesus speaks of in this parable is a gigiantic amount. One Talent is 30 years worth of salary. To those listening , it is an almost unimaginable sum. That is the abundance of grace God gives us.
And then Jesus reminds those leaders (and also us) that those talents, those resources, that grace and love, we aren’t supposed to bury them in the ground. We aren’t supposed to hide them in our own buildings and insular communities. The love of God was never meant to be kept a secret. It was never meant for one small group to keep to themselves. It was meant for the whole world to know and share.
In Genesis, the very first time that God speaks to Abraham, the father of both the Jewish and Christian faiths, God tells him, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” From the very beginning, God wanted to bless us so that we could bless others. God wanted to love us so we can love others. God shows us wonders and miracles and love and promises so that we can go out and proclaim that good news to the ends of the earth, so that we can live changed lives that show in the way we welcome and treat and love our neighbors.
In his book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell writes that when a Christian moves into a neighborhood, every neighbor should be better off because of it. Whether our neighbors are Christians or another faith – Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic, when we are their neighbors their lives should be better. Not because we will ram our own religion down their throat – I don’t think that ever works, or even is healthy. But because the love we know from Christ should make us into better neighbors for all people, even if they have different beliefs from us.
Sadly, that is not always the case. Instead of hospitality and welcome and care, Christians have lived out of judgment, fear, and closing ourselves off. That great Talent Jesus gave us to invest and use, to shine a light for all to see, we bury it in our buildings, and hide it in our insular groups. We make friends only with other Christians. We care for only our own. We hide the light under a bushel.
It is important for us to give thanks and praise on Sunday mornings. But we can’t stop there. Our faith needs to be more than words, more than creeds, more than a ritual we undertake once a week. It needs to be active and life giving. It needs to be sharing and open. It needs to be risk-taking and fearless.
In this parable, we often jump straight to the third example – the person who hid his Talent in the ground. But we should also look at the first two examples and find a lot of hope in them. Each one of them took the Talents they were given and did something risky with it. They invested. They used them. They tried something new and different. And when they did, God blessed it. Their Talents multiplied. Their gifts became fuller and more abundant.
One reason we don’t take risks or try new things is that we don’t think we can afford to. We worry that failure will lead to death. But in this scripture passage, failure is okay. Trying something and it not working out the first time is okay. God will still be there blessing it along the way. What is not okay is never taking that chance, never looking outside ourselves, never trying to share the abundance of grace we have been given.
That church I mentioned at the start, I know it because it was my church for a year in seminary. And I have to tell you something amazing is happening in it. About ten years ago, it did a restart. The church didn’t do anything big or fancy. They didn’t install a huge new light show or fog machines or powerpoint screens. Instead, they decided to simply look at who is their neighbor right now, and what are they looking for?
They started up a Wednesday Bible study at noon and invited those who worked in the skyscrapers next door. They met in pubs as small groups for the young professionals looking for community. They started worshiping with their doors wide open, and changed up their music to be more inclusive. They began serving in clothing thrift shops and food pantries and building houses. They planted a garden and new trees to bring life to their community. They opened up a preschool, knowing how expensive it is for those in the city. They invited more outside groups in, including those of other faiths. And slowly but surely, that congregation has grown back from 8 to over a hundred and growing more and more.
As they have taken those steps to do new and risky things, many have failed. Many have not connected. But each failure taught them something. And each success reminded them of God’s grace. They still give thanks to God. But they do it through actions as well as words. They do it, while knowing God wants those gifts of love and grace to be multiplied even greater.
This Thursday, almost all of us are going to sit down around a table and give thanks for what we have to God. There is something holy about that. Jesus spent a lot of his ministry doing just that. But as we give thanks to God, let us not just look upward. Let us look outward too. And let us remember that the blessings God has given us are not meant to be kept to ourselves. We all are called to be a blessing for the world. God has given us an abundance of grace. Let’s share it with the world. Amen.