Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the fall of 2011 I had an informal interview with several members of the Southwestern Texas Synod Candidacy Committee as I was discerning a call to ordained ministry but had no idea how the process worked and wanted to get some more information. I had been serving as the Director of Child, Youth, & Family Ministries at Emanuel’s Lutheran for just over a year and was getting that little nagging sensation that maybe I was supposed to do more. Over my time here at Grace, I’ve shared with many of you that the nagging sensation began when I was about 16-years-old, but I just kept trying to ignore it or avoid it, telling myself that I didn’t really fit the “pastor” mold, so it couldn’t really be a valid call. I pretty much did everything possible to avoid this life that I now lead.
On that day, I drove to San Antonio, Texas and met with two women who served on the committee at that time. They asked me questions about my sense of call and ministry direction, and explained the whole candidacy and seminary process to me, which as I’m sure most of you have realized by this point – is extensive.
I was very encouraged and optimized by this meeting and was beginning to think the nagging sensation might actually be real, AND, then it happened – one of the women I was meeting with left the room for a few minutes to get me a resource book, and the other woman turned to me and said – “You know, you sound like you have a sense of call, but I do have one concern, your appearance isn’t exactly pastoral.”
I was confused and must of have looked confused because she continued – “You are too thin, you wear too much makeup, and your hair is far too long. You may end up being a distraction.” So, no one ever told me that a love and excessive use of mascara precludes one from having a pastoral calling. The more you know! She also told me that during my internship, there was the possibility that I could be separated from my family for the year, and if I wasn’t willing to do so, then I might not really be called.
I was shocked and horrified and felt shamed and inadequate. I was immediately filled with all kinds of self-doubt and fear. Because of this meeting, I determined I must not really be called, the nagging feeling was not for real, and I did not apply for candidacy. It took me two years of affirmation and encouragement by numerous other people to get me to a point where I felt confident enough to apply. And another year beyond that before I began seminary. Because of this one meeting, I buried my talents and ignored my gifts and my calling. I functioned in the capacity of the third steward that we hear about in our Gospel lesson today.
In the text, Jesus pulls aside the disciples, and begins to tell a parable that is meant for their ears only. In it he speaks of a man who goes on a journey – a long journey – and entrusts his property to several of his slaves. To one he gives 5 talents, to another two, and to the final slave, he gives one.
A talent was a unit for measuring money. And not just a small sum of money – we are talking big bucks. A talent was equal to the wages that a laborer would accrue over a 15-year span of time. So, the slave who received 5 talents received 75 years’ worth of annual income. He was given what we all spend a lifetime working for, today.
This slave and the slave who receive two talents, went and traded with them and ended up doubling the amount that had been entrusted to their care. The third slave dug a whole in the ground and hid his master’s money. This would not have been an uncommon practice at the time – burying ones treasure meant keeping it safe.
Years and years go by and finally the master returns and wants to settle-up with his slaves. He praises, honors, and rewards the slaves who took risk and doubled what they were given. The slave who buried his talent admits that he was afraid and so just kept it safe. Nothing wrong with that, right?
WRONG! The master is angered by this and tells him at the very least he should have invested it with bankers, so he could have gotten some interest. He then takes the talent from this slave and gives it to the slave who had ten and banishes him. Man – HARSH! I mean, it’s not like the guy LOST the money, he just didn’t take any risks with it.
So – why would Jesus tell this parable to his disciples? Just what exactly is he trying to get across to them??? Contrary to what some modern-day televangelists profess, this is not a story justifying a gospel of economic prosperity. Instead, the disciples at the time, and we today, are encouraged to emulate the first two slaves by using all that we have been given for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Jesus knows his time with the disciples is limited, and he is trying to prepare them for the life that they will lead without him. He is telling them that they will need to endure difficult times, times where their faith is tested, when they are criticized, ostracized, detested, and disliked. But through all of this, they are to live in the anticipation of his return, working daily to continue his mission of feeding the hungry, curing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, blessing the meek, and serving the least. Using every gift and resource at their disposal to do so. Everything they have been given. Everything that they are. Listening to the nagging feeling inside of them that tells them this is what they are meant to do and to keep on doing it. This is not a safe vocation. This is not an easy vocation. It involves a tremendous amount of risk.
Risk is something that we are taught to minimize. Sure, it’s okay to take a reasonable amount of risk – particularly when managing financial resources, but we need be cautious. We need to hold back a little. Save some. We don’t want to lose everything, afterall! We take out insurance policies, we diversify, we save.
But this parable is speaking to so much more than just financial resources. Risk is also something we take when sharing our gifts and talents with the world. And just like the disciples, there are times when we will need to endure difficult times, times where our faith is tested, when we are criticized, ostracized, detested, and disliked. But through all of this, we also are to live in the anticipation of Jesus’ return, working daily to continue his mission. Our gifts may not always be appreciated or welcomed. They may not always be understood. They may not even be noticed. They may be marginalized at the expense of superficiality. And some days we may just be at a loss for how to act or what to do.
Living into Jesus’ mission can be hard and thankless work. It can be confusing work. I mean, how much is enough? What truly encompasses giving your whole self? Where is the line between risking the talents that have been entrusted to us and burying them? It is really easy to get discouraged and to feel doubt and despair and think that there is no point in continuing to try.
It’s very easy to become the third slave just as I did all those years ago. It’s easy to listen to the shamers, naysayers, and enablers. To ignore the nagging feeling that we know to be true. To not take the risks that we know we are called to take. To clock in and out of church each Sunday and call that good enough. Jesus is telling us that this is not good enough. God comes to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus offering grace, love, mercy, salvation, and eternal life. We in turn are called to extend this grace love, and mercy to our neighbors. Empowering one another and bolstering one another.
We are called to get involved, advocate, serve. There are so many ways we can use our talents to show love to our neighbors. Here at Grace we support Out-Of-The- Cold, the Crop Walk, Stop Hunger Now, and Jared Boxes just to name a few. When the Hurricanes hit Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, we gave generously and supported the relief efforts. There are also many, many ways to engage in our community. To speak up in the face of adversity. To advocate both inside and outside of the church. There is an unlimited number of ways that we can serve. This is what it means to be community. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ – each one of us working for the betterment and fulfillment of the whole. Using our talents, not burying them.
And as we do this – Jesus promises to always be with us. Meeting us both in the waters of baptism and at the table – nourishing us and empowering us to keep going. To keep using those talents. Sending the Holy Spirit to continuously steer us on this journey.
Don’t bury your talents. Don’t ignore the nagging feeling telling you to act. Don’t listen to those people who cause you to fear and doubt. Give of yourself and give generously. Take risk. God created you, Jesus redeemed you, and the Holy Spirit continues to guide you. Live in the security of God’s love, and share that love with others. When we do this we truly live life and live it abundantly. Amen.