“God’s Limits and Your Talents”
Mt 25:14-30 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ November 15, 2020
Remembrance Day this year was very enigmatic. No services at the cenotaph…only ones viewed from a screen; fewer poppies worn in remembrance as less people venture out to shop. The National Remembrance Day service broadcast from Ottawa: no fly-over due to weather concerns; no massive crowds; a balmy 17 degree day. Yes this a truly unique Remembrance Day, indeed. Yet, as odd a day as it was, as I watched the CBC broadcast, I wondered if we were more united this year than ever before. Usually, we attend services in our respective communities or watch on television. Some of us gather at the various community cenotaphs; whereas, others watch the national ceremony from home. As a result, we are normally dispersed in our collective remembrance. This year, however, we were brought together electronically as we collectively gathered around the National service. What parts stood out for you? For me, one part occurred during the closing Benediction offered by Rabbi Bulka. He insightfully offered these words: “as a result of this pandemic, we have a better idea of what it means to be separated from loved ones during the times of war.” And isn’t that true! We have all heard the stories of family separation at the hands of war. Some of us have that as a personal experience; others have it as part of their collective family story; our Book Club read a book about war and the separations it brings. Yet, the Rabbi poignantly drew the parallel to the separations we are all experiencing in this pandemic time to war and noting how it is drawing us together: “we are all soldiers in battle each with a role on ‘Team Canada’”. This time we now live in, like the wars of the past, is now a battleground where we are called to unite against a common enemy.
The text before us has much to offer in a time such as this. The parable of the talents is the third of four teachings Jesus offers about the implications of the coming Kingdom. Jesus offers parables of the return or the Bridegroom, the return of the King, and in this parable…the return of the master. These are stories about the end of one time and the beginning of God’s; stories about the result of action ~ and inaction. These are ancient stories that are still speaking to us today! While this passage is certainly about stewardship of gifts ~ the call to share one’s talents and not hide them away ~ t is about so much more!
The first thing we notice is that this parable teaches us about the profound levels of misunderstanding we carry. How many of you liked the master in the parable? (I’m guessing few of us) From the perspective of the third slave, the one who cautiously buried away his Master’s talents, he views the Master as “harsh”. From the perspective of the Master, he views this third slave as “wicked and lazy.” Yet, as the story unfolds, we learn that the perspectives held…may not hold true. We learn, in fact, that the Master does not entirely act “harshly”. In fact, to the first two slaves, who invest their talents, the Master offers them not harsh treatment, but rather… he offers them his delight. To these two slaves, the profits that they earn are entrusted back to them for their further guidance. And in a shocking twist, they are invited into the Master’s “joy”! In fact, what we see occurring here, is the Master changing the relationship from Master & slave towards that of equality.
The other misunderstanding that I wonder about is the value that the third slave placed upon his single talent. You see, more than this slave being cautious, I wonder if he undervalues that one lowly talent that he held as he compares it to the others who received two and five? How might that feel if you were lined up and you see some receiving sooooo much more? Some getting five…others getting two… And you are given this single talent by the Master. Would you feel devalued? Would you feel less-than? Would you be afraid of messing it up and coming back empty handed? I think that is exactly the nature of the fear that lies inside this third slave’s mind? He feels afraid; he feels less-than; he feels unworthy and does not want to be any further devalued. And so, with that fear in his mind he buries his talent away, lest they ever see the light of day and risk being lost.
As I think on our experience living through the pandemic over the past 8 months, if there is one collectively damaging thing that has occurred, it is this: It has left so many feeling isolated, separated, and weakened with a feeling of “what can I do?” We do not feel like the first slave who was given 5 talents ~ 75 years of wage all at once. We do not feel like the second who was given the two talents. We feel isolated in Care Homes with food trays delivered; we feel separated in our homes not being able to gather; we feel alone behind our masks; we feel afraid as economics threaten our employment. We have been left feeling like the ones at the end of the line.
Yet, our faith story can offer us such deep guidance and hope during these days! And so often we forget what a true gift our faith is!!! Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus preaches his longest recorded sermon in the gospels and implores us NOT to hide our light. We sing: “Hide it under a bushel…NO…I’m gonna let it shine!” we sing. Paul will build Jesus’ body ~ his church ~ around the gifts we all carry. All gifts are valued…all gifts are essential ~ those with 5, those with 2 and those with 1, all are needed in order for the body of Christ to live and walk and serve in the world. What kindles the Master’s anger is the slave’s failure to see how important he is; to know that his talent needs to be unleashed in the world.
So many people that I speak to seem to feel like they have that one little unnecessary talent. We feel powerless. What can WE possibly do in the face of this massive crisis? Yet as the Rabbi called to us in Wednesday’s benediction, we are called to be among the soldiers in today’s fight against the pandemic. We CAN make the difference in flattening the curve; we can make the difference in curing loneliness and isolation; we can make the difference through the talent we have been given!
In Dr Henry’s address eight days ago, she notes how many of our practices have not been as stringent as they once were. At the beginning of the pandemic, BC was a sterling example of how to unite and fight a pandemic and the results of the spread bore out this truth. Over the past eight months, we have experienced how truly challenging it is to maintain this discipline. It has tested relationships; it has tested economics; it has tested our fears. It has truly been a difficult time. And, perhaps, we have a growing isolated feeling of ‘what can I possibly do to make a difference?’ What we are discovering is that each and every ‘little’ thing we are doing makes a ‘BIG’ difference! And, when we do not do these ‘little’ things, we are reminded of how truly BIG the problem grow. We can make a difference through sacrifices like wearing masks, through giving people lots of social distance, through staying home and sticking to our ‘social bubble’. We can make a difference through sacrifices like worshipping online ~ for now, not gathering in one another’s homes ~ for now. We can make a difference through shining light to others ~ keeping in touch: calls, emails, video calls, letters. We can pray for one another. We can use the talent that is in each of us to truly make a difference.
You see, the one thing that this parable truly both teaches and warns us about is God’s nature that is both one of generosity and self-limitation. God is deeply generous, gifting each of us with profound talents. Yet, the other side of this is that God’s nature is self-limiting. God wants us to freely use them! God shows love, not by extreme attentiveness ~ like a hands-on parent does for an infant. God shows love by giving us space and freedom to let us learn, live, and express…freely. Some of you know that one area that I enjoy reading is in the area of professional sport coaching. Two reasons: I believe that excellent coaches have a lot to teach pastors and the church, and…I love sports. I am just finishing up the new book by Toronto Raptors NBA coach Nick Nurse who won the basketball title last year and was named as ‘Coach of the Year’. Nurse notes an inspiration for his coaching style comes from Darrell Mudra. Mudra, he says, is “one of the greatest coaches almost no one has heard of”. Mudra’s coaching style is deeply orthodox in that he let the players…play! He believed in doing his coaching work through the week in practice…analyzing previous games, running through the drills. Come game time, he gave the game over to his players and assistant coaches as he would go into the press box and limit his communications through a headset. He trained his players; he taught the plays; he equipped the players. But, come game time, it was time for the players to do what they knew how to do…to play!
This time we live in is very real. It is game time; it is not a practice; it is not a rehearsal. It is time to do the right things. It is time to live our faith; it is time to be good neighbours; it is time to unite for each and every talent is truly needed.