Investing our God-given Talents
Based on Mt 25:14-30, Psalm 121, 1Thess 5:1-11
About 50 years ago now my mom and dad opened my first bank account – a passbook savings account. When I would get money from a birthday or Christmas, I would go with mom to the bank and we would fill out the deposit form and put the money, form and passbook into one of those vacuum tubes that would “whoosh” it away into the bank. The tube would come back and the person in the bank would have updated my account with my new savings balance. It was all very exciting to watch my savings grow, and I learned about interest as well with the quarterly statements from the bank. I also was able to use some of my savings a few years later when I helped to purchase a dachshund puppy after our first one died. There were other times during my childhood that my savings came in handy to tide the family over until payday. By the time I started working in my teens, my savings habit was well established. Like many of you, I suspect, I used it to buy my first car and pay for my first year of college – investing has always been a way of life.
In contradistinction, I didn’t realize that I also needed to invest my spiritual gifts like I was investing my monetary ones. I don’t really remember anyone explaining it in those terms for me, so I never realized that I had gifts to invest. In fact, it was 18 or 19 years ago when I first did a spiritual gifts inventory. Turns out, I had been gifted spiritually in ways that I had never realized. Come to find out that I had some spiritual “savings” if you will, that I had both an opportunity and a mandate to invest. I wonder if you have made a similar discovery in your life? I wonder if you have ever had an opportunity to explore your spiritual gifted-ness? I wonder if you will join me in prayer as we search farther into this economy of God?
The Psalmist writes a question to begin the song…seeking help and looking everywhere to find it. Yet, the answer to the question of where help comes from for all of us is from the LORD – the God of all Creation. The living God who never strays from us – who keeps evil at bay, and who always watches over us. This gives the people a gift of hope that they are not alone. The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme of hope when he writes about the second coming of Christ. He encourages these new Christians to continue to develop their faith and their love for each other and to hope in the promise of salvation through Jesus. Paul is echoing the words of the Psalm as he reminds the faithful of how God gave up Jesus for them and then resurrected Him so that they all (we all) may have eternal life. No matter what happens, writes Paul, trust in the investment God has made in you and continue to grow as disciples and encourage one another through the hard times that will come.
Jesus tells another parable, the third in the sequence of stories about being awake so we don’t miss the Messiah. This time the parable is about investing wisely what we have been given by God. Not all are equally gifted in God’s kingdom as described in the parable, but all have the opportunity to take what they have been given and by using those gifts in the community, they can bring a larger return to the One who gifted them in the first place. Each of the servants who invested their “talents” doubled their investment. Because they had been wise in their use of the money they had been given, they were rewarded by being put in charge of a larger number of things.
Look at what happened to the person who was afraid to invest for fear that what they had been given might be lost. At first glance, it appears to have been a prudent thing to do – to not risk what has been given and thus return to the Master no less than what was given. But the return was no more either. What had been given had not had a chance to grow at all – as the Master said, even the bankers would have given him something for the use of his money. But fear had clouded the judgment of the servant and because he was so afraid of the Master’s anger should any principal be lost, he never did anything but bury his gifts.
Many people live their lives this way. They hide their spiritual gifts or don’t go looking to see what their gifts might be. Churches all over the world, since the beginning of church, have relied on a small fraction of all of the people who attend to get the work of the kingdom accomplished. You know the 80-20 rule right?! Twenty percent of the people in any organization do 80% of the work. Yet all have received a wonderful set of talents from God. Like in the parable where a “talent” was an amount of money equal to 15 YEARS of wages for a standard laborer, even those who have only received one talent have received much. However, for one reason or another, people leave that gift hidden – undiscovered and never used. Those talent(s) haven’t had the chance to grow because the people haven’t learned about and sought to invest them.
Learning about our spiritual gifts is an important part of our growing in our discipleship. After all, if we don’t know what we have been given, then how can we know how best to give of ourselves in support of the Church’s mission of creating disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. If we only create disciples but do not (to use Paul’s words) “build them up and encourage” them, then how will they know what to do when it is their time to take over and run the church? One thing we do know is that we have all been gifted uniquely to do something for the mission that only we can do.
Luckily, twenty years ago a gentleman named Charles Bryant published a tool which is quick and easy (and inexpensive) to use. It is called “Your Spiritual Gifts Inventory” and inside it are 160 statements that you get to rank from “0” to “3” related to different statements about life in a church. After all the statements are scored, it has a grid where you aggregate your scores into 32 distinct spiritual gifts. After all the scores are aggregated, one can clearly see where one is most gifted and where one might be able to spend time investing those gifts on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ. It also shows areas where you have growth potential should you choose to develop your lesser gifts as well as those that are true spiritual strengths or passions. I have ordered some of these for those who might be interested. It gives us a place to begin a conversation on where we can best use your God-given gifts and how you can help grow God’s kingdom.
What should be quite clear after the last few weeks of parables from Jesus and exhortations from Paul is that we are expected to not just idly wait around until Jesus comes back again. In fact, we know that we have work to do. We know that we have been given specific gifts and graces to perform those tasks. We know that if we do not pay attention and use the gifts we have been given for Godly work, then it is quite possible we will miss the Messiah when He returns, or worse yet, like in last week’s parable, we will hear the chilling words, “…Truly I tell you, I do not know you….” (Mt 25:12) If those words are heard, then there really will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!
On the other hand though, we have such rewards that are promised to us when we discover and use the gifts we have been given. When we sow God’s words in prepared soil the return is 30, 60 and 100-fold. When we prepare for the return of the Lord and keep watch, we are admitted to the wedding feast. From today’s parable, we see that when we invest the small fortune that has been given us by God in the work of God, then our investments will multiply in kind. Like the magic of compound interest in my old passbook savings account, God increases our God-given gifts beyond simple arithmetic. The scripture says it plainly, “…For to all those who have, more will be given and they will have an abundance;…” (Mt 25:29) In this week of Thanksgiving, let us have hearts of gratitude for a God who not only gifts us, but who returns to us an abundance when we invest those gifts in God’s plan. This is the way the economy of God works. Thanks be to God, amen!