God generously gives gifts, talents, and abilities to his followers. And we have a responsibility to be productive with those gifts. God is good to us by the gifts he gives, but he expects us to be accountable for how we use them. And nothing will compare to what we have coming to us because we are wise in how we use the gifts God has given to us.
- I will not compare my gifts to others.
- I will ask God how he wants me to use my gifts to serve him.
- I will identify, develop, invest, and celebrate the gifts God has given to me.
We’re in the Stanford locker room today because college football season starts this Saturday. The NFL football season starts next week.
I have a lot of friends who are looking forward to watching a lot of football this season? You know what’s a little strange though? No child grows up dreaming — “I’m going to be a great spectator one day. My heart’s desire is to be a tremendous watcher of sports.” We were made to be in the game. Our heart’s cry is, “Put me in the game!” It’s ironic to me that our society consists of millions of Cheeto-eating, La-Z-Boy sitting, couch potatoes who desperately need exercise, watching 22 men running around on a football field, who desperately need rest. When we’re kids we just want to be in the game. I can remember when I was on the basketball team in middle school, I mostly sat on the bench, and it became clear to me that the whole process of deciding who would play was political.
The coach had his “favorites.” They were the guys who were fast and strong and coordinated. They could shoot and dribble and rebound. For those purely arbitrary reasons, they got to play the game and become strong athletes.
I sat on the bench, and developed character, and became a pastor. God did not create you to sit on the bench. God made you for a purpose.
So today we’re going to learn together from Jesus what he wants from every one of us.
This is an everybody-is-needed message. So that every one of us can know the joy of actually getting put into the game, so we as a community, as a church, can do what God is calling us to do. We’re going to look at a story Jesus told. It’s sometimes called the parable of the talents.
This is what Jesus said about the kingdom of God:
Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
The man who had received the five talents went at once and put them to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
This story begins with incredibly good news, and this has a huge impact for your life and mine.
The master calls in these guys (the actual word in the story is slaves), so they have no money, no property, no career, no prospects, but he says to them, “I’m going to give you an unbelievable opportunity.” Jesus is a great storyteller. What would strike his listeners first in this story is the enormity of the money that’s being given to these guys.
A talent was the biggest figure, the largest unit of accounting in Greek financial transactions. A talent was worth 10,000 of what were called denarii.
A denarius (we know this actually from another one of Jesus’ parables) was about what the average person earned in one day.
Now it’s always tricky to translate that into our economy, but here’s the best I can do.
Let’s say an average salary in the Bay Area is about $70,000 a year. That would equal about $270 a day.
$270 times 10,000 is 2.7 million dollars.
That means even the one talent guy got the equivalent of 2.7 million dollars. This is the story of a slave who wins the lottery. The idea is this would be like a profit-sharing venture where he could share in the gains, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is a staggeringly generous master.
As Jesus tells this story, everyone listening to it recognizes how generous this master is. So this is a story about how the God of the gift offers the chance of a lifetime. I want to pause here and ask you to grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Actually this is a locker room talk, and when you give a locker room talk you don’t invite, you tell people what to do. So just get a piece of paper and something to write with and don’t whine about it. I’m going to ask several questions throughout this message, and I’d like you to write down some answers. The first question is —
What have I been given?
Let me give you a few answers to get you started.
You’re alive, so write the word life. God has given you life. How much is that worth? Next, you have some gifts. We’ve been talking about this for the last few weeks. There are things you’re good at like encouraging, or planning, or leading or a number of other gifts that were given to you by the Holy Spirit. Just write down a couple of them. Then you have a body. You have energy. You have a level of mental health. You’re in touch with reality. So write down energy and sanity. Then you have experience. You have what you’ve learned so far in your lifetime.
Write down how old you are, how many years you’ve been alive. Or if you don’t want to do that, write how old you think you look on a good day, or ask the person next to you if you’re in touch with reality. Then you have financial resources. You don’t have to write a number. You may just want to write the word “much” compared to most people in our world. Also you have wounds. It’s a funny thing. God often uses our wounds even more than he uses our strengths. A lot of times it’s people who have lost a child, or wrestled with an addiction, or gone through a deep depression, who are best able to help other people in the same situation, because God never wastes a wound. Then you can write down you’ve been given an education. You’ve been given friends, relational networks. Then if you are a follower of Jesus, write down the forgiveness of sins, promise of eternal life, because this Jesus, who told this story, also died for the forgiveness of our sins, and was raised for our eternal hope. So I begin by asking, What have I been given?
Most of us realize it’s so much. Then the question is —
What will I do with what I’ve been given?
In fact, the word Jesus uses to describe the master’s generosity is he entrusts.
In other words, this is not something he does just for the benefit of the servants. It’s part of the master’s larger and nobler purpose. Whatever the Lord gives me now, he will ask about later. My mind, my body, my gifts, my imagination, my sexuality, my stuff, my resources, my time. Whatever the Lord gives now, he will ask about later. So back to the story. The master gives his servants all this money. Now here’s a real striking moment. Did you notice what instructions he gives the servants?
He doesn’t. No instructions at all. He doesn’t say, “Start this business,” or “Invest in that fund.”
He gives them tremendous freedom. He basically says to them, “I want you to exercise initiative. You take responsibility. You create. You dream. You dare. You try. You risk.”
Apparently the master doesn’t just want to use them to grow his money; he’s using his money to grow them. Apparently God wants you to dream about how you can serve him. Three servants get this opportunity.
Two of them go to bed that night and their minds are racing. They can’t stop dreaming about what they might do with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The man who had received the five talents went at once and put them to work and gained five more.
He uses three verbs to describe him. Anyone who looked at that first servant knew how serious he was about this opportunity.
He went immediately. At once. It’s like he can’t wait. It’s like he’s scared to death the master might change his mind. But when the third servant went to bed, his mind was not racing. The next morning when he got up, Jesus said:
But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
From that day on, till the master returned, his life was not a single bit different than it had been before the amazing gift. The amazing gift didn’t prompt any dreams, any dares, any risk. It didn’t change him at all. I was talking to a friend recently about sin, and he was saying how usually he thought about sins of commission, wrong things we do — lying, cheating, stealing, and so on. But in the Bible, the most serious sins are often sins of omission — the things I don’t do, the love I don’t offer, the words I don’t say, the service I don’t give, the gratitude I don’t experience, the risks I refuse to take.
The sin of the third servant is very serious, but it’s not the sin of what he did; it’s the sin of what he did not do.
He did not make his life a bold adventure of faithfulness to God. He did not say, “Yes” to the great divine invitation.
And notice, this isn’t a failure he did just once. Every morning when he woke up, he was sitting on a treasure for his master. Every morning was a new opportunity to put it to glorious use. Every morning he said, “Nope. I think I’ll keep it buried another day. Nope. I do not think I will do anything for the master who gave me everything.” I was listening to another pastor talk about a very telling phrase for what life can sink into. He called it, “the same old same old.”
Day after day, after day after day, you wake up at the same old time,
get out of the same old bed,
go to the same old bathroom,
look in the same old mirror,
shave the same old face,
take the same old shower,
dry off with the same old towel,
walk into the same old kitchen,
pour the same old cereal into the same old bowl,
kiss the same old wife on the same old cheek,
get in the same old car,
drive off to the same old job,
sit in the same old chair,
listen to the same old boss tell the same old jokes,
laugh in the same old way,
clock out at the same old time,
get back in the same old car,
drive down the same old road to the same old house through the same old door,
eat the same old dinner,
fall asleep in the same old chair watching the same old news,
get up and get in the same old bed,
ask your wife the same old question, get the same old answer,
roll over, go back to sleep, and that’s it from one day, to the next day, to the next day — same old same old. See for years, these servants did the same old tasks in the same old order with the same old results, until one day the master interrupts their lives with his explosive gift of grace, and for two of them they realize they can never go back to the same old same old again. It leads to the next question, which is real personal for every one of us — What do I dream about doing for God? We’ll talk about this in just a moment.
Alright, so the next question is —
What do I dream about doing for God?
What is it that, if you could do this thing for God, what would keep you up at night?
You could encourage a lonely person and make their life different.
You could foster a child, and their whole existence would change.
You could feed the homeless.
You could help two people who are fighting to reconcile.
You could take a moment and notice a kid that everyone else just looks past, but you could see in him or her what God sees in him or her.
You could fight sex trafficking, because God doesn’t want that to happen to any human being.
You could tutor a child through PUSD, because God cares about the mind of every child.
You could befriend a widow.
You could start a small group.
You could pray for someone every day.
You could help some young unwed teenage mom.
You could innovate technology for the kingdom of God.
You could mentor a high school student. Or if you’re a high school student, you could mentor a middle school student.
You could use artistic gifts, maybe of music or design or something, to help people worship God.
You could get involved with serving the poor in our community or around the world.
You could just be so happy in Jesus that people ask you, “Why are you so happy?” Then you tell them.
It doesn’t have to look flashy or impressive. In fact, usually the kingdom doesn’t work that way. I was thinking about this this week.
What matters is not your capacity for achievement; what matters is your capacity for God.
I want to say that again, because we live in such a performance, achievement-idolizing part of the world. What matters is not your capacity for achievement; what matters is your capacity for God.
Augustine used to say that human beings are what he called, capax Dei. That is, you were made with a capacity for God; to know God, to love God, to enjoy God, to notice God in all the good gifts and moments of life, to serve him, to partner with God every minute of the day.
How big is your capax Dei, your capacity for God? No one knows. You don’t know. When I wake up at 4:00 in the morning and I’m worried, I can pray the 23rd Psalm and I’m growing in my capacity for God, to experience the Lord as my shepherd.
When I have money, I can give some away to someone in need, and I grow my capacity for God.
A friend of mine used a phrase a while ago that really struck me. He talked about “training to love people.” That has just kind of stayed with me. When I’m with someone, I can actually listen to them. I can actually work to do things that would be interpreted as loving gestures.
I can train to love people. Now I don’t always get it perfect, but I can grow in my capacity for God. This leads to the next question —
What could keep me from being a good and faithful servant?
That’s what the master calls these guys: good and faithful servants. What could keep me from that? For the third servant, his problem interestingly enough, isn’t greed; it’s fear. He’s afraid that the master is a hard man. He’s afraid to risk his talent. A friend of mine is a businessman. He was talking about this parable not long ago, and he said, “It’s often taught as a parable about stewardship. It’s not mostly about stewardship; it’s about risk.”
This is a guy who’s afraid to take a risk. He’s afraid he might fail. See, when you’re doing something bold for God, you don’t have to worry about failure.
A lot of people have secret thoughts like this: I would like to be a bold adventuresome, courageous person who never fails. Well, good luck with that.
If you risk, you will fail. That’s why they call it risk. The problem is, the third servant, like so many of us, misunderstands God, because when I understand how good and how big God is, then my apparent success or failure does not have to weigh me down at all. There’s a very striking contrast in describing the behavior of the third servant versus the other two. This has a lot to do with your life and mine.
Jesus says the first two servants went out. In other words, they went to get something done. The third one went away.
The first two servants went to work; the third servant dug a hole.
The first two servants won more; the third one hid his talent.
It’s very striking the language he uses for that third guy: he “goes away,” he “digs a hole,” and he “hides his talent.” There was actually a religious community in Israel called the Qumran community. The Dead Sea Scrolls were actually kept by them.
They took their faith in God, their religion, real seriously. But, actually partly because of that, they gave up on the world.
They isolated themselves, and each of the verbs that Jesus uses to describe the third servant, actually describes what they did.
Scholars say it may well be that Jesus is actually commenting on the misguided notions of that Qumran community.
They went away, that is, they chose to withdraw from society in the world.
They dug a hole. This community actually literally burrowed into caves. We got the Dead Sea Scrolls from some of those caves they would dig into and live in.
They hid their talent, whatever gifts God had given that community, and they had a lot. They knew the Scriptures really well, but they did not offer those gifts to the world around them. Not to other Israelites, not to the Romans, not to the Samaritans. They just hid them.
They thought they were winning, but Jesus thought they were a disaster. They thought they were honoring God; Jesus said they were doing the opposite of what God wanted. It’s so important for us as a church to get this. You can sometimes see this dynamic, the loss of mission, with libraries.
Remember before e-books, when there used to be these things called libraries?
The purpose of a library was, and actually still is, make books accessible to people. The purpose is get books out of the library into people’s hands and minds.
Now all kinds of work is done to help this.
There’s a very complex system of ordering books. It’s called the… Dewey Decimal system. So people can find just the book they’re looking for.
But… a strange thing happens.
Sometimes it’s as if the librarians get together on Monday morning before the library opens, and decide that when people come to the library, the people are actually the problem, because they take books off the shelves. They get them out of order. They don’t revere the Dewey Decimal system. They make it more work to keep things tidy and neat. It’s almost as if the librarians don’t want people in the library.
See, the whole purpose of a library is to get books out of the library. The measure of a great library is not how tidy the shelves with books are; it’s how literate, how well-read, how thoughtful the community is. Jesus is saying, “Church, I did not give you these gifts for you to keep it in a hole and live life for yourself.” Right now we’re in the locker room. We gather in the locker room every week. Teams need to do that. We need to have the locker room talk. But it’s very important to remember the locker room is not where the game is played. It’s played on the field. Imagine a team saying, “We’re declaring ourselves the winner because we had a great locker room meeting. We love the locker room. We get all fired up, the music is great, the lockers are superb, the coaches talk was inspirational, it’s really great to have more and more people come to our locker room.” It doesn’t matter how many people are in the locker room. You don’t win the game in the locker room; you win the game on the field.
The measure of our church is not what happens when our church is gathered whether that’s online or in-person; it’s what happens when our church gets out of the church and goes into the world. The world really doesn’t care how good our locker room meetings are.
* when people get loved
* when the presence of Jesus gets released into the world, wherever you are — your school, your home, your neighborhood, your office
* when homeless people get something to eat and a place to stay and someone who cares about them
* when resources get shared instead of hoarded
* when promises get kept
* when people in a jail who are forgotten have someone come to visit them and pray for them and care for them
* when generations, instead of being divided, actually come together and know and love each other
* when marriages are made healthy and strong
* when people work for their boss at Google, or at Workday, or at Starbucks, or at Open Heart Kitchen, or at a car wash, as heartily as if they were working for the Lord
* when a little child in Ethiopia gets medical care in Jesus’ name
* when prayers are bold, and faith is strong, and Jesus is lifted up, and “up there” comes “down here,” that’s when our church is doing really well.
That’s why we’re here. It’s not to take what God has given us and go put it in a hole and live life for me.
And the world really doesn’t care much about how good our locker room meetings are, or how many people come to the locker room; it’s about what happens in the world that God loves so much he gave his only begotten Son to give his life for it. This leads to this last question —
What words do I want to hear from God when my life is over?
Again, like with the servants in this story, no one is going to come along and figure this one out for you.
The problem with the third servant is he had all kinds of excuses and reasons why he never invested his life for the master. “I knew you were a hard guy. I was afraid.” This is your one and only life. This is it. What next step do you need to take to get in the game? Now as you get real clear on all that God has given you, maybe you don’t have a dream at all right now. God will give you a dream. God is a dream-giver.
The writers of Scripture say that when the Spirit falls on people, one of the signs of that is that old people dream dreams, and young men and women have visions.
Maybe you need to pray and ask, “God, would you help me to know how to serve you? Would you help me to have a dream to make my life about more than my life?” Maybe you have a dream. Maybe you have some sense of what you could do, but you’ve kept it a secret.
You’ve been kind of digging a hole, and you need to tell someone else so that you’re accountable, and so they can pray with you.
Maybe you need to tell someone in your small group. Maybe tell someone on staff at our church. If we can help you with that, man we’d love to do that. Maybe you’ve been afraid. Maybe it’s just time to ask God for courage and actually take a risk, actually make a commitment to take the next step. Here’s the dream I’d like to be a part of, because when I think about our church, and what God has given, he has been so good to us. He has been so good to us.
What if we became known as a place where everyone in our church who claims to follow Jesus, who names the name of Christ, said, “God, I am willing to risk all you have been so generous to give to me, to do something loving and humble and good for you”? What if every one of us were to hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? What if we were playing not for an earthly prize, not for a Super Bowl trophy, not for a stadium full of applause, not for a big pile of money… but to stand before our Maker, Creator, and Redeemer one day, and have him look us in the eye and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; come and share your master’s happiness?”
I hope God makes it so for us. I hope God makes it so for you. Alright, let me pray for you and then Michaela and the team will lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church