In today’s parable, Jesus is in the middle of teaching his disciples one last time. He is only days away from his crucifixion in Jerusalem, days away from leaving them, days away from his death. Jesus wants to make sure they are prepared for life after he is gone.
He is asking these people to live out their discipleship – to follow him, to become like him, to take care of each other and to carry on his ministry in the world
Much like the master in this parable who is going on a long trip, Jesus is trying to put his affairs in order so that his ministry is taken care of while he is gone.
The master, like Jesus, is entrusting an extravagant gift in the hands of his servants.
One single talent was a gigantic weight of money. It equaled 6,000 denarii. One denarii was roughly equal to a day’s wages… so if you do the math, each one of these talents was about twenty YEARS worth of pay.
In today’s terms a talent might be thought of as nearly a million dollars.
Now… this is the kind of money that most people never saw. Especially not at once.
But the Lord and master in this story has eight times this much to divvy up among his servants. One hundred and sixty years’ worth of pay… and he is leaving it in their hands.
This is a lifetime’s worth of money. It is costly. And being given all at once, you wonder what the Lord and master could possibly have left. This could very well be everything that he has.
And we know that in reality, the gift of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection was costly.
And this talent, this incredible gift, is placed into your hands.
The gift of discipleship… the gift of a lifetime of following Jesus has been given to you…
What are YOU going to do with it?
One of the fascinating features of this story is that not everyone is given the same amount of talents. The master in this story looks over the skills and abilities of those who are standing in front of them and recognizes they are not the same.
As William Herzog notes, the word used here for ability could also be translated as power. They are given these gifts because of their power, their position, because of what they have already demonstrated they could handle.
In other words, this is not a test.
No master would be foolish enough to use this much money as an experiment.
No, this ruler knows the servants, honestly assesses them, and puts in their hands exactly what they can realistically handle.
One of these servants receives a single talent. Another two. Another five whole talents.
What we discover in this parable is that it is not important what your power or abilities or talents are today. It doesn’t matter how much you are given. It is what you decide to do with your discipleship that really counts.
This past spring, many of you helped our church to honestly assess our ministry and our life together through a really long survey: the Congregational Assessment Tool.
We have learned a lot of things through this tool and the leadership of our church is starting to wrestle with how to respond to various pieces.
In worship over the next couple of months, we are going to be exploring a few areas that reflect our discipleship as a church.
Now, in these scores, we were compared to 500 other churches our size around the entire country. So these scores are not the percentage of you that said these things… but how our church as a whole compares with others
- I work to connect my faith to all other aspects of my life (32%)
- I experience the presence of God in my life (36%)
- We do a good job supporting people in ministry by reminding them they make a difference (48%)
- We prepare our members for ministry by helping them discern gifts (51%)
- We understanding that we have a spiritual responsibility for life-long learning and formation (47%)
- We welcome and are enriched by persons from many different walks of life (39%)
If I were to name a common thread that I see in these items, it would be that we as a church have abundant, extravagant gifts in our midst… and we don’t know what to do with them.
These results tell me that when it comes to living out our faith, when it comes to our discipleship, we act a whole lot like the third servant in our scripture today…. Both personally, and as a church.
And I think there are two factors at play here.
1) As a church, we have not taken the time and energy, like the master of the story did, to help one another figure out what our abilities and position and gifts really are. You need to know where you are starting in order to know what you have to work with.
2) Even if we DO know what our abilities, skills, and gifts are… even if we have this talent in our hands… we aren’t sure what we are supposed to do with it. We don’t have a clear sense of how to help it to grow
Here at Immanuel, we define discipleship with a phrase we use every single week: In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.
It’s a great, easy to remember phrase… but…
What do we mean by love? How are we supposed to pray? Who are we serving?
How do I know if I’m doing it?
And above all… How can I do it better and more fully next week that I did last week.
That’s what today’s parable is all about, after all… taking what you have and helping it to grow.
So, starting today, and over the next eight weeks, we are going to break down that vision of discipleship at Immanuel into bite sized pieces.
We are going to explore what this looks like in worship and hospitality, service and generosity, formation and practice.
We’ll start next week with this whole pie and what each area of discipleship looks like at Immanuel, then over next six weeks, we’ll explore how we can take the talent placed in our hands and help it grow.
Figuring out where you start is the key to taking the next step.
You may have noticed a bulletin board in the foyer that includes four words:
These words are going to help us to claim where we are in this journey of discipleship.
Are you someone who is brand new to this and has no idea what the possibilities are?
Are you someone who is just beginning your faith journey and you are starting to try some things out?
Are you someone who has been working on your discipleship for a while, but you still know you have room to grow?
Are you someone who understands what discipleship is all about and you have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and now you aren’t sure what comes next?
The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you start on this journey today.
It doesn’t matter if you are the servant in our story who was given one talent or five talents… or the servant that didn’t even get talked about who wasn’t entrusted with a talent at all.
What matters is what you do with what you have.
The truth of this parable is that any one of these servants could have been the ones who chose to let fear or ignorance or laziness creep in. It could have just as easily have been the one who had been given the most who chose to do nothing with his gift.
Here at Immanuel, we are going to try to help one another not only figure out what we have, but what we can do with it.
We are going to help each other take the next step in our discipleship.
You don’t have to start with a lot in order to be faithful. You just have to choose to do something with it. Together… we’ll figure out how.