Sermon for Pentecost 24, Proper 28A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Much like the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, we read the parable of the Talents and we think it’s about us: we’re the servants who’ve received talents, gifts and skills and abilities, and we’re to use them to grow God’s kingdom. We’re not supposed to hide them away. But is this parable about us, about what we do for the kingdom of heaven, or like all parables, is it about God and what He does for His kingdom, what He does for you?
Jesus spoke this parable to the Twelve Disciples immediately after He told them the parable of the Virgins. Both these stories speak about the coming of our Lord on the Last Day. No one knows when that day will be, so we must be ready; we shouldn’t waste what the Lord’s given us as we wait for Him, like the servant did.
The master in the parable was going on a journey and he entrusted his property to three servants. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to the third one. These servants were supposed to take care of these talents, to use them for their master according to his purpose. The first two invested the talents and doubled them, but the third one dug a hole and put his talent into the ground. He was afraid to use it and thought it was safe there.
When the master returned he settled the accounts. He was pleased with the first two servants and rewarded them because they used the master’s talents for his purpose. But when the third servant came he said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matt 25:25). This upset the master because even though the servant thought this way about his master, he did nothing. The servant should’ve at least put it in the bank to gain some interest. That would’ve fit with what he thought about the master. But because he did nothing, the master called him a wicked and worthless servant and threw him out into the darkness.
It’s easy to hear this parable and think it’s about us. We hear the word talent and we think about our talents, our gifts and skills and abilities. We talk about these talents beginning in our childhood. Parents and teachers watch us grow and they see what we’re good at, what we enjoy, and they encourage us in these things. Sometimes these skills and abilities turn into a career. Sometimes we just pursue them as hobbies. As Christians we understand that these gifts and abilities are given to us by God, and with faith, we rightly want to use them for His glory. We want to invest our talents in God’s kingdom.
That’s what it says on the front cover of our worship bulletin: Talents to Invest. If your talent is music, you can lead God’s people in song by joining the choir, singing loud in the pews, or playing musical instruments for festival worship services. Maybe you're a handyman or you like to build. There’s ample opportunity for you to use these talents as you maintain the place where God’s people gather for worship and fellowship. Maybe your talent is teaching. God’s church always needs teachers, people who instruct and pass on the faith. God has given all of us gifts and abilities, different talents, and all of us can use these in the Church. I encourage you to find a way to share your talents with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Use them to God’s glory. This is a good thing...but that’s not what this parable is about.
The talents in the parable aren’t your talents. The talents in the parable is money, the valuable stuff in the master’s house. A talent was a monetary unit that was very valuable. It’s been estimated that a silver talent was valued at about 7,300 denarii, and a denarius was equal to a day's pay. So, a silver talent was worth 7,300 days of work, 20 years of pay. And a gold talent was worth a whole lot more than that. The master entrusted his most valuable things to the servants.
What’s the most valuable thing in God’s kingdom? It’s His Word: His Word preached and His Word administered in the Sacraments. God’s Word is the most valuable thing in the kingdom because through God’s Word you know who Christ Jesus your Savior is. Through the Word, you hear how God’s Son became man so that He could die on the cross and pay for your sins. You hear of Christ’s resurrection by which He won everlasting life for you. Through the Word faith is created in you and you receive new life in the waters of Baptism and the forgiveness of sins in the Body and Blood of Christ. God’s Word is the most valuable thing in His kingdom because through it you receive forgiveness and everlasting life. And this Word He entrusts to His servants, to His pastors to faithfully preach and teach for your benefit.
Remember, Jesus spoke this parable specifically to His Twelve Disciples, the men He would be sending out to proclaim the Word of God. Christ entrusted the Gospel, the good news of His death and resurrection, to these men, not to hide and keep in a hole until Christ’s return, but to preach and to share and to proclaim.
This parable stands as a warning for God’s ministers. They’re not to be like the worthless servant who hid his master’s talent. They’re always to keep God’s Word with them. They’re always to use God’s Word according to His plan and purpose. The disciples were to speak this life-giving Word so that God’s kingdom would expand and grow. God’s pastors are to faithful speak this life-giving Word so that God’s kingdom would expand and grow. This is the only way that God’s kingdom expands and grows.
The faithful servants in the parable didn’t earn more money for their master, it was the investment of the talents that did this. The talents did the work. The talents earned the investments. The servants were simply faithful in handling the talents according to the master’s plan. And this is the same when it comes to God’s Word.
Nothing pastors do based on their own abilities creates faith in God’s people. Nothing you do creates faith within yourself. Our talents, our gifts and skills and abilities, they don’t create faith, they don’t expand and grow the kingdom. Only the Word of God brings people to faith. Only the Word of God delivers forgiveness of sins. Only the Word of God gives life!
That’s why you’re part of God’s kingdom, why you faithfully wait for Christ’s return, because you’ve received faith through the hearing of God’s Word. You have the life of God’s kingdom because you’ve heard God’s Word preached. You have the life of God’s kingdom because you’ve received His Word in the Sacraments. Thank the Lord, for all His faithful servants and pastors who’ve proclaimed God’s Word according to His plan and purpose, for your benefit, for your place in God’s kingdom.
God is the Master and His talents are His Word and Sacraments. These He entrusts to His pastors, not to hide, but to preach, to teach, and to administer, so that the Word would produce more, making faithful saints, making you faithful saints. Hearing God’s Word, you know Christ your Savior and through His sacraments you receive His forgiveness and life in the kingdom of heaven and you faithfully wait for His return when you’ll enter into your Master’s joy. In Jesus’ name...Amen.