Entrusting Our Talents

A Sermon delivered at the Federated Church of Orleans, Nov. 19, 2017

Scripture text: Matthew 25:14-30

Preaching at Mashpee UCCEntrusting our Talents” by Rev. Dr. Anne Ierardi

Good to be with you today as we enter the season of Thanksgiving. May this day and the coming days be not only a time for busyness or travel but also a time of grace, of understanding and consideration for our family & neighbors – far & wide.

This morning’s gospel is a parable that Jesus told about a man who entrusted several talents to his servants. One talent alone was worth 20 years of a laborer’s wage. That’s like winning the lottery! The two servants awarded the most talents went out, traded them, and made more to the delight of their master. But the last servant, afraid and mistrustful of his master, went out and buried his one talent. His master was enraged and ordered this servant to be severely punished.

The moral of the story, I believe, is contained in this verse: all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Years ago, I was visiting my godparents listening to one of my Aunt Anna’s stories about her grandkids. With her warm Irish humor, she had a delightful way of speaking of her family. Your Uncle Dom took two of our grandkids to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play. Jimmy, the youngest boy, stayed home with me. After they returned Jimmy’s older brothers thanked their grandfather for taking them to the ballgame.  At that point, Jimmy turned to Uncle Dom and said, “Thanks grandpa for nothing…”

Jimmy experienced disappointment that day as he encountered the unfairness of life. Many people who work hard and oftentimes courageously to make life fairer for others have themselves experienced disappointments or unfair treatment. Out of their early disappointments emerged a commitment to make life better, to treat others as they had wished to be treated.

Yes, it’s true. Life is not fair.

Can we reframe those nagging negative thoughts especially about ourselves?

Is our glass half empty or might it be half-full?

How might we acquire a change of heart?

A friend mine, a retired minister, recently told me a story about a colleague who became so fed up during the troubled years of the sixties with his congregation’s lack of living out the teachings of the scriptures. One Sunday from the pulpit he tore out pages of the Bible and flung each one towards the pews crying out, “You don’t believe this! You don’t believe this! As you can imagine, this effectively ended his tenure.

He was obviously disappointed with the church. His vision about his parishioners became marred by his expectations and their inability to live up to them. When I first moved to the Cape, I worked at a pastoral counseling center in New Bedford. One afternoon, I presented a case study of a client to the fifteen or so counselors at our center. I expressed disappointment that the therapy with this woman who I liked had ended after just a few sessions. Madeline, a senior staff person and a Dominican sister, said to me pointedly, “She came in for a touch-up job and you wanted to paint the whole house.”

Disappointment can prevent us from trusting others and force us to give up, hide and bury our talent. At the root of disappointment and many other spiritual ills can be our lack of trust in ourselves.

How do we cultivate the abundance that Jesus is calling us to today?

How do we entrust our talents?

What is the talent so carefully buried inside our own hearts?

Recently I met with a group of colleagues involved in outreach to persons seeking a deeper relationship with God but in a less traditional setting. Like GAPS Ministries, our outreach includes contemporary and contemplative worship, the arts, and hospitality. Our work, while endowed with many spiritual talents, can be challenging when it comes to material support. There was a general mood of discouragement but as our group prayed together our individual, struggles shifted. As our hearts broke open to God’s grace, we were changed. Entering into a time with the Holy opened our hearts in a new way.

Mother Teresa said: What you are doing I cannot do, what I’m doing you cannot do, but together we are doing something beautiful for God, and this is the greatness of God’s love for us…

So how do we deal with the unfairness of life? In the words of the Epistle by:

Living it out abundantly, courageously through the surpassing grace given by God.

Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man of grace and courage wrote:

If fear is what we imagine, then fear is what we will receive, BUT if grace is what we imagine, then grace is what we will receive. Fear will keep us from risk.

Let us give thanks to God who is … able to provide us with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work.

I’d like to end with this poem by Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

Buried talent 

I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”—Matthew 25.25
God, what coin of you
is buried in me?

What gifts have you given me
that I have interred,
rolled a stone over?

What skill or passion, grace or yearning,
have I hidden away in fear?

What is the breath of your Spirit in me that I neglect?

What is the fear that binds me?
What am I afraid of?
Is it real?
What if I were to spend myself for you, to put your treasure in me to use?

What would that be like?
Would you, the Giver of My Life,
not be pleased?

Beloved,
lend me your shovel.

A Prayer for Peace

Lord, we have heard the story of Jacob as he wrestled with the angel, how he asked for the angel to bless him. We, too, come to you for blessing. There are so many times in our lives in which we have felt alienated, downtrodden, alone. It is easy for us to wallow in our misery, to whine about all the perceived injustices that have been heaped upon us. But you encourage us to stand strong; to seek the blessings that you have provided for us; to recognize the many ways that you are with us, giving us strength and courage.

You are the mover of mountains, the victor of impossible victories. You are Lord over earthquakes and tsunamis, over nations in turmoil and terrorist plots, over starving children and fleeing refugees and prisoners tortured for their faith. You speckled the sky with stars and set the earth spinning like a top. There is nothing you can’t do. So I pray, even though it seems impossible:

Give us peace.

Bring an end to violence and hatred and discord. Steady the feet that rush into war… Bring justice to the downtrodden, restoration to the marginalized and abused, hope to the hopeless. We pray for our country for the fear and greed that leads to unfair taxation, racism and white privilege, discrimination against sexual minorities, immigrants, refugees, the intolerance of otherness. We also ask that you be with the women coming forward with their stories of sexual abuse and power over –that we may find ways to listen to them and no longer tolerate male privilege in its many manifestations.

Guide all those in positions of power—whether that power is political or physical or social—and give them wisdom to use their power wisely. Give them, and all of us, the grace to admit when we are wrong and to seek forgiveness. Give us the grace to forgive. Help us see your face in the faces of the people around us. Give us courage to love one another even when love seems like a risk. Give us compassion for those who are unlike us. Teach us to listen to those we disagree with, to hear stories that make us uncomfortable. Heal the hatred in the world around us by healing our own hearts first.

We bring before you, Lord, all our concerns which have been weighing on our hearts. We ask you to touch the lives of those in our community who are especially in need of your healing love. Give each one a sense of your powerful presence. Flood their lives with hope and peace. We give thanks for your abundant love during this season of gratitude. Help us to trust in your abiding presence. AMEN.