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It’s Time: Naming (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30)

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Last week, we were waiting. As we reflected on Jesus’ words, we heard that it was time. It was time—it is time—for heaven to break forth on earth. Yet we look around we see that heaven is not yet. Twenty-one hundred years after the birth of Jesus, we are… still… waiting. Waiting for justice to pour forth. For love to overcome fear. For those that are on the margins to be comforted. To be seen. To be heard.

This week, it is still time. Time for waiting. But it is also time to name.

For this week, it is hard to get away. Hard to get away from the challenging image of a punishing, overbearing master, and the fearful, risk adverse servant who gets tossed into the abyss. It is difficult for us to hear the word “talents,” and not have one of two images arise:

  • Somewhere in our collective storytelling, we know that “talents” were an ancient unit of currency, measurement. Wikipedia suggests that a “talent” as “used in New Testament times, was 130 lb”[1] of silver, or gold. Googling further, I couldn’t help but pause in response to the next website that popped up: Convert—me.com. It allows one to enter various measures of weight, distance, volume, etc. This is a serious, site, developed to convert ancient measurements into modern terms. Yet, through my “church ears,” the words printed on the screen resonated in unexpected ways. In our Protestant tradition converting others to Christianity, “conversion,” is not a call with which we are generally comfortable, but I couldn’t help but see the humor in the search results for “bible, talents, value.” Sprawled across the top of Convert-me.com the words Talent Conversion Chart.
    • Picture it. This is a page devoted to “historical units… weights conversion…that are mostly no longer in use.”[2] With Jesus’ parable of the talents fresh in my mind, the words printed before me were packed with alternative meaning. This is what is printed on the page –
      • “Need help? Conversion is easy:
        1. Type your talent value below.
        2. Touch the ‘Convert Me’ button.
        3. Get instant conversion results.”
      • You are then directed to type in “Your value (talent)” and click on “Convert Me.”

If only in our reading of the man—who gave his property to his servants—five talents, two talents, one talent… if only conversion to God’s vision of heaven on earth was as simple as the click of a button. In our natural 21st century response to the images of money, investments, and hiding, it is easy for us to glob onto the “financial return on our investment” aspect of the story. But in parable as metaphor, is this really a story about money? About the abundant gifts that God has provided? About some who have been given much receiving even more? Or, the one that has been given little having even that snatched away?

  • Or, might our image be of a more contemporary, English definition of “talents,” those aptitude gifts with which we have been created? From Ephesians we know that “God (has) handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church…” (Eph 4:11, The Message). Pause for a moment. Think about the gifts, the talents, with which God has equipped you

{moment of silence}

  • How have you used these gifts in your life?
    • In your personal relationships?
    • In the community?
    • Your vocation?
    • Church?

It is all well and good to grasp onto the metaphor of “talents” as abilities. Musical abilities. Teaching abilities. Hospitality abilities. Caring for, visiting, and healing abilities. Administrative abilities. Gardening abilities. Speaking abilities. But who might this understanding of “talents” leave out? Who might this metaphor marginalize? What gap is created in this understanding, in the separation of the person with 5 talents (lots of abilities) and the person given 1? It is difficult to erase from our hearing the unfortunate outcome of the individual wracked with fear and caution, her oppression as a servant of a cruel, revengeful master, and her fate immersed in perpetual anguish and the gnashing of teeth.

It is time. It is time to name. To call out. To affirm our relationship with God. But also to name our fears. Our hesitation to take risks. Risks in talking about our faith, the changes to which the Spirit is calling us to. To be the Body of Christ and turn to what Paul describes to the early church as the protective breastplate of faith and love. To lean into the discomfort of God’s judgement and to put on a helmet of hope. Of hoped for salvation, not for ourselves as individuals, but for the world.

For there is a third way to hear the parable of the talents. Our personal, and collective, response to God’s presence in our lives. And that is through the lens of “call.” Hearing God’s call to us to be a verb, God’s action in the world. Responding to those unexpected moments where we sense there is an “Other,” a Holy Movement in our lives. A call to live differently in the world. In The Message, Eugene Peterson utilizes words to retell Matthew 25: 14-30, in which a sense of “call,” working with God NOW, emerges. Through the lens of this metaphor:

To the first servant, who was given 5 talents—5 moments of hearing God and responding—God says, “Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.”

To the second servant, who was given 2 talents—2 moments of hearing God and responding—God says, “Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.”

The third servant, was given 1 talent and was, instead, hesitant. She paused in her response to God’s call. When God shows up she says, “Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place…” and hid. She was safe. Secure. How often are we like that? As individuals? As a church? A community?

But God “…was furious” saying, “That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!” If you had only responded a little, stepped out into the world and done a smidgeon of my work, “at least I would have gotten a little interest.” The world would have been changed… at least a little.

God goes on, calling again on the person who heard God’s call the most—and responded the most fully. God says, “Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” (one) who won’t go out on a limb. Throw (her), through them, out into utter darkness.” There, in the comfort of avoiding risks, evading God’s call, is the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Where might the Church of today be playing it too safe? Hiding the Good News? How might God be giving the work of the future Church to someone else to do?

People of God—there is a reformation going on. It is time to hear. It is time to name. To name God’s call in our lives, and to respond. To not hesitate, and to talk about who Jesus Christ is for us in our faith journeys. The parable of the talents comes to us near the end of Jesus’ life. Following this unsettling series of teachings, scripture tells us that “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified’” (Matt. 26:1-2, NRSV). The talents of the disciples, their own call as individuals and as a faith community to continue God’s work in the world, would be tested. The unknown author of Matthew was writing to a community that believed the end of world, the second coming of Christ, would burst forth during their lifetime.

A generation later, Paul’s community still clung to this great hope of God’s timeline. The end was near, for them to be hopeful it had to be near, because the church in Thessalonica was grappling with the reality of the oppression and persecution they were suffering at the hands of the Empire. Paul writes to people to provide hope. This improbable idea that the darkness was about to be shattered by the birth pains of God bursting forth. It. Was. Going. To. Happen. Soon.

We. Know. It. Didn’t.

And so we come here, to be the Church. The Body of Christ. To do what Paul motivated the earliest Jesus communities to do: To encourage one another, and to build up each other. To show up for one another. To step out into the world with one another. To be verbs. To respond to God’s call to do God’s work. To take risks. To love one another and our neighbors unconditionally.

Beloved, this is our time. Our time of naming. Affirming God’s call. Together, let us get about to the job of doing God’s good work. Being God’s partner. Putting on the breastplate of faith and love. Leaning into the hoped for salvation, not just for ourselves, but for the world.

Pastor Kris


[1] “Talent (measurement), “Wikipedia, October 18, 2017, accessed November 18, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talent (measurement).

[2] “Talent Conversion Chart,” Historical Weights Converter, Biblical, accessed November 18, 2017, https://www.convert-me.com/en/convert/history_weight/bibtalent.html?u=bibtalent&v=1.