I feel like I start nearly every sermon these days excusing the Gospel of Matthew and making apologies for it and trying to set it in context. Well, same again this morning. Here is this reading where the Master entrusts three different slaves with three different amounts of money. The denomination is talents – which is equivalent to about $1000. And what we are meant to realize about these three different amounts of money is that God gives according to ability. He gives different gifts to different people to build up the kingdom of God. So he probably knew that the slave he gave a single talent to was going to blow it – but he gives him gifts anyway. And it is clear that the slave and master did not really get along – there was no love lost between the two of them – the slave thought the master was unfair, and the master didn’t trust the slave not to be lazy even though he must have hoped otherwise.
But the point of the story is that we are given talents, all of us, to use and to grow.
Nan Malone and I went out many times this week delivering home communion to some of our shut-ins and we used these readings – so we heard this gospel many times – and what struck both of us is that the master never left any instructions. And maybe that slave with only one talent did not think he was that talented – what could he possibly do with his gift?
And I was struck by the juxtaposition of our Gospel, and our Epistle reading. In the Epistle, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are children of the light. And he ends this particular passage by telling the Thessalonians, “therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”
And what that seems to mean is that as a Christian community, and as citizens of the world, we are being called to encourage one another – and helping people discern what their talents and gifts are.
There was a story that I was told long ago – and of course it is not in the gospels – but I sort of think it could be an alternative parable to the one we had this morning. So I would like to share it will you.
There once was a king and he was looking for a right hand man, a chamberlain, the chief officer who manages the monarch’s household. And so the king decided that he would not choose a worthy knight but would instead look to his household staff. So he called for three of his trusty servants – the Tailor, the Baker, and the Blacksmith. And he gave them each a task one by one.
And so first to the tailor the king commanded of him, “In one day, I would like you to make me the most exquisite suit of the finest silk in all the world. And I want it to be perfect, and the most glorious suit the world has ever seen!” It was like the reality show Project Runway – but worse.
And the tailor left dejected, thinking he could never do this – and so the blacksmith followed him and said, “Oh you are the most glorious tailor ever my friend, you can totally do this, you have this, I know you do. I will be with you day and night until the suit is finished! Have no fear” And so it was, and at the end of the 24 hours, indeed, the tailor had made the most glorious suit of silk that had ever been made. And the king was delighted.
So the king then on the second day turned to the baker and said, “I want you to make the most exquisite banquet of delectable treats – making the tastiest desserts that ever been produced, with the most variety that has ever been seen.” It was like the Great British Bake Off – but worse.
And so the baker went off dejected and sad. How would he ever do that? He was filled with self-doubt and worry. And again, the blacksmith followed him out and followed him to the vast kitchens of the king and he said to the baker, “You totally have this, if you can’t do this, nobody can. I will be with you until you finish and I know it is going to be great! You have so much talent and experience, how could you go wrong?!” And sure enough, 24 hours later, the sumptuous feast of goodies was complete, and the king was very pleased.
And when they all gathered, the blacksmith asked timidly, “What, your Majesty, will be my test?” And the King said, “My faithful servant, your test is complete. It is you who saw the best in others and encouraged the other two so that they could complete the difficult tasks that I set before them, so you, my trustworthy and worthy servant, will be my Lord Chamberlain. It is your skills I need the most.”
Sometimes it is hard to see what our talents are – but the good news is that we don’t have to find our greatness alone – that is what all of us are here for – to point out where God’s glory shines in each other. To call out each other’s remarkableness – from kindness, wisdom, extraordinary love and care for others, generosity of spirit, whatever it may be.
So to end, I would like to quote an earlier portion of Matthew’s Gospel and encourage you all to “let your light shine before men and women so that they may see your good works and glorify God in heaven” and, at the same time, help others find their light so they may do the same.