Entrusted with much, let us talents and tongues employ

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American Lutheran Church in Ashland, Nebraska

I had the privilege of being with the good people of American Lutheran Church in Ashland, Nebraska today. I was invited by friend and pastor Steve Lindley to preach on stewardship, using this week’s appointed lessons especially Matthew 25:14-30 and Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. 

Grace and peace from God in Christ who loves you, is with you, entrusts you with all that you have and all that you are, and is for you. Amen.

It is great to be with you American Lutheran. Thank you so much to Pastor Steve for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. It’s great to worship with you, and with my colleague, dear friend, and your treasurer, Stephanie Lusienski. I also bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Brian Maas, your Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, and from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod.

I’m excited to be with you and ponder about what Jesus might be saying today- to think a bit about stewardship, as well as what might God be up to? This is one of my favorite stewardship stories in the gospels. So, I’m doubly excited to be preaching on it. We’ll see if that makes for a good sermon or not though. And if not, then feel free to let me have it in the “Stump the Deacon” time after worship.

God Entrusts Us with What We Have
Last week we heard about bridesmaids and trimmed lamps. This week’s story from Jesus, picks up right where we left off. Jesus begins, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”[1]

A talent in its literal sense is a bunch of money, about 6,000 denarii each. On average, one denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer.[2] And “It would take a laborer more than 15 years to earn a talent.”[3] That’s awe inspiring in and of itself.

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A beautiful image for a life of stewardship and discipleship in the form of a butterfly.

But what I find more intriguing is the wording. “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them…” He entrusted His property to them. What might this mean? Think of it as somebody leaving something in the care of another person to manage, watch out for, care for, or even steward. Perhaps it’s the way you let someone be your financial planner? Or perhaps it’s the way you entrust your kids to your local schools, or a daycare?

At the heart of stewardship is a belief that God entrusts us with what we have. To be more accurate, all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s.[4] So what we have, God entrusts to us. And it’s a rather long list, when you think about it. It includes: our lives, health, bodies, souls, minds, hearts, and stories; our time, talents, and treasures of all kinds; our ideas, dreams, questions, strengths, passions, relationships, and vocations; our money, finances, and assets, and even all of creation. All of this, God has entrusted to us to care for.

When we think about today’s story, maybe we might start to have some second thoughts about how we are doing.

Why does God entrust to us?
But I think if we do that, we might miss a more important question. Why does God entrust to us? Why does God choose to share God’s abundance? Why does God choose to be in relationship with us? We see this way back in the beginning of God’s story, when God invites Adam into the act of being a co-creator, naming the creatures which God has made.[5]

God trusts us like this, because God loves us. God’s act of entrustment, like that of the man in this story today, “is the very gift itself.”[6] God sees us. God knows us. God loves us, each and every one. Because we are God’s children, called, created, and entrusted with gifts, for which God calls us to respond, and to do God’s work, and be part of the work of building up God’s kingdom. It’s like the hymn, “Let us talents and tongues employ, reaching out with a shout of joy: bread is broken, the wine is poured, Christ is spoken and seen and heard.”[7]

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A beautiful stained glass window and the cross at American Lutheran

God has done the hard work. God in Christ, who was born, lived, died, and was resurrected, for us. God made known through the ordinary but extraordinary elements of bread, wine, and water. God’s love so deep, that it goes to and through the cross for us. This is a story, and promises that are free gifts to us- free gifts given and entrusted to us.

Today we hear a story about three people whom some man has entrusted certain talents to. It’s not that far off from what God does for us. Entrusting to us, all that we have and all that we are.

How do we respond? What do we do?
But how do we respond? What do we do? Up to this point it’s God’s work. But when God entrusts to us, God is inviting us not only to the table, but to join God in God’s work. God trusts us with it, like the man trusted the three with talents.

The first two people who received talents, took up God’s invitation and they used the talents. For their usage, they were told upon the return of the man, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”[8]

“Enter into the joy of your master…” They have been invited to the feast. They haven’t earned salvation because of anything they have done, but in response to the gift of salvation, the gift of life and the promise of life everlasting, which God has entrusted to each and every one of us, they followed the call they received in baptism to love and serve God, and to love and serve their neighbor through the use of their talents. They lived into the abundance of God, trusting in God’s presence.

I don’t know about you, but I hope on most days I am like the first two people, and not the third. But, to be honest, knowing that my wife Allison and I have our first child on the way, I also recognize it’s not always easy, and I am the first to admit, that I have no idea what to expect. It’s kind of a feeling of equal excitement and joy, and terror. That might be a good way to summarize stewardship. It’s a both/and sort of thing, with feelings of abundance, but also naming the tension of scarcity and the feeling like we may not have enough, or we may not be enough.

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A beautiful reminder in the congregation’s fellowship hall, of God’s work and our hands.

I think this describes the third person in today’s story. The one entrusted with one talent, offers an example of scarcity. He confesses to the man, “So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground…”[9] Sometimes I wonder if we are perhaps more like this person, hiding under a rock, or “under a bushel” instead of letting God’s light shine. This man, hordes that which God has entrusted to him. By hoarding it and hiding it, it does nothing. It does nothing for the man who entrusted it, and nothing for the one whom it was entrusted to. But even more importantly, it doesn’t do anything for anyone in need.

I think this is where the greatest sin comes. Zephaniah says that, “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them…”[10] But at the same time, our silver and gold is given so that we can feed the hungry, care for the poor, welcome the stranger… The talents we hear about today are ways that we are entrusted with, to live out the calling in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” and specifically the “Beatitudes.”

“Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again, pass the Word around: loaves abound!”[11] This is the promise of God, with us, or sometimes in spite of us. We don’t want to miss out on the chance to be part of God’s work– to love and serve our neighbor who might be hungry, poor, and without a home.

Our responses to the Good News of God, the way we live our life, matters. Not for salvation because that’s a free gift we could never earn. But it does matter for God’s work to be done, for our neighbor.

Gifts, Challenges, Consequences
To do God’s work is a gift, and a challenge. But to prevent it from being done is as awful as it sounds in today’s story, one where there are dire consequences for the one who fails to use their talent, and I would argue, to use it to do God’s work. The man in the story says, “So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to 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.”[12] And, if that doesn’t sound harsh enough, there’s always the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” too.[13]

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“GIFT- Generations in Faith Together,” gathered outside the church building after worship, before being sent in groups out into the larger community.

American Lutheran, I have seen some ways in which you do God’s work. I have even told the story of how you have turned your basement into the wonderful ministry that it is. Thanks for letting me see that story when I was with you a year ago the Sunday Pastor Steve was installed. It’s a story that inspires everywhere I share it, and so I know at this point I’m probably preaching to the choir.

Complacency is not an option
You know that you can’t sit idly by. Today’s story in its fullest sense, and why we hear it today, a week before the last Sunday- Christ the King, and the end of our church year, before the Advent of another, is because it’s a story “dealing with attitudes and behavior in the face of the coming of the Son of Man.”[14] Sitting and waiting, is not an option. Complacency is not an option.[15]

Amid a world that might seem on edge with chaos and anxiety, I think taking a page out of Martin Luther’s playbook might be best. In the face of such things, even if it were the last day, Luther is famous for saying he would plant a tree. That’s stewardship of creation. That’s stewardship of life. And it’s living faithfully with that which we have been entrusted. 

Taking Stock, Giving Thanks, and Mission Share
As we each take time to give thanks, and take stock of life this week, I want to share my personal thanks for all of you. Thank you for the ministry you do here in Ashland, and the stories of ministry you share. Thank you for living faithfully and responding to God’s call, discerning what God might be up to, and how with your various talents you might be called to respond for all that God has done and continues to do for you.

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Signs of fall, signs of harvest, and signs of thanksgiving.

I am also grateful for your continued commitment and participation in mission share. Mission Share is the way each of you helps support the ministry of the larger church through undesignated offering, which helps congregations do ministry that literally spans the globe by giving to the Nebraska Synod and larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Mission Share allows you, and all of the 245 congregations of the Nebraska Synod: to support missionaries; to provide for new and renewing ministries; to support the training, education, and development of new leaders, pastors, and deacons in this church; and even to support the many serving arms of the church like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling, Lutheran World Relief, and Lutheran Disaster Response, just to name a few. Obviously, there’s lots more than this that you are part of. Thank you for being a part of it, and for being stewards in this way.

Now What? Employing Our Talents & Tongues
The poet Mary Oliver famously wrote, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”[16] I think it’s a fair question when we think about stewardship, and especially this week as we think about all that God entrusts to us. Where might God be leading you? What might God be calling you to? What ways might you be serving, and be being led to serve? Or, to put it another way from the hymn, “How might you employ your talents and your tongues?[17]

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Signs of God’s story. How do we share and steward God’s on-going story?

How do you tell the story of what God has done, and might be up to? How do you live in response to God’s love, gifts and promises? How do you steward all that you have, and all that you are, that which God has entrusted to you?

In whatever way, you might answer these questions, I invite you to ponder them, and to continue in this great life of meaning, purpose, and challenge as a steward and disciple. I invite you to be even more a part of the ministry of this congregation and larger church, meeting the needs of people near, in Ashland, and far away through your talents. I invite you to share your stories of how you see God at work, and to share your questions and dreams, because those too are God’s, which God has entrusted to you, because God loves you, is with you, and is for you. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Matthew 25:14-15, NRSV.
[2] Pheme Perkins, “25:14-30: The parable of the talents,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Michael D. Coogan, ed., (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 47 New Testament.
[3] Duane A. Priebe, “25:15 talents,” in Lutheran Study Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), 1649.
[4] Based on Psalm 24:1-3.
[5] Genesis 2:15-20.
[6] Karoline Lewis, “Entrustment,” 12 November 2017.
[7] Fred Kaan, “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ,” Jamaican folk tune, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 674.
[8] Matthew 25:21, 23, NRSV.
[9] Matthew 25:24, NRSV.
[10] Zephaniah 1:18, NRSV.
[11] Fred Kaan, “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ.”
[12] Matthew 25:28-29, NRSV.
[13] Matthew 25:30, NRSV.
[14] Pheme Perkins, “25:14-30: The parable of the talents,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Michael D. Coogan, ed., (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 47 New Testament.
[15] This is made clear in Zephaniah 1:12.
[16] Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day,” Poem 133, in New and Selected Poems, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992). https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html
[17] Based on Fred Kaan, “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ.”

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