When I was just beginning junior high, my parents, noticing that I was a particularly bright child, brought me to the school psychologist for testing so that I could be admitted to the school’s gifted program. When the psychologist got the results, however, the score was not quite high enough for me to gain entrance into the program. What pulled my score down were the questions that tested my spatial abilities, which were, and still are, next to nothing. The school psychologist told my mother and my father, “She’ll never fix her own car.” My parents, who knew me pretty well by that point, said, “Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?” The school psychologist was firm, however, and said that based on the score on that test, I would be denied entrance into the gifted program at the school. Now, I had always been a perfectionist even before this experience, but what this experience did to me was to produce a drive to prove to everyone in the school that I was just as intelligent as the kids in the gifted program. And in some ways, this worked. But to this day I am still not able to fix my own car.
Last week, we heard a parable that told us that we are to continue to live as God has called us to live while we are also waiting for Jesus to return. This week’s parable tells us that we are to use what God has given us to use to take risks for the kingdom of God. But as we ask ourselves what kind of risks God wants us to take with the gifts he has given us, the important thing to remember is that God gives each of us different abilities and different gifts. Each of the slaves in this parable was given a different amount of money “to each according to his ability.” The master knows that each slave has different abilities, and the amount of money he gives to each one differs in accordance with what he knows about each slave’s abilities. Just so, while I may be able to preach, to teach, and to excel academically, I also know that when I have to have the oil changed in my car, I need to bring it to a mechanic. God calls us to use what he has given us, often in risky ways, in service to him, and not to try to use what we don’t have. And to not use those gifts that we have at all is to show a profound lack of trust in the goodness of God. So, let’s take a look at some ways that we can use gifts that God has given us and how we can take risks for the kingdom of God.
First, a story from my internship site, Holy Trinity Lutheran in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This is a congregation that has been continuously in existence since 1730, 46 years before the beginning of the American Revolution. The current building has a huge pipe organ on one side of the balcony, with a pulpit on eye level with the balcony on the other. Stained glass windows adorn the building on three sides. So if you can tell anything about the congregation from the architecture of this building, your immediate guess is going to be that they are quite traditional in their worship style, and you would be right. Several years before I served there as an intern, the pastors of the congregation at that time decided that the best way to attract new members to the congregation would be to have a contemporary style worship service. So, they set it up in the auditorium of their parish house, got people who could play instruments common in praise bands, and began the worship service. This service lasted for a while, but then it fizzled out. Why? Several reasons. The pastors who had pushed for it took other calls and left the congregation. Several people in the praise band were not members of the congregation and therefore had no reason to stay and keep going. There were not enough people from the congregation itself who attended the worship service and supported it. And, the service did not attract the new members that people thought it would. This congregation did not understand at the time that God had not given them the gifts, talents, and abilities to sustain a contemporary worship service, but instead had thought that they needed to do what everyone else was doing.
So, they regrouped and instead focused on their strengths. They do traditional worship very well. They host several concerts during the year that are non-church-related where people play the organ and other classical-style instruments. They are known for their Christmas Eve service, which showcases classical Christian music and does it extremely well: people who rarely go to church the rest of the year make it a point to come to Holy Trinity’s Christmas Eve service. By building on these and other strengths and gifts given to members of the congregation, they are able to take risks to further the kingdom of God to people who would otherwise not hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Now, as I was telling this story, I could tell that some of you were envious. It would be nice, you may be thinking, to have that kind of reputation in the community; to have highly trained musicians come and give concerts here. But, I don’t think these are the gifts that God has chosen to give to our congregation, and that is okay. God has given us the gifts and the talents that we need in the 21st century in Powell, Wyoming, to reach people with the gospel. What are those gifts and talents? What has God given us here at Hope Lutheran Church to reach out to people in this area and extend the kingdom of God in this little corner of northern Wyoming?
One talent that I see in abundance here at Hope is the ability to cook food and to feed people. We are already using this talent that God has given us in many ways. We were able to host a cream can dinner and auction off much delicious food so that the proceeds could go to feeding hungry children through the Backpack Blessings program. We were able to host the Northwest College soccer teams for dinner last summer, for which those players were profoundly grateful. We have hosted a lunch at Campus Ventures at Northwest College. We have also had a special Valentine’s Day dinner where everyone, regardless of marital status, was made to feel very welcome. These are all wonderful ways in which we have used these gifts, but is God perhaps calling us to something more? Perhaps we could begin, periodically, to host a free meal for all of those in the community who may be low on funds and feeling hungry. Or, perhaps we could work with other churches in the community to find a way to feed hungry children during the summer when school is out and they can’t take advantage of the Backpack Blessings program. Or, there are any number of other possibilities.
Another talent that I see in this congregation, besides cooking, is sewing. The quilts that are made here get shipped all around the world to people who use them for warmth and for shelter. Other sewing projects get sold at the bazaar, the money from which goes to help support various charities and projects that are chosen each year. Is there something more that we can do with our sewing talent? If there are any knitters in the congregation, perhaps we can look into knitting prayer shawls which are given to those who are sick and those who are lonely. Perhaps, if any of our sewers have teaching abilities, we could host a workshop for people to learn how to sew. Or, perhaps we could host a “mending clinic,” where people who need clothes patched or mended, but don’t know how, and can’t afford to buy new clothes, could come and have their clothes fixed for free. Again, the possibilities are endless.
The point of Jesus’ parable of the talents is that we use the gifts which God has abundantly given us to take risks and to further God’s kingdom, trusting that God is a God of abundance and will multiply what we risk, even when we don’t see tangible results from our efforts. In the parable, the slave who is in trouble is the slave who is afraid to risk what the master has given him for fear of losing it and for fear that he will be punished for losing it. But in the end, the slave is punished for not risking the money that the master has given him in an effort to earn more. We should not be afraid of risking the gifts that God has given us in service to God’s kingdom. Instead, we should be afraid of not risking those gifts. We should not be afraid of failure, for often, what we perceive to be failure is exactly what God uses to help people hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ.
Let’s take note of one more thing about this parable of the talents. In the story, we do not hear that the master is harsh until the third slave voices those concerns. That is something to think about as we think about how we perceive God. If we perceive God as someone to be afraid of because God might punish us, then that affects how we act in this world. We will always be afraid to take those bold risks, because we might get it wrong, and if we get it wrong, God will punish us. On the other hand, if we perceive God as a loving and generous master, who believes in us enough to entrust us with furthering the kingdom of God, even when God knows that we will make mistakes, then that trust that we have in God will enable us to take risks for the sake of the kingdom, believing that God will use even the mistakes we make to double the gifts he has given us. Let us believe, then, that God is indeed a loving and generous master, and let us not be afraid to take those risks for the sake of his kingdom. Amen.