St Johns, Johnsonville and Holy Trinity, Ohariu
Readings: Sirach 10:28-32; Psalm 85; 1 Corinthians 12:4-12; Matthew 25:14-30
Download the Stewardship of Time Study Guide (pdf) or
download the Stewardship of Talents Family Activity Sheet (pdf)
Stewardship is a way of life. It’s about how we live out our lives as baptised members of God’s family. Stewardship is an attitude in which we acknowledge that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from the loving God, who generously entrusts us with many good gifts. Last week we considered the stewardship of time. Today it’s about talents.
The word ‘talent’ comes from the parable told in the Gospel reading. It’s a story about people like us, who were called in by their boss and entrusted with something. In the parable it’s a sum of money, but because of this parable we use the word for the skills and gifts that people have. While the boss was away it was the slaves’ task to look after the talents. He doesn’t tell them what to do: he simply entrusts them with the talents and leaves them to get on with it.
The one who’d received the five talents set to work and traded with them and made five more talents. The one who’d been given the two talents made two more. All this took energy, and time, and the willingness to take a risk—the risk of perhaps ending up with no talents at all. Then there’s the third servant who was given a single talent. He went off and buried it, and when the master returned he dug it up and handed it back. This took very little time and almost no effort on his part. He was unwilling to risk anything, and when the master returned he was condemned. That third servant is a warning to us. He was given something, as we all are by God, and he failed to use it. He was afraid to use what he had, afraid to take a risk. And afraid of losing the lot, he did nothing at all. He failed to be adventurous with the grace of God and didn’t accept the stewardship that God had given him.
God’s grace is all around us, and God’s generosity is so well demonstrated in the talents and gifts given to each one of us. A talent is a natural aptitude or skill, the ability to be good at something. Every human being has certain talents. There’s an old Christian tradition ‘that God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver, with a special song to sing for others, with a special act of love to bestow. No one else can speak my message, or sing my song, or offer my act of love. These are entrusted to me alone.’
When we learn to live out of our giftedness we come alive and experience what Jesus spoke of when he said: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10) We enjoy life more because we become who God made us to be; we find ourselves working with God, sharing in God’s mission. Instead of doing what we think we should do, we do what we’re called to do. As a result, we’re more alive people, the Church is enriched, and others experience God more fully through us. We just have to work out what our talents are, and then learn to use them.
In addition to our talents are spiritual gifts. These are special abilities given by the Holy Spirit to believers, to enable them to serve the body of Christ. As Paul puts it, ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’ (1 Corinithians 12:7) The word Scripture uses is the Greek word charisma, which means ‘a gift of grace, a free gift.’ Every one of us has gifts, and again, we each just have to work out which ones we have, and which have been given to others in our church community. There are a whole lot of gifts, and the Scriptures list them in several places, as in the passage from 1 Corinthians. (The study notes suggest ways of exploring and discovering our gifts and talents.)
Over the years I’ve visited many parishes, and I’m always amazed at the amount of talent and giftedness there is in every church community. Yet I hear people saying, “I’m really not that gifted.” I don’t know if you’ve ever said that aloud, though I suspect most of us have thought it. But the challenge isn’t to go out and acquire a whole lot of new gifts or talents; it’s to accept and acknowledge what we already have, as individuals and as a parish—realising the gifts and talents that we already possess. We can be far more than we think, by simply laying claim to what we have already been given. So when we catch ourselves saying “I’m not gifted like you,” it’s not so much a statement about our lack of ability and talent, as about the lack of affirmation and encouragement we receive and give. Being aware of our gifts, and being willing to take the risk to use them, requires recognition of them by others.
Are we as ready to affirm and encourage as we are to criticise and negate? Many gifts lie dormant because we’re not encouraged to take the risk to use them. And yes, it can be risky. We may fail, we may look silly, we may face rejection, or we may compare ourselves with others and feel inferior. All these may lead us to act like the third servant in the parable, and we bury our talents and fail to use them. The sad thing about the third servant was that he was afraid—afraid to be who he was.
There’s always the danger of any one of us overrating our gifts and talents and deluding ourselves that we’re something that we aren’t, or what’s more common, thinking that we fit somewhere, when in fact we’re better fitted somewhere else. That’s not a matter of denying talents and gifts, but of recognising where our gifts and strengths are best suited. That can be a tough one, and it’s why we need the guidance of others—to have trusting relationships where we can receive honest and caring feedback. However, we can do this for each other in ordinary, daily ways, for example, by letting someone know that they have done something well or that we appreciate a comment or action of their theirs. And by the way, when you do that, be specific: “I really appreciated the way you led the prayers because….” rather than just, “I liked the prayers.”
Another inhibitor to our stewardship of talents and gifts is a fear of our own power. Nelson Mandela, in his inauguration speech of 1994, quoted these words:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles (Harper Collins, 1992)
The author of the Book of Sirach says, ‘My child, honour yourself with humility, and give yourself the esteem you deserve. Who will acquit those who condemn themselves? And who will honour those who dishonour themselves?’ (Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10:28-29)
Let’s encourage one another in order that we may honour not only the gifts that we have, but also the gift that we are as God’s children. Let’s build up one another so that we might help each other realise our potential as God’s people and so bring God’s life to the world. Maybe then we’ll find the courage to take risks with our skills and our gifts, refusing to play it safe out of fear, and instead, trusting in God who gave us gifts, and who wants us to use those gifts for the benefit of many others. The example of the first two servants, the five- and two-talent people, encourages us to be adventurous with what God has given us, and to use our gifts and skills for God, and for the rest of our community—using them to reach out to the world beyond these doors.
Don’t be satisfied with a one-talent way of living, where in the end nothing of any real value ever gets done because nothing is attempted. Rather, we’re called to live boldly and generously with our God who dares to trust us with a multitude of gifts and calls us to take risks. When we live like that, we too can look forward to hearing the words that greeted the heroes of the Gospel story: ‘well done, good and trustworthy servant’.