In the name of one God; Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the 1994 film, A Simple Twist of Fate, Steve Martin’s character, Michael McCann becomes a complete recluse after his marriage ends badly. Every cent he earns goes into the purchase of gold coins. And every so often, he pours himself several stiff drinks, takes his gold coins from their specially engineered hiding place, counts them, and sits in smug satisfaction at his ownership of them. Then he hides them again and, when he wakes up from his drunken stupor, goes on with his miserable, lonely life. It is only after McCann’s coins are stolen that he changes, through a simple twist of fate that causes him to open himself up, through taking in an orphan girl to raise. The rest of the movie deals with his growing in, and learning about love while teaching his daughter those lessons.
Today’s “Parable of the Talents,” has some parallels with Steve Martin’s film, or more correctly, with the novel Silas Marner, which inspired the film. Jesus told His listeners that a very wealthy man was going on a trip, and while he was gone he left a huge fortune in the care of three of his servants. Now before we think about the implications of this parable, we need to put it in perspective. Jesus says that the master gave these servants 5 talents, 2 talents and 1 talent, respectively. We know what “talent” means to us, but what did it mean when this parable was first told?
In Jesus’ time, a talent was a measure of gold or silver, based upon weight. Centuries earlier, in the days of Moses, a talent was established as the measure that a man could carry by himself. Scholars today use 75 pounds as the measure of a talent. So, if we are talking about a talent of gold, we would be talking about 1,200 ounces. When I was writing this, gold was selling for $1,164/oz. That would mean that today a talent would be worth approximately $1.4mil.
So the master brought his three servants in and gave the first one $7mil. Then he gave the second one $2.8mil. And to the last one, he gave $1.4mil. And we know what happened then. The 5 talent servant and the 2 talent servant went out and invested the money and doubled what they had. But the 1 talent servant did as Michael McCann did in the movie. He created a very secure hiding place and put the money there, so that no one else would get it and he would have it all when he needed it. But as with Michael McCann, who ultimately lost all of his money, things did not work out exactly as the 1 talent servant thought they would.
When the master returned, he called all three servants to account for the money they had been given. Servants numbered 1 and 2 are roundly praised and commended for risking the master’s money, and doing great things with it. But what of the Michael McCann servant – the one who hid the money and waited? Even before he told the master what he had done with the money, he started explaining (or making excuses) for his inaction. He said that he knew the master to be a harsh man who basically got his money without doing any work. And he said that he was afraid of the master, so he hid the money rather than taking a chance on the master getting angry. The master then becane furious with the third servant. Ironic, no?
So what does this parable have to teach us, particularly in the midst of the annual stewardship campaign? It is simply this: The 1 talent servant does not get in trouble because of what he did. He gets in trouble because of what he did not do. The master in the parable does not get angry because that servant did not make him richer. No, the master gets angry because the servant does not know who the master really is – and therefore does not trust the master enough to take a risk. You see, nothing in the story says that the master really was a harsh or bad man, only that the servant believed him to be so. Because the servant did not know the master, he was unwilling to trust that it would be ok to take a risk with his money.
That is what this parable has to tell us: we have been given talents by God – a God whom we can always trust to know and love us – and we are called to risk it all to bring glory to that God. It does not matter whether your “talents” from God are millions of dollars (as was the case in the story) or if your talents lie in something more modest, like the ability to teach or welcome or sing or read – or simply a smaller amount of money than the master in the story had. Whatever your talents may be, you need to risk them in service to God.
In order to risk our talents, we must be willing to put them out there and see what God will do with them. We must be ready to let go of our control over our talents, to lay them at God’s feet and to say, “Here they are Lord, use them as you will.” We must look at all our talents, see where we might put them to use, and then – in the words of Nike – “Just do it.”
Pledge cards have been sent out (and trust me, we have more), and your Vestry and I are asking you to consider risking your financial talents with St. Barnabas this year. When you prayerfully consider what you will pledge to give to the church this year, remember this parable. It is a risk to say, in November of 2014, what you will give to the Church for all of 2015. But trust in the grace and goodness of God, risk your talents, and give back to God as graciously as God has given to you. Then listen as God, the master of all, says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
In A Simple Twist of Fate, Michael McCann loses everything that he tried so hard to keep safe. All of his carefully hidden gold is suddenly gone. But then, he risks the greater treasure, his heart and takes in an orphaned girl. And God finds him to be a good and faithful servant, and Michael enters into the joy of his master. The same can happen for us when we risk everything that is dear to us and try to do what God wants us to do. What do you say? Let’s risk it all and enter into the joy of our Master.