It’s been many years ago now but I remember going to the high school basketball games in my first communities – and how much I enjoyed them – and how good they were some years! In fact one year, one of our tiny towns was on the way to the State Championship.
And I decided to go up to one of the play off games to cheer for them
Usually I would find people from my churches to sit with, but the gym was just packed and I ended up by myself, but with two gentlemen sitting behind me who provided running commentary and their own advice for the players.
It was a close game all the way through – the two high school teams trading one or two point leads – and at the very end – we were ahead, but maybe just by 2 or even one point.
Every second counts in basketball and there were just a couple of seconds to spare when our team had the ball and was at center court. One of the high school girls was there – getting ready to try for a three point basket.
“Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” the two men behind me advised.
She didn’t hear them. She took the shot anyway.
And …. She made it! The crowd was wild! We won!
“She shouldn’t have done it!” the men behind me said.
Well. They knew. Right? She should have played it safe. That was their opinion. Play it safe. Because if she had missed – the other team would have gotten an opportunity, and we might have lost.
Don’t do it. Play it safe.
That’s what I think about when I think of that third slave in the parable today – the parable of the talents.
Don’t do it. Play it safe.
That’s what he wanted to do. Because – he might lose everything. So he buried the talent in the ground
I’ve thought a lot about what this parable means, over the years. Ever since I was a teenager, actually.
Maybe it was that word, “talent” – that got me going. Because I wanted to be talented at something.
And I wasn’t sure what that was.
This worried me.
Maybe it was the scary judgment at the end.
Because, like Luther, I feared God’s judgment – I feared that if I had a talent, even just one, I might squander it somehow.
I was sure I was the third servant, because if I had a talent, I only had one. I was sure.
Other people might have a lot, but not me. I just had one little talent.
I used to think that this parable was about talents – the gifts we have – and about the judgment of not using them for God. But now I am thinking that this parable is more about what kind of God you believe in – what kind of God you trust – or don’t trust.
For one thing, I learned that the word “talent” really was a unit of money.
And even though I still think that it’s important to use my talents for God (whatever they are), it’s important to know that a talent is money and here’s why: a talent is a lot of money.
So it’s not a case of the first and second servants getting a lot and the third servant getting a measly amount.
A talent was worth about 15 or 20 years wages. It was a ridiculous amount of money. For ALL the servants.
So the first thing to notice in the parable is abundance – there is abundance given to all the servants.
There is no scarcity anywhere. What the landowner gives is not “measly.”
This makes it a good story for Thanksgiving, which we are celebrating this week – and today with the huge pot luck meal after our worship service.
Thanksgiving is about this abundance – that God has given to us – and how we share it.
The reading from Deuteronomy makes it clear that one of the pitfalls of wealth is forgetting where it came from – forgetting where YOU came from.
Your story. It’s a story about God’s goodness to you, about how God led you through the wilderness and gave you this good land, how God has provided and provides abundance for you. Who are we? What’s our story?
Our “talents” – whether we mean talents to be actual literal money – or the things we are good at – our talents --are abundant, whether we’ve been given five, or two, or one.
And they are given to us to share
But the next thing I notice in the parable is that third servant – and what he believes about God.
The first two servants – we don’t know about them, except that – they just go out and multiply their talent.
But the third servant – we know he’s worried about losing what he has.
He’s worried about “not making the basket.” He’s worried about what his master will do to him if he loses it. He KNOWS that the master is a harsh master who will punish him.
And it is what he believes about the master that causes him to bury his talent. He believes in the master, but he doesn’t trust him.
There’s one scenario that we don’t know about because it doesn’t exist. What if one of the three servants risked what the master gave them, and lost it all?
What if they blew the wad …. And failed? What if that young woman took the shot – and missed?
What would happen then?
We don’t know.
But what if losing it all isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you? What if losing the game isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you? What if even losing your life – isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you?
The third servant believes in a master who is harsh and unforgiving – and that’s just what he gets.
But is that what we believe about God --?
Do we believe in a God who is just waiting for us to fail?
Do we believe in a God who is like Lucy in the old Peanuts cartoon – holding the football for us to kick and then – just at the last minute – pulling it away just when we were getting ready to kick?
Do we believe in a God who is harsh and unforgiving?
Or do we believe in a God who led us out of slavery into the promised land?
Do we believe in a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?
Do we believe in a God who forgave his enemies – who raised Jesus from the dead
Do we trust that God will – even and especially if we fail – will raise us up again and again to new life?
Today we are celebrating Thanksgiving here – which is to say we are remembering our story, and the abundance of God.
And we will sit around tables together after church and we will feast – which is a part of giving thanks.
But what if a part of giving thanks is also this: to take what God has given us – and throw it up in the air like that basketball – take a risk that God will use it – will use us – no matter us
Maybe we’ll make that basket – maybe not – but either way – either way – trust that God will use our lives for his glory.
Trust that God will use this congregation – for his Glory.
Trust that God will use our hands our feet, our songs, our quilts, our muscles, everything – even our failures…. For his glory.
And give thanks. Give thanks for the abundance of God. Give thanks for the promise of the gospel. Live the Grace of God.
Let your light so shine before others
That they may see your good works
And give glory to your father in heaven.