Vulnerability & Talent: My Sermon from Today

Sermon
The Parable of the Talents
Matthew 25:14-30
11/19/17

Despite what you might be thinking, this parable is NOT about managing your portfolio..
Sorry, Suzy Orman, Jesus is talking about something a little deeper than just making sure you invest wisely.
So what does this parable mean?
Well we find it situated in the section of Matthew where Jesus is using 3 different parables to instruct his disciples how to live in anticipation of the Lord’s return.
Last week Pastor Ginn discussed the parable of the ten maidens, where Jesus seemed to be inviting listeners to share freely; not to be constrained by feelings of scarcity—to remind them that in God’s kingdom there is abundance.
This week, with the Parable of the Talents, we hear a similar message.
In this story, a master has entrusted three slaves with part of his estate while he is away.
He’s divided it in the form of “talents” which is a monetary amount- where 1 talent is equal to about 20 years wages for the average worker.
So he’s entrusting them with a ton of money.
Think about it, the first got the equivalent of 100 years wages, the second 40, and the third 20.
So when he returns, after what the text says is “a long time”, he is interested to know what the slaves have done with the generous resources for which he has entrusted them.

In this parable, the resource is money, but like with most parables, its meaning is intentionally open, capable of making a variety of deeper claims.
So let’s take this word- talent- and think about it more along the lines of how we define it today- to mean a skill, aptitude, or ability.
And let’s look at the parable in this way.
Because the parable hinges not on the specifics of the resource, but the master’s response to how they’ve used what they were given.

To those who “invested” their talents, they were rewarded and invited to “enter into the joy of your master”
To the one who didn’t, who buried his talent- he’s “thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
Yikes.
Seems harsh, doesn’t it?
So what to make of this?

Our talents, whatever they might be, are generous gifts from God and they are unique to us. And we are to offer that talent as a gift to the world.
1 Peter calls us to “serve one another with whatever gifts each has received.”
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” Or as some say, you are “blessed to be a blessing”

So burying that talent—Denying that gift—is not a faithful response to God.
It’s certainly not actively participating in the body of Christ.
Because our talents are how we participate in the body.
They become our contribution to the world.
And as a result, they’re deeply linked to who we are.

But so often we don’t recognize our talents. We aren’t sure if what we have to offer is significant.
Society has a way of keeping folks at bay.
With impossible standards.
Unrealistic expectations
The messages we are pounded with are relentless, really
Telling us we aren’t good enough.
That only perfection is worthy
No wonder people hide talents or are reluctant to share them.
Because the repercussions can be brutal.
The risks, too great.
To me, this is the enemy at work.
Keeping our gifts tucked away.
Under lock and key.
A light that’s hidden.

When we don’t allow our gifts to be seen
When we keep our light hidden.
We not only bury our talents.
We bury ourselves.

It’s vulnerability and that’s not comfortable.
Offering ourselves openly and honestly can be scary.

C.S. Lewis writes, “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal…Lock it up safe in a casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

So maybe the third slave isn’t so much condemned as he condemns himself to a place- that knows not joy, that knows only darkness and wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Vulnerability is not easy.
To many- I would say most-
It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable.
It most definitely requires courage.

Before the King of Rock n Roll hit it big he was told by the Grand Ole Opry manager that he would be better of going back to being a truck driver than pursuing a career in music.

For the record, it is estimated the Elvis Presley has sold over 1 BILLION records to date worldwide.

Albert Einstein struggled early on- not speaking until age 4 or reading until age 7. Those challenges did not prevent him from winning the Nobel Prize in Physics and developing the theory of relativity.

In 1919 Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas,” according to his editor.

And those are just a few examples!
There are countless others.
Thank goodness these folks didn’t succumb to the insecurity and fear of the unknown that could have hidden their talents.
They didn’t avoid the vulnerability required to harness their gifts.

Most of us avoid vulnerability at all costs.
We run from it with all our might.
We think if he can avoid failure, eliminate risk, or micromanage our environments, we can minimize or even diminish the discomfort that comes with vulnerability.
But this is to our own peril.

In her bestselling book, “Daring Greatly”, sociologist Brene Brown notes that when we avoid vulnerability , “we limit the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”
And those experiences are what shape us
Those experiences are what help us identify our gifts and share them with the world!
Those experiences are what help us step into the fullness of ourselves.

Brown writes, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by that fear or listen to the voice that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough”, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.”

Friends in Christ, remember that our worthiness is already in place.
We are worthy because Christ made us worthy.
We don’t need to jockey for our worthiness.
That bill has been paid.
So we can lean into the confidence that we are loved and valued by the creator of the universe.
The Psalmist writes, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

So maybe this parable is about being your authentic self and celebrating those God- given gifts- the talents- you have been entrusted with.
God invites us to embrace and harness these gifts—
Not bury them in the ground.
Folks, I don’t think this parable is about doubling your money to please a harsh boss.
It’s about standing into your worthiness.
Offering to the world the gifts God has given you.

We have a responsibility to use and maximize those resources for which we have been entrusted.
Because at the end of the day, they really aren’t ours, they’re God’s.

If you think your talents are simply for you to make a lot of money, retire, and die, you’ve missed the point of your life. God gave you talents to benefit others, not yourself. And in return, God gave other people talents that benefit you.
We’re all a part of the body of Christ, and each part matters. There are no insignificant people in the family of God. You are shaped to serve God, and God wants to see how you are going to use the talents he gave you.

So maybe that’s what the master means in the parable when he says those who have utilized their talents will “enter into the joy of your master”.

So what is your talent?
What is it God has entrusted you with to bless the world?
Don’t worry if you think you’re “good” at it- what brings you joy?
Do you have a knack for fixing things?
(side note this is NOT me)
Do you enjoy numbers?
Are you a talented singer, painter, writer?
How about cooking?
Are you good with kids?
What is it?
Because God has equipped you specifically with that gift- that unique ability – so that you can bless the world.
Are you making the most of it?
Are you using your talents?

Don’t let fear keep you from experiencing the joy God has in store for you.

Enter into the joy of the Master.

Amen.

All Saints Sermon 11/5/17

All Saints Sermon

I can remember when I was younger watching the movie Superman. Remember the scene where the kids are on the school bus that’s crashed and is now teetering over the edge of a bridge? That always struck me with a deep fear. “That could be me!” I would think. “That could be my bus!” I would gasp, immediately suspending the reality that in Elkin, North Carolina the only body of water my bus ever crossed was the Big Elkin Creek which was about 6 feet deep.
But nevertheless I was instantly drawn into this scene where a hero saves the day.

After Superman safely lifts the bus back onto the bridge saving the kids and driver,
-sorry if that’s a spoiler!—
everyone involved breathes a collective sigh of relief and offers passionate thanks and admiration to this extraordinary individual.
In our movies and in our lives, we long for a hero.
To come and save the day.
It captures our imagination.
It offers us hope.
So we actively seek out these stories.
Take the Marvel Universe, as it’s known. Its the comic book company who is now bringing these comics to the big screen. Their characters include Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow and Captain America and have all been made into big movies and sequels.
To say they’re popular is an understatement. In fact, as of today, the movies collectively have grossed just shy of $5 BILLION dollars. Yes folks, that’s a b.
The concept of heroes fascinates us and taps into a deep longing that exists in almost all of us.

Obviously, this is nothing new. Heroes, gods, mythological creatures with special powers all date back to the beginning of time.
In a way, these figures served as narrative devices that helped listeners and readers make sense of a confusing and chaotic world. Mythological entities were created to explain how plants grew or how the seasons changed. Dramatic stories of fantastical beings were imagined to explain storms, earthquakes, and other natural phenomenon.
But their influence didn’t stop with the natural world. These stories also served as a way to help us in our human experience. These gods and heroes modeled exceptional traits which most could only dream of exhibiting.
But they became the ideals for which our leaders were compared.
They became the standard for heroes.
The ancient Israelites longed for such a hero to come down and rescue and deliver them from their troubles and despair. But God threw in a twist.
God told them that their deliverer would not be a supernatural being, but a human one. This hero, known as the Messiah, would embody all the traditional markings of a legendary hero: a strong political presence and a legal expert; a charismatic and powerful military leader.

But then comes the ultimate twist.
Along comes Jesus- the fulfillment of this prophesy.
the arrival of the Messiah,
and he is nothing like he was supposed to look.
He wasn’t an epic warrior, he was a peace-maker
He wasn’t an esteemed leader from nobility, he was the peasant son of a carpenter from a little known country.
This was definitely NOT what anyone expected.
Imagine the bewilderment as God seems to be throwing yet another curve ball!
This unpredictable hero is turning over everything.
In the Beatitudes we read today, we hear first-hand as Jesus subverts many of the norms of the day:
Blessed are the hopeless
Blessed are those who grieve
Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
Blessed are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous.
Those are simply unconventional – maybe even confusing messages!
Because it defies our preconceived understandings.

This is why may people at the time weren’t convinced Jesus was the Messiah
he simply didn’t meet the criteria.
He didn’t fit the bill.
He didn’t say what he was supposed to say.
He was countercultural.
But that’s what is so awesome about our God.

God is always subverting our limited understandings to open up a new and incredible life available to us all.
God turns on its head all those preconceived notions we have about what it takes to be a hero.
Because in God’s eyes we are all heroes. By doing God’s transformative work in the world, we are heroes.
Epic feats aren’t required for God.
Super strength and perfection isn’t necessary.
For God, love is the only prerequisite for heroism.
Blessed are the meek.

Israel was indeed delivered as was promised.
In fact all of humanity was rescued.
But not in a way anyone thought.
God was saying something new.
God redeemed humanity by becoming human -entering into flesh and taking on a body and walking among us.
Feeling what we feel
Doing what we do
Trying things we try.
And by doing so God points to the fact that deliverance comes not by supernatural megaheroes but through ordinary folks just like you and me.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in each and every one of us, giving us power- we mere mortals – to be heroes.
to do amazing things.
To be courageous leaders
and brave change-agents.

Who are your heroes?
What are they like?

On Wednesday night I was talking with the Confirmation students about the Exodus story. And it was interesting to discuss how the hero of that story- Moses- was an ordinary, flawed guy, just like me and you.
Just like us, Moses had baggage. I mean, he had even killed a guy!
Just like us, he was unsure of himself and doubted whether he had what it took.
He even had a speech impediment!
So he also failed to meet the extraordinary job description of a heroic leader for the ancient world.
But God used this ordinary man to be the hero of the Israelites!
And it’s not just Moses but all the heroes of the Bible seem to be ordinary, flawed folks just like you and me.
See the pattern here?
So I implored the students to remember this when they started to doubt themselves or second-guess that they have what it takes to do some cool things.

Because there is a long line of folks with modest backgrounds who God has used
for God’s glory.

Today is All Saints Sunday.

The word “saint” can confuse people.
Different faith traditions define saints differently.
The Roman Catholic Church has a very structured process and specific criteria for qualifying someone as a saint. For example, one requirement involves the performance of a miracle. So as a result these heroes are often held in the highest esteem and honor- St. Francis, St. Theresa, St. Paul, and St. Peter, among others.
It would be easy to struggle to relate to some of these individuals as actual human beings,
because many people think a saint was someone who was perfect in life.
That wouldn’t seem to jive with what we’ve come to learn about how God works, does it?
But outside of the miracle, if you read about the lives of these saints, you quickly learn they had mostly been everyday folks who God used to do incredible things.
Just like in the Bible.
And just like today.
And this is the approach we as Lutherans take.
We keep it real simple.
To us a saint is defined as simply a loved one who has died in the faith.
And to us, these saints are as much a saint as the biggest names in the Bible.  

This year we have several loved ones- saints- who have died in the faith.
But each of them God used in ordinary ways to do extraordinary things:
Never underestimate the power of small things done in love.

Gary Maillet protected men, women, and children in New York for years before moving South to be a loving and compassionate grandfather.

Gabe Spil left a legacy with his family that challenged them to think bigger. His son wrote, that if he ever said he hated someone, Gabs would correct him and say it wasn’t hate, it was a lack of understanding. Or if he ever said he couldn’t do something, Gabs would simply say, “Cant never could.”

Duane Barrett blessed the world with a beautiful signing voice and by all accounts practiced extraordinary hospitality to everyone in her midst.

Peggy Hall welcomed family young and old into her house to stay as long as they needed.

Worth Vanderburg served his country in the military and then later brought joy to his nephews by getting on the floor and playing with them, leaving lasting memories for all.

Steve Fetner served as a father figure to many, collecting a slew of “adopted” children of all ages.

These are holy legacies.
These are saints.
These are people who through ordinary acts of love made an extraordinary impact on the world around them.
These are heroes.

Gabe might not have been Iron Man, and Peggy might not have been Wonder Woman with a magic lasso.
But they are every much as heroic and remarkable and and saintly as anyone.

And these saints join with us each Sunday in the Divine Service where heaven and earth meet.
So today we remember those that have passed from our midst and rest safely in Christ awaiting the Resurrection of the Body.  
And for their witness we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Thanks be to God.