The man stood and watched the master of the house stride away. The master was off on a journey, and he had not said exactly when he would return. The servant clutched the coin tightly in his hand. He had other things to do this morning, and he was unsure about what he should do with this money. This was a lot of money. To earn a talent, you had to work fifteen years. Fifteen years. So the master must have had some confidence in his ability to take care of this talent. Finally, he tucked the coin in his pocket and went to do his chores.
Yet throughout the day, he checked constantly to make sure the talent was still there, because he was afraid he might lose it. Later, as he rounded the corner of the barn, he overheard two other slaves talking. The master had given one of them five talents. That servant was the highest ranking one on the farm. The master had given the other one two talents. The third servant was in awe. Five talents? That was more than most people could earn in a lifetime. You would have to work seventy-five years to earn such an amount of money. Most people in his world didn’t live that long. He listened to the others discuss what they planned to do with the money the master had given them. As they walked away, he thought he heard them say they were going to do some investing. Maybe they could double their money. There were some risky ventures out there, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
The third man shivered. He was a careful man—even frugal. He was not about to take risks with this money. He knew his master was a fair man, but the master brooked no nonsense from his servants. He ran a tight business operation and held them all accountable. No sir, he was not going to gamble this money away or risk losing it. If he did, the master would deal harshly with him when he returned. The servant took the coin out of his pocket, turned it over in his hand, watched the sun glint off its surface. Then, making a prudent decision, he walked over and picked up his shovel. He strode to a nearby tree and began to dig near one of the big roots.
The master has said goodbye. We do not know when he will return and say hello. In between the goodbye and hello, we must live our lives.
The Christians who heard this parable from the writer of Matthew’s gospel knew that Matthew was not talking about a human being who owned a farm. He was referring to Jesus as the master, one who had lived, died, ascended. One who would someday return. Yet the disciples had no clue when this might happen. When Jesus left them, they thought he would be back soon. Yet by the time Matthew’s gospel was written—probably between 80 and 90 CE—Jesus’ disciples had had to reconcile themselves to the fact that they did not know when he would return—or if he would. So how were they to live their lives in such ambiguity?
Jesus had had confidence in all of them. It seemed clear that Jesus had chosen each one for their different gifts that could be used for the building of God’s kingdom on earth. Yet some had not used those gifts well. Judas, for example, had used his talents poorly. The result was betrayal, Jesus’ death, and a close-knit group that was left fractured, grieving and scared. Now, as the remaining disciples came to terms with the truth that Jesus might not return in their lifetimes, they had to decide how to live. How to preach the good news that Jesus had taught them. Would they pull inward, depend on each other, and stay close to home? Would they go back to fishing, working in the tax office, farming, and remembering Jesus when they met in the market place or worshiped in their local synagogue? Would they go back to living their lives as they had before Jesus called them to follow him? Or would they move beyond safe, familiar boundaries and preach the gospel to all nations as he had commanded them?
There is one truth about seeing light in a dark place. Once you have seen light, you are never as satisfied with the dark. When the light of Christ shone into the lives of these ordinary human beings, their lives changed dramatically. Transformed by the love and witness of Jesus of Nazareth, the disciples did go into all the world. Tradition tells us that Thomas ended up in India. James journeyed to Spain. By the third century, the next wave of apostles had gone further—for example, St. Alban went to Britain and was martyred there. By the eighth century, St. Boniface had preached the gospel in what we know today as Germany.
The light of Christ spread far beyond the shores of the Galilee. This would not have happened if the original disciples had buried their gifts. It would not have happened if they had held tight the love and devotion they had for Jesus within their little group or if they had withdrawn in fear. Instead, while the master was away, they stopped living in fear and started living in faith. They stopped living in anxiety and started living in peace. They stopped withdrawing and started to expand, allowing their faith in the light of Christ to flow throughout the world. Just as the master in Jesus’ parable knew the character and abilities of his servants, and entrusted money accordingly, Jesus knew the character and abilities of those he left to live between his earthly goodbye and the divine hello at the end of time.
So what does it take for you and me to live into the abundance and grace of the gifts God has given us? One thing we might consider is that the master in Jesus’ parable did not entrust his money to his servants, then stay and micro-manage them. Instead, he went away. As one writer has noted, he left “distance and room needed for others to lead, grow, take chances, and flourish.” I wonder if God does the same with us. God gives us gifts of love, of faithfulness, of leadership. God then gives us space and room to develop those gifts.
Do we bury our talents because we fear they are too small to make a real difference? Do we use our gifts frugally, limiting them to groups in which we feel comfortable? Do we sit back and wait for someone else to step forward, when perhaps we are the one God is expecting to step forward and lead? Do we expect someone else to feed us spiritually without taking responsibility for our own spiritual education and nourishment?
People in this parish have many gifts. In the past six months, new voices have joined the choirs. In the past four months, Dr. April Stace Vega, has joined this parish community. She is now working with a group of parishioners on a new focus and vision for spiritual formation of youth and children. In the past couple of months, a group of eight people has begun to work with Renewal Works, a project that included a survey for parishioners about spirituality. Soon, that group will make recommendations to the Vestry. Be advised, however, those recommendations will not get lived out solely by your rector and your vestry. These are ideas that will impact our church, our community, and we need you to step up.
All of us have gifts to offer. That gift could be to contribute a financial pledge. Some of you have the gifts to lead a Bible study or book study. Step up and offer your gift. You can help lead an “Episcopalian 101” class and help others learn what being an Episcopalian is all about. Don’t worry; you will have help. Some of you have gifts to be a Vestry member. If you are asked to run for Vestry, do not think you are incapable of helping to lead the church. Think about it, then be willing to serve on Vestry. Some of you could commit to helping plan an alternative Saturday evening service that welcomes people who shy away from traditional church.
You have gifts. So step up. Be counted. Invest the gifts God has given you. And if you wonder if I am talking to you, I am. Between goodbye and hello, live fully, in response to God’s deep, abiding love. Furthermore, do not ever underestimate the gifts God has given you. Never bury them in the ground. Instead, invest them wisely, with a heart of abundant love. Open your hands. Open your hearts. If you do, you will learn in amazing ways how you can serve God and your community, using the gifts that God has given you.
Who knows what astounding treasures we may find—treasures we never knew we had. Don’t bury them. Invest them—in God and in each other. Amen.
© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
 David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 311.
 Ibid., 311.
Picture of talents and picture of shovel from Google images.
Picture of tea candles taken by McJilton