Each According to His Ability

Twenty-Forth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Track 1
Rev. Patricia M. O’Connell, Deacon

Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

We are halfway through the month of November. Leaves are falling fast and furiously. The days are shorter and darker. Thanksgiving Day is fast approaching, and Advent will begin two Sundays from today.

November – the month in which we honor our dead, exercise our right to vote, pay tribute to our veterans, and give thanks. It is also a time that naturally lends itself to reflection. Autumn brings us face to face with death and dying. Our thoughts drift with questions of who we are, where we have been, and where we are going.

That is so, as well,  as we come to the end of our church year. The lessons bade us to consider the end times, to prepare ourselves, and to be mindful of how we have received and are using the gifts that have been given to us. As much as this is a season about dying; it is also a season about living and becoming the best persons we can be. It is a time that lends itself for us to take stock of the gifts we have been given and how we use them to do the work that God is calling us to do. It is also the time of year used by churches for their annual stewardship drives. And as it happens,  next Sunday is our designated Stewardship Sunday.

The term, talent, as used by Matthew in today’s gospel, is different from our modern-day use of the word. Matthew references the talent which was a unit of measurement used to weigh out silver or gold. Today, when we think of a talent, we are likely speaking of a skill or an ability. The story in today’s gospel is about a master who entrusted his servants with a measure of his wealth, with actual money and lots of it. He gave to them according to their abilities with the expectation that he would see a return on his money.

While there are many different interpretations of this parable told by Jesus to his disciples, I am choosing to focus on these words said by Jesus about the master who was doling out the talents: “He gave to each according to his ability.” The ‘he’ being the master and ‘his’, referencing the servant. “The master gave to each according to that servant’s ability.”

It begs the questions, “What are the abilities that God has given to each of us?” and “How have we lived our lives using these abilities?”

Clarence L. Haynes Jr., in an article he wrote for Crosswalk.com, posed four questions that he derived from this gospel about the talents.  He asked:

“What has God given to you?

What are you doing with it?

Are you ready for Jesus’ return? and

What will Jesus say to you on that day?”

While these are questions with stewardship relevance, more so, they are questions that we should be asking ourselves in any season of the year. It hasn’t escaped me that our very own Buffy Mayo contributed yesterday to the Voices of Faith video series produced by the Communications Office of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. She talked about teaching Sunday School for thirty years and the health crisis that revealed to her the nearness of God. While God has given much to Buffy, and she has in turn shared her gifts with us, it was clear from her testimony that no gift means more to her than the faith that has sustained her through the “Our Father” and “Psalm 23”. These are prayers that keep her faith grounded and allow her to be mindful of the four questions recited above. And I do not doubt for one minute that there are others amongst us whose life experiences keep these questions at the forefront of their faith life as well.

We know, from last Sunday’s lessons, that we are the children of God and heirs to the eternal life promised by God. We learned that it is not enough for us to be the heirs. It is incumbent on us to choose God and to live our lives in service to God. We live in the hope that is found in God and the promise of resurrection and eternal life. The story of the bridesmaids is a cautionary tale reminding us that it is not enough to show up. The Lord requires of us that we be prepared to meet Him when and where he calls us.

The story of the talents reminds us that we all have God-given abilities by which we serve God and utilize for the good of all. The master gave the talents according to the abilities of each servant. Now, let’s turn the focus of this story away from the talents that were distributed to each servant and consider the fact that each person is being judged not on the money and the money returned to the master. They are being judged on how they used their natural, God-given abilities. This isn’t a story about money and monetary gain; it is a story about how we manage the abilities that God has provided to us for the good of the kingdom, for the good of all.

Stewardship means being good managers of the resources that we have earned, and that life has given us, which includes our own gifts and abilities. As good stewards, we consider our choices and we use our resources in keeping with our values and life mission.  Stewardship means that we weigh not only our own needs and desires but those of other people.

Each of our denominations have chosen different labels for their stewardship campaigns. TENS, The Episcopal  Network for Stewardship, chose the theme “Faith Filled Generosity”, and the New England Synod of the ELCA named “Encourage One Another” as their theme. Both address the call that is given to each one of us to be generous and ready to share so that our futures are secure and our lives worth living. Our generosity comes from the gifts and abilities that God has given to us.

In the ELCA literature regarding the “Encourage One Another” stewardship campaign, the authors recognize that many are weary and struggling during this time of pandemic, this time of uncertainty and change. They note that the work of caring for one another and encouraging one another continues. And they quote from today’s letter of Paul to the Thessalonians:

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

It is through our God-given abilities and gifts that we encourage one another and build up each other. It is by hearing the faith stories of Buffy Mayo and others that we build community. The real story in today’s gospel is not that the servant buried the money; that he didn’t produce a return on his master’s money; it is that the servant didn’t even try to apply his God-given abilities to the task at hand. Digging that hole was tantamount to putting a light under a basket. It didn’t serve the purpose God intended. It didn’t showcase his abilities, nor did his action serve the good of the community. It is a lesson for us to name our gifts and to use them, each according to our own abilities, to do the work that God is calling us to do.  When we do so, we will be prepared for the day that Jesus returns. We will be ready to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and trustworthy 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.” Amen.

For today’s response to the sermon, I invite you to share your story regarding the abilities that God has given to you for the good of all.

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