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Fruitful Use of Talents

October 7, 2012 Speaker: Pastor Braun Campbell Series: Stewardship 2012: "Bearing Fruit for Jesus"

Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 25:14–25:30

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Matthew 25:14-30

“Bearing Fruit for Jesus: Fruitful Use of Talents”

For what are you designed?

Here in the nation’s capital, we’re blessed with an abundance of museums. I enjoy getting to go downtown from time to time to visit the exhibits and see what’s what. It’s great to get right up close to artifacts from other times and places, sometimes so close that you can really see the detail of a particular object, maybe a tool or a ceremonial robe. I’m particularly a fan of industrial design, that discipline which makes use of architecture, art, and science to craft items that are both very useable and attractive, appealing and functional. When you start to study an item that’s been crafted in such a way, you get a sense of its designer and the ways in which it would have been used. It’s almost a shame that these artifacts – ancient or modern – are removed from their intended purpose by becoming display pieces in museums where they are no longer used as they’d been designed.

I hadn’t really considered it beforehand, but the process of combing households after getting married can leave you with a lot of artifacts. Fortunately, neither my wife nor I are big fans of decorative items for our home; even so, we both brought mementos and books and archive boxes and many kinds of other stuff that you pick up while living on your own. We needed to figure out what we’d keep, and what we’d need to let go, especially since we don’t have a lot of space for things that just aren’t being used as they’re meant to be used. Accordingly, when we went to plan our wedding registry, we wanted to make sure that we’d list items that we could really put to use. It’s a good thing that we did, for we were richly blessed by the generosity of our family and friends, including the folks at St. John’s, so much so that nearly every item of which we’d registered was given us as a gift. And while we picked most all of these things for their practicality, we also enjoyed the opportunity to look for options that exhibited great industrial design. One such gift particularly comes to mind: our candy-apple red KitchenAid brand stand mixer. I that it wasn’t something that I had particularly hoped to get, but I have since come around to see that it really is a beautiful thing. Just by looking at it, you can see the appeal of its design; however, the real beauty of the thing lies in it being used for the purpose for which it was designed. And since my wife and I really did want things to just sit around our home, we’ve been working to put our various wedding gifts to use. (Baking cookies, we’ve found, really gets a number of those things used!) Because unless something is designed for display purposes only, you either have to use it or let it go. If it’s meant to be used, use it or it’s useless.

In the parable that Jesus told in today’s reading, you heard of a master who’d entrusted three of his servants with considerable sums of money (one talent being about 20 years’ wages for a laborer). After a long time, the master returned and the servants came before him. When the master learned that the first two servants had put the talents they’d had to productive use, he commended them. The third servant comes forward, too, but with a preface: thinking his master demanding, he hid away the talent he’d received. And as you heard Jesus tell it, the master was not pleased with this servant’s response: what that man had been given was taken away, and he was cast out. The three servants didn’t each receive the same amount; yet each of them was expected to make the most of what the master had given. The two that did so made fruitful use of their talents and were blessed with further favor from their lord; the one who didn’t incurred his master’s anger. Have you ever considered what led the third servant to choose to just hide away what had been given him? It sounds like he was afraid of the master, thinking that he’d be in trouble if he misused it in any way. He probably though that he was playing it safe, taking a get-in-and-get-out approach to interacting with his lord. As it would turn out, though, the servant’s inaction made his expectation of his master’s anger into a self-fulfilling prophesy. The third servant left his talent unused and untouched out of fear. Fear of who he thought his master to be paralyzed him into inaction.

But consider for a moment how the master treated the first two servants: does he sound like such a bad guy as he welcomes those servants into his joy? Jesus doesn’t tell us what those servants thought of their lord, only what they did. They took the talents that they’d been given and put them to use. Those talents were meant to be used, so that’s what the servants did. And so it is for us today.

We’re looking at what Christian Stewardship is: how we are use what God has entrusted to our care. What should we do with the talents we’ve been given – not our wealth in this case, but our skills and abilities? For what are you designed? It’s a simple as this: you and I have not been designed for display purposes only. The master has given you an array of talents. There are some people that seem to be able to do almost anything and are skilled in whatever they look to do. Others might feel as if they have far fewer talents. But it’s not how many talents you have that matters most; it’s what you do with the talents you’ve got.

For people who would follow Jesus, he is your true master. Should you be afraid of him? Should fear paralyze you into inaction, into burying your talents and not putting them to use? Some people look to God in fear, like the third servant. They think of Him only as an impersonal and demanding judge. Jesus shows us, though, that God is at work to welcome us into the joy of His presence – not watching for us to fail but giving us what we need to succeed. That’s why the cross is the place where you really get to know God and His love for you. He gives you a gift beyond measure there, because in Jesus you can see the Father’s welcome.

Our fall stewardship focus is called “Bearing Fruit for Jesus,” but what does it mean to bear fruit for Jesus? It’s not that Jesus needs our fruit. He doesn’t: He’s God. Rather, you and I bear fruit as He is at work in us serving other people. You are an instrument of God’s grace as it is a reality in your life. You bear fruit for Jesus as you serve him through caring for the people he has created.

Talents are for using, and you and I can use our talents all the more as we come to know the One who has given them to us. As we come to know our gracious Master and abide in His presence, we come to see how our skills and abilities are meant to be used. As you spend time reading and living with God’s Word, you get to know your designer. As you eat and drink at the table He prepares in the Lord’s Supper, you can grow in appreciation for the details He has worked into the community of faith into which He has called you. You and your fellow Christians are not abandoned artifacts but dearly loved and closely held examples of God’s craftsmanship.

When you are connected to your Creator through Jesus, the vine, God’s love will compel you, animate you in using the talents He has entrusted to your care. You get to enjoy the skills and abilities that God has given by putting them into practice. The real beauty of your talents lies in using them for the purpose for which you are designed, serving others as you share your Master’s active love.

Part of being a faithful steward is developing what you’ve received. Train your talents like an athlete, developing your skills and abilities by working them out. Challenge yourself to expand their use one step at a time, and you might be surprised to see just what will come of it. Here at St. John’s, we offer a course called “Disciples Designed to Make a Difference,” which can help you assess how you can use the talents that God have given you. Check it out. Take a risk, not by burying your talents in the ground but by using them in the way that they’re meant to be used.

For what are you designed? Your talents are not artifacts for a museum, but instruments for caring. Rather than leaving your skills and abilities to get dusty, bring them out in service of the One who has carefully crafted you and, in so doing, enter into the joy of your Lord.

Amen.

More in Stewardship 2012: "Bearing Fruit for Jesus"

October 21, 2012

Fruit That Will Last

October 14, 2012

Fruitful Use of Treasure

September 30, 2012

Fruitful Use of Time