Proper 28, Year A, 2005

Investing is serious business.

I learned this at a finance workshop that Karin Bonding ran several weeks ago.  A few women got together over a bottle of wine and some chocolate truffles and faced the cold hard truths of our financial situations. 

If you were watching us, you would know exactly where our financial weaknesses were by when we gulped a sip of wine. 

I gulped when I realized how long I would need to save money for a downpayment on a house. 

Another woman gulped when she realized how much she needed to save for her children’s college education. 

There was a collective gulp when we talked about the money we would need for retirement.

Karin was fantastic at helping us calm down and figure out how we could meet our financial goals.  Apparently stuffing your money in a mattress and panicking is not a valid financial plan.

The slave in today’s gospel lesson could have used Karin’s advice.  His master entrusts him with one talent, which was a huge amount of money at the time.  A talent was a very large coin that could weight as much as 60 to 75 pounds!  Imagine if your boss asked you to invest several million of his dollars.  I can sympathize with the slave’s nervousness. 

The slave wanted to make sure he protected that talent, so he buried it deep within the earth so nothing could happen to the coin. 

Imagine his anxiety each day of his master’s trip, visiting the mound of dirt that protected the coin to make sure no enthusiastic canine had dug the coin out from it’s protected spot.  What relief he must have felt to return the talent safely to his master! 

Unfortunately for the slave, the master was not as interested in the protection of the talent as he was in the investment of the talent.  The master rewards the two slaves who have taken the risk of investing the money and takes away the talent from the man who dug the hole after calling him lazy and wicked!

We do not often think of God as a savvy investor—After all, when you can create a universe just by thinking about that universe, you probably don’t have a serious need for cash.

We’ll be helped if we remember this story is a parable.  Imagine Jesus as the master.  He is going away for a time, but will be back soon.  Jesus wants to make sure that believers don’t waste the gifts of the Church by hiding them.  He wants us to invest ourselves to the best of our ability, so that when Jesus returns, he’ll be able to see the returns on our investments. The question is:  how do we know what gifts Jesus wants us to invest?

I was, for three years, the world’s worst secretary.  I hate working in an office all day.  I hate filing.  I don’t like being interrupted by an authority figure.  I’m not crazy about answering the phone.  I’m also not fantastic with details.  So, you can imagine the disaster that awaited my poor boss anytime he needed anything.  My gifts did not match up to my responsibilities.

I think sometimes in the church, we get so panicked about getting programming together, that we cajole, beg, or manipulate parishioners to step up to do jobs that need to be done, regardless of whether their gifts match the responsibilities.  While I’m not going to stop recruiting for Sunday School teachers, my dream would be that everyone in this parish would be doing the work that best suits you, that brings you pleasure. 

Each of you has incredible gifts.  I’ve been saddened to hear some of you, particularly women, focus on the tasks in life you believe you do not do well. 

Humility is one thing, but when we deny the gifts God gives us we’re wasting a chance to really invest those gifts.  Remember, the God of the universe created you.  This is the same God who made mountains, and diamonds, and fireflies and rainbows—God makes really good stuff.  You are no exception. 

So, if you are not sure what your gifts are or if you think you know, but want to explore some more, or if you are convinced you are giftless, I have a wonderful book to recommend to you.

The book is called Living Your Strengths, and the authors and publishers can be found in your bulletin.

Living Your Strengths was written based on a study conducted by the Gallup Organization.  Some researches from the Gallup Organization interviewed people who were the best in their fields—the best CEO, the best teacher, the best cleaning woman, the best actress—and so on.  When they compiled the results of their interviews, they found that people have thirty five areas of strength and each of us excels at four or five of these. 

Living Your Strengths addresses how to use these gifts in a church setting.  However, the information you learn will help you use your strengths in the rest of your life, as well.

Here is a quote from the book, “In Gallup’s research into human potential over the past 30 years—including interviews with more than 2 million people—the evidence is overwhelming:  You will be most successful in whatever you do by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses.  Your talents should be your primary focus. . .Your calling is what God wants you to do with your life; your talents and strengths determine how you will get it done.  When you discover your talents, you begin to discover your calling.”  (p. x)

The CATCH to this book, is that you need to buy the book to take the online quiz to find out what your strengths are—so clearly whoever marketed this book had the gift of fleecing his market audience. 

I think this book can be a helpful tool for us, because it re-frames our thinking about gifts.  Instead of wishing for someone else’s creativity or ability to cook or financial savvy, or worrying about our weaknesses, it helps us take an honest look at our own gifts. 

You might not have had any idea you had the gift of consistency or individualization, for instance.  If you do, you might do well visiting with some of our housebound parishioners.  If you have the gifts of analysis and being a learner, the adult forum committee might be the place for you.

If I had read this book before taking on my job as a secretary, I might have realized that my gifts of empathy, arranging, adaptability, connectedness and individualization, did NOT a good secretary make.  However, they do make a decent minister.  I could have, like many people, focused on my weaknesses and tried to better them.  That is a fine goal.  However, if I had spent the last three years improving my filing skills rather than going to seminary, I would still be one unhappy girl.  If we really want to maximize our role on this planet, and in this church, a more effective approach will be to focus on our strengths and do ministry out of that part of ourselves, rather than focusing on our areas of weakness.

At 11:00 [Today we celebrate the baptism of Clancy Beights.  We’re not sure what his strengths will be—He recently learned how to put his foot in his mouth, but his growth probably won’t stop there.  We do know that he will be an important part of the church, as we all are.]

The wonderful thing about the investment God has made in us, is that God invested in US, not in you or me.  God invested in the church—millions of people all over this planet.  We are all incredibly different, but we can work together to really make a difference.  We do not have to be responsible for every committee, every job, every mission.  God will show us what our, individual callings are and how we can best use our strengths to serve him.  

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