Using our talents

15 Nov 2020 by Richie Dulin in: Sermons

Welcome to the church

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be revered above all gods.

God is to be revered above all the things of the world, and as we come together we will praise God, seek God’s word, and pray for God’s world.

Prayers of adoration and confession

Let us pray:

Almighty God,
As we gather to worship you, we remember again how wonderful you are.
All of creation shows us your awesome power
The world and the heavens shine with your glory and greatness.
Each atom and molecule carry a tiny part of your plan,
Every microbe speaks of your never-ending care.
The mountains tell of your strength and heights.
The valleys tell of the depth and wideness of your mercy.
Each tree and flower show your beauty
Each life is a miracle of your creation.
We lift our eyes to you, our wonderful, majestic, awesome God.


Friends, as we come before God in awe and wonder, we acknowledge our own weaknesses and failings, and offer our prayer of confession as we say together:

Merciful God,
we have sinned in what we have thought and said,
in the wrong we have done,
and in the good we have not done.
We have sinned in ignorance;
we have sinned in weakness;
we have sinned through our own deliberate fault.
We repent and turn to you.

Forgive us,
for our Saviour Christ’s sake,
and renew our lives to the glory of your name.



Assurance of forgiveness

The apostle Paul tells us:

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,

not counting our trespasses against us,

and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

hear Christ’s word of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven”

Thanks be to God 

Hymn: Majesty, worship his majesty

Bible Readings: Psalm 123, Matthew 25:14-30

Psalm 123 (NIV)

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to you,
    to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
    as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he shows us his mercy.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
    for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

Matthew 25:14-30 ESVUK

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Sermon: Using our talent(s)

I think everyone agrees that 2020 is hard. It has been a difficult year. Covid has made everything harder: It’s made keeping in touch with friends and family harder, it’s made work harder, it’s made finding  work harder, it’s made weddings harder, it’s made funerals harder, it’s made church harder. And all the rest of it.

But we do our best as the people of God. We struggle. We cope. And we support each other.

Even beyond Covid, we struggle: doubts persist. Our thoughts, our opinions of ourselves, so often hold us back:

“It’s too big a task”

“I’m too young”

“I’m too old”

 “I’m only a recent Christian, I don’t really know that much”

 “I could never talk to non-Christians about Jesus”

“I couldn’t pray out loud”

And not just doubts about ourselves as individuals, but as a group:

“There’s too few of us”

“We’re too set in our ways”

“We’re all old”

“We need someone else to do that for us”

Have you ever had such doubts? … I certainly have.

And sometimes we even project our doubts on others – “He wouldn’t want to do that because he’s too busy” or “That would be too much to ask” or “he gets depressed”.

I’m not saying that we need to put all these concerns out of our minds, and that we can achieve anything we want if we simply put our minds to it, or if we simply pray harder, or simply trust God more strongly.

Because if we go down that path, our failures become all the more catastrophic. We start thinking things like “we didn’t work hard enough”, or “we didn’t pray hard enough” or worse still, “Our faith wasn’t strong enough”. We blame ourselves and we feel guilty.

We should remember that the amount, or strength of our faith isn’t what is important. Jesus said (Matt 17, Luke 17) that faith as small as a mustard seed was sufficient. The amount and strength of faith isn’t important; what is important, is what our faith is in. Or more to the point, in whom we place our faith.

Faith doesn’t make our doubts about ourselves or others go away. But faith can show a way forward: a way to work around or worth with or work past our doubts.

God calls us, and we respond to him in faith. And we all have a role as part of the church – part of the body of Christ, young and old and male and female, and whether we’re shy or outgoing, or a talented musician or tone deaf, a skilled bookkeeper or couldn’t add two and two to save our life, and whatever our background and whatever our abilities – and whatever the strength of our faith.

Because God works through people. And not just through a few ‘prophets’ or ‘apostles’ or ‘saints’ or ministers or elders. But through each one of us, and through all of us. Flawed though we all are.

Today’s parable from Matthew 25 talks about a man entrusting his slaves with talents… but not ‘talents’ as we might think of them: to us the word ‘talent’ means ability - a natural gift which we have; but to the disciples who were listening to Jesus when he told this parable, it was an amount of money. A large amount of money. A talent was a specific weight of silver and was worth more than 15 years of a day labourer’s wage. The NIV translation uses ‘bags of gold’ in place of talents. A talent was a fortune. It would have been impossible for a slave or a servant to ever save that much money for themselves.

And that’s how we need to think of it. As followers of Jesus, we are entrusted with something that we could never earn for ourselves.

Jesus was speaking to his disciples, but he is also speaking to us – both as individuals and as a church. We have to take this parable personally.

We read that the man gave each of his slaves one or more talents. Why were some given more than others? Well, Jesus tells us at the end of verse 15 – “…to each according to his ability”.

The talents weren’t given outright to each – they were given in trust. Verse 14 tells us that the man “entrusted his property”. The talent’s are God’s property. That means that this is not something that we can own or earn; but something which God controls, and entrusts us - his servants - with. The talents or bags of gold are not given, like natural abilities, to all people freely; but are given only to those who in some way have become a servant of God. And to them, to us, God entrusts his property.

But Jesus said each was given according to his ability (25:15). So while the talents are not natural abilities; the talents are given on the basis of ability. To one man the Lord gave five talents because he was a man of great natural ability, he had many gifts. To another he gave two talents because he was not as gifted as the first, and to the third, he only gave single talent because he had few natural abilities.

Everyone was given talents according to his capacity to use them.

And having given them, the man expected his slaves to use them – to invest them – in order for them to grow.

Each talent given to one of the slaves was something that could be invested, be risked, with the possibility of producing gain or loss. The decision to invest the talent was is the servant’s decision. And clearly there was a range of options – investment strategies in modern language.

The two more able slaves chose to invest the talents, the third chose to bury it in the ground  - for which I guess the contemporary equivalent is hiding your cash under your mattress.

And if it was his own money, that would have been fine. We need to remember that: Jesus is not giving us investment advice here – he’s teaching us very specifically about what God wants from us. That may have implications for our personal finances, but that’s not what this lesson is about. 

Each talent is not given to the slaves for their own use. They remain the property of their absent master, and if it is risked it will be risked on the master’s behalf. He hasn’t promised the slaves that they will share in any way in whatever profit may be made. But as we read in verse 25, the slaves would have been worried that any loss was their responsibility.

So the master gave talents – or bags of gold – to each of his servants, according to their ability. The master knew them – knew what they we capable of. He gave no one more than they had the ability to use.

We read then that the master went away, and the slaves went off with their talents. The one given five talents traded them, and eventually earned five more. And similarly the one trusted with two, invested them as well, and earned two more.

But the one with the least ability, the one with only a single talent, chose not to invest it, and instead buried it in the ground. It was safe, but there would be no return on it.

Finally – after a long time - the master returns, and settles the accounts with his slaves. Jesus really emphasises the process – the first two slaves explain to the master what they’ve earned for their master, and the master compliments them and tells them they’ll be rewarded – “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy […], I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

They’ve made the master happy. But not so the last one.

Verses 24 and 25 tells us the last one was scared of the master – scared of the responsibility the master had given him, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man,” he said, “reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

He’s effectively saying “I didn’t do what you wanted me to do… but what I did wasn’t so bad”. Or “You trusted me with part of your fortune, but I rejected your trust”.

Just not losing what the master had given the slave wasn’t enough. The master tells him “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.” (25:26-27)

I don’t know what interest rates were at the time, but they were probably a bit higher than they are now. Whatever the rates were, though, the interest wouldn’t have doubled the master’s money like the other two slaves had managed. But that would have been enough!

But that last slave chose not to do even that.

And the consequences for that slave were pretty dire: “So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.” (25:28) and then in the last verse of our reading “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

So the story ends with this reckoning – those that accepted the master’s trust and worked for him are rewarded, and the one that rejected the trust was cast out.

We can speculate what might have happened if the slaves had lost the master’s money… or what would have happened to the slave who received that single talent if he had, at least, earned interest on it. But we don’t know what would have happened, so we need to focus on what we do know, and what it means for us here in Carlingford today.

I think the example of the first two slaves for us is that they accepted the master’s trust in them and made full use of what was entrusted to them, and their opportunities, not for their own benefit but for their master’s. We need to accept what God has entrusted to us, each according to our ability, and use it as God wants us to use it – to advance the Kingdom of God wherever we are.

God knows each one of us, and won’t expect more from us than we can cope with.

We don’t need to be like the last slave who was in fear of the master. Because we know God through Jesus. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can be confident of God’s love for us.

But because we are confident of God’s love for us, we need to respond to that love. We need to be changed. We need to use our abilities, and all the riches that God has entrusted us with to feed the hungry, raise up the poor, comfort the sick, free the oppressed and share the good news of Jesus with the world.

When we do those things, no matter how grand or how small the individual act we do may be, we can know that God will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

The opportunities to use our abilities come to all people, but it is only to his servants that God entrusts his talents – his riches. As followers of Jesus, we will have many opportunities to make use of God’s riches to share the gospel and benefit others. We might not always be successful in what we set out to do, but the worst thing would be to ignore what God has entrusted to us. To bury our faith in the ground, and not let it grow by even the smallest amount.

One of my favourite passages of scripture is the opening verses of Ecclesiastes 3… where the writer tells us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build…” and so on. I reflect that there is never a time to do nothing.

The third slave gained nothing because he had risked nothing, and there was no return on what the master had entrusted him with. He chose to ignore – to bury - an opportunity. But the other two slaves risked what their master had given them in trust, and it paid off.

We need to take this parable to heart. Just as it was with talents that the master entrusted the slaves with, so it is with what God has given us – as individuals, as a congregation and even as a church. And God has blessed us richly. And we have opportunities to use those blessings, to do the work of God’s kingdom: To feed the hungry, care for the sick, free the enslaved, comfort the grieving. And to share the good news of God who loves us so much, that he sent his Son to become one of us – and to die for us.


Hymn: Lord, I come to you

Prayers of Intercession (Will be available at 5PM on 15th November 2020)

Hymn: To God be the glory

Offering prayer

Lord, you have entrusted us with the riches of this world and our lives.

We ask you to guide us and sustain us, so that we may be your good and faithful servants, as we use the gifts that we offer here and elsewhere, to the benefit of our neighbours and to the growth of your kingdom.

In Jesus name we pray



May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit; (Romans 15:13)
and may almighty God bless you,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Next week (22 Nov 2020):

Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7a
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46 

Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 1:15-23

Theme: “For what shall we pray?”