Investing in Life – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 25:14-30

In Jesus’ day, there was considerable conversation about “talent.”  Hearing about a “talent” was not in reference to someone’s ability; rather, talent was about money, as we hear in this Gospel reading today.  If Jesus is referring here to the talent-weight of silver, one talent would be approximately $300,000; if gold, upwards to $3 million in today’s exchange.  That’s one talent.  Five talents of silver, about $1.5 million dollars; five talents of gold, about $15 million dollars.  Now Jesus was not a hedge fund manager, and so he’s not actually giving us a profit-loss accounting about investments.  He’s simply using an example that would have been familiar to a crowd of his listeners, some of whom were like hedge fund managers, the money changers.  Jesus speaks about the wise investment of money entrusted to them.  Though we don’t know the exact dollar amount, Jesus’ is talking about a lot of money to be made (or lost) in investment.

By the 15th century in the English language, the word “talent” no longer referred to money; the word “talent” had taken on the meaning of ability: special athletic, or creative, or artistic, or business aptitudes.   Talents.  The original word “talent” evolved in English in a way which actually makes Jesus’ point.  Jesus’ analogy is a parable about life.  God is the investor, and into each one of us at our birth, God invests seed money – like gold or silver – each person receiving a differing amount: “five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to their ability.”  There is good news in this gospel story, and I’ll speak here to three themes:

God as the investor invests different talents, in different amounts, in each one of us.  That’s Matthew’s version of this gospel story.  There’s a similar story in the Gospel according to Luke, where each person is given the same amount.   Now we all actually are the same in so many ways.  If we listen to the physiologists or developmental psychologists, we hear that we all are so much alike, young or old, male or female, of whatever race or nationality.  Humans are very similar.  And if we listen to Jesus, we hear one Gospel given to princes and paupers alike.  We are all so much the same… which confirms Luke’s version of this story.  But here in the Gospel according to Matthew, we hear about our differences.  And that, too, is true in so many ways.

When it comes to our talents – our unique and special athletic, or creative, or artistic, or business aptitudes –  we are all so different.  Everyone is more talented than we are in some ways, some of it coming from nurture, and some of it from nature.  What do you do with your talent?  Invest it, use it, develop it, share it, be thankful for it.  The one thing not to do about your talent is compare it.  Comparisons always leave us in a bad place.  We either judge ourselves better than someone, which is the toxin of pride; or we judge ourselves worse than someone else, which tarnishes our own dignity and may affect theirs.  God gives each one of us a story line, and our story is our story, like none other.

There’s this very poignant scene remembered at the end of the Gospel according to John.   This is following the crucifixion and resurrection, and Jesus is talking with his wayward disciple, Peter.  In the course of the conversation, Peter turns and looks over to another disciple, whom Jesus calls his “beloved disciple.  Who knows what’s going on in Peter just now?  He’s obviously trying to figure out his very messy life, and it appears that he’s comparing himself with this other disciple.  Maybe Peter is remorseful, or maybe jealous or resentful about this other more-beloved disciple.  It’s as if Peter is pointing a rather nasty finger at this other disciple when Peter asks Jesus a barbed question: “What about him?”  And you may remember Jesus’ response.  He won’t answer Peter’s question.  It’s clear to Jesus that everyone has their own story line.  Jesus only says to Peter, rhetorically, “What is that to you?”  And then Jesus, clearly looking Peter in the eyes, says to him, “Follow me.  You follow me.”  Peter has his own unique identity.  Jesus does not call Peter “my beloved disciple.”  Jesus calls Peter “my rock.”

There is an ancient wisdom that comes from the early monks: “freedom is found in limitation.”  The hand you’ve been dealt in life has real limitations, for reasons you maybe understand or for reasons you don’t.  And that’s life.  Say “yes” to your own life, without apology or embarrassment, which would be like burying your life’s talent.  And don’t invest your life glaring over the fence, either envious or resentful of your neighbors.  Long before you poison them, you will poison yourself.  Accept the life you’ve been given.  Go and grow from there.

Secondly, failure is one of the commodities of investing in life.  We can look back to the very beginnings of Jesus’ ministry to see where failure was redeemed.  His earliest disciples were faithful followers.  In the hour of his crucifixion, they all abandoned him.  And in the light of the resurrection, Jesus built his church on forgiveness toward his disciples’ failures.  Life is full of a great deal of failure.  When we gather for worship, such as this morning, we always include a corporate confession of sin.  We don’t take a survey and inquire of the congregation who might find a confession of sin helpful.  The presumption is that all of us have missed the mark, one way or another, since we last gathered.  The invitation to confess our sins is simply announced for us all, and the assurance of God’s forgiveness is readily given.

If you are in any way living your life timidly, because you are afraid you might fail in something, I want to give you an encouragement.  You are going to fail.  You are going to make mistakes, knowingly and unknowingly.  And that’s life.  More than twenty-five years ago, a dear friend of mine handed me a paragraph published in the Wall Street Journal on the theme of failure.  I’ve hung onto this piece as a reminder.  It reads:
“You’ve failed many times, although you may not remember.
You fell down the first time you tried to walk.
You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim, didn’t you?
Did you hit the ball the first time you swung a bat?
Heavy hitters, the ones who hit the most home runs, also strike out a lot.
Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs.
R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York caught on.
English novelist John Creasy got 753 rejection slips before he published 564 books.
Don’t worry about failure.
Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.”

Say “yes” to your life.  Invest in it, use it, develop it, share it, be thankful for it, and when you miss the mark – which you will do – make necessary amends.  Learn as much as you can from your failures (which is about redemption and wisdom), and then get on with it.  Saint Irenaus, a second century bishop of the church, said “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”   Part of being fully alive is learning from inevitable mistakes.  If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re probably not fully alive.  Choose life.  “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  Being fully alive will inevitably involve some failure.  Don’t be timid.  Don’t be a tourist in life.

Thirdly, a word of caution about investing in futures.  To make a sound investment in the future, you have to be firmly grounded in the present.  Where life is to be found, lived, and loved needs to be now.  Don’t live your life waiting.  A couple of days ago a friend of mind told me about a sign he saw hanging in a bar.  The sign reads, “Free beer tomorrow,” and the sign is permanently affixed to the wall.  Don’t live for the future.  Live for the present moment, which is where life is to be lived and God’s presence is to be known.  The future – if indeed we are given a future – will come out of today.  And we will need every moment of today to prepare us for the possibility of tomorrow.

Here is a way you could test yourself about your investment of life in the present.  Presume today is all you’ve got.  Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of us will make it to the end of the day, but let’s say that today is it.  If you knew that, would that make a difference in how you are investing your life’s talents and energies?  If you need to say something to someone before you die, do it today.  Tell them how much you love them.  Ask for their forgiveness.  Say to them what you always wanted them to know and haven’t’ gotten around to saying it.  The psalmist says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Knowing that today’s your last day, savor it, every moment of it.  Breathe deeply.  And focus your attention on the amazing goodness of your life.  Don’t focus on what is not present.  Don’t focus on what you’ve lost in life, over which you’ve now got no control.  Focus on the present, which is the only place where life is to be found, and where God is really present to you.   Now.

I suspect many of us learned a bedtime prayer as children:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

If the truth be told, I think that most young children are not developmentally capable of understanding what that prayer is about.  It’s an adult prayer, which maybe you would still find helpful to use or adapt.  At the end of the day, you want to be able to say to yourself, say to your life companions, say to God, “It’s been terrific.”  “Life has been terrific.”  Life comes packed with incredible personal talents, with amazing delights, and the most wonderful experience of love, all of it a foretaste of heaven.  Life also comes with its sadnesses, with its failures, and with many, many deaths.  And that’s life.  Somewhere inside of that reality we want to be able to end our life, to end each moment of each day of our life, with a prayer of gratitude to God for our most amazing life, far more amazing than anything we could have asked or imagined.  To use the language of the church, its to live our life eucharistically, which means to live with great thanksgiving.  And that is a worthy investment practice for life on earth, which is as it shall be in heaven.

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  1. Cheryl Barbeau on August 25, 2017 at 15:05

    Thank you.

  2. Rhode on August 25, 2017 at 08:49

    Every new day we have the incomparable gift of 86400 seconds in our pockets. Our pockets are refilled each day as long as we live. Which of those seconds belong to God? What shall I do with my answer?

  3. Christopher on August 5, 2016 at 07:09

    Your sermon reminds of a saying by Baba Ram Das “Be Here Now”.

  4. Mary on August 1, 2016 at 13:25

    Thank you brother Curtis. Wonderful words from God spoken to you! Truth and love in each one!

  5. Diane Jacobs on July 31, 2016 at 15:17

    Thank you for the lesson of the talents and the reminder to refrain from making comparisons.
    I’m sure many learned the bedtime prayer version you quote. I share the one I learned because it fits my theology better (and is more appropriate for children): Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord thy child to keep. Thy love guide me through the night and wake me in the morning light.

    • Elissa H on August 25, 2017 at 09:35

      Love this version of the bedtime prayer.

  6. MAUREEN DOYLE on July 31, 2016 at 14:45

    As I seek to let myself be the nerdy introvert I am, I find greater interest in what others say and realize I can be a good listener. If I write goofy books for my grandkids, I find I can also write about God’s love, the meaning/promise/unconditiona-love of the cross and resurrection that children “get.”
    Yet I still find myself trying to hide who I am, because I’m often different.

  7. Anders on July 31, 2016 at 10:13

    Thanks again for this wonderful sermon. I read the line “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” and this little voice goes off in my head from Romans urging me to withdraw, shut off my senses, get things right and then show ’em all how to be perfect. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
    Did Paul get Jesus wrong? Did I get Paul wrong? I find grace in my evangelical wound to bless others after blessing myself. It makes no sense how in this limitation I am finding healing and freedom, yet it is good.

  8. Rhode on July 31, 2016 at 10:12

    As applicable today as it was 8 years ago and 2000 years ago. It is always ‘today’ . Today is when Jesus calls us….I have to remember this as tomorrow loves to take over my today.

  9. Arthur on July 31, 2016 at 09:03

    Perhaps a very lovely man defines envy (φθόνος phthonos) “as the pain caused by the good fortune of others”. (the indignant man is annoyed at undeserved success of others, the envious man goes beyond the idignant man and is annoyed at all success of others, the malevolent man goes further than the envious man and does not merely feel annoyed at the successes of others but rejoices at the misfortune of others).

    Merely comparing ones self with the other is perhaps not a vice – just a misfortune. I know the good brother did not mean that but these lines could be misconstrued so :”The one thing not to do about your talent is compare it. Comparisons always leave us in a bad place”. Perhaps comparison is the foundation of many learnings. Comparisons for the sake of emulation is perhaps ok? “emulate: match or surpass (a person or achievement), typically by observation.” (also called observational learning). People use this for good in nearly every discipline from the sciences to the arts etc. This emulation means learning by observation or extending some idea by observation. Ofcourse a better approach is to turn to God directly but surely God is forgiving towards those who emulate. For people are innocent but are sometimes in the grips of the spirits of envy. The sin is wrong but we love the sinner perhaps.

  10. Envy | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on July 31, 2016 at 00:05

    […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  11. Michael on August 21, 2015 at 09:49

    The need to compare has often limited me. That freedom is a product of limitation is a new and interesting perspective. Together with the present being the ONLY place life is to be lived will make for a wonderful mediation today. Thanks for sharing your insights

  12. Ann on August 21, 2015 at 08:32

    Thank you, Br. Curtis.

  13. Julianna Hodge on August 21, 2015 at 08:14

    Bro. Curtis,
    Wonderful words! Full of grace & truth- thank you so much!

  14. N on August 21, 2015 at 06:29

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. As one of my fellow travellers noted above, ‘Are you sure that you are speaking directly to me?’ Thanks and blessing for this. Should you have an opportunity, please have a look at Mary Oliver’s very apposite poem, ‘When Death Comes’, which concludes with the prayer, ‘I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.’

  15. Florence, Uganda on August 20, 2015 at 22:26

    Thank you so much for the message. I have been in many ways waiting for tomorrow. Learning to live in the present and be thankful for it will be an ongoing learning experience… God Himself my teacher and guide. God bless your ministry.

  16. Ruth West on September 3, 2014 at 19:11

    Thank you, Br. Curtis. This message spoke to my heart. I need to know that, regardless of the present circumstances, God is present with me now.

  17. Bob A. on August 11, 2014 at 21:34

    My brother died in May. As it would happen, I had just hung up from checking in with his widow when Br. Curtis’ sermon appeared in my inbox. What a gift! And what truths it contains! And what wisdom it imparts, both to me and to my brother’s widow, to whom I’m sending this page immediately. Someone (maybe Br. Curtis) once said “the more I pray the less I believe in coincidences.” Getting this message when I did was “a God thing.” Thank you Curtis!

  18. Carol Bussey on August 11, 2014 at 21:31

    I loved this meditation! Thank you for the depth of your thinking on this subject!

  19. Mary AnnRyan on August 11, 2014 at 12:35

    Are you sure you aren’t speaking directly to me? It certainly feels that way, and I thank you! Acknowledging that God gave each of us unique talents to enhance our lives together in this world has been an important lesson.
    Thank you! Mary Ann

  20. Margo on August 11, 2014 at 08:37

    Thank you. I have bookmarked this page to read and read again.
    If only in the real world we stuck to these proportions of difference between on another’s actual accumulation of dollars. 1:3:5! Never more. That is a world I’d could sleep at night living in. Margo

  21. Robin Antonia Hendrich on June 24, 2013 at 12:03

    Each day is becoming more of a wonder. Your message has reverberated in my very depths. Thank you so much.

  22. Deacon Phyllis on June 22, 2013 at 12:21

    This is a great meditation for those of us who are ageing and whose lives are more restricted. A great reminder to live joyfully and appreciate each day.

  23. Christina on June 22, 2013 at 10:58

    What more can I say, Br. Curtis, except: ‘thank you.’

  24. Anders on June 22, 2013 at 07:42

    The concept that “freedom is found in limitation” is counter-intuitive to society and the church. In my childhood spiritual journey I was shamed for not having enough faith for questioning; today I go to a church with a “Christ the King” athlete superhero crucifix, not one of a man who for practical purposes was failed and abandoned. Every day I need a continual reminder of grace and abundance, to taste that the Lord is good, scattering the recipe cards to the wind.

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