Risk taking is a big part of being a committed Christian. It is not an easy thing to do what God asks of us. I am not talking about riding a ninety foot wave in Portugal or, as my grandson used to do was skateboard down a stair railing that were twelve steps long. The risk taking I am speaking about is doing the actions Jesus told the people to engage in for the benefit others. Or it might be speaking out to help the poor and disadvantaged when it might be unpopular. It could mean to stick up for others when people might want to criticize them or speak untruths about them.

Today we have a parable from Matthew. A parable is a story that illustrates a principle or lesson that God, through Jesus, wants us to think about. Parables can be examined in many ways. They can be turned around, set upside down, but always be examined closely to see what the lesson or lessons we can learn from them. Wikipedia describes the characteristics of a parable is a story that "illustrates universal truth". It "has a setting, describes an action, and shows a result".

The parable Jesus told was about a man who was going away on a long journey. He brought together his servants and gave them some talents (money) and then went on his trip. It is interesting that he gave no instruction to the servants before he left. When he got back he praised the first servant who doubled his talents. He then praised the servant who doubled the two talents into four talents. When he asked the third servant about the money he had given him he was so angry that he had the servant thrown outside into the darkness because this servant did nothing with the money he had given him. Until looking at this parable closely I always thought the rich man was Jesus. And, I could never understand why Jesus was so angry and cast the man out. I have found new meaning in the parable by looking at it upside down and backward and have new information to share with you.

Jesus has given us all talents and human gifts. Not the ones made of money but talents or characteristics that each of us has that are unique to ourselves. Some are very obvious: kindness, good humouredness, a good intellect, being compassionate, having musical ability, having artistic ability, and so on. We all have been given special gifts from God that we can develop or use as we do God's work here on earth. I believe that Jesus expects us to be inventive and ingenious in not only recognizing our talents but in using our talents to help others.

We are very fortunate that Jesus has given us instructions for using our talents. He was very clear. Not only did he tell his disciples what to do, he showed them what to do by example: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give hope to the discouraged, house the homeless, give comfort to the afflicted. We have a plan of action that has been told to us and has been written and demonstrated.

Let us assume today that Jesus has just made us aware of most of our talents and gifts. Jesus wants us to follow his instructions that have been given to us. In a real sense, Jesus wants a return on his investments. I personally am glad I do not have to invest any money (or talents mentioned in the parable) into banks, stocks and bonds, or Wall Street during these difficult times. I prefer to look at my talents as being the investments instead of the money.

If we use the parable as a guide, we can use our gifts completely and double them while serving the people of God. That would be outstanding. This would mean that we would able to recognize our gifts and have the courage to use all our gifts. It might be more difficult to share our gifts and talents with the people we live with because they might stress us out more than the other people we encounter. But it would be a good place to start.

Perhaps we could use begin to use only a few of our gifts while trying to follow God's plan. It is true that some of our gifts would grow and develop instead of just laying useless in the ground. We might be fearful of going full speed ahead. Someone might criticize us or make us feel stupid if something does not go right in the beginning. Fear is a powerful motivator to not do anything. Fear can stop all of us at one time or another from doing anything. Fear is a true reality in our lives if we are doing something new. A life lived in fear is a life half lived.

Take some time right now to think of your giftedness and your talents. We all have them but often are uncomfortable using them. It takes courage to even admit that we have particular gifts. After thinking about this Gospel parable is there some way you and can use these talents more effectively while you are about Jesus' plan for the world? What could we do? How would we start? Is there something we need to do for ourselves to allow us to live a better life? Sometimes helping ourselves is the most difficult thing to do. We often like to ignore some of our own needs and think that God wants us always to concentrate on others.

God is continually giving us opportunities to show compassion to others and ourselves. I believe that the more goodness you shower on others and yourself you will have more and more opportunities. Often we may not know how we have helped someone. Last week I received an email from a student I had in fourth grade while I was teaching in an elementary school. She thanked me for the many kindnesses I showed her while she was in my class. That was over forty years ago that I last saw this student. She reached out to tell me that she so appreciated my attention and my kindness when I was teaching. It was very touching. I had not a clue that my actions in the classroom meant so much to her.

Most of us have been used to thinking of this parable as the land owner giving away money to be invested. The thought of using our gifts and talents to invest is a new idea. Since there is a recession and worry about the economy most of us do not have a great deal of money to think about the traditional way of investing. Thinking about our gifts from God including our gifts and talents is something we all can relate to. There is nothing worse than having our giftedness and talent sitting in a safe place gathering dust. Perhaps we can brush them off and start using them more effectively.

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