Sunday Night Live Sermons
USING OUR TALENTS
Megatrends That Have Guided Us
In tough times an unlikely person sometimes develops their talent in such a way as to inspire a nation. In the middle of the Depression, a despairing Australia, saw a boy from Bowal, developed his talent better than anyone else in the world. At a time when English Banks were grasping their interest on international loans while hundreds of thousands were starving and unemployed, Don Bradman stood against the English Body Line bowling and set batting averages that are records to this day. The nation hero worshipped one man who used his talent.
In America, there was a parallel story of a rags to riches boxer. James J Braddock earned his nickname, “Cinderella Man”, from his fairytale like rise from a poor local fighter to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He didn’t have any other talent, but he could box. Braddock, born in New York City, had a powerful right hand and a successful amateur career. He turned pro in 1926. He had victories but he broke his hand, was defeated by light heavyweight champ Tommy Loughran in 1929 and the stock market crash of 1929 wiped out all his assets. Jim Braddock was down on his luck. He had a hard time struggling to work and put food on the table for his young family. His children huddled together in one bed, trying to keep warm. The gas and electricity were turned off; the last of the milk was gone. What stands between these children and complete disaster? Their father. He had only one talent, he could box, except for his broken hand. James Braddock would do almost anything to save his family. This week a film of his life starring Russell Crowe, had its premiere in Sydney. The film celebrates a man’s sacrificial love for his family.
Braddock fought the worst opponent of his life: the Great Depression. To feed his family, he worked at the New Jersey docks. But the work was irregular. One desperate winter, Braddock and his wife were forced to send their children to live with relatives. In a moment of despair, Braddock turned to the priests of St. Joseph of the Palisades in West New York. As sportswriter Jim Hague notes, “The priests at St. Joseph’s told Jim to keep his faith; that God would provide him the strength to carry on.” And God did, answering Braddock’s prayers in an unexpected way.
For the months out of the ring allowed Braddock’s battered body to heal. His work on the docks strengthened his hand and arm. Then in 1934, Braddock had a chance to substitute for an absent boxer. Incredibly, he beat a powerful heavyweight opponent. Then he beat two more top heavyweight contenders. Braddock then faced the world heavy-weight champion Max Baer-a womanizing show-off who had already killed two men in the ring. Braddock’s wife feared he’d be killed by Baer. By now, the story of the broken-down boxer who fought to feed his family had captured America’s imagination. In Braddock, Depression-weary Americans saw a family man who, like them, struggled against common enemies of unemployment and poverty, and he did it with grace and courage. On June 13th, 1935, hundreds of thousands of Americans walked for miles to pool halls and pubs to hear the fight on the radio. In Long Island City, N.Y., Braddock, as a 10 to 1 underdog, won the heavyweight championship of the world from Max Baer. When America was on its knees, Jim Braddock brought it to its feet.
Today, the elites are fond of saying that fathers are unnecessary. Millions of fatherless kids pay the price of being starved for a father’s love and protection. “Cinderella Man” gives us a tremendous example of what a father ought to be. Jim Braddock was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1964 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001. Russell Crowe, who won an Oscar for Gladiator, plays Jim Braddock perfectly — a working-class man who develops his talent and wins, a man whose riches have nothing to do with money.
Wesley Mission has worked with people helping them to develop their talents. That is one of our great megatrends that has made us so successful. In 1892 we developed a Department of Labour exchange, teaching unemployed men how to develop their talent in order to get jobs to keep their families. We are still doing that through Wesley Uniting Employment. In 1914, we challenged people to use their talents to make and mend and sew to raise money for comforts for the Anzacs in the trenches of Gallipoli. We have continued in Spring Fair encouraging people to use their talents to help others ever since. Jesus declared that everyone was given a talent from God. Some were given more than one. A few people possess many. Originally a talent meant a weight of silver worth about a thousand dollars. But it has come to mean any gift or ability given by God. We are the stewards of our talent and God expects us to use it. The parable has implications for the way we use our gifts, our resources and our abilities. Jesus spoke of a wealthy businessman who was going on a journey and gave his managers significant wealth to use during his absence.
The managers had differing capabilities and he gave them responsibilities in accord with his estimate of their capacities. He did not treat each person alike, but each person has a differing capability of carrying out their responsibilities, as the parable was to graphically show. God’s gift to us of our time, our abilities and our money are to be used to benefit others, and we are accountable to God for their use.
1. EVERYONE HAS A TALENT.
God expects each talent to be used responsibly. Jesus has great insight into human psychology. He said a wealthy businessman gave to his employees different gifts. Some people cry out “That’s not fair! Why are they not all given the same?” That is one of the basic lessons of life: we are not all the same. Neither do we possess the same gifts, abilities, capacities, capabilities or responsibilities. The wealthy businessman gave talents according to abilities: to one was given five, to another two, and the other received only one. That is the fact of life. All socialist political systems of the last century based upon a redistribution of wealth and property equally among people have failed. We start with different capacities and expectations. All these talents are gifts from God. God gives us gifts and abilities. What is expected is that we use to the full what we possess.
2. WE ARE EXPECTED TO USE OUR TALENT.
God gives both natural and spiritual gifts and He expects that we will use them. On another occasion Jesus commented: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Each of us is expected to learn to do what we can do, well! Jesus may have been telling us about a sign outside His carpenter’s shop: “My yokes are easy”. He used his skills and abilities well. His yokes did not cause any trouble for an ox neck yoked to a plough: his yokes were easy! Jesus had a talent with tough timber and with broken lives and He used both talents to the full in the work of God’s Kingdom.
Michael Green says “if you develop your muscles your reward is that you can carry heavier burdens and still feel good. To you who have, more is given. And if you lie in bed and do nothing, the law of atrophy takes over, and you find you can do less and less. You lose even the pathetic muscles you once had. It is like that in the spiritual realm. When someone acts reliably under the responsibilities the Master has entrusted to him, his capacities will grow. If nothing is done with them, the ability to respond and be useful will diminish to vanishing point.” The five talent man used his to the best of his ability and was rewarded with five more. The two talent man did not have to do as much as the five talent man: God expects us only to work to the limit of our talent. The two talent man did that and received two more. They both received reward and commendation: “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!” Their opportunities doubled.
3. IF YOU DON’T USE YOUR TALENT YOU WILL LOSE IT.
It is a fact that if you do not use your talent, you will lose it. How many learnt a language other than your parent tongue at school? How many of you still speak it? If you don’t use it, you lose it! How many of you once learnt to play a musical instrument? How many still can play it? If you don’t use it, you lose it! Jesus pictures the one talent man coming before his Master with the talent of silver wrapped in a napkin in which he had buried it. “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” The businessman says to the man who hid his talent: “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” “Unfair!” Did I hear you cry? No. Just a fact of life! Paul wrote to Timothy good advice: “Do not neglect the gift God has given you…” Neglect your gift, and you lose it. If you use your talent, it will grow and more will be added.
4. YOU WILL ACCOUNT FOR YOUR STEWARDSHIP.
God expects an account of what you have done with your life. Like the businessman who returns and calls his workers to account for their time and effort, God is expecting an account from you! God demands accountability for the privileges He has given to us. We are accountable. God judges us on what we have done with what He has given.
What a great delight to be able to say one day: “Master you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more” and to hear God say: “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!” How important is it then for you to get your life right with God. Everyone has a talent. You are expected to use that talent. If you don’t use it you will lose it. But if you use your talent it will increase. Then when God demands an account from you of what you have done with the talent He has given you what joy lies ahead for you. Your involvement in Spring Fair is a symbol that you are using your talents to bless others.
You are being accountable for your stewardship. What talent do you possess? Many people find it hard to answer that question honestly. Some say with a nervous embarrassment: “Me? I have no talent. I’m no good at anything.” Other people believe that they have talent, but it is just that the rest of the world does not recognise it. They spend much of their lives waiting to be discovered. But is a spiritually healthy question to ask: “What talent have I?” For it reaches not just to your abilities but to your responsibilities. Most people think of talent in the narrow sense of an outstanding capability beyond the average, whereas Jesus was thinking of your talent not as some great ability that you have more than others, but of what responsibility you have that is uniquely yours. No talent? No responsibility? Few of us have great natural or spiritual abilities beyond the ordinary, but all of us have responsibilities that have been given to us. We are answerable to God for how we handle those responsibilities. Make the most of whatever talent God has given you for His service.