Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pentecost 27 - Year A

“Doesn’t the parable of the talents give you nightmares?” she asked. Apparently she was unhappy with the life she had chosen. Or had chosen her. If she was like most people, she probably looked at the standard menu of life options and ordered the item easiest to swallow.

She looked back at her 37 years and realized that she hadn’t flexed her artistic muscles. Her creativity lay on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips. There was so much potential dozing inside her, that, somehow, she failed to arouse. Despite brains and talent, she never became the person she dreamed she would be.

She’s not alone. I encounter a lot of people like that. People who know that there’s more inside them than what they express in their lives, their work, or their relationships. And when they reach a certain age, they worry they’ll die with the best still inside them.

A few months ago the Harvard Business Review Podcast had an interview with someone who wrote an article on “Why Gen Xers are Unhappy in the Workplace.” (For those light on the lingo, Generation X is the group born between roughly 1960 and 1980. Often called the “Slacker Generation”)

The author called this group the “Middle Children of the Workforce.” In front of them are the baby boomers who don’t want to get out of the way. Boomers are retiring later (if at all) and are clutching on to the big positions with two hands, refusing to let go.

Behind them is “Generation Y,” young upstarts who think that paying dues is for suckers and are demanding six figure salaries and corner offices right out of school. (My brother calls this the “Snowflake Syndrome” meaning that these kids have been told since birth that they are “beautiful and unique snowflakes” and everything they do is magic. These are the kids who show up on the first day and walk around like they own the place.)

The author noted that Gen Xers started their careers in the middle of a deep recession, and, although they’re among the most educated generation in the history of the world, they couldn’t find jobs to match their skills.

I remember that. I graduation with a bachelor degree in 1995, and most of my classmates couldn’t find jobs they were trained to do. No one was hiring. A friend who graduated from law school ended up working in a record store. A would-be teacher flipped burgers for minimum wage. An aspiring accountant sold shoes at the mall.

Then again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all good, honest, work. But certainly not what they signed up for. Not what was promised. And the student loan officer wouldn’t wait.
And now, older workers are frustrated with the so-called Generation X, we are told, because they (we) are not stepping up to the leadership plate. Even with their vocational false start, the generation behind them nipping at their heels, and despite the fact that this generation is responsible for creating the Internet, there’s wide spread speculation that this middle generation isn’t living up to the talent and ability that lives inside them (us).

In other words, they’re burying their talent in the ground, as today’s parable might say. They’re not using the gifts God gave them. Their potential is rotting away in behind a computer.

But it’s no wonder. They’ve learned the hard way that the master is tough, making money without rolling up his sleeves, demanding a government bailout when things get tough.

They’ve seen the heart attacks at 52; the triple espresso frappucino fueled deadlines; the baggy eyes and flabby middles.

They remember not seeing their dad at hockey games or school concerts, or even at dinner time. They remember the raised voices before bedtime and the loneliness in their parents’ eyes shortly before they found separate houses. They remember wondering where Christmas was going to be this year. They remember wishing they could put it all back together again.

They’d seen all this and said “No thanks. I want my life to be different. You can have your big salaries. I want to know my kids. I can have your fancy job title; I want at least a shot at making my marriage work. I want a life.”

I think we’ve got this parable all turned around. Or maybe it’s just me that has. Those of us who know this parable often hear it thinking that’s it’s a caution against squandering the talents God has given us, that God wants us to use the gifts that God has given us, even if we play it safe and look for a guaranteed return.

And this story IS about how God wants us to use our talents. But we assume we know what those talents are. We think that what WE believe our talents are is the same thing as what GOD believes they are.

What if the gifts and talents that God gave us are not just those things we are good at, but what if those gifts and talents were also each other – those gathered around us? What if those gifts and talents were not just skills and abilities, but also family and community?

To me, it seems that family and community are often those gifts we squander. Our talent to connect with others in deep and meaningful ways is what we often bury in the ground. We don’t invest in our life together as much as we invest in what we project to the world.

I know that’s a real temptation to me. In a real way I’ve bought into the notion that to be successful is to be busy, to be constantly doing new things, to be dreaming up schemes to build up the ministry of our church.

But lately, as I ponder what God wants for us as God’s people, I’m less and less convinced that God wants us to be busier in ministry, I’m becoming more and more convinced that God wants us to be more relational, connecting more deeply, coming together, not just on projects to accomplish, but as fellow followers of Jesus learning how to be faithful together.

I think of that woman and her nightmares, and I think now I would tell her, “Look around you. You’re surrounded by friends. You have someone to share your nightmares with. That’s a gift because not everyone has friends they can share so freely. This is not a gift to squander or a talent to bury. But the gift from which comes all other gifts.”

I don’t think this parable is about doing, but it’s a parable about relating. I don’t think Jesus was talking about us reaching our job potential as much as he was talking us reaching our life potential.

For us, Jesus isn’t asking us to build an institution. Jesus is asking us to build a people. That’s our unique gift. That’s our unique talent. May we invest heavily in it. Amen.


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