Homily – Spiritual Investing?

Homily on the Talents

Main point: What do we with the riches God has given us? Multiply them! How? By investing all those riches in spiritual activities that provide a strong return on investment and having enough self-discipline not to waste them on activities that cause spiritual harm.

There are many kinds of riches that the Bible and Tradition teach about; today we’ll talk about spiritual and monetary riches.

How to Get a Good Return on Spiritual Riches

   Baptized Christians have all received riches (the grace of Baptism – a life in Christ!): what do we do with them?

   We do not all start with the same – we all have abilities and weaknesses

   But all are called to grow that which God has planted in our hearts

How do we grow them? It’s all about Orthopraxis. Discipleship. Evangelism. Everyone has to be involved in the ministries of the Church – and our parish must be set up to enable and encourage this.

How do we bury our talents? Not just by squandering them, but by refusing to develop and use them. By sitting on our hands. By seeking the minimum standard.

We need to grow the grace God has put into our hearts so that it overflows and brings comfort, joy, and healing to all those around us. We have to grow the investment of grace God made within our hearts. Orthodoxy is not about rules – Americans hate rules – it’s about getting a good return on the spiritual investment God made in us. Americans understand investments (and, while it may seem crass, it follows from the parable that Christ gave us). So…

   Encouraging us to pray in the morning and evening and at every meal time is sound spiritual investment advice;

   Encouraging us to come to services every Sunday and Feast Dayis sound spiritual investment advice;

   Encouraging us to read scripture and edifying literature everyday is sound spiritual investment advice.

   Encouraging every parish member should offer up their time in both worship AND ministry is sound spiritual investment advice.

   Extolling the benefits of tithing is giving us sound spiritual advice.

   Warning us that things like gossip, pornography, self-indulgence, hard-heartedness, and adultery are wicked sins and to be avoided, is sound spiritual investment advice.

Some people hear this – and I mean good people! – and they say “but Father… I don’t need to do all these things to be good. I’m nice. I already love people. I know that it is my duty to help my friends and my family and that is what I do. It comes naturally. I don’t need fasting and all that other stuff.” I LOVE hearing this! It is great to meet people who are born with such wonderful gifts. But being born with gifts doesn’t get them off the hook. My response to the way they rationalize their slothfulness goes something like this; “wonderful! God gave you FIVE TALENTS instead of just one or two – now you need to fast and do all that other stuff to invest those five and get five more!”

No one should mistake a naturally pleasant disposition or other natural attributes as some kind of grace they earned: these things are gifts from God and they must be developed. That’s what he is telling us today about getting into heaven. God expects more from those to whom He has given more – so get to work!

How to Get the Best (Spiritual Return) on Monetary Riches

But the Lord isn’t just teaching us about how to grow the grace He has given us. There is a lot to learn here and throughout the scriptures about what to do with our money. He tells us that everything that we have was given to us is for one purpose: growth in perfection. Growth in Christ. The healing of this world. The spreading of the Gospel. The increasing and superabundance of grace in our lives, our parish, and this world. As with spiritual gifts, not all of us are given the same gifts … but we are all called to grow what we have been given to the glory of God.

   Ten talents: These people have the possibility/ability to give up all their money and possessions and follow Christ. (e.g. the holy disciples and apostles). Not everyone has the ability to do this. Not everyone is strong enough. Thank God that some are. The witness of monks.

   Five talents: These people have too many God-blessed responsibilities to give up all their money and possessions, but they can offer up a large proportion of their income. Not everyone is strong enough to do this. This is only possible for people who have made a discipline of simplicity and budgeted towards giving and either have a large salary proportional to their needs or – much less likely – who have come into a windfall (joke about the lottery). Examples: Saint Joachim – 2/3; Zacheous: half plus; (and lest we think this is just for the rich) the widow’s mite.

   One talent – done right!!!: “what must I do to be saved” Orthopraxis! Follow the law and live a life a love. Give proportionally according to your income. Make sacrifices for the Gospel. Offer what you can and grow that grace!

 Important caveat: for most of us, Orthodoxy requires balancing competing commitments. When it comes to money, it really comes down budgeting and making every dollar count. Family responsibilities and paying debts are Christian obligations.  Duty done well is done to the glory of God. Our God is not a God of irresponsibility. We have to find the balance – but in finding that balance, we need to let Christian morality – and not vices like laziness, self-indulgence, or fear – be our guides. Saint Paul makes this clear in his second letter to the Corinthians (8:8-12 & 9:6-9; glossed a bit):

Now I want to tell you what God in his grace has done for the churches in Macedonia. Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, they have mixed their wonderful joy with their deep poverty, and the result has been an overflow of giving to others. They gave not only what they could afford but far more; and I can testify that they did it because they wanted to and not because of nagging on my part. They begged us to take the money so they could share in the joy of helping the Christians in Jerusalem. Best of all, they went beyond our highest hopes, for their first action was to dedicate themselves to the Lord and to us, for whatever directions God might give to them through us.

 [This reminds me of the statistics that show no correlations between wealth and the proportion that is given to charity – just look at the faithfulness of the people in “poor” churches!]

 The people in this other church were so enthusiastic about helping out through sacrificial giving that we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to visit you and encourage you to complete your share in this same ministry of giving. You people there are leaders in so many ways—you have so much faith, so many good preachers, so much learning, so much enthusiasm, so much love… Now I want you to be leaders also in the spirit of cheerful giving.

 I am not giving you an order; I am not saying you must do it or how much you should give … But this is one way to show that your love and dedication is real, that it goes beyond mere words.

 You know how full of love and kindness our Lord Jesus was: though he was so very rich, yet to help you he became so very poor, so that by being poor he could make you rich.

You were enthusiastic when you started down this path. Now let your early enthusiasm be equaled by your realistic action now. But hear this: if you are really eager to give, then it isn’t important how much you have to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you haven’t.

 But remember this—if you give little, you will get little. A farmer who plants just a few seeds will get only a small crop, but if he plants much, he will reap much. Everyone must make up his own mind as to how much he should give. Don’t force anyone to give more than he really wants to, for God loves the cheerful giver. God is able to make it up to you by giving you everything you need and more so that there will not only be enough for your own needs but plenty left over to give joyfully to others. It is as the Scriptures say: “The godly man gives generously to the poor. His good deeds will be an honor to him forever.”

God loves a cheerful giver, one who offers up gifts of his own free will – without compulsion. Our lives – and the life of our parish – have to be modeled around this fact. We don’t do dues.  Dues are compulsory, whether they are a few hundred dollars or an imposition of the more biblical tithe. The extortion of income is the work of highway robbers and governments – not the parish.  So while some of us have the ability, discipline, and JOY to budget around a tithe, not everyone can. The command is to offer up what you can to the glory of God and building up of joy in your life.

Let me conclude:

The point is that all we have been given – both our spiritual and material gifts – has been given to us one purpose: the one thing needful.

 If we invest all those things that have been put into our care: our time, our abilities, and yes, our monetary treasures, into the service of the Most High, then in the day when we are called to account for the way we lived lives here on earth, we will hear those words that we know so well, “well done good and faithful servant – receive now your crown!’

And if not? God cannot force us into paradise against our will. If we decided in our lifetime to follow the example of the servant who hid his talent, then we will receive the same reward he did.  That’s the Gospel.

No matter how much – or little – we have been entrusted with, we have a choice; it is the same choice all people of all places and times are given. Here is how Joshua put back in his day (Joshua 24:14-15; with glosses):

So revere the One True God and serve Him in sincerity and truth. Put away forever the idols of your ancestors. Worship the One True God and Him alone.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the false gods your ancestors served or the false gods of the land in which you now live. It is your choice. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

The Christian parish must be full of men and women – no matter their station, sinfulness, or abilities – who have made that same choice.  

 “As for me and my household – that is to say, as for me and all of you – I know that we will serve the Lord.”


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