He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I wend and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”
I’m taking a one-day break from our series on St. Basil to write a special message for today. This is not a rant. Perhaps it is my opinion, but I don’t think so.
I’m 50 years old, at least for a couple more days. In May I will mark 25 years as a priest. I’ve been married just under 28 years. I’ve been at my parish for 18.5 years. I’ve written a message on the Prayer Team for just over 8 years. I’m not writing these things down to impress you with a resume, only to say that I have lived out, and am living out many long term commitments. My life is anything but disposable. I guess in the classification of generations, I would count as Gen-X. And there are now three generations behind me—the Millenials, Gen-Z and now Generation Alpha. Every generation somehow thinks that they are the best. “Hey Boomer” isn’t a term of endearment, when it comes to the Baby-Boomer generation before mine. From my perspective, I have great respect for the baby-boomers. They worked really hard and did better than the generation before them in terms of economic success, work ethic and in so many other ways.
I won’t dress down the generations after mine, which seem to have a shifting morality, and many lack the work ethic of the generations before them. However, I was speaking to someone recently who work in a management position, who told me she went to a specific conference geared toward how to manage Gen-Z people in the workplace. I just kind of shook my head. Really, I thought, why do we need special conferences to teach us how to understand why people can’t stay on task or follow directions! Please stay with me—this is not a rant, but an important point I want to make.
Back in the day, before I was ordained, I was a chanter at a church in suburban Boston. I thought I was “all that.” Definitely needed some humility. Definitely still do. When I applied for the job, I didn’t like what they were offering in terms of compensation. I counter offered. And my offer was accepted. In other words I “negotiated” what I thought was a fair price for my services. When I went to the first service, I cracked open some complicated Byzantine music that I couldn’t wait to show off, now that I was the “proto-psalti” at a prestigious parish. After the Liturgy, the priest kindly but firmly told me, “Don’t do that complicated stuff here, keep the music simple, so the people can sing along with you.” I replied, “But’ and he cut me off right away and said “I own you. I’m in charge here. You’ll get your chance to be in charge, but it’s not today. You negotiated your compensation, now you’ll do as I ask.” And I nodded my head, said “Forgive me, Father,” and we never had another cross word. In fact, we’ve remained friends many years later. He only had to tell me the expectations once. He didn’t have to go to any special conference on how to deal with someone like me. He was in charge, I understood that, we worked well together. He was right, and I wasn’t. He was a successful priest, and I realized I could learn a lot from him. So I parked my ego and my own interests and became a sponge to soak up whatever I could from him.
Every generation makes the case for why they are right and everyone else is wrong. This might be our reality, but it is not God’s reality. God doesn’t see generational differences. He doesn’t change the rules for each generation. He doesn’t change the expectations, and He doesn’t change the rewards.
Many of you know that the parable of the Talents, Matthew 25: 14-30, is my favorite Bible passage. (I’m not reprinting the whole thing today so if you aren’t familiar with this passage, please take three minutes and read it). Many times I have written on this parable, how everyone got a talent, and how God rewards equally those who use their talents. It’s not how much you start with, or even how much you finish with, but what you do with what you’ve been given.
Today’s verses isolate on the man who received one talent. At that time, a “talent” meant a sum of money equal to what someone would earn in ten years. So, even though he “only” received one talent, in comparison to the one who had received five, that was still a LOT of money. That man hid his talent in the ground. He didn’t do anything with it. And God punished that man. God didn’t buy his excuses. He didn’t judge him based on his age, his maturity, his socio-economic status, his strength or his weaknesses. He judged him based on the results of what he did with what God had given him.
God has given each of us some talent. But even more basic, He has given us life. He has given us this day. He has given us our years of life. What have we done with them? What are we doing with them? What are we going to do with them today? Here are some excuses we hear today:
My phone distracted me!
Your generation is too hard on my generation!
You only live once!
Everyone is doing it!
Can you imagine standing in front of God with these kinds of excuses.
You gave me a talent but I was too busy looking at my phone to use it.
You gave me life but I was too lazy to make something of it. God,
Your ideas are kind of passé.
You need to change with the times.
You can’t expect me to have a work ethic like yours.
We aren’t living in Bible times anymore.
Sadly, I can see people making these excuses. However, I can’t see Him buying them. Whatever He’s given us is what matters. What He hasn’t given isn’t really relevant. We can’t be expected to do things with what we don’t have. However, we can certainly be expected to do things with what we DO have.
The message for today is we need to stop making excuses for everything, and start meeting the expectations that God has set for us, expectations that don’t change because of generations, or movements, or which political party is in power. These expectations are for every generation. Beginning with the expectation that we will do our best with whatever has been entrusted to us. I have worked both as the servant and the master, the low man on the totem pole and the boss. It’s not the titles that matter, but the effort that comes from each person, regardless of their title.
Fast food restaurants are asking for tips when people order, before the food even comes out, before anyone does anything helpful. How can one expect a tip before rendering service? When the service is good, I tip, generously. But I need to see the service first. I think God will grant salvation in the same way—He’s not going to press the salvation button on the iPad of our souls (that was meant to be funny), just because we are breathing. When we have spent our lives rendering service to God, I believe He will tip generously—He will let us into His Kingdom. However, He needs to see our service first, not our excuses for poor service.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord is God! It is HE that made us, and we are His; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him, bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.
Give an effort that God would be pleased with today!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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