“I have my doubts,” we say. Often when we use this phrase in reference to others – judging another person’s character; judging whether someone will follow through on a task we’ve asked them to do; uncertain of whether they’ll do what they have said or even promised – sometimes we don’t have a lot of faith in our fellow humans. Sometimes we say this phrase because people have given us reason to doubt them, other times we just feel so little hope in others that we don’t trust or believe what people tell us. Rather than finding joy or peace or hope in the way we are called to collaborate with or trust others, we find ourselves full of doubt.
As people of faith, we also sometimes take on this mindset in reference to our own faith lives and the work God promises to do in us. We may reflect on who we are and not really be sure that God can do anything with us – mere humans, imperfect, full of doubts and fears. We let the evil tempers of the world deter us from trusting in who God is and who God calls us to be.
We believe in a God who transforms lives and brings about goodness in the world. We even believe that God uses God’s very own disciples, the faithful ones to bring about that goodness in the world. And, we think of ourselves as faithful disciples created in God’s image doing our best to be loving, joy-filled, peaceful people in the world. But as we are reminded of our sinful nature, we may begin to think, “I have my doubts” about whether God can really work through me. We remember that our God is a holy and perfect God, and we begin to dwell on our unholy nature – the way that we fall into temptations or judge others. And as we reflect on our humanity and our imperfections, we may say “I have my doubts” that this Holy God would love me and forgive me.
In the midst of all of this doubting, we forget significant details about who we are and what gifts we’ve been given. We first of all forget that we are given the kingdom of God when we accept Jesus as our savior and say yes to believing in the gospel. The kingdom of God is offered to us, gifted to us as soon as we begin our relationship with God. As Paul defines it in Romans 14, the kingdom of God is joy, peace, and righteousness in the Holy Spirit. And so from the very beginning of our relationship with God, when we say, yes God, I want to love you because you first loved me and I want to love others as myself, in these beginning moments, joy, peace, and righteousness reside within us. We are given these gifts and many others and we are called to use them and share them with the world.
But because we take on this “I have my doubts” attitude, we begin to doubt the work God can do in and through us. We let fear take over and we let the Devil sitting on our shoulder whisper in our ear, “You’re not worthy of being used by God.” “You’re unholy; imperfect.” Our growth in love and faith is hindered and lessened by these stories we let ourselves believe. In these moments we become less able to use the gifts of joy, peace, and righteousness. We become less likely to even want to use the unique gifts of hospitality or teaching, or service or any other gift God has given each of us. Eventually, as we settle into these doubts, we may find that we’ve hidden the gifts we’ve received. We don’t even try to use them because we feel as though God can’t use us.
This place of doubt and uncertainty seems to be where we find the man who buried the one talent he had received from his master in the scripture we read for today. As we read in the story, three servants are given 5, 2, and 1 talents, each according to their ability. Each of the servants have been given gifts that they were called to use: not gifts to hoard or hide or keep to themselves. As Jesus tells this story to his disciples, he is preparing them for the work they’re called to do when he is no longer with them. He hopes the disciples will understand that the two servants who doubled their talents used the gifts they were given wisely. Rather than keeping them for themselves, they brought about change and transformation, allowing the gifts of the master to multiply. As they returned to their master with all of the gifts they had received, twice as many as they started with, the master replied, “Enter into the joy of your master.” These two servants depict for the disciples how they are called to demonstrate their faithfulness in the world as they await the return of Jesus. Jesus tells this story to the disciples, inviting them to use the gifts they’ve received and all that they’ve learned to impact the world, so that they might enter into the joy Jesus has to offer.
Yet, the third servant couldn’t imagine that he might be able to impact the world with the one talent he was given. So rather than using and multiplying the gift that he had been given, he chose to bury it in the ground. He chose to find excuses for why he shouldn’t use the gift he had received – letting fear and doubt get in the way of doing the work of his master. We make excuses, we come up with reasons to do what we think is “right,” but really our excuses and reasons are about keeping ourselves safe, not stepping into all that God calls us to be, not seeking to grow God’s kingdom. And so, at times we too can become like the one who hid the talent in the ground.
In fact, in times of doubt, when we are unsure of when or how God will use us, we may be able to relate most of all to the servant who hid the talent. Yet, if we consider this parable to be a parable of invitation, then we might begin to look at this parable in a different way. The master invites the servants into joy and grace and abundance – asking for all three servants to step into a role of discipleship. The gifts they all receive are to be used not just for the good of themselves (or hidden and not used at all), but instead they are given so that they might grow in their faith in God and grow in the gifts they’ve been given and called to use. As we think of the parable in this way, we see that doubt and fear allows for the third servant, to deny the invitation into discipleship that he was offered; to leave his gifts to bring about the kingdom of God unused. When we bury the gifts given to us, we let our doubts and fears keep us from being all that God calls us to be.
So, how do we resist the urge to let our doubts and insecurities keep us from using our gifts? We rely on God’s grace – knowing that we receive God’s grace and love not because of who we are, how holy or imperfect we are, but because of who God is. We are also called to celebrate and rejoice in our imperfections, because as we look back on our faith journey, we will recognize all of the ways God has already used us despite these flaws, and we remember how God promises to do even greater things in our lives. We believe in a God who is at work and who seeks to transform the world and us. So, might we have faith that we have the kingdom of God within our souls and that we have been provided with the gifts we need to help bring about God’s kingdom in our community and in our world.
This week, I invite you to reflect on whether you have buried any of your gifts and talents. If you have buried any of your gifts because your doubts about whether God can work through you, dig them up this week and trust that God will help you to use them!