Thursday, September 16, 2004 +

Time, Talent, and Treasure

(draft of a talk)

I was reluctant to talk or even think about this topic of “time, talent, and treasure.” I once wrote cynically in a notebook: “Time, talent, and treasure—and the greatest of these is treasure.” I meant, of course, that almost always when we hear about this trio of T’s, the underlying text is: Give more money.

There is a good reason for this, besides the fact that money is always lacking. Time and talent are demanding; they require management. Give me money, and all I need say is: Thanks, I really am very grateful.

But then I reflected that for many of us time is our treasure, or talent is our treasure. Take my wife (please). Mary has a talent for writing and telling stories, and she spends a lot of time doing both. That talent and time is a treasure that she gives to the world and today to you in this church. So, for many of us, time, talent, and treasure are not three separate things but three related things—three things that may support each other, like a triangle, which is a symbol of the Trinity. Treasure is not just silver and gold—or in our day paper and plastic. Treasure is what you have brought here today for us to enjoy.

Then I reflected on something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Commonly, the interpretation is: Take care what you work for: you might get it, or even become it. If you accumulate earthly things, don't expect to fly up to heaven with them: there is a weight limit—no suitcases, no carry-ons—just come as you are. Don’t count on entering the kingdom of heaven with a camel. But if you accumulate heavenly things—that is to say, acts of love—you can expect them to be waiting for you when you arrive.

This is a true interpretation, but I want to turn what Jesus said around and say: Where your heart is, there your treasure may also be.

That is to say: what you love doing may be the very thing that is your treasure. This treasure you can give to God, by doing it well, and by doing it for others. If you love to cook, that is one of your treasures. If you love to sing, that is one of your treasures. If you love children, that is one of your treasures.

The love—the treasure—may require discovery—or even hunting. When children watch commercials, they often say: “I need that!” What they mean is: “I want that!” What they don't mean is: “I love that!”

It may be that your treasure is missing. For example, if you are lonely, it may be that you will find your treasure in helping others.

Some will tell you that treasure comes from God, and in sharing it, you are merely returning what you have received. That is true. But I find it upsetting, since God has given so much, and I have returned so little. So let’s not talk about that.

This is the only radical thing I have to say: When asked for time, talent, and treasure, try to determine what your real treasure is, and go from there.

A few of you might feel cheated if I don’t talk about money and the Church. I don’t know if what I have to say will lead you to give more or less money to the Church.

First, I have a word for those of you whose treasure is the time and talent to make a lot of money. The word is not Jesus’ word to the rich young man (though fortunate is the person who follows Jesus’ word), but this: you will be happier if you give more of it away.

What about the rest of us, who don’t have a lot of money, or even don’t have enough money? I look at giving money to the Church as a discipline, or a prayer, like fasting. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it. You are not giving your treasure (I am not talking to the well-off) but an offering, an oblation, that is to say, a sacrifice. And like all disciplines, it should be done regularly, and you should feel it a little.

With this I have given my widow’s mite of thought about the three T’s. To sum up:

1. Look on time, talent, and treasure as possibly related and not separate gifts.

2. Regard giving money to the Church as a prayer—do it regularly and attentively.

Hear it.