Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:4-19 and Matthew 25:14-29
I wonder if any of you know someone like my Auntie Mary. Now some people, when they are invited round for a meal, will bring a small gift – maybe some flowers, some sweets for after the meal or a bottle of something, which is lovely and more than is expected. However, my Auntie Mary is a great shopper and is always finding unusual and special things, so when she turns up for a visit, she will bring a small gift, but it will be a very personal thing chosen because it made her think of her host. She is quite remarkable and rather infuriating because it is impossible to do the same in return. But I was thinking about how that aspect of my Auntie Mary is very like God When God is invited into our lives, when the Holy Spirit arrives in our hearts, God brings all sorts of gifts. Some gifts are for all who are children of God: love forgiveness freedom hope, but also some gifts that are just for you.
So what sort of gifts, just for you, just for me, does God give.
Some gifts God gives are natural gifts. They are there already in the way God made you, and God simply gives you a new way of using them. So the person who is naturally good at getting a party going will be brilliant at making people feel welcome. The person who is good at organising, if they offer that gift to God, will find themselves organising events or projects which bless others. The person who is good at listening will find they can offer help to people who need somewhere safe to open up
Some gifts are supernatural gifts which are beyond what normal humans might be able to do. Our Pentecostal sisters and brothers are good at recognising these, while in our branch of the Church of England, we are a bit more shy about talking about them. But they are true and some people have them nonetheless. People who, with God’s help can give just the right bit of advice that changes someone’s life. People who just know stuff sometimes, not in a creepy way but in a way that helps them love and helps others better. People who pray and see answers to their prayers for which there is no rational explanation. People who can cut through the noise and fake news and see the world from God’s point of view. People who can just spot what is good and true in confusing situations. These are like human skills plus – abilities that are a bit too wise and wonderful to be entirely down to the talents of the person.
I wonder who does the gift buying in your home. It is my job at the Vicarage and I love it. I honestly think it is better to give than to receive. For the true gift-giver, there is nothing we love more than seeing our gifts opened, enjoyed and even used. Unopened, unused unenjoyed gifts make us feel so sad! And I do wonder if this is how God feels about the gifts God gives us and we don’t recognise, use or enjoy.
So everyone has gifts and everyone has gifts that are just for them and God really wants us to use them because:
God loves us and wants us to be all we can be. It would be weird to travel through life using only one of your two arms. In the same way, if we only use some of the gifts and abilities God has given us, we don’t live life to the full.
God has designed his family to work best when all of us are doing the things we are gifted to do. Your gifts are given so that together we are blessed!
So if we all have gifts and they are good for us and for others, why don’t people open and use their gifts:
They simply don’t know what they are! We think the things that are specially ours are nothing out of the ordinary and that surely everyone can do these things. Terry or David can fix most things with a bit of head scratching and some things they find in their shed or garage. And to them, this is probably no big deal! To me, who can barely put up a picture hook without problems, this is nothing short of a superpower. We need encouragement from others to notice the things we do that are valued and special in our community. I think we are pretty good at this as a church, at thanking people for the things they do that bless our community and at encouraging people in the things they offer. What I suppose I am saying is keep doing this!
So, second reason people don’t use their gifts: for some people, the thought of using their gift is frightening. I remember one childhood Christmas I was give roller-skates – I was so excited to get these roller-skates and couldn’t wait to go outside and try them out. So after Christmas dinner, my Dad took me outside to use my new gift. It was a nightmare. I was like Bambi on ice, sliding everywhere. Before we had got to the next lamppost, my Dad and I decided we had had enough and to go back inside. Just because I had a gift didn’t mean I was automatically brilliant at it. I had to practice. This was certainly my experience in ministry. I began my journey towards becoming a priest through a strong call to preach, but my first preach at a strange church was a complete disaster. At the end, my placement supervisor told me that the sermon wasn’t bad but that I was so quiet no one could hear me, those who could hear me would struggle to understand my accent and those who could understand would struggle to keep up because I went too fast. Furthermore, I was shaking so much from nerves they could all see the hem on my cassock fluttering. I was pretty crushed. But I just had to sit down and work out ways to compensate for or overcome these problems, and still do to this day, so I can use the gift God has given me.
Lastly, some people think that if they use their gift and get it wrong, God will be cross. This is a mistaken and warped view of God a bit like the third servant in the parable we heard earlier. The “talent” or “bag of silver” mentioned in the reading is not a small amount but actually about fifteen years wages. It is a mind-boggling amount of treasure to be entrusted to servants’ care. And when the first two servants do something with the resources entrusted to their care, there is fulsome praise, they are allowed to continue to use the riches they helped produce and the master trusts them even more. Then along comes the poor third servant, a servant who neither trusts their own abilities or their master’s kindness and who is too fearful to risk anything so hides the problem instead. If we are operating out of a place of fear, we can never use our gifts well. We need to return to what we thought about last week: the abundant, never-failing, overwhelming love God has for each one of us. When we can trust even a little bit in that goodness and love, we find the courage to begin to use our gifts.
In conclusion: we all have gifts, God is delighted when we enjoy them, the Church is blessed when we use them. The things that stop us using our gifts for everyone’s benefit is not recognising them, being afraid of failure and of God being cross. But back to last week, the root of all generosity and gift giving is knowing that God is a God of generosity and grace and YOU ARE LOVED!