James’s Blog: The Parable of the Talents – One.

James’s Blog:  The Parable of the Talents – One.

Ah, Matthew 25:14-30. ‘The Parable of the Talents’ practically writes its own sermon. “So, in conclusion, God wants us to use our gifts for Him. Coincidentally, we need people to help lead the Sunday School. There’s a sign-up sheet at the back.” I did mention that I’m cynical, right?

I remember sitting in a classroom, waiting for the lecturer to arrive. He came in and, out of the blue, went off on a rant that had nothing to do with the session that was scheduled. “Some of you,” he said, “are frustrating God because you’re not using your gifts”. Having delivered this message, he calmed down and got on with the lecture that we were supposed to have. I suspect that, years later, he wouldn’t even remember that he’d done this and I’m certain that he has no idea that he was talking to me. Make no mistake, he was talking to me.  That random little outburst changed my life. There would be no The Listening Book if he hadn’t been obedient enough to vent on the Holy Spirit’s behalf.

If Jesus had wanted the message of this parable to be ‘God wants you to use your gifts’ then he probably would have finished at verse 25, but he didn’t. Verses 26 to 30 bring the story to its chilling conclusion. The servant who buried the money loses the little that he was entrusted with and is thrown into the sinister ‘Outer Darkness’. No wonder we don’t dwell on that bit. After all, you can understand why the servant did what he did, right? Would a little empathy have killed the master? And before you check, Luke’s version isn’t much better.

These days, when I read this parable I think about the times that I diligently prepared sermons, carefully making the message of Jesus a little more palatable for my congregation. Perhaps it was because I’m a sensitive, pastoral soul, or maybe it was because I was labouring under the mistaken belief that you can make a rose more beautiful by removing its thorns. These days I am even more committed to taking responsibility for how  I am communicating, but I am equally aware that I am not doing God some great favour by coming up with eloquent and clever ways to de-fang the Gospel.

What if Jesus’s message here isn’t ‘God wants you to use your gifts’, but rather that ‘Waste makes God angry’?

If that’s true, what do you make of that?

James’s Blog: A Song for Christmas.

James’s Blog:  A Song for Christmas.

For a long while my favourite Christmas carol was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Apart from the rousing tune, I considered it to be one of the more theologically robust Christmas carols. That kind of thing has always been important to me, but I’ve mellowed a bit over the years. In the past I was so zealous that I even hesitated to sing the line ‘Veiled in flesh the Godhead see…’ because I thought that it flirted with the heresy of Docetism.

One song that didn’t ever get a look in was Little Drummer Boy. Adding a child with a drum to the nativity story didn’t seem to add anything, except bizarre anachronism and dubious collaborations between David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I could do without any of that.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to a version of the song that didn’t suck (by a guy called Sean Quigley) and as a result I actually started reflecting on the words, which I’d never really listened to before. I began to realise that in many ways this was the most Christocentric of all Christmas songs. While a lot of the thumping Christmas carols may have us declaring great (or possibly insipid and dubious) theological truths, Little Drummer Boy is a song about the personal response required by these truths. It’s like the difference between a poem about the majesty of the ocean, and a poem about swimming in the sea. It has become especially poignant as I have seen my book edge its way towards publication. “Shall I write for you?” I say, and the baby Jesus nods. Like the little boy in the song, what I bring may seem paltry compared to other gifts that are laid before him, but, just like the little boy, the passion of my gift is what really matters. ‘I write my best for him’ and he smiles. He likes it when we make him smile.

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