Tag Archive: Gifts


This was Sunday’s sermon, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA on the Parable of the Talents.

The parable Jesus tells of the talents is all about risk. It’s not really about the amount of money involved, but rather what each of these servants or slaves does with what the Master gives him. In the Greek, it says the first two servants “worked with” the insane amounts of money they were given – 5 talents is about 75 years’ worth of wages and 2 talents is 30 years’ worth of wages. Even the servant who was given 1 talent was given a lot – that’s 15 years’ wages! That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money.

So the Master gives extravagantly of his money to his servants – he hands it over to them to do with it as they will. And when he returns, the only one he is angry with is the one who didn’t do anything – the one who played it safe and buried the talent in the ground. It’s not because he didn’t make more money or didn’t make enough money, it’s because he acted from a place of fear: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

While the other two servants were given huge amounts, they acted out of abundance and decided to invest it and see what would happen. Their reward was being able to enter into the joy of their Master. But the third servant acted out of fear, real or perceived, did nothing with what he was graciously given, and, in the end, his fears became reality.

We have been entrusted with the greatest treasure – the Gospel. Each of us has been given the lavish gifts of God’s forgiveness and grace. But the trick is that we weren’t given these gifts to keep them to ourselves – we have received them to share. We have good news to share with those who ache to hear a kind word. We have been given forgiveness and hope for those who despair and feel they can’t go on. We have seen a way of peace and reconciliation that we can proclaim and live out in a broken and violent world. We have the love of Christ to share in our actions and our words.

In seminary, we were talking about taking risks for the sake of the Gospel and sharing the good news. In that conversation, one of my favorite professors said, “a glorious failure is better than a tepid success.” Hmmm. That really stuck with me.  Success is good, but I would rather try something different or off-the-wall in the hopes that it might better communicate or show God’s incredible love, than just play it safe. The Gospel is worth too much not to take those risks.

Yesterday, I heard of NFL player Jason Brown, who at the height of his career was one of the best centers in the league and had a $37 million dollar contract with the St. Louis Rams. But in October of 2012, he walked away from it all, even as his agent told him he was making the biggest mistake of his life. He left in order to become a farmer in Louisburg, North Carolina. He had never farmed a day in his life. He learned by watching YouTube videos. Yes, you can do anything by watching YouTube! His plan? To begin “FirstFruits Farm” a farm that would donate the first fruits of every harvest to those in need, as well as providing other opportunities for people in the community. He describes it as the most rewarding thing, the most successful thing, he’s ever done.   As he says, “Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.”

A common phrase to hear nowadays is YOLO – Y O L O – or, “you only live once.”

Even though this phrase can be used to encourage wild or irresponsible behavior, it’s true that we only live once. So how are we going to use our lives? God has given us an abundance of gifts, and as the parable shows, even one talent, is more than enough. So how are we going to use what we’ve been given – the love of God, our lives, gifts, and finances – so that we bear fruit in the kingdom of God? We may not be called to walk away from the NFL or start a farm, but how is God calling you and this community to take risks for the Gospel? Will you work out of the abundance God has given you, or are you caught up in fear about falling short, failing, or not using what you’ve been given well? God knows that we will fall short or fail, and that’s ok. But are we willing to step out in faith and take risks to serve God?

Let us pray… you have given us amazing gifts out of your generosity and your abundance. You have given us the gift of salvation and forgiveness, the wonderful news of your love and grace. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Free us from our fears and anxieties to take risks for the sake of your Gospel. Help us not to bury the gifts you have given us, but to work with and use them to bring hope and the joy of Christ to all people. Amen.
For more information on Jason Brown, check out these articles:

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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“Soak it up”

Sponge!

A very wise professor told me before I came to München to “soak it up”  – to take it all in and to simply soak everything up.  In the hustle and bustle of school and internship, these were grace-filled words for me to hear.  He didn’t say “you have to do this, this, this, and this while you’re there.”  He just said “soak it up.”  And with that, I was free to get into anything and everything! (There are, of course, still some requirements for studying!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “soak it up.”  About what I want to learn here, about what I want to return home knowing.  About what it means to absorb life to the fullest.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  A dear friend gave this to me as a gift before I left and I’ve been slowly reading and chewing on Voskamp’s poetic and insightful words ever since.  The book is about the author’s journey towards living a life of eucharisteo (“to express gratitude for benefits or blessings – ‘to thank, thanksgiving, thankfulness.'” – where the word “Eucharist” comes from!).  Her journey is about learning to give thanks for the little as well as the big things in life.  To give thanks for the good things, as well as learning how to live a life of thankfulness in the awful, difficult things.  At the urging of her friend, she begins writing a list of one thousand things she experiences as gifts.

After reading the book, I’ve been inspired to take up such a practice and it’s made me sit up and pay attention.  Each day, heading to my German course, I have a ten minute walk to the bus, a ten minute ride on the bus, a five minute wait for the U-Bahn, a fifteen minute ride to one station where I change trains and then ride another ten minutes to the stop for my class.  Finally, it’s a three to five minute walk to the building where the class is.  I say this not to point out that it’s a complicated commute, but to show that that’s a lot of time and many different places in which to see the gifts of God.  Thinking about gifts, giving thanks, and soaking up life, I’ve been keeping my eyes open to see what God is up to.  And it’s not just about seeing either – I’ve been paying more attention to sounds, to the feel and texture of things, the taste of delicious food, and even to different smells!  It’s been working on my heart, too – keeping it open to the possibilities, the unexpected, the things that I normally miss.  My heart has been more open to seeing things in a different light – maybe even in God’s light…

Back to this idea of “soak it up…”  Sponges soak things up.  The German word for “sponge” is Schwamm.  It’s a pretty fun word.  But as I think about it, it seems to be connected to the word for “swim” (schwimmen, schwamm, schwomm, geschwommen).  Ok, sponges come from the ocean – that much should be clear.  But more than that, sponges seem to passively absorb things.  Swimming, on the other hand,…that’s active.  That means diving in, moving through the water, swimming to the bottom and coming back up for air to see where you are and what’s going on.  Swimming is actively engaging in an environment.

And there’s another connection I’m seeing with this soaking up life idea, giving thanks, being fully present and engaged, and swimming.  Any guesses?!  It’s baptism! In baptism, we were washed clean and freed through Christ’s death and resurrection to engage fully in the world.  To really live – to engage in the world.  To soak it all up.

So that’s what I’m trying to do while I’m here – to try out as much as I can, to embrace the opportunities life presents, to live fully present and in deep gratitude and appreciation of all that I’ve been given – of all that we’ve been given.  In Christ, we all have been freed to dive in and experience life as it’s happening.  I can dive in and accept the invitation to drink Korean tea with my housemates or have wonderful spontaneous conversations with people from all over the world.  I can dive in and join fellow theology students for translation sessions.  I can spend a few moments in a busy day looking at gorgeous red flowers peeking out of window boxes.  I can smile at a child’s laughter on the train or a tired dog sleeping at the sun.  I can soak up München.  I can soak up Frederick.  I can soak up life.

There’s a blessing I have loved ever since I read it in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.”

To me, this speaks not only of bringing me home to America rejoicing at what I’ve seen here in Germany, but also to one day (when the time comes!) bringing me home to God.  A journey home that involves rejoicing and giving thanks each and every day of my life.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Transformative Moments

Into The Light

“Do you want to be transformed by me?”
You ask, already knowing the answer.
My heart leaps and shouts, “yes!,”
But, sadly, my reasonable mind begins to whirl.

“What would I have to change about myself?
Would I lose myself – my personality – completely –
Be someone I’m really not and regret it?
Would I have to stop having fun or being lighthearted?”

You smile. You knew this would happen.
“Do not be afraid,” you reassure me,
And I know in an instant I am a fool
For fearing that which I’ve been thirsting after.

“You will have to change for sure,
And it will be difficult and challenging,
But you will not be losing your personality,
Rather becoming closer to who you really are.

You were created to share love, joy and laughter,
To be with others in happiness and sorrow,
To give certain gifts to the world,
and to see the gifts others have been given.

And I am working in and through you,
In order to bless creation and work good in the world,
Though sometimes it may be hard for you to see,
Or nearly inconceivable for you to believe.

But do not be afraid, beloved child of mine,
Be gentle and see yourself as I see you.
I am here and if you want to be transformed,
Know that it will happen, but not overnight.

I will work through the simplest of things –
In silence, in the words and faces of others,
In music and art, in prayer and in nature,
In struggles and celebrations, sadness and hope.

To see what I am about, keep your heart open.
Listen to that still small voice that tugs,
Quietly and persistently at your innermost being,
Even though the world would try to drown it out.

Revel in the ways in which I will surprise you,
And share with others what you have experienced
So that you might hear what I’m doing in them.
Trust one another and trust me.”

You smile and stand there patiently,
Not rushing or hurrying me to an answer.
My heart aches and I know that all you say is true.
I open my mouth to speak, slowly uttering:

“I just don’t know how to let go.
All I can do right now is sit with you.”
Your smile broadens – I almost cannot believe it.
“Yes, dear one, that is more than enough.”

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

The Gift of Receiving

I’m just beginning my fourth week of my summer adventure of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), and I’m beginning to see that my ideas about ministry are being beautifully changed. I began the summer thinking that I needed to be an awesome chaplain (think about Rob Bell’s image of “super pastor” in Velvet Elvis!) who always knew the right things to say, who could wax eloquent about deep theological truths, and was empathetic, warm and caring. Well, those are all good things, for sure, but they’re not very realistic – particularly the first two. Sometimes the words don’t come and sometimes people don’t want to discuss religion or God at all. Sometimes, it’s been a long day and you’re not as empathetic or responsive as you’d like to be.

Once I started doing visits, I realized that a lot of people just wanted a listening ear – someone who was willing to listen non-judgmentally. Believe me, I was greatly relieved to discover this! However, as I’ve been making my rounds and encountering wonderful people, I’ve stumbled upon another truth. What is this truth? It’s that the people I visit often give me incredible gifts of wisdom and encouragement. Some people have even prayed for me! Frequently, I find myself walking away from encounters thinking “wow – that person was incredibly inspiring to me,” or “wow – I learned so much from that person,” or even, “that person ministered to me.” I feel like every meeting, no matter how long, has left a mark on my life and has taught me something.

My supervisor asked us in class how open we were to receiving these gifts and ministry from other people. It’s a great question and one I’ve been thinking about a lot. Some people find it very easy to serve and to give of themselves to others, which is a wonderful gift, but the flip side is that they may not really know how to receive these same gifts from others. I think this is a particular struggle for people in the so-called “helping fields.”

People need to be open to receiving the gifts others have to offer for two reasons I can see right now. First of all, it’s good self-care. When you open yourself to humbly accept someone’s ministry, you are allowing someone to care for you. We all need help and support from time to time – why not accept it? Second, it also allows the person bestowing the gift a chance to offer something to another person. The giver is able to share a talent or a lesson learned and to pass that on to someone else. Helping people also feels good! It makes the giver feel like they are able to contribute, which can also help build their sense of worth.

I am amazed every day that people who were strangers only minutes before can become dispensers of wisdom and ministers to me, the chaplain. The priesthood of all believers is a humbling and moving reminder that all can be bearers of God’s light and love to others if only we are open to receive the precious gift they extend to us.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Gifts in Disguise

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything, but I feel it’s important to write something today. A while ago, my coworker sent an e-mail to everyone in the office, asking for blankets, coats, hats, gloves and gift cards to distribute to the homeless people in our community. I thought this was a great idea, so my boyfriend and I gathered some clothes and I brought them to the office. Since I wanted to do something more “hands-on,” I offered to help my colleague pass out bags with gloves, Cosi gift cards and other items that had been donated.

We set out on yesterday with only eight plastic grocery bags between us, thinking that we’d be back to the office in a half an hour or so. We went to every place we had ever seen homeless people and we were shocked that we didn’t see anyone. It must have been so cold, that most people were already in shelters. We walked quite a bit, checking all of the places we could think of – street corners, bus stops, parks.

We were able to talk to two men, one of whom was the man with the poncho mentioned in my previous post. When my colleague approached him to ask if he needed warm clothes for the winter, he said “No, thank you. I really appreciate you offering, but I have enough already. I would like to extend my hand to you and wish you a Merry Christmas though.” I was completely and utterly shocked.

The next man we spoke with was sitting on the cold sidewalk, next to a shopping cart filled with what I can only assume was everything he owned. He, too, thanked us for the offer and said that he was fine.

My colleague and I were baffled. What about helping the needy? What about making someone’s day? I had set out thinking that I was going to help people in the community, hoping that I might make a tiny difference. Instead, I learned a much more valuable lesson.

I had always looked at homeless people skeptically, wondering where my change was going when I did decide to give to them. I had thought that most of them suffered from alcohol or drug abuse, or had mental illnesses. Perhaps this is true for many homeless, but in thinking about these things, I had somehow managed to shut out their humanity. I grouped everyone together, neglecting that these could be people who in another time and place, might be my friends.

In speaking with these men, I was jarred out of my misconceptions and back into reality. At the core, we all have the same needs, wants, desires. In my eagerness to help, I forgot the person I was trying to help – his pride, dignity and where he was coming from.

My colleague and I ended up donating the bags of clothing and gift cards to a nearby church which has an outreach in the community. On the way home from work that evening, my coworker handed out the two remaining gift cards to people he saw on the street. One of them was the man in the poncho. He accepted the card and, as a thank-you, pulled a Christmas card out of his backpack, signed it and handed it to my colleague.

We had expected to give of ourselves and out of the extra things we had, but generosity and thankfulness turned up in unexpected ways. Yet again, my perceptions were shattered. The one we thought had nothing gave us something of his along with a glimpse into a different side of homelessness – a very personal side. And so, I can only say “thank you, John,” for bringing things into perspective.

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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