Tag Archive: Good News


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.

Since April 10, I have been learning how to write icons in the Orthodox style.  Icons are both a form of artwork and a way of praying.  I was nervous to begin painting my icon of Christ the Good Shepherd because I was unsure of my painting abilities.  I only knew that I really wanted to try my hand at this since I had heard it was a deeply prayerful and spiritual practice.  So off I went! 

Along the way, I learned quite a bit, and not just about icons.  I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with God.  I warned my teacher that I was a perfectionist going in and after a sigh, she told me that it’s not about the icon being perfect, but I do need to be happy with it because I’ll be praying with it.  If there are things that bother me enough to distract my prayer time, I better make them as I like them!  More on this later…

My icon writing sessions begin with a beautiful prayer that my teacher uses.  It’s a prayer asking God to help me focus on only this and for God to speak to me through what I’m doing.  It’s a prayer that asks God to help me to use my God-given gifts in painting for prayer and worship.  It’s a prayer asking for help not comparing my work to others, for God alone can judge the prayer.  It’s a prayer asking opening my heart to pray for others as I work. 

I’ve found that between this prayer and the practice itself, I settle into icon writing and that it becomes the thing I can focus on at that moment.  I can’t think about my future or the call process (where I’ll be serving as a pastor), or trying to solve anything else going on.  I am solely devoted to spending time working slowly and deliberately on the icon.  Focusing on individual garment folds, on wood grain in Jesus’ staff, the curls of the lamb’s wool, or on the gentle eyes of Christ.  I have to move slow and appreciate the details.  I can get overwhelmed by the overall picture, but at some point I just have to begin, one stroke at a time. 

And that’s another thing about icon writing.  Icons are painted going from dark colors to light, symbolizing our transformation from sin and death to forgiven and alive in the light of Christ.  But while I was painting this first icon, I found it awful difficult to believe that my finished icon would look as it was supposed to.  While you’re in the middle of it, you can’t possibly see that this is the right thing to do or that mistakes will somehow work out and that the icon will be beautiful – something through which you’ll be moved.  Even knowing that this is a tradition thousands of years old and with the experienced guidance and hand of my teacher, I found I was doubting that my icon painted with the same techniques and theory would even remotely resemble any icon!

Regarding my perfectionism, while I was painting, I found that I definitely had things I wanted to keep tweaking and fixing (futzing is the word that best describes this 😉 ).  Others would say it looked good, but I wasn’t completely satisfied.  Or it was really fine and I kept trying to “fix” it, each time really risking making it worse.  It was hard to let go and to trust that it would be fine.  It was hard to let go and accept the little imperfections, knowing that only God can create something perfect.  I know that I do this all the time in everyday life, seeking to control and to make things as perfect as I can, without really trusting God.  For those who haven’t tried it, it’s exhausting!  To keep messing with something rather than letting go and allowing God to work, trusting that God is acting and with our best interests in mind. 

It was also interesting to watch how the members of the class praised one another’s work, but pointed out all of the imperfections in our own icons, whether or not anyone else could see them!  What a life lesson!  Staring at the icon up close means you often miss the larger, overall effect.  It’s helpful to have others hold it up from afar so you can take it all in.  How often do we get blinded in our own little world that we miss the larger picture of what God’s doing? 

It’s also amazing the way people may use the same techniques and the same icon pattern, but that each icon turns out unique in some way, reflecting the person who made it and their prayer to God.  For example, one day I found that I was spending a ridiculous amount of time working on the lamb in my icon and I wondered how others had been able to finish so quickly.  As I meditated on this, I realized that I felt really connected to that little lamb, safe and secure around Christ’s neck.  I realized that I am that little lamb, the one for whom Christ laid down his life – the one safe in his hands.  I needed to spend time painting and reflecting about that relationship, hearing again that miraculous good news. 

I have just finished putting varnish on my icon and I have asked God that it might be a blessing to myself and others and that we may encounter God through it.  It is not perfect, and there are still things that jump out at me as “errors,” but when I look at it, it speaks to me of Christ’s love and mercy.  It invites me, beckons me, to pray and to spend time in quiet reflection with God.

I still have so much to learn about icons and painting, but I give thanks that this first one has been a great experience and I look forward to continuing!  

 
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.
 
 

Under the Cross

Driving down Route 15 today, I saw something that struck me as odd and yet very fitting. What was it, you might ask? On the side of the highway, there are three wooden crosses, two white ones and one yellow/gold one in the center. Perhaps you’ve seen these elsewhere. I drive past these crosses nearly every day, but today was different.

Today, there was someone pulled over by a police man directly underneath these crosses. At first I thought, “that’s an odd place to stop,” but the more I thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed. Here was a man, caught breaking the law, parked at the foot of the cross. Aren’t we all guilty of breaking the law, i.e. God’s Law? Don’t we all run the risk of being caught by the long arm of that law and being punished? The answer? Yes.

That is, until Christ came. Until Christ bore our sins and burdens on the cross, we were in bondage to sin. However, through his death and resurrection, we have been miraculously set free to have new, abundant life and the freedom with which to live it. As Paul says in Romans 6:3-11:

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Being raised to new life in Christ means that we have forgiveness and that we are free from sin, but it also means that we are free to respond joyfully to God’s magnificent grace. We are free to live boldly, loving without bounds and giving of ourselves to others.

In effect, I see the man pulled over under the cross as a fitting picture of all of us being caught in sin under the Law. We all need to come to the foot of the cross to find forgiveness for what we have done or what we have failed to do. It is only there, with the cross in plain view, that we can begin to understand what being forgiven for our sins and what the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, really means. All things revolve around what Christ has done for us on that tree.

I’m pretty sure the man who was pulled over wasn’t focused on Law and Gospel or thinking too much about the crosses, and I hope he had a safe and uneventful trip. For my part, I am thankful that I was reminded once again how important it is to keep the cross of Christ ever before us.

© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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