Later on this morning I will be baptising Katie and Linden, who are cousins. One of the things that I will tell the families is that everyone who is baptised is called to serve God and God will pour out his blessings on them, giving them the gifts and talents that they need to do whatever it is that God wants them to do in this life. Like the good fairies at the Christening of the Sleeping Beauty in the fairy story, we hope for all sorts of good things for Katie and Linden: love, hope, peace, kindness, patience and so on. And God’s gifts include the special abilities like music or dexterity or a facility with science or maths. And as they grow up, one responsibility of the parents and godparents is to help Katie and Linden discover their gifts and find out how best to use them for the benefit of others and for their own happiness.
Can you remember discovering a talent as you grow up? Do you remember the joy of being able to do something well? I remember when one of my friends won a cookery competition at school – she made a perfect apple pie. It was the moment when Janet realised her gift and she went on to train as a cookery teacher.
Sometimes you discover your real skills in later life. The artist Grandma Moses took up painting in her 70s when the arthritis in her hands meant she could no longer do embroidery. She painted landscapes in a naïve style and they were very popular and sold tremendously well. The novelist Mary Wesley also discovered her ability to tell stories in later life.
For some people, they discover their talents when they find themselves in unplanned or unexpected circumstances. Zoe started coming to Lunch Club, and she found she had a real ability working with older people.
Some talents need to be nurtured, and it takes hard work to develop them and hone them. You might have a natural sense of rhythm and pitch, but you still have to put in the hard work learning the scales and technical competencies to play a musical instrument well. And then there’s the question of what happens to all that promise a child might display – we’ve all heard the stories of child geniuses who ran out of steam and ended up in a dead-end job.
When you do have a special talent, you need the personal qualities to make the talent work for you, qualities like patience and endurance, and a thick skin to help you get through the knocks. Just look at some of the people who get knocked out of The X-Factor.
It is easy to take our gifts and talents for granted. We’ve always had them; we are so used to them; we don’t think they are anything special. But someone else might look at the things we can do or the people we are and think it’s absolutely fantastic. I just marvel at the way the fishmonger can fillet a fish with such ease, yet for him it is just part of his job.
Sometimes people see and appreciate gifts in you that are not the ones that matter most to you. AA Milne was principally a playwright and writer, but what we remember him for is the Christopher Robin stories, and it was a huge frustration to him that he was better known for these than for his serious work.
It is worth spending time understanding our gifts. It’s not big-headed doing that, it’s being real about recognising what God has made us to be and do. When we can become conscious of our skills and abilities, then we can give thanks to God for all his gifts to us, and let God guide us as to how best to use them.
God want us to use the skills he has given us so that we can benefit others. When we share our skills, then we are a blessing to our community and our community is a blessing to us. We benefit from other people’s talents and skills.
And when we cultivate our God-given talents, then we find peace and happiness, because we are doing the things God made us to do.
There are times, of course, when people find themselves in a place where they are not able to use their skills and talents. You just have to listen to the frustration of asylum seekers who are not allowed to work. And in the past, people have been stuck in a place where their gifts were not wanted or welcomed. Maybe because of class or gender or politics, people have had to hide their talents. Clever kids in school sometimes feel that they can’t let their talents become known because they might be bullied. And that is desperately sad. We need to make it safe for kids to do well.
So if you are ever in a position to help people identify and use their talents, that is in itself a great gift. It’s what teachers do, teachers of all kinds. It’s what parents do. It’s what kind friends do. When you see someone with a skill, tell them you appreciate it. Affirm them in their talent. It is really encouraging when people notice what you’re doing and acknowledge it. That will help people grow and flourish.
Don’t bury your talent, like the man in Jesus’ parable. Know and use your talents. That way you contribute to society and add to the sum of human happiness. Help other people develop their talents. Make opportunities for yourself and other people to shine.
Bring joy to the master!