There’s a book about a West African fable that I share with the confirmation class titled What Is My Song? In it a boy describes how even before he was born, his mother listened to the wind—or was it to the Spirit—as she sat out under the baobab tree for the song of her desired child. When she picks up the tune and words, she shares it with her spouse. They sang when the young boy was born, and taught to the village community.
A sermon based on Matthew 25:14-30.
The song gets sung throughout his life. It tells him who he is. In this story he is a protector, rescuing his sister from a fire, and caring for others. But he also forgets. He gets upset with a friend during his teenage years, and throws a rock at him, causing him temporary blindness. Even then the village stops what they are doing in order to gather and sing his song. To remind him of who he is. Who God had created him to be. That he was a protector and not a destroyer. And he remembers, choosing once more to be that one God had blessed with unique gifts and through whom God could establish the world God had always imagined if we all could hear our own songs and respond.
You do know that that is what Jesus is talking about in this parable, right? That this isn’t about Jesus secretly being a capitalist all his life, and then springing it on the disciples at the very end. “The kingdom of God is open to those who double their money!” he says in that crazy alternate version. But twenty seconds of thought on that path makes one realize that such a reading is not Jesus’ own song. That his way was not the way of hoarding wealth, but of sharing love. This parable isn’t describing God.
Just before our lesson, Jesus talks about being ready for the coming of the Son of Man, and the need to be prepared. And the story he tells after this one starts the same way. Jesus wants us to be ready for his second coming. So what his disciples did with their lives mattered greatly to Jesus. Each of them had been granted abilities by the Almighty, so how would they use those things—those gifts, talents, and abilities—to be ready for Christ’s return? Jesus says to James and Peter and John and the rest, what will you do with what you have been given, this short time you are on this earth, in order to further the kingdom and be ready for the coming of the Son of Man?
So here’s the question of the hour: what have you been given by God, and how are you using it to take part in the kingdom Jesus established here on earth? What abilities do you have? What gifts? What things make you uniquely you? Is it your artistic ability, or a gift of hospitality? Is it how you cook, or your green thumb or your ability to bring a group together toward a common goal? Is it your gentleness with children or the way you can explain new things to a group of students or is it your organizational smarts or how you can turn a phrase in writing?
What this parable is asking us to do is to take stock of all that God has bestowed on us, and then ask what are we doing with those things. How are we living our song. Or maybe are we taking those abilities and burying them in the backyard because of a fear that is insidiously making us less and less ourselves, forgetting the very thing that defines us.
The film “Akeelah and the Bee” describes this in detail. Akeelah is an eleven year old Middle Schooler from South LA who has a gift for academics but she doesn’t want to flaunt it for fear of being isolated from her peers. She takes part in her school’s first ever spelling bee and wins quite easily even though she is hesitant to win. She is paired up with an English professor, Dr. Larabee—played by Laurence Fishburn—who helps her prepare for contests that lead to the National Spelling Bee. At one point in the film, Dr. Larabee has Akeelah read a quotation from Marianne Williamson. She reads:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
“Does that mean anything to you,” Dr. Larabee asks. “I don’t know,” Akeelah responds. “It’s written in plain English. What does it mean?” “That I’m not supposed to be afraid,” she replies. “Afraid of what?” he pushes. “Afraid of … me?”
It’s a turning point in the film. Akeelah recognizes that she has this tremendous gift and that she has been hiding it due to fear. She has been playing small. She has taken what she has been given by God and run to the back yard and buried it.
We all do this from time to time. We take the very abilities God has bestowed upon us and high tail it to a field or the flower bed or the place by the back fence, and we bury that ability never to be used by us. We dig down deep and drop it in and pack the dirt on good and tight. And then at some point in our life—maybe not till the very end of our lives or when the Son of Man returns—we’ll go back to that secret hiding spot and uncover it and try to dust it off as best we can so we can hand it back over to God.
“Why didn’t you use this?” God may ask us. “I was scared,” we reply. “Scared that it wouldn’t be good enough, that it wouldn’t make any difference, that it would make me stand out from the crowd.” “You were born to shine,” God replies. “Born to make manifest my glory in you.”
I think where we get hung up is in thinking we need to sing someone else’s song. We see someone else’s giftedness, and want to be like them. So we chase after it thinking that somehow it will help us become someone whom others will celebrate. But that’s also a smokescreen. We were created to be us. To live into our giftedness. To help establish the kingdom in our unique way.
Jewish philosopher Martin Buber tells the story of an 18th century Hasidic rabbi, Zusya. As he was nearing the end of his life, he gave this teaching to his followers. Rabbi Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”
How might you live by going all in on that song of yours, no matter your age in life? How can you help our world prepare for the return of Christ by being most fully you? Not that version of yourself that is the shadow of your song—and our shadow side is often the opposite of our truest calling—but the one that makes you shine. The one that lifts others up. That allows us all to become more fully ourselves too. Each of us singing our own songs in a great chorus of love and life. We can only do that if we risk it all. If we go out and be most fully ourselves. Will you do that? Will you listen to the wind—or is it the Spirit—who calls to you, and will you follow no matter where it leads? Will you risk it all for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom of love? Will you?