W-I-M-P

Sermon preached at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, Bristol, 17 September 1989

[Despite its name, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital is not a hospital in the modern sense, but a school – one of the oldest private schools in Bristol. My father was chaplain there between 1988 and 1990 – SJC]

W-i-m-p is a wonderfully awful word. It’s odd that it seems to apply only to men. What’s your vision of a ‘wimp’? A guy who is small and thin. Weak-muscled. Large and wary eyes behind even larger spectacles. Ill-fitting clothes, perhaps an over-long belted raincoat. A sort of jelly on legs. One quick gust of wind and he’d probably blow away! A person with no talent at all, nothing to give, utterly useless.

I have to tell you that we are all in danger of being wimps.

Like the man in the Bible reading this morning. He did nothing with the gift, the talents that the master had given him. He didn’t get much, and he did even less with it. He buried it, and merely gave it back, untouched, when the master returned.

Of course he had plenty of excuses. “I knew you were a hard man. You reap where you have not sown.” Yes, he was a hard man. He wasn’t going to be swayed by these paltry excuses. “You should have invested it, then at least I’d have some interest on my investment.”

Perhaps you have some sympathy for our wimp. It’s all right for those clever blokes who know how to manage these financial affairs. Perhaps it wasn’t fair that he’d been given only one talent whilst the other two had much more to invest.

Perhaps it’s not fair that the other blokes get more GCSEs or get picked for the First XI or win prizes in the music competition, or even get landed with the most handsome complexion. It’s not fair. Our wimp has become a Moaning Minnie!

Yes, we are all in danger of being wimps when we don’t take risks. Everybody has some gift or talent. You might be artistic or creative. You might find no problem in zooming through Prep and being first in the TV room. On the other hand, your talent might be in making friends and helping others to feel at ease. You may enjoy good health or a stable family life. Whatever your gift, it is there to be used.

Offering of life means what it says. All of it. Everything that goes to make up you; including the bad bits! You can’t hide behind your inadequacy, you’ve got to trade with what you’ve got. Your talent must grow in interest. Your experience and wisdom must expand, and it doesn’t matter how small it is to begin with. Remember, size is not important. You have a gift; don’t leave it in the wrapping paper.

This is the season for harvest festivals. Behind the mountains of fruit and veg, the fancy loaves which are impossible to cut and probably even worse to eat, there is the yearly reminder that

All good gifts around us

Are sent from heaven above.

and we’ve got to use them. We’ve got to take risks with them if we are to grow. So, we come to church to offer ourselves to God – all the bits and pieces, the good and bad alike. We offer them, not merely in gratitude, but for dedication and renewal. God hands them back in a better shape than before, with the command that they be used.

When John Milton wrote a sonnet on his blindness, he recalled, “that one talent which is death to hide”, and concluded, “they also serve who only stand and wait.”

He did not take this to mean merely hanging about. That’s what wimps do.

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