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Category Archives: Parables

The little blue-grey bag

The little blue-grey bag

This is a story about the Annunciation which I wrote for a service on Christmas Eve.


Rosie lived with her grandfather in a little cottage by the river.  The cottage had once been painted white but time had exposed the outlines of the bricks,  reminding Rosie of a riverbed at the end of a long, dry summer.

They didn’t have very much, and what her grandfather did have he shared with Rosie unreservedly, often going hungry himself so that she would have enough.

During one particularly hard winter, Rosie noticed that her grandfather’s plate was often empty and, knowing that there wasn’t enough food to go round she decided that she needed to do something about the situation.

So Rosie set off in search of food.  She put on her muddy green wellies and her big brown jacket and crept over the fence into the nearby woods but it was dark and damp and the squirrels had long ago taken all the half-decent nuts.

So she went down to the river instead, hoping to catch a fish or two with her little yellow fishing net but the water was icy cold and the fish were wily and slippery and she came away with nothing but a dull ache in her fingers and in her heart.

She was on the verge of giving up when she decided to go and have one last look in her grandfather’s allotment plot which sat just up the road from the cottage.  Maybe there would be something there that he’d missed, something to keep them going through the last days of winter.

It didn’t look promising.  The ground was all neatly turned over, and what plants she could see certainly didn’t seem edible.

But then, in the corner of the allotment, she spotted a little blue-gray bag, tucked away under an old yellowing sheepskin fleece.  She looked in the bag and saw that it contained a single golden-brown potato.

Rosie rushed back into the house to find her grandfather and she told him what she’d found.  “Shall I bring it in and you can have it for your tea?” She asked him.

“Oh you mustn’t” he replied, “that potato will feed us for the whole of next winter”

“One potato will feed us for a whole winter?” she said, incredulously.  “Yes,” her grandfather replied, “sometimes the smallest things are filled with the most potential”

That spring, when the days started to lengthen and the frost no longer clung so tightly to the ground, Rosie’s grandfather took her out into the allotment and showed her how to quarter the potato, making sure each chunk had an eye, and plant it deep into the soil.

As Spring turned to Summer Rosie watched the shoots appear and the plants begin to spread their leaves.

When the Autumn came, Rosie and her grandfather went out to the allotment with a fork and a fraying wicker basket and she watched in amazement as her Grandfather turned over the soil to reveal hundreds of golden-brown potatoes.

Rosie tried to count them all but she didn’t know enough numbers so instead she helped her grandfather gently wipe them clean and put them in the basket to take back into the house.

Before they returned home, however, Rosie watched her Grandfather choose one of the potatoes, put it in the little blue-grey bag, and tuck it under the old sheepskin in the corner of the allotment.

As they walked back along the road, Rosie asked him why he used a blue bag to store the special potato.

“Do you know the story of Mary?” he asked her

“I know about the donkey and the manger and the shepherds and the kings with their presents” she replied, closing the cottage door quietly behind her.

“Well”, he said, as the fire crackled into life, “before all of that Mary was just a young girl – not very much older than you.  But God chose her to look after something very small, and very precious.”

“Was that the baby Jesus?” she asked

“Yes, she had to look after him – even though she was only young herself, because that tiny baby growing inside her would one day give life to the whole world”

“Sometimes the smallest things are filled with the most potential”, Rosie murmured, remembering what her grandfather had said back in the allotment all those months ago.

“In pictures”, he went on, “Mary is always painted wearing blue, so that’s why I decided to keep my special seed potato in a blue bag – so that it would be protected, kept safe, just like Mary protected Jesus.

“And when the time is right, when the earth is ready, when the task is done, that precious little gift can go on to give life, and hope, and strength.”

Rosie watched her Grandfather settle back in his chair, and she wondered whether he was talking about Jesus, or the potato, but she decided it was just as true either way.  As her eyelids grew heavier the flames flickered up from the deep red embers of the fire, making the shadows dance around the room like a heavenly host watching over them as they slept.

Rich Clarkson, Christmas 2017


The old instrument maker

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Many years ago, in the back streets of Venice, hidden amongst the canals and the alleyways, there was a small workshop. In this workshop, surrounded by tools and wood and dust there lived an old instrument maker. He was very talented and made a whole range of instruments. There were cellos and violins, clarinets and trombones, all intricately designed and beautifully made. The thing that really made these instruments special though, was the magic that he breathed into them when they were finished. The magic which brought these instruments to life.

As soon as the instruments realised that they were alive, however, they started to admire themselves.
“Look at my beautifully carved neck” cried the viola
“And see my wonderfully polished tubes” said the trumpet, “see how they shine like the midday sun!”

Before long people gathered to marvel at these amazing instruments. They were captivated by their beauty and their charming behaviour. They became renowned throughout the world as the most astonishing instruments ever made. There were books written about them and the best artists of the day produced fine paintings capturing their every curve in exquisite detail.

But back in his workshop the old instrument maker’s heart was breaking, for he hadn’t poured all of his love and care and skill into these instruments just so that they would be admired. Rather he had created them so that they in turn would create beautiful music. So the old instrument maker came up with a plan.

He sent out his son, a talented musician, to gather together all of his instruments so that he could explain his original purposes to them. Eventually they were all gathered together in the old workshop and, once the chatter had ceased and the complaints about the dust and dirt had died down, the old instrument maker began to speak.

“I created every one of you, I poured my heart and soul into your design. I know every detail of every single one of you. From the etchings on your back, violin my friend, to the small nick inside your bell that you try so hard to hide young oboe. I am proud of you and delight in you but I am also disappointed in you. For I did not create you to be admired, or to boast and argue about your unique designs. I created you for a far greater purpose, to be played, to enable other people to create glorious music. I will not force this upon you, but I wanted you to know this. If you are willing my son is a talented musician and is able to truly bring you to life.”

The instruments gathered together to discuss this but very soon they began to complain.
“Let other people touch us? no thanks”
“Have someone put their grubby fingers all over my beautiful strings? I don’t think so”
“We are perfect already, why would we want to change anything?”
On and on it went, until suddenly a small voice called out; “I’ll do it”.

It was a little penny whistle who had been quietly standing at the back. He was not intricately designed, he was a bit chipped and rough around the edges, and none of the others had even noticed that he was there. As the little penny whistle stepped forward the old instrument maker looked at him with such love and compassion that the little penny whistle began to cry. His tears stained the wood and made him look even more messy. The little penny whistle went up the the old instrument maker’s son and the son picked him up, put him to his lips and began to play.

He began quietly, testing the range of the little penny whistle but before long the melody began to soar. As the old instrument maker’s son played on people outside stopped to listen to the little penny whistle. In that moment, as the son’s breath flowed through it’s body, the little penny whistle was more perfect, more complete, more beautiful and more truly alive than the other instruments could ever dream of being.

The parable of the shrewd manager – Luke 16:1-13

The parable of the shrewd manager

Holy Trinity, Hadley, 19th September 2010


  • I’m sure Lucie would tell you that I am the worst person to be talking about any passage to do with money as I am completely incompetent when it comes to banks, direct debits, insurance and all that stuff!
  • the ‘Giving pledge’ (beginning of August)
    • Bill Gates & Warren Buffet encouraging billionaires to give away at least half of their wealth to charity. So far 40 of the worlds richest individuals and families have signed up.
      • Laura and John Arnold: “We view our wealth in this light – not as an end in itself, but as an instrument to effect positive and transformative change.”
      • Peter G. Peterson: “As I watched and learned from my father’s example, I noticed how much pleasure his giving to others gave him. Indeed, today, I get much more pleasure giving money to what I consider worthwhile causes than making the money in the first place.”
      • Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest: “The ultimate achievement in life is how you feel about yourself. And giving your wealth away to have an impact for good does help with that feeling.”
    • Some of these guys may have gained their money by, if not immoral then at least unethical means, however the benefits of their generosity are very real regardless of the means by which they are able to be generous.


  • This has been described as the “most difficult passage in Luke’s gospel
  • When you come across difficult passages in the bible then it’s good to look at the passages around it to get an idea of the context.
  • Part of a section of Luke’s gospel on things of value
    • Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son, shrewd manager, rich man + Lazarus
    • Trying to get across the difference between worldly wealth and heavenly treasure, importance of looking after the things that you have been entrusted with.
  • Jesus shows a real engagement with the ways of the world, knows the sorts of tricks that go on.
  • Manager is squandering his masters possessions, gets called to account and is unceremoniously sacked
    • Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer
  • uses the position he is in to help others so that when he is sacked he will not have to stoop so low for help himself.
    • I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg
  • Gets commended, not for his dishonesty but for his shrewdness
  • He used the resources available to him to both help others and to help himself
  • Some people argue that Jesus is saying that it’s ok to be dishonest
  • I don’t believe that’s the point Jesus is making, he’s not commenting on the morality of the manager’s behaviour
  • He is giving an example of how people use money/possessions shrewdly and for a gain that is more than just money
    • He enhances his position and helps his master’s debtors
  • He is saying: “Even the crooks of the world know that money is a tool and not an end in itself, why can’t you people of faith understand that?”
  • coming back to the ‘Giving Pledge’ I mentioned earlier, regardless of how they earned their money
    • how many of those billionaires will end up worse off in any significant way?
      • Warren Buffett: “Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”
    • How many of them would end up looking bad as a result of giving half their money to charity?


  • So how does this apply to us?
    • No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and Money
  • We are called to serve God and money is just one tool which we can use to do that
  • Anne Robertson says of this passage:
    • Earthly money is like Monopoly money…it is how we practice being faithful
  • As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6
    • Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”
  • It’s easy to think, especially in this economic climate, that we just don’t have enough to be generous, it can be a real struggle to give away a little of your hard earned money
    • However, if we don’t get in the habit of being generous when we have a little then, if circumstances change and we do find ourselves in a position of wealth, it can be harder to change that habit.
  • The other point that Jesus is making is about being shrewd and responsible with money.
    • It’s easy to separate our Christian lives off from our financial lives but Jesus’ point is that actually our faith should influence every single sphere of our lives, including our finances.
    • We should be checking we are getting a good deal on our insurance, mortgages, loans etc. indeed it’s biblical to do so.
    • If we are using our money efficiently then it will free us up to be more generous
  • If we are wise and generous with the gifts God has given us on this earth, not seeking wealth for wealth’s sake but looking to serve God with whatever we have, then God will bless us, both in this world and in the world to come.
  • However if we cannot be faithful with what we have in this world then why would God trust us with anything of real value?
  • No servant can serve two masters, we need to make our choice.