The text for this sermon is Matthew 25:14-30.
What keeps us from taking risks? Maybe we should start with a different question, what makes most young people so risky? My oldest son when he was in college took a photography class. He came home from Christmas with really cool pictures of an old railroad trestle in the mountains around Pittsburgh. Fall colors, sun setting, great shadows captured with white steel beams against a blue sky made for some really interesting photographs. As Paige and I admired them it started to occur to us, how did he get this picture underneath the bridge looking up into the sky, or this one on the middle of the bridge looking to the other valley, or this one seeming to look down past the iron framework to the tiny river hundreds of feet below? Like any good parent, we went from complimenting his skill to yelling at him about the obvious risks he took to get them. What if a train had come across, what if you had slipped, what if…
What keeps us from taking risks? Risks are…risky. The photographs were great, but they weren’t worth that risk. Fear of what could happen, often well grounded fear as in this case, keep us from taking risks. Even fear of making the wrong choice keeps us from taking risks. Every door we open when we try something new, potentially closes another door.
When I was the age of my son when he was hanging off of Railroad Bridges, I had been dating Paige already for four years. We were kind of on a break when we were 20 and Janet, a Pi Phi, had her eye on me. I was a hot commodity, and women knew I wouldn’t be on the market for long. At some point, I had to make a choice whether I wanted to go out with Janet or Paige. And once I made that choice, I wasn’t likely to be able to call a do over and reverse my decision. Women and life don’t work like that. Thankfully, I made the right choice 27 years ago as I am reminded at home often.
What keeps us from taking risks? Fear. Some fear is good and prudent and evidence of maturity and experience. Nathan’s pictures were great, but they were not worth risking his life to get. Sometimes, our fear causes us to stay with what we know and that turns out to be a wonderful thing. My marriage speaks to this truth. Sometimes, though, our fear paralyzes us, causing us to do stupid things like burying our talents and gifts in the sand.
A rich guy is going to be away for a long time and before he leaves, he gave all of his property to three of his slaves. Let’s call them Larry, Curly and Moe. The two smarter ones, Larry and Curly took great risks with this money, investing it in penny stocks and Florida swamp land. If they had failed, it would have looked like the dumbest, most reckless thing to do. But surprise! They made all the right moves and ended up doubling what the master had given them. The master thought Larry and Curly were geniuses and hugged the stuffing out of them.
Now, Moe, Moe was another story. His plan of action was to bury the money, so that when the boss came back it would be safe and sound. Poor Moe, you have to feel sorry for the guy. Just the fact the he is identified right from the beginning as the least talented of the three should bring him some sympathy. If Moe were here, I am sure he would make the case that the master didn’t tell him to go and risk all of the money. If he had just told him to take a risk he would have. But without permission, what if he had bet on pig futures, watched them slide and then lost it all? Then what? There surely wouldn’t be any group hug at that point. Moe knows the master. He can be a pretty mean guy when money is concerned. Moe was convinced he was waiting to say gotcha and punish him for taking a risk. It made perfect sense to bury it. And of course that was completely the wrong thing to do.
Moe’s fear was misinformed. His master was one who would delight in the risk, celebrate a victory and be forgiving of failure. Larry and Curly knew the master and entered into the risk. The master wanted his fortune to grow, not lie stagnant unused in the ground.
In Jesus’ parable, the rich guy is gone a long time. In our life of faith, we are living in this long time now. Jesus has risen and we wait now for Jesus to come again. And while we wait, there is some expectation of what we do with the time we are given. All of us are given a small fortune of talent to do something with in the long time before Jesus returns. God who opens that fortune grows and it never will without us first taking a risk. Who are going to be Larry, Curly or Moe? Is fear going to define us or joyful expectation of our future that is already decided in Christ?
In the resurrection, we have seen the ending of our world, our ending, and it is a happy one people. The practical effect of this belief is to charge each moment of the present with hope. For if the future is dominated by the coming again of Jesus, there is little room left on the screen for projecting our anxieties. Trust this future with joyful expectancy for what God will do next in Jesus. Take risks. Dream big. What is the worst thing that can happen? If we know the ending, what are we afraid of today?
Because a Christian has no fear of the future, they can afford to take risks with their present. This is true of a community, house of faith, a church. Where would Messiah be if they had not taken a risk in 1956 and started a new church in Reynoldsburg? In 1968 and built this new sanctuary that was way too big for their congregation in that year, but now we can’t seat everyone in here on special festival days or if we try to have one service? In 1998, when we started a ministry that would eventually become Joseph’s Coat? In 2009, when we called an Associate Pastor for the first time in nearly three decades? All of those choices could have blown up horribly in our face. All of them could have been hard to defend if they failed. All of them were risks that ended up doubling our talents as a community. And just as I made this list of successes, I could make another equal list of new efforts that didn’t work, a Jazz Worship service in the 90’s, a Youth Christian Woodstock just a few years ago, a troubled Associate and Senior relationship in the 70’s. God forgave these failed efforts with as much as love God celebrated the successes. Because a Christian has no fear of the future, they can afford to take risks with their present. This is true of our personal lives, too. Why not go back to school and pursue that vocation you have always wanted? Who says you are too old? Why not ask that coworker you have known for years out for a date? Who says office relationships never work? Why not give generously to a cause that moves your heart and does good work? What is a better purpose of money than to ease the burden of the lost or the least? Who do we want to be Larry, Curly or Moe?
If we believe that God is anxious to celebrate our victories and forgiving of our defeats, we will live life taking risks with the abundant gifts God has given us, as a church or as individuals. I hope each of our new members received today and the old ones who have been around this place for years take this too heart. If we believe that God is just waiting to yell gotcha and punish us for our miscalculations, than we will live forever like Moe, burying our best gifts in the sand. Sure some fear is prudent, but too often our fears are just holding us back. Who do we want to be? Better yet, who is God longing for us to become? Amen