Sunday, November 15, 2020
Have you ever played the “would you rather” game? It’s a fun game for long car rides, where you pick one of two things you would rather do. For example, would you rather live where it’s summer all of the time, or winter all of the time? Would you rather lose the ability to speak or to read? Would you rather always be ten minutes late or twenty minutes early? Would you rather have all traffic lights you approach be green, or never have to stand in line again? It’s kind of fun! And we don’t all have the same answers, either!
This morning’s parable of the talents is partly about Jesus encouraging believers to take risks because of their faith. Would you rather invest a large sum of money given to you and risk losing it all or doubling it, or bury it in the ground to ensure you have what you were given? The truth is, all of us are more “risk tolerant” with some things and “risk adverse” with other things, it just depends on what it is. Even our age can make a difference. Roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls were great and relatively risk-free when I was ten years-old, now I get vertigo and nausea. When you’re a kid, going to school with a less than popular hairstyle or clothing style can be pretty risky for trying to fit in, when you’re older a lot of us could care less. Investing aggressively in retirement accounts at my age mostly makes sense and is lower-risk, because I don’t plan to retire for another thirty-years, but those of you who are near retirement or already in retirement may take less risk with your investments. The question from this parable is, “What kind of risk does God want me to take, and am I willing to do it?” In the parable, two slaves take the risk and invest what the master gives them, and one doesn’t. The two who take the risk are rewarded, the last is not. In fact, he is punished like others we’ve read about in these parables from Matthew, thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. His decision to not take a risk is met with pretty serious consequences. Little does he realize it was riskier to not take a risk! So again, “what kind of risk does God want us to take? Are we willing to take that risk?”
Well, first, let’s look at what these successful investors believe to be true about God, their master, that enables them to take the risk. Jesus tells us that the man entrusts his property to them based on their ability. He doesn’t give them more than they can handle, so to speak. He knows what theyare capable of doing with his talents, and entrusts them to do what they can with what they’ve been given. The faithful slaves trust that even though their master is going on a journey, he will come back. And when the master does return, he welcomes them to “enter into the joy of your master.” The qualities of God that Jesus describes in this parable is one who is reliable, who is coming back, who is generous and trusting with his gifts, and one who welcomes us into abundant joy.
It is perplexing, then, that the third man comes forward and says that he is afraid because his master is harsh and unjust. The other two slaves give no indication to be afraid of the master, but this third slave is convinced he should be afraid of his master. He buries his talent in the ground. The third slave can’t find it in his heart to see the blessings, the possibilities, the good that could come from trusting his master. I would go so far as to say that he is not representing the master- God’s -- character accurately. This slave is caught up in his fear, paralyzed by it, and cannot take the risk to use what the master has given him even slightly because he ultimately does not trust in the goodness, joy, and generosity of the master.
You know, Martin Luther in the Large Catechism says that “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.” Trusting in our God with all of our heart allows us to take risks. Having faith in the one true God is to place our trust in one who is generous, loving, full of joy and most of all, one who can be trusted! The unworthy slave buries his talent in the ground because he simply doesn’t have the correct picture of who his master is, he does not have the trust or the faith that he could make the most out of what he had been given! Sadly, his life is ruled by a false master of fear, and how many of us however unintentionally have made fear into our God, too?
To go back to those “would you rather” questions, if I were to ask, “If you were to take a risk, would you rather trust God or someone else?” I would guess unanimously we would pick trusting God over anyone else! Life rarely is that black and white, though. Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear convinces us that it’s just not worth it, it would be safer to not take the risk, that maybe the risk we’re being asked to take is not from God, that God can’t actually be trusted, or even that God has asked us to do something beyond our abilities. God calls us sometimes to do difficult things, but we can be sure that these are things God has given us the ability to do, that we can trust God, and that God will continue to be generous with us and give us joy!
What kinds of risks does God want us to take? The parable is about investing money called talents, which were actually huge sums of money, another indication of how generous God is with us. God calls us to take risks with our money, it’s true: we aren’t just supposed to save everything for a rainy day or spend it on ourselves, God asks us to strive to give ten percent back to God to serve those in need and trust that there will be enough left over for ourselves. In English, the word “talent” also has to do with abilities – things we’re good at doing. I’ve recently been reading a book I’d meant to read for a long time by Richard Stearns, called The Hole in Our Gospel. Richard is the former CEO of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization. In the book, he describes the difficult decision he made to leave a very lucrative career at Lenox, an American tableware company, reduce his annual income by 1/6, and move his family across the country to serve World Vision. It’s a powerful example of God calling someone to take a risk and responding to make an incredible lasting investment by doing God’s work for some of the world’s poorest families for over two decades. I highly recommend the book for an inspiring read. While we may not be asked to make a sacrifice as large as Richard Stearns, certainly, God’s call on our lives can be uncomfortable and contain risks.
Here at church we have people who have taken a risk by serving on our church’s leadership board which we call a council, or singing in the choir, or teaching Sunday School, or delivering donations to the food pantry. God calls us to take risks in our daily lives as parents and grandparents in the decisions we make for our families, in how we do our jobs, sometimes in a career change, retirement, or a big move…you name it. But when God asks us to take risks, we can be sure that there is always a reward: a life of faith in God where we experience God’s abundance and generosity daily! May we continue to seek to worship the one true God, who can be trusted, who promises to welcome us home with joy. Amen.