Psalm 90:1-8, 12
What is the riskiest thing you have ever done? I’ll give you a moment to ponder that. Did it happen in your wild youth? Did you make a bold financial move in your career? Did you bare your heart to your soul mate long before they knew you were soul mates? Did you crash and burn because they never saw you that way? Maybe several risky things came to mind. Or maybe the riskiest thing you ever did was doing nothing, and then the world just passed you by. Both action and inaction can imply risk. A big risk I took was moving with my husband to Scotland to live for a year. He was studying at the University of Edinburgh and I had completed my two masters and tried to find a job, a place in this foreign land. It was a year of adventure and personal growth, but it also meant I was away from family and all that was familiar. I discovered the wonder of bagpipes, Scottish Highland dancing and pub lunches.
I was glad that the program he chose was in an English speaking country with a western culture. I am not sure how I would have done with a year in Malaysia, or Zimbabwe. Our very willingness to take a risk is based on how we imagine that action will be. Our risk taking depends on if we can see ourselves fitting in, completing the task, capable of the challenge. And our society continues to limit risks as we progress.
A Psychology Today article notes, “In the land of seatbelts and safety helmets, the leisure pursuit of danger is a growth industry…RISKY BUSINESS HAS NEVER BEEN MORE POPULAR. MOUNTAIN CLIMBING IS AMONG AMERICA’S FASTEST GROWING SPORTS. “Forget the beach,” declared Newsweek a while back. “We’re hot for mountain biking, river running, ice climbing, and bungee jumping.” It goes on to say, “Traditional outlets for the risk-taking impulse have been disappearing from everyday life. As civilization steadily minimized natural risks, risk takers have been forced to devise new outlets. But (the writer) believes the tension between civilization and risk taking dates back eons. He wonders how much of the British Empire “was built up by people trying to escape the desperately conformist society of Victorian England.” Interesting thought. (www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199411/risk).
In our gospel lesson today the master did a very risky thing. He gave his assets, his talents, to his servants to tend to while he was away. I know that when we hear the word talents we think of the ability to sing, or being a good athlete, or intellectually bright, as we rightly should. Because that word talent comes from this parable of talents. But in Jesus’ time a talent was a monetary measure of silver or gold that amounted to 15 years of earnings for a day laborer. 15 years of earnings for one talent. So the slave given 5 talents would have risked 75 years worth of income! He invested it, risked it, and then was rewarded with 75 years more earnings. The second slave also did the same, doubling the investment. But what is interesting here is that the third slave took a different approach. He hid the talent in the ground. He buried what was given to him. Why did he do that?
He did that for two reasons. First, he saw his master as a harsh man, one who made money by other’s labors. His view of his master was devoid of trust. If you recall, the first two servants were called “good and trustworthy slaves.” How do we usually hear that phrase, say it with me, “good and faithful servants, right?” But here, in this parable, we see that trust is a necessary element for risky behavior. Think of your own life. If you know someone has your back, will be there for you no matter what, you are much more likely to take a risk, sail into uncharted waters. But when it is all up to you, we tend to take a more secure path, one that will guarantee our safety.
God is the Master in this story. We each get to view God in our own way. Scripture informs that, but there are Christians who see God as very wrathful and those that see God as all loving and both are supported by scripture. Let’s look at our Psalm for example. The first part describes God as our dwelling place, an everlasting God, God beyond time. But then it tells of a God of overwhelming wrath and full of anger. How we view God matters. As one commentator wrote, “the God we face is the one we imagine” (Feasting on the Word, A4, 312). How do you imagine God? That is the God you relate to. The third slave imagined a harsh master, one to fear and his actions matched that perception. So if we see God as punishing and harsh, then how do we trust God, how can we take a risk for God? I think faith is all about feeling secure enough in God to take a risk, try something new to trust that God has your back and is walking with you on this journey.
That takes us to the second reason he hid his talent. The slave feared his master. He was so worried about what would happen if he lost the money, what the harsh master would do, if he would be jailed or killed, he really chose to do nothing. To bury what was given to him, for fear of what might be lost. He was paralyzed by fear and this led to inaction. Can’t we relate to him. If we worry and look for all the things that can go wrong, then we can retreat from the world in an effort to feel safe. Or simply shy away from Christ’s calling because we don’t want to risk and share our faith with our friends. We do not know how the master would have responded if he risked and lost. But we do know he wanted the slave to take some action, invest at the bank and at least earn interest, even if he did not double the money. But his fear, his paralyzed inaction, was the worst possible outcome and he was cast into outer darkness.
Today is St. Andrew Day, the day we honor and remember the first apostle of Jesus, the first person to believe he was the Messiah. In John’s gospel we are told of Andrew taking that gigantic risk. After John declared Jesus the Lamb of God, Andrew spent the day with Jesus and then he knew. He knew Jesus was the Messiah, he trusted him so much that he was willing to follow him, go and tell his brother Peter about him, and bring him to Jesus. (1:35-42) Imagine what it took to be the first person to say Jesus is the long awaited one. To not be overcome with fear, paralyzed by fear, of what the authorities might do to you. Imagine you could trust Jesus so much to give up your livelihood, your family and risk following him around the countryside.
Now if I were Andrew I might get around to following but I’m not sure I could be the first to take that huge risk. I might be able to do it after I saw a few other’s go first. Or told my big brother about it and see what he thinks, without putting my neck on the line saying he is the Messiah. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is built on risk, it is built on trust, it is built on charting new courses, much like Andrew did. He risked traveling to different countries, different cultures to share the gospel message, taking it to Greece and the area north of the Black Sea, including Ukraine and Russia. He converted hundreds of people; he even risked preaching the gospel while he was hung on the cross for two days. Giving his life for his faith in Christ. Preaching the gospel, living the gospel, trusting in God through Jesus is risky business. The question is will you rise and take the challenge, following Andrew’s lead, and Christ’s love and sacrifice? Amen.