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Risk! God Did
November 14, 1993

MATTHEW 25:14-30

Be careful, don't take any chances, play it safe, take care, don't risk--are all examples of the type of thinking and living that really angers the Lord! Playing it safe upsets God, according to Jesus in the parable read this morning.

Jesus told this parable on one of the last days of his life. He was in Jerusalem where his enemies were plotting his death. His disciples were telling him, his friends were telling him, his mother had already warned him, "Don't take chances. Play it safe. Don't anger the Pharisees, Sadducees, and chief priests. Be a little more diplomatic. Play their game. Try a little tact. Don't confront the authorities. Don't challenge their values and priorities. Don't take such risks!" In response to this advice, Jesus told them a parable in which he essentially said, Those willing to risk nothing actually risk losing everything.

Do you think the master in Jesus' parable overreacted? He was very angry with the third servant. He called him names, took the money away from him, and gave it to the one who already had more money than he needed. The servant lost his job. He lost his master's respect and trust, and ended up in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Reminds me of the revival preacher who took this phrase quite literally, applying it to his idea of hell. One old woman in the front pew who had lost all her teeth, interrupted him, and asked, "What about those who have no teeth?" Without losing his rhythm, he replied, "They will be provided!"

Do you think the master overreacted; especially when you realize that this is a parable about God's relationship with us? Does God get that upset? After all, the servant was only being cautious and prudent. The servant was only trying to protect himself, trying to play it safe. He didn't want to take a chance and lose his master's money. He had been given no small amount. A talent was probably equivalent to what a laborer earned in 15 years! The master had given one servant five talents to invest. He had given another servant two talents and one talent to a third to invest. The first two servants risked the investments and happened to double them, much to the master's joy and praise. But, the servant who was given the responsibility of handling one talent decided to take no chances. He put it in the ground which, by the way, was an acceptable practice in those days. They didn't have mattresses on beds, so they saved their money by putting it in the ground. Furthermore, it was a long-standing rabbinic teaching that anyone who buries money that has been put into his care is no longer liable for its safety. It was automatically assumed he had taken the safest path available to him to ensure the money's safety.. Therefore, the servant who buried his one talent felt that he had taken a safe, prudent course of action on his master's behalf.

We can relate to that cautious conservatism. It is better to be safe than sorry, we say. Don't take chances. A recent survey concluded,

Do not ride in automobiles; they cause 20% of all fatal accidents. Do not stay at home; 17% of all accidents occur in the home. Do not walk on the street or sidewalk; 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. Do not travel by air, rail or water; 16% of all accidents happen on these. However, only .001% of all deaths reported occur in worship services. Hence, the safest place for you to be is in church. Sunday School is also relatively safe.

The master in Jesus' parable, whom Jesus likens to God, was quite upset with the cautious servant. Picture this conversation,

Sir, here is your money, all wrapped up neatly in a napkin. As you can see, I have been very careful, very prudent, very cautious--just like you.

Just like me! You are not at all like me. You are a little, miserly weasel. Why didn't you at least put it in the bank at 2.5% interest? I asked you to be faithful, which is a fancy word for trust. I didn't ask you to make money. I asked you to do business, to wheel and deal, to trust enough to risk! But what did you do? You played it safe, kept it all to yourself, wrapped in that silly napkin. I'm going take the money you have in that silly napkin of yours and give it to the guy over there who already has more than he knows what to do with! I'm sick of your puny, low-risk living. Get out of my sight!

This parable is not at all about rewarding the good and punishing the bad. This parable is about trust, the trust that the master had in his servants to handle all his investments, and the trust the servants were expected to have in him. Notice the risk the master took. He had taken a tremendous risk in giving his capital to the servants to invest. He went away on a journey and entrusted all his property, all his money to his servants. He risked everything he had by trusting his servants to be wise, industrious risk-takers. He trusted them. The servant that so upset the master did not return the trust. He could not bring himself to handle such extravagance. Actually he was more worried about his own situation than he was about his master's money. He was afraid of failing. He was motivated out of concern for himself and his well-being. And, he ended up with nothing. Even the initial investment he had been given was taken away. Those willing to risk nothing actually risk losing everything.

God was never one to play it safe. A God not interested in taking risks would never have created humans in the first place. Look at the risk God took in trusting his universe to humans. And, when they failed, God patiently sent prophet after prophet to call his people back to the covenant God made with Abraham. Finally, God took the supreme risk and came to this earth as a human being. In the person of Jesus Christ, God risked himself for the sake of our salvation and the salvation of the planet. How we betray that exuberant, reckless love with our puny little lives and miserly little religion! God is merciful and forgiving, and God wants us to live lives that make his forgiving mercy all the more wonderful, rather than always worrying about how to hedge our bets so that we will not need mercy! Doesn't it seem likely that this extravagant, risk-taking God might expect more than self-seeking, self-motivated, safety-conscious behavior from those who have been so wondrously saved!

An 85-year old woman facing death, terminally ill, wrote this poem,

If I had my life to live over...

I would take more chances, I would take more Trips,

I would scale more mountains,

I would swim more rivers, and I would

Watch more sunsets.

I would eat more Ice cream and fewer beans.

I would have more actual troubles

And fewer imaginary ones. You see...

I was one of those people who lived

Prophylactically and sensibly and sanely,

Hour after hour and day after day...

...I've been

One of those people who never went anywhere without

A thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle,

a Raincoat and a parachute...

If I had it to do all over again,

I'd travel lighter, much lighter,

Than I have.

I would start barefoot earlier

In the spring, and I'd stay that way

Later in the fall. And I would

Ride more merry-go-rounds, and

Catch more gold rings, and greet

More people, and pick more flowers,

And dance more often. . If I had it

To do all over again.

But you see,

I don't.

Take some risks! Enjoy your life. Love yourself. Love your life. And, take risks with the life God gave you to do God's work. God risked everything for your sake, what will you risk for God? In 1961 the opera singer, Jerome Hines, was in Moscow singing Mussorgysky's great opera, Boris Godounov. Jerome Hines was the first non-Russian to sing the opera in the Russian language. Hines was a man of prayer, and for days, the name Khrushchev appeared in his prayers which he understood to be a call for him to pray for Khrushchev. On the final night of the performance, at the last minute, the singers were told that Premier Khrushchev was going to be in the audience.

At the close of the opera, Boris has lost his crown and his throne, and the traditional ending is for the singer to fall from the throne in defeat. Hines felt uncomfortable with that ending, as he felt the music was triumphant music. So that night, Hines risked changing the ending. Instead of humiliation, he took off his crown and flung his arms heavenward in triumph. Even in defeat, there is victory and hope. The audience went wild with applause and cheers.

Khrushchev came backstage with an interpreter to say how much he had enjoyed the performance. As he was leaving, Hines said to him in Russian, "God bless you, sir." Khrushchev, the atheist, turned, looked him in the eye, and without a word, left. Not long after Khrushchev got home that evening, President John F. Kennedy called him and gave him an ultimatum: Get your missiles out of Cuba. And, the Russians withdrew.

Who knows how Khrushchev was affected by Hines' risk of turning Boris' defeat into a triumph? Who knows the effect on Khrushchev of Hines' prayers and his risk in telling Khrushchev, "God bless you."

What is God calling you to do that you have been too hesitant to try, too afraid of failing, too afraid of being ridiculed? What outlandish, extravagant thing is God calling you to risk for people, for his church? Do you have enough nerve to tithe? Do you trust God enough to risk tithing your income?

Our church is called to take risks--risk of failure, risk of not having enough money. Let's be big in our thinking. Come Wednesday evening to the Church Conference and hear the big plans we are dreaming. Listen and get excited about our Vision for the year 2000! We also took a financial risk and have now hired a Director of Christian Education to work with our youth, singles, children, adult programs. It's exciting. God doesn't call us to take the safe route. God calls our church to take chances, because God has taken a big chance a big risk with us.

Churches and individual persons willing to risk nothing actually risk losing everything.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris