Grace to you all and peace from God our creator, and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
I have said before and will say again that the best definition of the gospel I have ever heard is that the gospel is “God’s good news for our bad situations.” Yet, some weeks as we read the gospel lessons-the stories about Jesus ad his life-it seems strange to say that it IS the gospel of the lord. That those stories, especially some of the parables we have encountered in the last few weeks are “good news for our bad situations.”
One of the first challenges is that the parable seemingly reinforces the practice of slavery. While there are vast differences between the race-based slavery that was practiced in the United States and the slavery that took place in the ancient near east and Greco-Roman times, we must say that both were sins. Slavery is always a sin. And so despite slavery being used in the parable that is spoken by Jesus using language that would be understood by the people living within that historical context, that doesn’t mean we should be comfortable with, or believe this parable absolves Slavery…
Recognizing that the slavery that is central to this parable is problematic, what can we still draw from it?
The parable seemingly centers around what each slave did with what he had been given. It focuses most on what the slave who got the least did.
He wasn’t careless with it. He didn’t waste it or recklessly spend it like the prodigal son in that other famous parable Jesus told. He didn’t gamble it away, or divide it up among his buddies so they could all have a good time. He did nothing that seems inappropriate. But because of his care for the money that had been entrusted to him, he was condemned!?!?
What Jesus lays before us in this parable, is that in the dominion of God, God expects an amount of risk. God tells us there is something more troublesome than failure, and that is not to try at all. God says that more problematic than the person who makes mistakes is the person who doesn’t even venture out.
I don’t know what I would advise you if you asked me whether this is the time to buy stocks in Tesla, or whether you should buy a house, or look for a lot on a lake. But I know what I would advise if you asked whether this is the time to invest in world missions, or whether a Lutheran mission start should be supported in South minneapolis, or whether we can improve facilities for Christian education in our congregation. I would say,” Do it; by all means do it!” This parable speaks of the things of the dominion of God.
Jesus says that there can be no living faith without adventure or risk. The religion of following Jesus has something exciting about it, and Jesus tells us this parable to encourage us to be bold with our faith and what we do for God. He says there is something far worse than making a mistake in a Sunday School lesson, or singing the wrong notes in a hymn, or saying the wrong thing at a church meeting or gathering. That something worse is not to attempt any one of these, not to begin to teach, or sing, or never say anything.
What Jesus condemns here is not the mistake Christians make; what he condemns is when we take everything that is good in Christianity and the church today and bury it, preserve it, salt it away, keep it, deep-freeze it, so that we can dig it up again one hundred years from now and it will be exactly the same.
What is worse than failure is to refuse to take what God has given us and apply it, risk it, for every new situation that our changing world meets. Poet James Russel Lowell understood the gist of this when he wrote these words:
“New occasions teach new duties;
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.”
If the purpose of a Christian community is to avoid all risk, the best thing to do is repeat this year what we did last year and the next year what we did this year. That way every year, we’ll build our walls a little thicker and a little higher. Very seldom does anything too major go wrong in that kind of congregation. Sometimes a congregation can go on that way for quite a while.
-So we try to follow the same pattern for worship week after week.
-We read the same lessons for worship on a three-year rotation that has been in place since the 70s and leave the rest of the bible virtually untouched.
-We still say some of the same prayers that Luther prayed in Germany in the 1500s
-We still preach and talk about issues that Christians debated centuries ago and try to avoid current issues.
Yet at times we do go out and invest what we have received, and risk it.
-Our congregation has made the challenging transition away from having in-person worship. While this isn’t anyone’s preferred method of worshipping, we have made the hard choice to put the safety of the congregation first.
-In this time of pandemic we made a quick transition to having virtual VBS, and Sunday School and Kingdom kids, which has been a lot of extra time and effort on the part of the teachers, but has allowed children to still encounter the message of Christ in these uncertain times.
I wonder, how much higher on the ladder of risk are we willing to go?
-Could we try new things in worship that have been prepared by our church together with others, for use at different kinds of services?
-Could we provide more community services for those in our community of Isanti who are not members of this congregation, but are suffering from the challenges of the pandemic?
-Could we risk making this congregation a place where any issue can be openly and honestly discussed?
-Could we risk increasing our generosity to enable our congregation to continue to expand our programming?
And these questions, they are questions I am asking myself. They are questions that I wrestle with. Can we take the permission from the gospel to answer them?
There is a banner on the walls of the Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. It is a play on the seven last words from Jesus on the cross. The banner says, “The Seven last words of the church.” Then, in the shape of a cross are the seven words “We never did it that way before!” Those words can spell death to a church and can bring the condemnation of our Lord Jesus who in this parable scolded the slave who would risk nothing.
When we talk about taking risk in the church, we are not talking about change for change’s sake, or about wild, new things for their shock value, or throwing caution to the wind, or offending people as though the new programs were more important than the people who are to be part of them. We are talking about the same gospel, but in a new shape. We are talking about the same message, but taking it and probing into a few new directions and new ways. We are talking about the same Christ, but new ways of presenting him to the people.
What aboutthose other slave who did risk their master’s money? They were given more. Their reward was not rest, but more work. With practice they were able to handle even more. “Everyone who has, more will be given.”
We will likely make mistakes if we venture out, but we live by God’s grace. If only we would take the doctrine of grace by faith at full value, we would be more free to risk. The one-talent slave did not believe the master would forgive him if he failed, but God’s grace forgives our mistakes. It encourages, empowers us to try new things. What do we really lose if something we try doesn’t work out? We are still God’s! God will never disown us.
And even though Jesus was talking about the dominion of heaven, this seems like beneficial advice for the rest of our lives also. Risk something! Don’t be careless, but try something new!
Perhaps the best example for us is the risk that God took in Christ Jesys:
-There was risk in coming to this earth, in the body of a baby human born in a manger.
-There was risk in Jesus speaking against the Roman empire and those who sought to maintain their power with parables like ours from today.
-There was risk in taking the side of the poor and oppressed.
That risk is exactly what brought Jesus to his death on the cross. And in that death, it would seem to any observer that Got had not been successful in Jesus. Yet we know that the story didn’t end with Jesus death, but with his resurrection and ascension into heaven.
As followers of Christ who look forward to the day when Christ will return, like those early followers in Thessolonica, we too must believe that God can do the same through us. Amen.