Risky Business

Inspired by Matthew 25:14-30

Our church year is winding down already. Today we have another parable from Matthew, and next Sunday will be our last reading from Matthew for a while, as Advent will begin our year of Mark, the best Gospel. I’m joking. Not really. But today’s parable comes immediately after last Sunday’s parable of the ten bridesmaids, the second of three parables in this chapter and by the way, the last three parables in the Gospel of Matthew.

And I mention that because, like most story tellers, I wonder if Matthew saved the best for last. Or, I wonder if Matthew, like many of us do, told what he wanted his readers to remember the most, last. Maybe, maybe not, I’ll let you decide next Sunday. For right now, we have before us this parable of the valuable coins, but how accurate that title is we will see.

It’s the story of a landowner who goes on a trip and leaves three people in charge, giving each a different amount of money. The first two take the landowners money and double it. But the last one, keeps the money safe so that all of it can be returned to the landowner. That last one wanted to be assured that none of the landowner’s money would be lost. Not that the other two gambled with the landowners money at the local blackjack table but they probably invested it in some way.

And as you know, whenever you invest, there’s a chance you’ll lose it. However, there’s another element to this, another reason why this last worker didn’t use the landowner’s money—and also why we know that the landowner probably doesn’t represent God in this story. The landowner is a crook! A cheat! A thief! And that last worker, the one who just saved the landowners money, knew it!

In fact, the landowner sounds more like a mob boss! Not only is he a swindler but he scares the living daylights out of that poor worker—and apparently for good reason because he ends up throwing that worker out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth! And every time I read this I think to myself, why? What did that worker do so wrong? I would have probably done the same thing!

I wouldn’t want to be sent down the river or swim with the fishes if I lost the mob boss’s money! I would have done whatever kept me safe! Ah, and there it is. That last worker did what was safe, secure, and risk free. Could that be what Jesus was challenging here with this parable. I think so. Like last week’s parable I don’t think his point was to scare us into avoiding the outer darkness or being locked out.

I think these two parables are way more practical than that. Having more to do with the here and now rather than some far off place in the clouds. And I think that’s why these three parables, last week’s, today’s, and next week’s, stick out like a sore thumb in the Gospel of Matthew. They’re down to earth, practical, real-world things we can actually do in the here and now. There’s nothing mystical or miraculous about them. It’s simply Jesus saying, this is the way I want you to live if you are going to call yourselves my followers.

This is the way I want you to govern your lives. I suspect, the reason that so many over the centuries, have been so enamored by the spirituality of Christianity is because spirituality doesn’t ask you to do anything, it’s more of a state of being. And there’s nothing wrong with that state of being but Jesus doesn’t want us to end there.

Jesus calls us to do something with our spiritualty. And in this parable, that something, is to not be afraid to take risks, to not be afraid to step outside our comfortable, secure hole in the ground that we have dug for ourselves to keep ourselves safe. Do you hear where the focus is in that?—on us, on ourselves, inward. So, first I want you to think of the risks that you have taken over the course of your lives, risks that have panned out for you, times in your life when you have taken a risk and the result was something positive. And let me be clear, most of our decisions involve risk right? Even the good ones.

As beautiful a decision is for two people to get married, it’s a risk! You don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but you decide that the risk is worth it. Having children, very risky! You don’t know how they’re going to turn out! Choosing a church. Getting a dog. Buying a car. Making a new friend. Going back to school. All of these decisions, however good, involve risk. And that risk, can be scary. So scary, that it keeps us from making decisions, from taking risks, risks that could lead to some very amazing, beautiful things. Earlier I asked you to think of risks that you have taken. Now I want you to imagine having never taken those risks. All the good that has come from taking those risks, gone, never happened.

And to be fair, not all of our risks pan out do they? Sometimes we take risks and they don’t work out. God may be urging us to take more risks but that doesn’t mean that God asks us to leave our brain at the door. God also wants us to be wise with our risks, to learn from our mistakes. But to always be keep ourselves safe and risk-free? I don’t see anywhere in scripture where God calls us to make self-centered comfortable decisions.

And so far, we have been talking about individual decisions. How about decisions that we make as a congregation? How risky are we as the body of Christ here in Auburn, CA? Or do we tend to make decisions based on our comfort level, on our safety, on our security? It’s something that I feel called, have felt called for some time now, to have us examine as a congregation.

When we discuss decisions and all I hear are phrases like, “I’m afraid if we do this then blank” or “I’m worried that blank” or “What if blank happens.” When all that is said around the table are those kinds of comments, well, the decision has already been made. It was dead before it even took its first breath. And nothing changes, nothing happens, but us standing in the outer darkness. You know why it’s dark in the outer darkness, because nothing is moving out there, it’s stagnant, because you don’t need light when nothing is happening.

Before we sing our next hymn, I want you to think about some risks that you have taken that didn’t pan out, risks that ultimately failed, because believe it or not, that is where the good news is to be found, that is where the gospel is to be found, and this is why. Because in our failed risks, God remains.

In our failed risks, God shines all the brighter for us.

In our failed risks God makes God’s presence known like never before, because God knows we need it more than ever.

In our failed risks God smiles and says don’t despair, I can still work with this, I can still make good out of this, because guess what, I’m God!

And I risked everything for you and thought the world counted me among the dead, look, here I remain, with you, says God almighty! 

Please pray with me. God of risk, God of promise, your love, your presence, and your might, are ever-lasting. Create in us confidence where there is timidity. Create in us strength where there is weakness. Create in us hope where there is despair. Create in us assurance where there is uncertainty. Create in us boldness where there is fear. Create in us hearts that are willing to take risks, based on your promise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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