(This is the sermon I preached at the first worship service this morning, 11-16. The second worship service went, well, differently…)
I posted this question to my Facebook page about risk-risks you’ve taken and how did it go, and what’s the one risk you wish you had taken. I had several responses in the course of a few minutes! It was crazy how the conversation about risk just kept going! Over 20 diverse people (from all walks of life, professions and denominations) told me about the risks of vocational decisions, moving, leaving harmful situations, marriage, having children, changing one’s mind about something, divorce and leaving family and friends. Risk is a part of life. They commented that these things were HARD. These weren’t calculated risks like which carpet to choose but risks that altered the way they lived their daily lives. Yet, I didn’t hear one person regret a risk that they actually followed through on. Some even commented that the risk they took that initially felt and looked like failure (such as their divorce) turned out to be a meaningful step to wholeness and joy. The only regret talked about was for risks not taken.
Risk is often an invitation to something that we’ve never done before or to think differently about our lives and the world around us. When we take a risk, when we step out beyond our fears, we are stepping into a vision that is bigger than ourselves. We are stepping into a vision that is beyond what we can imagine, explain or fully grasp. Many people on the FB conversation pointed to the fact that it was because of risk that they took, they grew, they were transformed and they now live with people differently. Risk is an acknowledgment that maybe there’s more than what we can presently see. The apostle Paul names this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, as seeing in mirror, dimly. We don’t know exactly where the risk will take us, only that it will indeed move us from where we are now.
Risk also forces us to explore who were really are and often forces us to redefine what success means for us. When you are uncertain about the future, you begin to know more about yourself, your identity, your gifts, and your short-comings. Success, in the face of risk, ceases to be measured in dollars earned, our title or position but takes on a quality of being true to who we are. Success becomes about living out of our gifts and passions and not into material things. Taking risks also makes us vulnerable and exposed to judgment, and yet, often risk connects us with others around us in ways that are not possible when we shelter ourselves and don’t step out into the unknown. Risk drives us to community-finding other risk takers for partnership on the journey. The conversation of risk brought 20 people (many who don’t know each other) into honest conversation about risk and the reality of fear.
Matthew’s community would have been wrestling with risk. Things would not have been easy for these early Christians. Their risk was not about being given a funny look when they mentioned their church or Jesus in the grocery store line or at a dinner party(as it is for us) but risk was that their community could dissolve at any time, they could be arrested and put to death for their belief in this radical God who risked everything to be with humans, who hung out with the unclean and the criminals, who spoke truth to power, who gave up life on a cross to show forgiveness, mercy and love, and who was resurrected to break the barriers of death and despair.
Matthew places this story about three slaves right before Jesus begins his journey to the cross and uses it to turn the definitions of success and risk on its head for his community and for us. Matthew is making the point that the greatest risk with this precious story of the love of Jesus Christ, is to bury it and not do anything. The greater risk is to do nothing, accept the status quo, be safe and be sure that no one is inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Matthew doesn’t spend a lot of time on the first two slaves other than to point out that their only reward is more work in the master’s realm and they have the joy of relationship with the master. But Matthew spends some time telling us about the third slave and his issues. The third slave proclaims his fear of the master but really that fear is about himself. In his fear, he couldn’t see beyond himself or see a bigger picture outside of his own perspective. He was afraid to fail and so did nothing. In the doing nothing, he had already failed.
Matthew knew that his community had been given much already. They had received the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, they had each other for support to live their identity as beloved children of God and they had all of this in abundance. They were people who had absolutely nothing to lose and by living their daily lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in their neighborhoods and towns, the world had everything to gain. God’s abundance is to be shared and not buried underground. Yet, it seems fear was rampant in this early Christian community. Fear was overtaking the joy of living in relationship with God and with one another.
What is it for us here as the gathered community of LCM to live in the joy in our relationship with God and each other? Like Matthew’s community, we have been given much. We, too, have been given freedom from sin and death, freedom from worrying about messing up, unconditional love, we have been given our core identity as a child of God, we have been given each other, this gathered community, no matter what time you worship, for deepening our faith, caring for each other and the neighborhood. God has provided us everything we need to risk sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. We know that we are called to take this risk: we know that we will not be comfortable, we might be afraid, we know that our risk might seem like failure, and we know that success in God’s kingdom is nowhere near the same as the worlds.
While we here at LCM, may not risk our physical lives to proclaim the gospel, we are living in a time not unlike the early church. The culture and society around us is suspect of Christianity and Christians. We believe crazy stuff like unconditional love from God, resurrection from the dead and eternal life, forgiveness for all, the primacy of community and living one’s life for their neighbor, and caring for those whom society neglects. Living out our core identity as followers of Jesus Christ, makes us different than the rest of the world. It means decentering our personal preferences, it means we gather with other to read and wrestle with ancient texts that still speak truths, we serve and care for those in need daily, we truly believe that continuing the ministry that Jesus began of revealing God’s love to the world makes a difference. Following Jesus means risking not being popular, risking not being comfortable, risking not worrying about ourselves, risking being part of a community that will change us, risking that we will no longer be who we were before we began the journey. But in that risk is the deep joy of being who God created us to be. It turns out that living from a place of deep joy in the life of God with the people of God is the definition of success the world needs to hear.
God has trusted us with much in God’s kingdom. God calls us to be faithfully risky with the treasure of God’s unconditional love, grace and God’s vision of success for the world. We are called to be faithful-not perfect. We are free to do whatever is necessary: love with great risk, share generously with great risk, offer peace with great risk, connect to the neighborhood with great risk, or whatever God calls us into participation with her. It will transform us, not leave us the same, move us beyond ourselves and our own preferences, deepen our faith yet fill us with joy. Thanks be to God.