Friday, November 17, 2017

Taking the Risk of Discipleship: Reflections on Matthew 25.14-30 (RCL Proper 33A --- 19 November 2017)

Taking the Risk of Discipleship
Reflections on Matthew 25.14-30

RCL Proper 33A
19 November 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Matthew 25.14-30

            25.14 [Jesus said,] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.  Then he went away.  16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.  17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.  18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.  20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’  21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’  23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.’  26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave!  You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.  29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

         At least once a year I meet with my financial advisor to review my registered retirement savings plan.  And every year he goes through the same exercise with me, an exercise that I am sure that any of you who have investments that are managed by an advisor expects you to undertake as well.  ‘Imagine you had $10,000 to invest,’ my advisor asks, ‘and you were going to need to use those funds in five years, would you be willing to invest in a high-risk fund or a medium-risk fund or a low-risk fund or a tax-free savings account?’  He usually asks me a few more questions to determine how much risk I am willing to take.

         My answers to his questions are determined by a number of important factors.  The first factor is my vision of the future and how I see myself in five years or ten years or more.  The second factor is my level of trust in my advisor and his ability to chart a course that will help me achieve, to a greater or lesser extent, my vision of the future.  The third factor is my assessment of myself and my resources.  How much can I set aside?  What am I willing to give up in order to invest in the future that I envision and that my advisor seeks to help me achieve?

         There are many ways to read today’s parable of the man going on a journey, his three slaves and their stewardship of the funds he places into their hands.  But today I want to look at this parable through the lens I call ‘the risk of discipleship’.  Each of the three slaves approaches the opportunity provided to them by their master with a vision of what the future can be.  Each of the three slaves trusts their master to be the kind of man they have known him to be.  Each of the three slaves assess themselves and their resources.  What makes one slave different from his two colleagues is his willingness to take a risk.

         We might start by defining what the word ‘risk’ means.  The on-line edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘risk’ as:

1:  possibility of loss or injury; peril;
2:  someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard;
3a:  the chance of loss or the perils to the subject matter of an insurance contract; also:  the degree of probability of such loss;
3b:  a person or thing that is a specified hazard to an insurer;
3c:  an insurance hazard from a specified cause or source --- war risk; 
4:  the chance that an investment (such as a stock or commodity will lose value. [1]

What this dictionary or any other dictionary can define is the reason that any person takes a risk.  But I think we all know why we take risks:  We take risks because we think that the potential outcome of taking a risk enables us to achieve some deeper purpose that gives or expresses our most deeply held beliefs, values and hopes.

         Being a disciple of Jesus means a willingness to take risks in order that the good news of God in Jesus can be made known in our neighbourhoods, in our families and in ourselves.  Each time we gather for worship we proclaim in word, prayer and sacrament the vision of the future that enables us to live and breathe and have our being.  We long for God’s promised reign of justice and peace for all creation and we rejoice in the occasional glimpses of that reign we catch in our own lives and in the lives of men, women and children far and near.

         We believe that this reign has come and will come in its fullness because we trust in God and, more closely, we trust in our ‘advisors’.  Those advisors include the people of faith whose stories, reflections, hopes and visions are recorded in the Hebrew and apostolic scriptures.  Those advisors are the generations of Christian believers upon whose faithfulness and labours gave us spiritual, intellectual, fiscal and physical resources that enable our ministry within the mission of God.  Those advisors are the friends and family who join us Sunday after Sunday in worship and week by week in the many expressions of service, evangelism and pastoral care.

         We also trust in ourselves.  Each one of us has been given gifts by God for the work of ministry and for the building up of the community of faith.  And if we are wise, then we will remember that no one has all the gifts and that we need one another in order to do the work God has given us to do.  And if we are wise, then we will also be honest about who we are and what are able to and be willing to cast our nets widely to find those who might help us in this great work begun by God in creation, renewed by Jesus in his life and ministry, empowered by the Spirit in our time and space.

         In some ways this is what stewardship is --- envisioning a future, seeking wisdom, assessing resources and then --- taking the risk to do what Mother Teresa called ‘something beautiful for God’.  We cannot always determine the outcome.  The slave who took his five talents and the slave who took his two talents and went into trade had no guarantee of success.  They knew their master as well as the slave who decided to take no risk.  But they took the risk because they could foresee a better future than their present.

         I have no illusions about the society in which you and I live as disciples of Jesus.  Our society is so very like the world of the first Christians.  We are tolerated by governments, respected by some segments of the population and mistrusted by other segments.  At one time the percentage of the population with no religious affiliation was small; now it is a growing minority if not a majority in some communities.  But like those first Christians our primary ministry is the proclamation of the good news in word and example.  Why?  Because the world needs to hear and see the gospel. 

         Our witness to the gospel is not risk-free.  We do not have the option of concealing the gospel within the walls of our buildings or within the shelter of familiar patterns of belonging.  As our neighbourhood changes, so must our communication with our neighbours about who we are and what we are about.  As people who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ draw near to us, so must we gather them into communities of worship that transform and send all of us out as followers of Jesus the Way.

         I can tell you this:  we can take the risk of discipleship because we have nothing to lose.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this:  when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” [2]  And he will ask us, ‘Was it worth the risk?’  And we shall say, ‘Yes, Lord.  It was worth the risk.’

1 comment:

Legacy Coach said...

Thank you Richard - for, a new interpretation of this Gospel passage. You are right ; there is risk in telling the Good News; indeed, there is risk in acting for all the Marks of Mission but any Disciple of Christ must do so.