[Read Matthew 25:14-30.]
Adventure, Risk and Creativity
This past week, Jordan Romero became the youngest person to climb Mount Everest. The 13-year-old eighth grader called his mom on a satellite phone from over 29,000 feet high. Theres a lot of praise for this young mans achievement. But it seems to be the curse of our age that his accomplishment and adventure has to be criticized. There is controversy surrounding Jordans climb. Those who say its too risky. Some claim a 13-year-old lacks the physical and emotional maturity. Scientists and physicians say that an adolescent may be more prone to altitude sickness. Others say that it is irresponsible to take youngsters out of a safe environment to the deadly extremes of high altitude.
So why did Romero make the climb? In his own words, written in his journal just before climbing the summit ... I am happy to be doing something big, if I wasnt sitting here at base camp, I could be sitting in the classroom learning about dangling participles.
All of us want to be part of something big. Maybe thats why so many of us are unfulfilled in our jobs because they offer no adventure. Theres no risk. Its just a job. In fact, risk is discouraged. We want safety and security. Doing nothing more than earning a paycheck playing it safe leads to a loss of spirit.
Knowing that, it seems odd to me that we try to make the work of the kingdom and the nature of the church more like business and politics of the world. We fill the church with committees and programs and pay more heed to policy than the living word of a living God. When did we suppose that models of business (that are failing all around us) fit the kingdom of heaven?
When did we accept the notion that church is all about safety and security. There has been a loss in the vibrancy of the church because weve made our mission one in which we have a product to sell. We offer risk-free security and fire insurance. A safety net for eternity. But can we invite people into something big? Can we invite others into the adventure of God? Do we go there ourselves?
John Eldridge diagnoses the problem well in his book, Wild at Heart: He says that Christian men are bored and Christian women are tired. At a mens retreat, a middle aged man told him that he had worked so hard to be the kind of nice guy the church wanted him to be. As a result he became dutiful but separated from his heart. He had learned to be careful and play it safe. Women have been pressured to be good servants. Very responsible, but without any adventure to be swept up into.
We hide our talents for good reason. We are afraid that the church is going to wear us out.
Can you blame this one-talent fellow for not taking a risk? I dare say we would applaud him for being prudent and cautious. He is a belt and suspenders kind of guy. And he may have thought long and hard about putting the talent on loan with the moneylenders. He may have gotten plenty of advice from those who have done so.
I dont see why this last servant is so reviled. He is prudent, safe and cautious. He is adverse to risk and can hardly be criticized. Well, hes never done enough to earn criticism. Isnt he the sort of safe and pleasant fellow we seek out?
But by the standards of the master, the servant is lazy. He is paralyzed by his negative view of the master, by his worry and his fear of failure. As a result he fails in the trust that the master gave him.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees and the teachers of the law for locking up the kingdom of heaven. They kept people out of it. They wouldnt even enter into it themselves. They had turned Gods ways into a museum. Look, but do not touch. I am afraid that weve made the church into a locked-up museum. One that you cannot go into. Our job is to curate it and keep it pristine. But the problem with that view is that if we are not really part of the church just as the Pharisees were never really part of the kingdom.
Christ invites us into a grand adventure. It isnt safe. It is risky. It is costly. It is not without pain, but it is full of promise. There is treasure and there is reward, but dont think for a moment that it is risk-free.
You have talents. God has gifted you in some way. It may be a heart full of love. It may be a mind full of wisdom. It may be a strong back or a tender touch. Woe to us when we catalog and discount talents. The amount or value of the talent is not the issue at all we have said that, but weve never practiced it. We have made the up-front gifts the most important. We have made the gifts of mind and head knowledge more important than anything else. Lets just stop that today.
The issue is, have you buried your talent? The call today is not for you to get involved in a program or stay busy. It is not even to attend church as if sitting in this building makes you holy. We do not attend church we are church. We do not even attend worship we worship ... always. Sometimes by kneeling, sometimes by singing, and sometimes by serving. The call today is for you to put your talent the one God gave you into circulation. Put it to work so that God will get some sort of return for His investment. And your faithfulness (not simply the rate of earning) will allow you to share in your Masters happiness.
So far from teaching any prudential wisdom or utilitarian morality, this parable sounds the call to a more heroic adventure than any which the Christian church on earth has ever led the main body of its members to attempt. It is the very condemnation of a merely cautious defensive policy which finds its chief aim in survival and security. Oliver Quick [Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 1916]
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