Sermons

"The Greatest Risk of All": Sermon for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

"The Greatest Risk of All": Sermon for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Nov 19, 2017

Passage:Matthew 25:14-30

Preacher: The Rev. Mildred Rugger

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Discipleship, Kingdom of God, Judgment

Keywords: fear, joy, ministry, parable, risk

Summary:

In his final lecture series before his crucifixion, Jesus tells a parable about judgment. God's judgment is good news because it leads us out of fear into love and encourages us to support one another as we risk for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Detail:

In the name of God, who is Love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

        Mysterious . . . dreamlike . . . poetic . . . vivid . . . arresting . . . strange. Like all parables, today's reading from the Gospel According to Matthew is a story based on the common life of Jesus' day, yet it's anything but common. Something about it keeps capturing our attention, demanding that we ponder anew how it relates to the lives of the original listeners and to our own lives and to the Kingdom of Heaven.1

        This parable is part of the last lecture series Jesus gives before heading to his crucifixion. And what is the topic? Get ready for it! Our good news for today is—ta-da—judgment!! Seriously? Judgment is good news?!!? Well, yes. It can be. Now, human judgment is often bad news. The human tendency is to judge people negatively because they're different or to judge people as though they can be summed up by their worst attitudes and actions. The human tendency is to forget that each person is created in God's image and loved by God. So, Jesus has been clear with his disciples: “Do not judge.”2

        But God's judgment is good news. Not everything belongs in the Kingdom of Heaven. Some attitudes and actions are destructive. They lead to nothing but despair and broken relationships. They lead away from hope and loving relationships. God's judgment, on the other hand, leads us away from despair and brokenness, toward hope and love.

        Let's ponder this parable to try to understand something about God's judgment and the Kingdom of Heaven that God wants us to be a part of now and more fully in the future.

        To go back to the earlier description, what is arresting and strange about this parable? Well, for one thing, the wealthy master seems pretty out-of-the-ordinary to me. He entrusts a lot of money to his slaves. The one who receives only one talent is getting the equivalent of what a day laborer could earn in fifteen years.3 Wow! Another gets double that amount, and another five times. Then, the master leaves and lets them do as they please with this huge amount of money. When he gets back, he commends two of the slaves and rewards them quite lavishly. He lets them keep all the money and invites them to “enter into . . . joy.”4

        The action of those first two slaves is also pretty arresting and strange. They must have had their own little investment club. They double the master's money. They don't do that with something tame like a savings account or a money market account. No, they must be into some sort of high-risk investment like venture capital. They could have lost it all! So, why does the master commend them? It doesn't seem to be because of how much money they earned for him. The reward is the same for both amounts of money. And they get to keep the money. It seems like they're being rewarded for taking a risk.5 Hmmm!

        Up to this point, the master comes across as a man who is all about opportunity and joy. Then we take a look at the most arresting and strange character of the parable. The slave who was given one talent. What does he think of the one who entrusts him with such a large sum of money? What does he think of this generous, joyful master? He finds his master harsh. Why? Because he is afraid. And he stays alone in his fear. We're told in First John that “love casts out fear.”6 Perhaps it's also true that fear can cast out love.

        Finally, here comes the vivid part of this mysterious, dreamlike, poetic parable. The fearful slave risks nothing; he buries the master's money to be sure he does not lose any of it. Then he gets exactly what his fear tells him he'll get.7 He's thrown into “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” His fear leads to despair and the loss of a relationship that could have been loving and life-giving.

        So, what is the point of this vivid, poetic story that Jesus tells his disciples just before he risks his life? What is the point for us today? As one commentator put it, “The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything, not to care profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently. The outcome of playing it safe is something akin to death, like being banished to the outer darkness.”8

        So, God's judgment here is about attitudes and actions. Playing it safe doesn't belong in the Kingdom of Heaven. Risk-taking is rewarded in the Kingdom of Heaven. If we're willing to learn from God's judgment, we have some questions to ponder: How are we trying to play it safe to keep from caring profoundly? How could we give our hearts away if it weren't for our fear? How would we invest deeply if we learned to trust our loving God more?

        Our risk-taking investment might take place at work, among our family and friends, as a volunteer in one of many worthwhile organizations, at St. Andrew's, or in a far-away endeavor. Two recent examples of risk-taking come to mind. I offer them as examples only, realizing there is a world of possibilities.

        First, the new ministry of CommunityCompany that Deacon Dede is organizing. What a wonderful opportunity for people to give their hearts to those in need within our Church family! But it's a risk to show up to the meetings without knowing exactly what this ministry will end up looking like. It's also a risk to consider new ways of using gifts, outside of normal comfort zones. Some people have already taken those risks. Would you consider taking those risks? You wouldn’t be alone. Would you explore the possibilities with Dede and the others? You could help find ways to expand life for those who are feeling shut in by their circumstances. If this is your ministry, you would find your life expanding joyfully, too.

        The second example is the mission trip of Alecia Litchfield to Guatemala this past summer. She explained about her trip in a class this fall and has given me permission to share a little information today. Alecia uses her skills as a nurse practitioner to help others. It makes sense that a friend approached her about joining a medical mission to villages in Guatemala. But she was understandably afraid. A trip like that was bound to be risky. And it did, indeed, turn out to be difficult, both physically and spiritually. You should ask her some time how she learned to trust God, took the risk, found strength in the team, and found great reward and joy in that ministry.

        How will you risk for the Kingdom of Heaven? You can risk because you’re on a good team and we can trust our generous, joyful, loving God. Amen.

 

Notes

1  William Brosend. Conversations with Scripture: The Parables. 2006, Morehouse. pp. 1-16.

2  Matthew 7:1

3  Lindsay P. Armstrong. “Matthew 25:14-30: Homiletical Perspective” pp. 309, 311 in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4. 2011, Westminster John Knox Press.

4  Mark Douglas. “Matthew 25:14-30: Theological Perspective” pp. 312 in Feasting on the Word.

5  John M. Buchanan. “Matthew 25:14-30: Pastoral Perspective” pp. 310 in Feasting on the Word.

6  I John 4:18

7  Mark Douglas. “Matthew 25:14-30: Theological Perspective” pp. 312 in Feasting on the Word.

8  John M. Buchanan. “Matthew 25:14-30: Pastoral Perspective” excerpts from pp. 310, 312 in Feasting on the Word.