SUNDAY NOVEMBER 16, 2008
14For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.' 21His 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.' 22And 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.' 23His 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.' 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
How much risk are we willing to take?
Perhaps not much. At least anymore. At least not with one’s finances. In the tech stock bubble of the 1990’s Wall Street gambled, made a bundle, then coughed up huge loses. In this decade it is the banks that bundled mortgage loans including risky loans as investment instruments that they then sold to eager investors in order make even more profit. Unregulated, this house of cards continues to collapse before our very eyes on the front pages of news papers and on the television news and internet. The tremors are being felt every where, not just in the finances markets, and affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. I just looked at my retirement statement. When your own statement finds it way to your mailbox, the envelope ought to have a warning label on it: “Those with weak hearts or weak stomachs should not open this envelope under any circumstances!” Seeing the value of your retirement portfolio shrink by ten percent or more may cause even the most steely investors to give pause, even if you have enough years ahead to make it up. We know that historically the market even out over time. Such knowledge brings little comfort with unemployment rising, defaults on loans and foreclosures reaching heights not seen in most of our lifetimes.
How much risk are we willing to take?
Not much, likely.
Large forces in our economy have gambled and all of us have lost to some degree.
Risk has become a four-letter word. Safe, reasonable, solid, dependable, predictable – these are words for the life that we long for.
Of course, risk, and especially great risk is not the invention of the early 21st century or late 20th century or America in its entire history. Risk had been around since the first caveman woke up one day and left his cave, picked up a pointed stick, and decided for kicks that he would chase down a saber tooth tiger and attempt to poke it really hard.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the question of risk is at the heart of our gospel today and we should take notice of that fact because while all risk is “risky” by definition, we learn that not all risk is bad, especially when it comes to our faith.
We read of a man who was going on a journey. He took some of his money and entrusted it to three of his servants. To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and for the third, just one,. Each according to their ability. Now a talent by some estimations was the equivalent of 15 year’s wages for the average working person – so we are talking about some serious working capital here. After a long time , the man comes back and wants to know how each of them has done with that working capital – for it was entrusted with some expectation. Now, the one who had been entrusted with five talents had made another five; the one who had been entrusted with three talents had also doubled the money and both of them earn the blessings: Well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your master!
But the focus is on the third. The one trusted, according to his ability, with one talent, though still a sizable sum. 15 years’ wages is still 15 years’ wages. We see that he would not take a risk. Perhaps he was afraid, like he said. Or Perhaps he is lazy and a liar. In either case he has hidden his talent in the ground where it sat throughout the years for curious earthworms to gawk at while time passed. Perhaps the servant was hoping that the master would never return or just forget about the sum. We’ll never know. The earning potential on that talent, on that still enormous sum, had been completely wasted. And what does that servant earn for his trouble – punishment and condemnation.
We might be inclined to sympathize with this third servant. After all, it is not like he lost any of it. He could have taken risk and lost and had nothing to show for it. Like those who were hoodwinked by Enron. When I was in the navy we had a saying about those marines who loved to parachute - “Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Those who did loved the rush, the thrill, the risk. A lot more people would rather keep their seatbelts on, thank you very much. The third servant was one of these people. No risk. None at all. He played it safe, burying the talent, we might imagine, where no one would find it. So, what was wrong with that? He broke even, didn’t he. Why the condemnation? Perhaps he knew his own limitations. Perhaps he wasn’t a wizard when it came to investing. So why the suffering punishment?
We see, however, that the parable anticipates every argument that we can throw at it for the sake of this third servant. The owner tells the third servant: “Then you ought to have invested my money with bankers and when I would have returned I would have received what was mine with interest.” Not much risk in opening a savings account is there? True this was before the days of the FDIC, but still, not much risk there, some, but not much. The servant could have chosen this much lower risk and had something to show for it, but no. Instead he tells the owner that the owner isn’t a nice person and engages in illegal business practices. You see, it is the owner’s fault, not the servant’s. How typical, to place blame on someone else. To lie, To make up stories all so that one does not have to accept responsibility for their own actions or refusal to act.
So, how much risk are we willing to take?
Jesus is not concerned with how we diversify our investment portfolios here or apportion our annuities or allocate the funds in our 401K’s to ensure the maximum Return on Investment, is he?
Rather, I think, Jesus reminds us that God has entrusted all of us with a gift. Now, most folks that I know absolutely love receiving gifts. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, heck, we don’t complain much when those card stores invent new holidays just so we can receive more gifts. It might be better to give than receive, but receiving, that feels pretty good most of the time. So, all of us get a gift in our Baptism from God through Christ delivered by the Holy Spirit. Not a Bible or a cross necklace or a card or a savings bond or a photo frame, but something much more precious.
Lutheran writer Kelly Fryer says, at our Baptism, we get a job. God gives us a job - The job of proclaiming the in-breaking Kingdom of God to a world that needs what we have to give them. All of us have this job. Every single one of us. And there is no retirement only death, and God has already taken care of that for us through his Son. So no worries there.
At our Baptism we get a job. And God has give us the gifts necessary to perform that job for the sake of the world. We just have to be willing to take the risk to use what God has gifted us. Each according to our own abilities.
To be cowards or Christians. To be blessed or condemned.
The parable is harsh in its judgments. No shades of grey. No middle ground.
To take a risk for the sake of the Gospel to serve the Gospel. To proclaim the Gospel. To embody the Gospel. To live the Gospel. To use our gift boldly. To declare to others the wonderful glorious gift of grace. To declare Christ crucified and risen.
Risky business, indeed.
At baptism we get a job. God gives us gifts to perform that job boldly and well.
The question is: Are we willing to take the risk to open our eyes to those gifts? Are we willing to put those gifts to work?
One picture that will forever be warmly remembered happened a few years ago – we were visiting the Lippmann Shelter for Youth on a Saturday with a group of folks from Trinity. We brought food for lunch and tools to dress up their yard, and we brought Bill Nichols with us along with his potter’s wheel and a bunch a clay. We set up his wheel on a table in their dining room and plugged it in. Around the room skeptical teenagers watched, some looking bored, others curious. He was this man, certainly as old as their grandfathers, doing something that he had done nearly all his life: Taking a lump of clay and fashioning something beautiful from it. These kids, they were there because they had run away or because the court ordered them there or because they had nowhere else to turn. Their reasons were their own. But one by one these streetwise teens were drawn to Bill and the clay and took their turns with joy shaping something beautiful. At his baptism, Bill got a job and a gift and into his 80’s he hadn’t forgotten. His talent was still working for the sake of the Kingdom.
At our Baptism we get a job. And God has given us the gifts necessary to perform that job for the sake of the world. We just have to be willing to take the risk to use what God has gifted us. Are we ready to take such great risks for God? Will we take such great risks for the sake of the world?