Sunday, November 16, 2014

Taking a Risk with God

Our readings from this time of year want us to be thinking about the end times, about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ.  This gospel is no different. While we usually think about this gospel in terms of not wasting our God-given talents and using them for good, the real purpose of Jesus's parable is revealed in the line "Come, share your master's joy." Jesus wants us to understand that he's talking about heaven and hell. Another way of translating that phrase would be "Enter into the joy of your master." And the Greek word for joy, "xara," or the Latin word, "gaudium," don't imply just happiness, "come be happy with your master," but they point to a joy that originates from the deepest level of the heart. So clearly this isn't a normal  master-servant relationship. Since this is a strange way to be talking, there's something we should be picking up on.

If Jesus isn't describing this master like a normal rich man, then we're not meant to understand him that way. If Jesus is describing this master so strangely, so compassionately, then we're meant to understand this master as an analogy for God our Father.  It's worth noting that biblical scholars don't actually know how much money a talent was, but they agree it was a huge sum of money. One scholar I read suggested it was about a year's worth of wages. So, one talent is a lot of money, but two or five? That's an incredible amount of money, so then for this master to just be handing it out to his servants while he's away is something else. This master is crazy generous, even unreasonably generous, but he's also demanding, harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter. This master is not a pushover.

So we need to talk about risk in the Christian life, because this master, our God and Father, is apparently one for risks. In this parable, there was a risk when he gave his servants this money while he was away. And I don't think he was ignorant about his good or lazy servants. If he was ignorant of their personalities he would have given them all the same amount. He knew what he was doing, and he knew that his risk may not pay off. Yet he passed this money out anyway.

Throughout Jesus' parables, we see people acting unreasonably and being kinder than they should. In the parable of the sower,  the sower took a risk by throwing his seed among rocks and weeds and hard ground. The man who left the 99 sheep to look for the one took a huge risk by leaving the 99 alone for the sake of the one. And the father of the prodigal son risked never seeing his son again when he gave his son the inheritance and letting him leave. But instead he got back a son who learned the depth of his father's love.

Love naturally takes risks, love can't help but go out on a limb. Every man who has ever gotten down on one knee to propose to the one he loves understands the risks that love causes you to take. And God our Father is no different. Throughout his parables, Jesus tried to explain to us what the Father was willing to risk to win us back. But then through his own Passion and Death, Jesus proved exactly what the Father was willing to risk. Our Father was willing to allow his only Son to destroy death, to be beaten, crucified, and killed, and to be raised again, so that maybe, just maybe, you might accept his invitation to eternal life. There has been no greater gamble in all the world.

How do we respond to this risk, this gamble, this invitation? We have to try to respond in kind, even though we can never adequately respond to this gift of love the Father has given us. God has taken huge risks in loving us and so in order to love him in return we have to ask where he is calling us to take some risks. Because if we return to our parable, then we can see that there were risks on both sides. The master took risks in passing out these talents, but then two of the three servants took risks too in the way they invested them. One didn't. One servant played it safe, buried the talent out of fear, and sheepishly tried to give it back with a pitiful excuse about how demanding the master was. For that, the master called him wicked and lazy, and had him cast into the darkness outside, all because he let his fear get the better of him and wouldn't take a risk.

But the two who did risk, the two who were able to give the master a return on his generosity, they received that incredible reward. They received that generous offer of the master to "come, share your master's joy." That's what happens when we take risks in our relationship with God, when we move beyond the realm of what is safe and what is comfortable and move into the realm of the unknown and the uncomfortable.

I can guarantee that God is inviting each and every one of you to take some risks with him. Now, the way God wants each of us to take risks with him will be sort of the same for each of us, but it'll also be sort of different. It'll be sort of the same because the fundamental risk that God wants us to take is to love him more. That's it. Just step out on that limb and love him, trust him, a little bit more today than you did yesterday.

So that's the "common risk," if you will. Love God more. That's how God wants all of us to risk and make ourselves vulnerable to him in the same way. But then, the repercussions of this love will be different for each of us. So for you specifically, what sort of risks is God asking you to take with him? Where is he calling you to give up some of your own control and put things into his hands? If you do step up and ask the Lord where he wants you to risk more in your relationship with him, the answer won't be what you think, it won't be what you expect, and it certainly won't be what you want. Maybe he's asking you to tithe more. Maybe he wants you to speak his name more boldly to this culture, perhaps at work or at school. Maybe he's inviting you back to Confession. Maybe there's a situation in your life he wants you to stop worrying about and hand over to him. I can only make suggestions, whatever particular risk Jesus wants you to take with him will be very personal.

But here's the thing about taking risks with God. It only feels like a risk from our perspective, but in reality, God always has your back. There is no surer bet in the world than to bet on God, to surrender your control and let him have it. God will never let you down. If you move from where you're at today and move into a deeper relationship with him, he will support you all the way. So ask God that question, ask him where he wants you to risk a little bit more in your relationship with him. Ask him, and then don't be afraid of the answer, and know that he's got your back the whole way.

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