In the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
In yesterday’s RenewalWorks group meeting, we were talking about the Bible, and how much – or how little – the congregation of St. Barnabas knows about it. At the risk of getting a little bit ahead of the RenewalWorks project, I will share with you that one of the things that we discovered in our survey is that the majority of the people in the pews every week do not believe that they know very much about the Bible. While on some level I believe that that finding is accurate, I also told the group that I believe that this congregation knows much more Bible than you think that you do.
Please believe me when I say that I am not going to call on anyone nor will I put anyone on the spot at all. But please raise your hand if you have heard the Parable of the Talents (that we just read, from Matthew’s Gospel) before. Now of all of you who raised your hand, raise it again if you feel like you have heard this parable more than once. Now, do you see what I mean? People are saying that they are familiar with this parable. Familiarity means that you “know” this part of the Bible, on some level.
Okay, pop quiz, part 2. How many of you have heard this parable preached on in the context of an annual stewardship campaign? Right! Everyone who feels pretty familiar with this story has doubtless heard a sermon tying it to how we give our time, treasure, and talents, to God, by giving them to God’s Church to use. So let me say right now, this parable can reasonably and accurately be read to say, “If you do not step out in faith and use all that you have – time, treasure, and talents – for the good of the Kingdom of God, then you are acting like the third servant. And your fear will not stand you in good stead with the God who gave you everything that you have.” That is a solid stewardship message, and one that we at St. Barnabas can stand to hear right now.
Keep that message in the back of your mind – because I want to talk to you about something a little different than that. I want to talk with you about the importance of risking everything as you seek to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus told this parable to the Disciples, it was near the end of a long “Farewell Discourse” or going away speech. Jesus was moving ever closer to his date with crucifixion, and he was making sure that the Disciples had all of the knowledge that they needed, before He left them to carry on His work. From the 23rd Chapter of Matthew, through today’s reading and beyond, Jesus was preparing them for events of the future, particularly His return to the earth, on the last day.
So when He told them this parable, He was obviously telling them something about being prepared for His return, and how they should use their talents wisely as they wait for Him. But Jesus was also passing along a broader message: you cannot thrive and grow as a Christian, if you are not willing to take risks. He was telling the Disciples – and us – that risk is key to growing and moving forward; that being willing to lose everything, was the only way to grow in Christ.
Here now is a different parable about being willing to lose it all in the Kingdom of God.
A long time ago, a monk set out on his travels accompanied by his assistant, a Brother. Night was falling when the monk told the Brother to go on ahead to find lodging. The Brother searched the deserted landscape until he found a humble shack in the middle of nowhere.
A poor family lived in the shack. The mother, father, and children were dressed in rags. The Brother asked if he and the monk could spend the night in their dwelling.
“You are most welcome to spend the night,” said the father of the family. They prepared a simple meal consisting of fresh milk, cheese, and cream for the Brother and the monk. The Brother felt moved by their poverty and even more by their simple generosity.
After they had finished eating, the monk asked them how they managed to survive in such a poor place.
In a resigned voice, he told them, “We have one cow. We sell her milk to our neighbors who do not live too far away. We hold back enough for our needs and to make some cheese and cream—that is primarily what we eat.”
The next morning, the Brother and the monk said their good-byes and set out to continue their journey. After they had walked a few miles, the monk turned to the Brother and said, “Go back and push the family’s cow off the cliff!”
“Father,” the Brother replied, “they live off the cow. Without her, they have nothing.” The monk repeated his order: “Go back and kill the cow.”
With a heavy heart, the Brother returned to the shack. He worried about the future of the family because he knew they depended on their cow to survive. Yet his vow of obedience bound him to follow the orders of the wise monk. So he pushed the cow off the cliff.
Years later, the young Brother became a monk. One day he found himself on the same road where he had been given lodging so many years earlier. Driven by a sense of remorse, he decided to visit the family. He rounded the curve in the road and, to his surprise, came upon a splendid mansion, surrounded by landscaped gardens, in the place where their shack used to stand. The new house exuded a sense of prosperity and happiness. The monk knocked on the door.
A well-dressed man answered. The monk, not recognizing him, asked, “What ever became of the family who used to live here? Did they sell the property to you?”
The man said he and his family had always lived on the property. The monk told him how he had stayed in a humble dwelling on the same spot, along with his master, the old monk. “What happened?” he asked.
The man invited the monk to stay with him as his guest. While they ate, the host explained how the family’s fortune changed. “You know, Father, we used to have a cow. She kept us alive. We didn’t own anything else. One day she fell down over the cliff and died. To survive, we had to start doing other things, and develop skills we did not even know we had. We were forced to come up with new ways of doing things. It was the best thing that ever happened to us! We are now much better off than before.”
If we risk everything that we have, in pursuit of the Kingdom of God on earth, we have no idea what the God of all abundance will do with it. If we have complete trust in the Jesus, who risked His very life for the abundance of the Kingdom, we too can see that trusting and risking it all is the way to God’s abundance, both now and for eternity.
I read this week: “Michelangelo (1475–1564) once said, ‘The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high, and we miss it; but that it is too low, and we reach it.’ Whatever we do, we are to make it an offering to God. In the end, that is the only thing that matters, regardless of personal consequences. It is in this way that we may truly enter into the joy of our master.”
We have a great financial challenge facing our congregation this year. If we, as a congregation, have faith enough in God to risk it all — to be fearless in the face of loss — then we can be free to find new ways of doing things, and we can potentially reap blessings beyond measure as the Kingdom of God comes near.
Risk it ALL as we work together to overcome adversity and to grow into faithful and dedicated Disciples of the One who never hesitated to risk all that He had. Amen.