Saturday, November 12, 2011

Playing it Safe Isn't the Answer

There are so many things going on in the life of the parish and in our world. It is our Harvest Home Sunday. People will bring and have been bringing pantry items. I am delighted they share. I am fascinated that most of what is offered is generic not branded items yet I know that in our homes we buy something better for ourselves. Yet how do we make ends meet?
I will also have my first baptism as a pastor :)
And certainly both the global economic news and the local news about what happens when people play it safe rather than risk their world is on minds with the events at Penn State and the Second Mile program which has had an event in Reading. So, quite a stew pot of items this week.

My grandmother lived through The Great Depression. So she saved everything and hid money in places like the freezer, and the underwear drawer. She was playing it safe. We think we found it all after she died, but if it was in the garden, it’s probably still there. I used to think it was ridiculous to squirrel away money like that, but as economies around the world teeter on the brink, it’s tempting. Actually, in Jesus’ day, digging a hole in the ground and hiding money was the safe and virtuous thing to do. It was the one way you could protect money entrusted to you. Bury it for another day because banks were unreliable. Conventional wisdom said “Play It Safe.” The man given one talent was doing just that. After all, he’d been given money worth fifteen years of a working man’s wages. A modern equivalent of $450,000-$500,000. Lots of money. But the servant given 5 talents was given more than a lifetime. He got a legacy. To risk such a thing was all but insane. What could be so sure that you’d risk like that? “Play it safe.” Conventional wisdom offered a pretty good survival strategy. The one-talent servant’s description of his master was also conventional wisdom.  Rich landowners of Galilee were generally corrupt. They took what wasn’t theirs and took advantage of the market. Everybody in Jesus' audiences would have gotten that this. What if how the other servants acted isn’t the point? What if WHY they acted matters? They acted like the Master. They were sure they could fly in the face of conventional wisdom because of what they believed about the Master. Then the expectation of the guy who played it safe wasn’t justified. It was about more than just holding on to it all. You’d have to really be sure to risk. But they trusted their Master more than other voices.

And here we are. In a shaky economy, wondering how long we can hold on unless we hold on tight. We want to give and share but our world jostles us back and forth between “invest in the market” and calls to live cautiously in the safety of established patterns. Both ways feel unfulfilling. We haven’t found a formula for success, and we hope at least for a formula for avoiding failure. This is a pretty dim view about money and our world. So we think we need to play it safe and protect the legacy for another day in case. What do WE make of the shocking reversal in the story where the master enacts that dim view and casts the poor guy into the outer darkness? Is this level of anger and animosity what playing it safe deserves? Is this what will happen to us? Rather than making it literal , let’s see this lesson as a teaching tool designed to shock. So we grasp that in the kingdom of God, God doesn’t play by the world’s rule book.  
This is a story to reveal God and to challenge how we see God. This imagery is used first to show the feeling God has when we view God like we view the men and women of our world. Remember that in the story the servant tells the master how he thinks the master acts. The response from the master is- you REALLY think that’s me? WHY the servant acted matters. It’s a question of attitude. Do we really think that God will be that way?  What IF God lived up to our expectations? It’s easy to forget- the nature of God is different. Yet when we play it safe, we turn in on ourselves and away from God and others. And people suffer. This is not the joy and the life God intends. When security becomes the overwhelming consideration, this is living death. (Randy Read).
Focusing on playing it safe actually creates a world of utmost insecurity. (Dag Hammerskjold). We don’t find growth or joy.  Instead we create what we hope to avoid. Lack of trust in God and failing to invest in this relationship and God’s gifts, can lead to loss. All we need to do is read the news to see. Those who cling to only their own devices, or who try hide and protect their world, find that they create a world where even what they have will be taken away. The real place of outer darkness is being buried in loneliness, isolation, and regret. This is true not only with money but with the ways we choose to act on behalf of others- the poor, the immigrant, the victims, the outcast.

The goal is not be found holding onto what is given but risking it for the sake of the Kingdom.  The challenge for us day in and day out is to avoid becoming cynical, expecting nothing more from God than we do the chairman of Bank of America or anyone else in power who fails us. We struggle to be confident about God and all that life and abundance. But we shouldn’t let our attitudes about our world color our understanding of God. Instead we are encouraged to respond to God’s kingdom by trusting God is ushering in something different. Because we believe our Master is different. While we wait for the full story, it’s hard to hold onto that in the face of the world where news of scarcity and fear is abundant. Let US again this day be taught:
We receive a lifetime of wealth that starts in our baptism, and the gifting of the Spirit. It’s a moment we celebrate this day. God invites us to enter into the life, light and joy. We receive the blessing of spiritual gifts- love, forgiveness, faith, hope, trust, and compassion. We’re reminded that our fortunes are reversed. So we can risk the ultimate reversal of behavior-throwing it all in- what the other two servants do. “Throw it all in” is God’s call to us to live out our identity. God wants to call all God’s children to life and light and joy. To abandon conventional wisdom in response to God’s faithful providing. To open ourselves to embracing a lifetime of loving God and God’s world with abandon. Daring to share. Believing we will be even more abundantly and unexpectedly blessed. Placing our faith in something and someone more than ourselves. Risking it all, because of who we trust that God is: The One who has faithfully provided a legacy and continues to provide.  Come and enter the kingdom, invest it all for this vision. Jesus calls: Come and enter God’s joy!


Anonymous said...

I believe many people, believers in society today DO let current events and circumstances color their view of God. Cynicism too often creeps in to even those believers attempting to hold it together.

Oh and as for the food comment you made; I would like to respectfully disagree. I commend the point you are making about having better things for ourselves, but I would like to say that my family and I currently purchase generic items frequently. We do not make enough money to spend dollars (sometimes just cents) more on name brand things. I am ashamed to note also that as a child I grew up in an ELCA Lutheran church loving to give on "Fill the Pantry" Sunday. Since I have grown I give of myself daily to others in my profession but I fail to give as much as I know I should, or rather could, in church. Since growing older, I struggle a lot with the principles with which I was raised.

Thanks for your article. Oh and one more thing...thank you for taking on the challenge of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. It is and forever will be a sacred and special place for me. I only hope I may feel connected there again at some time in the future.

Law+Gospel said...

Anonymous- you make a good point about the food donated. It was overreaching on my part. Forgive me. I grew up living below the poverty line while having a father who was trying to work up the corporate ladder. We often worked at the food bank but also got dented cans there. It was only later I realized we were really poor- I felt rich because of my family and my church. We are all trying to hold it together while struggling with it the tensions of our world. Myself included. Thanks for your comments and I hope someday we may connect @ HS. I believe God is still at work there and in your life. May God bless you in your daily journey.