iResolve: To Make a Difference
Rev. Louis Timberlake
February 11, 2018
I’ve been thinking lately about risk. Not just because of the recent volatility of the stock market. Life is inherently full of risk and we spend our days trying to determine which are good risks and which are foolish. A well managed portfolio with risk tailored to your age and stage in life? Good risk. Skydiving without a backup parachute? Foolish risk.
It’s Scout Sunday, which I appreciate deeply as one who was shaped by my experience in scouting. But, scouting is a risk. Just based on my experience in the Boy Scouts, anytime you give preteen and teenage boys knives, matches, stove fuel, and free time, you are taking a major risk.
Now, I’m sure our scouts are extremely safe and responsible, but we weren’t. A prime example would be when I was in middle school and we took a camping trip at Lake Jocassee, over in the mountains near the NC/SC border. It was a canoe-in campsite, so we packed everything into our canoes and paddled across the lake. Now, this was a nice campsite. Which means there was an outhouse. We were living in luxury--until we almost burned the outhouse to the ground.
You see, as a group of middle school boys, we were curious about what we had heard about the explosive properties of methane gas. So, we piled a bunch of leaves on the seat, doused them in stove fuel, lit them on fire, and kicked them down the hole. We called it the hot pot. Of course, right at that moment the ranger pulled up in his boat about 50 yards away. He couldn’t see us through the trees, but we saw him and we scattered. The only problem was, someone slammed the door and it somehow locked from the inside. And then smoke started pouring out of the top of the outhouse. We knew the ranger would see it if we didn’t do anything, so I had to jimmy the latch from the other side using my pocket knife. We ran in, poured water on the fire, and put it out. We still got caught. I think it was the char marks on the toilet seat that tipped them off.
Now, that wasn’t the only less than intelligent thing we did. I won’t tell you about the time we tried to hunt a skunk with sharpened sticks. No we weren’t successful and yes our campsite got sprayed. Now, Scouts, I know that you are far too intelligent to try anything like that. These are cautionary tales, not ideas.
When you give teenage boys knives, matches, stove fuel, and free time, you are taking an inherent risk. And, despite the fact that people think girls are the more mature gender, I have three sisters. They are plenty capable of getting into trouble. But, you take the risk because you’re providing them the opportunity to grow as leaders, to learn valuable skills, and to develop an appreciation for the outdoors. I wouldn’t trade my experience in scouting for anything and, if my kids are interested, I will be right there taking them on camping trips and working with the scout leaders.
Life causes us to constantly navigate risks. We take risks in our careers, we take risks in relationships--because any true relationship requires vulnerability, it involves putting yourself out there--and that’s a risk. Raising children is a risk. We pour our hearts, time, and energy into human beings and, ultimately, we cannot control their choices or completely protect them from the risks that they must face. Every day, we take risks when we walk out of the house. When we open ourselves up to something we don’t fully understand. We take risks because it is impossible for us to control all variables.
This is a difficult passage. I imagine many of you have heard it before. The master goes away and leaves his servants with money. Two invest it, they take risks, and they double it. Pretty good returns. But, the third is fearful. He is anxious about risking his master’s money and decides that it’d be better to protect it than to invest it.
It is a difficult passage because we’re a little worried about what it says about God. Assuming that God is the master in this story, and, in context, that’s a reasonable assumption, it concerns us that the third servant would say something like “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” And then, the master responds harshly.
It’s not a pleasant ending and we like pleasant stories, so we tend to focus on the beginning. On the first two servants. The master entrusted them with great things and they managed those well, so the master entrusted them with more. That’s a pleasant story. We don’t have to wrestle with these implications of God being harsh or seemingly dishonest--reaping where he did not sow. But, when we skip over the second part of the story, I think we miss something critical.
The third servant operates out of a mindset of fear and scarcity. This is his downfall. He perceives his master as harsh and the world as unforgiving. But, here’s what’s interesting, that is not the reality we see in the story until he claims it to be the reality. The first two servants see their master as empowering them to take risks and to approach the world with hope in what can be. And, the result is joy and further blessing. The third servant is fearful of risk and convinced that the world is a place of scarcity. So, the best thing to do is to retreat and live in suspicion. And, ultimately the world becomes what he believes it to be.
I worry that we’ve lost something. I’m not sure if we ever truly had it. I’m only thirty years old, so my view of history is limited. Morris tells me that he never felt old until he got to Christ Church and had to work with a bunch of millenials like me. Now, I know that saying that old age and treachery beats youth and skill. But, when it comes to the staff laser tag outing, youth and skill is still victorious.
Jokes aside, I worry that we’ve lost something. The levels of suspicion in our world today are disheartening. Regardless of your politics, because all sides are complicit, we find ourselves living increasingly out of fear and scarcity. We seem to have lost the ability to show respect, let alone the love to which Jesus calls us, to those who don’t think or look as we do.
And, like the third servant, the more we approach the world out of fear and scarcity, the more the world becomes what we imagine it to be. If we live out of fear, the world becomes a fearful place. If we live out of scarcity, there will never be enough to go around.
If we desire a world of peace, we must embody that peace. If we want a world marked by love of neighbor, we must love our neighbors, particularly, as the parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us, those neighbors that don’t look like us or think like us. If we claim to be a people of hope, then we must live as if we truly believe that the world can be better.
When every other group is circling the wagons in fear and suspicion, the church is called to be those who walk out into the open, who work to heal the hostilities, and who offer a better way. That is our place. Standing in the breach. Jesus tells us:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I worry we’ve lost something. But, I think we catch glimpses of it now and then.
I caught a glimpse on Tuesday night. We have a great group of young adults that participate in what we call Tuesdays on Tap. We gather at a local brewery and talk about God and faith. This past Tuesday, we talked about the missional church.
This word, missional, means “to be sent.” When we talk about missions in the church, we’re talking about being sent into the world to participate in the work of God. And, it’s interesting. We are missional, because God is missional. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, is innately missional. Jesus is sent from the Father into the world to teach us, to show us how to live, and to offer us relationship with God. The Spirit is sent into the world to make us more like Christ and to empower us to do the work of God. It’s the Christian faith in a nutshell--to be missional.
So, when we talk about being a missional church, we’re not just talking about trips and projects, we’re talking about following the example of God. Going out in order to make this world better, to make it look like the world for which God hopes.
So, at Tuesdays on Tap, we talked about what we love about the church and what frustrates us about the church. It’s beauties, it’s imperfections. These are young adults who were shaped deeply by the church, some who grew up right here at Christ Church. And, it was cool to see both a gratitude for the church that raised them, but also a holy discontent that pushed them to dream of the church that could be.
After a while the conversation turned to Glenwood. And, you’d be proud, because they asked all the important, pragmatic questions. How much is it going to cost? Where will money come from? What will we do? Who will do it?
But, then we got into the deep conversations. Conversations about life transformation, about how to build relationships with people of different ethnicities and socio-economic groups. About opportunities to address hunger, about impacting the lives of children and their families through education. About working with partner organizations that provide comprehensive services to members of the community.
And as we talked, they lit up. You could feel the hope in their voices, you could see the passion in their eyes. You could see the church that could be. The church that looks at the injustice of our world, the harm that different groups do to one another, and makes the choice to stand in the breach.
In order to make a difference, we cannot be a church of fear and scarcity. We must be a church that is filled with hope and daring. A church that embraces the inherent riskiness of life and chooses to lay everything on the line that the master has given us, because we have a vision and a hope in what can be. And, then may we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”