Betting on Life, Sermon 11.13.11

Betting on Life, Sermon 11.13.11

Psalm 90:1-12 and Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus’ parable isn’t about entrepreneurial geniuses or lazy people.
It’s not about money. That’s just its illustration or metaphor.

The parable’s meaning is much deeper than cash in the bank or a return on one’s financial investment.
It’s about courage and trust… and a sobering warning about
wherever we find ourselves to be timid or risk-adverse.

Nearing the end of his life, Jesus is leaving his disciples with parting instructions.
Like our choir just warned us, he’s saying: “Wake up, folks: your clocks are ticking: you have serious decisions before you… and an assignment to finish.“

~ Beloved, will we use our time faithfully, or will we waste it?

~ Will we make something more of what God has entrusted to us, or, at the end of our lives, will we render or return to God essentially undeveloped, hardly different what God gave us all those years earlier?

~ Will you play it safe… bury your treasure, as if the whole world is only threatening and dangerous, is about taking something from you… or will you open yourself to the risk, put your bet down on grace, trusting God, wager what you’ve been given?

On Wednesday, I titled my sermon, “Betting on Life.” By the time I finished it on Saturday, it better might have been called, “Betting Your Life on God.”

Jesus teaches, “take advantage of what God’s provided you, use it or lose it really… serve others, let go of your self and your own interests, and reap the extraordinary increase that comes only of God, in faith, hope & love.

For business folks, money is not to be squirreled away, but to be put into circulation to make a profit,
For church folks, likewise, life isn’t to be guarded or played safe, even preserved, instead, it’s to be put on the line, because, even with the risks involved, Jesus says, that’s the only way to really begin living and living abundantly.

* * * * * * *

Beloved, what God has entrusted to you:
your self, your life, your faith, your abilities, your possessions, even, as the intro. suggested, your burdens and your weaknesses
are only yours provisionally …that you may make something more of them.

All that God shares with us is amazing – the Divine’s reckless, unearned, unheard-of trust in us.
But what God commends to us, it’s ours only for a time. And for a purpose.

None of it is ours ultimately, permanent possessions who’s ownership we can claim. Instead, we’re only stewards.

This reminds me of my ethics professor from college, who gave each of his students $25 for graduation, with a card that read: “Young adults don’t often have disposable income for supporting causes that are important to them. Please dedicate this gift for a charity of your choice.”

Likewise, God gifts us that we may have what we need to do good work with.

Some of you know Pascal’s Wager In the 17th century, the French philosopher, mathematician and physicist suggested that though the existence of God might not be provable by reason… a rational person would live as if God exists, because living life accordingly, has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

Pascal’s wager was groudbreaking: it charted new territory in probability theory, and anticipated future philosophies such as existentialism and pragmatism.

But Jesus’ wager is altogether greater — it’s earthshaking! You see, Jesus never much worried about logical proofs for the existence of God; he knew God as a presence in his life, nearer than his next breath, Abba. Jesus’ gambit isn’t about knowing or disbelief. It’s about finding the courage of faith to overwhelm even the most well-founded fears.

His lesson: Do something important with your life.
In faith, stop hiding.
Don’t hold back.
Throw yourself into it — you got everything to win & nothing to lose —
…become the means of blessing others and yourself.

Beloved, right after the sermon, as another of our practices of Affirming our Faith (as opposed to verbally affirmations), we will be making our stewardship pledges for next year.

I encourage you to grateful generosity: the money you wholeheartedly invest in this church’s growing ministry and, more importantly, dedicate to God, even if it occasions sacrifices elsewhere in your life, will turn out to be a great blessing to you and others.

No, I’m not suggesting any Gospel of Prosperity, that in giving, you put yourself in line to receive greater financial reward. As I said, in order to make your gift, you may be called to sacrifice.

But generosity is a blessing in itself that also blesses others…

And this parable promises much more than the good stewardship of our finances:
Jesus is saying to us:
Take heart.
Don’t let fear get the best of you.
Trust God enough to step out.
Accept the risks involved in leading your life fully lived.

Every new step in living for God is a risk.
Every new step in living for God is a risk.
That’s just as true for our congregation as it is for us individually. Which means Jesus’ challenge can be a bit unnerving: we will be called to account. On that day, the question will not be how we preserved the balance sheet, how we assiduously guarded the pearl of great price.

Instead, St. Peter (or whoever has front gate duty at the time) will ask whether we emulated God’s daring?

Church, human life is to be modeled on God’s kind of audacious action. “Truly living” is trusting enough to take a chance.

The only way I’ve found to do that is through faith: to remember, reinforce, practice and get better at being children of a generous, life-giving and gracious God. 

How are we to live? Courage and trust, gratitude and generosity are how we bet on Life (capital “L”)… how we place our wager with God.

I mean, what are you going to do otherwise?

Are you going to bury your faith?

Protect your relationship with God from anything you fear might challenge it?

Do you really believe you need to guard the gospel? …keep it tucked it away, safe in some hidden place, as if its too vulnerable or fragile for real the world and our true lives?

Do you want to only dust it off and .bring it all only on Sunday mornings for church or in some emergency situation?

Ask yourself, “is my religion more about safety and security and sanctuary from life, or is it about risk-taking and openness and courage, and the unimaginable abundance to which such faith leads?

People of God, I pray we hear what the Spirit is saying to the church…

That our hearts will be courageous,

our eyes begin to see,

our ears hear,

our mouths speak words of love…

our hands begin to loosen,

our feet start moving

and sooner rather than later, we will find ourselves further, deeper, more faithful and kinder than our wildest imaginations… Amen?

(At this point, Michael left the pulpit and came down to the floor of the Sanctuary…)

It’s our tradition that an Affirmation of Faith follows the Sermon. We usually use words, but sometimes we’re trying actions. Last week, we wrote postcards to our leaders in Washington, encouraging them, in the face of deficit budget cuts, to throw a protective circle around the world’s most vulnerable, hungry people– to make sure that U.S. foreign aid continues the battle against hunger. Today, it’s a promises to God, how much will will contribute to the ministry and mission of this church in the year coming.

Any affirmation of faith– spoken or acted out– begins with courage and trust and gratitude and generosity… Testimony isn’t really our tradition, but following up on Bill George’s and Mike Wass’ sharing about why they are going to support Old First, I want to see if 4 people will be bold enough to offer a word of witness, before we fill out our pledges for next year:

Will someone tell us something you are deeply thankful for? (Bruce witnessed to how God has done many great things for him… that can be seen in among other things how he used to be on the streets homeless, and now he has a place of his own.)

Will someone share how you translate your gratitude into generosity? (Val K. witnessed to how thankful she is for all God has done for her, particularly bring Jesus into her life at age 50… and how God’s grace makes her just want to help other people.)

Will someone say something about having learned to trust God? (Tim H. talked about how his stepping out in faith to join Old First last year was trusting God was making a way for him. Adam talked about how after all these years of Church Treasurer and fretting about the finances, his recent confidence and non-anxiety feel not only like a reflection of our stronger finances, but his stronger faith.)

Who will have the last word, sharing what you are encouraged to do? (Kevin W. talked about how he had had a problem with the church awhile back, but that he’d come to realize the issue wasn’t the church, but his own stuff that he was blaming on the church. He’s encouraged to take responsibility for his own life and to come back to church.)

Amen and amen. In this spirit of audacity and daring, in abiding trust, let us– as Bruce comes forward to play for us– let us, make our promises to God of the financial support we’ll contribute to our church’s ministry and mission next year…