I remember reading this story as a youth feeling for the first time that I was in big trouble. In trouble, for the life of faith I was embarking on. In trouble, because it wasn’t going to be easy; being a Christian wasn’t just going to be “nice”. With fear and trepidation I came to realize that a life of faith was going to challenge me to the core of my personality and my basic human instint.
You see, until Jesus explained to his disciples, basically, which of the servants did well and which didn’t, I was — and on some level still am – completely sympathetic with the third servant who hid his talent and didn’t do anything with it. And, impressed by those who took a risk with the gift they were given. From that time on, I realized that a life of faith would often go against my way of thinking often prone to suspicion, self-preservation and basic conservatism.
The easy way would be to do nothing. Doing nothing would cut down on vulnerability and exposure to an unknown climate for investment in a scary world. The easy way would be to do nothing.
Because the easy way is based on fear. The servant who acted out of fear even admits it: “I was afraid,” he says, trying to justifiy his inaction. Yet, does his position not describe a valid approach to living in a scary world: hunker down, conserve what you already have (don’t lose it!), play it safe, a best offence is the best defence …? I think we know those arguments all too well, arguments which are all based on a fundamental fear of our failure, demise and death.
On Remembrance Day the community gathered to remember the fallen in war. Death can put perspective on any life: the life of our nation, our church, our community, our very own lives.
Fast forward our lives to our deathbeds. From the perspective of our end time, how would we look upon the way we lived? Were our lives in the church, in our families, in our work — lives based on fear?
Or were they characterized by boldness, by commitments made against all odds, against the prevailing notions of “common sense”, by commitments and actions made in faith and trust in the God of our lives, a God who calls us to ventures unkown? Those are the values, by the way, we admire and remember in our soldiers, aren’t they? The history of the battle at Vimy Ridge tells that story the best.
I like the humour in the story of Jesus stringing a high wire over Niagara Falls. He was going to ride his bicycle across it. Jesus asked his disciples, “Do you believe I can ride across and back?”
“Oh yes,” they replied, “you can do it.” So, Jesus rode over and back. When he got back, the jubilant disciples reaffirmed their confidence. They were now absolutely positive and told Jesus so. He had proven it.
So, Jesus asked them again, “Do you think I can do it again?” This time they were even more confident and they assured him it was, in theological language, a piece of cake.
“Okay,” Jesus said, pointing to the handlebars, “Get on.”
The feeling we get when we imagine getting on those handlebars relates directly to faith. We’re very happy to see Jesus do it. And he did already, in a manner of speaking. But that’s not faith. Faith is trusting that Jesus will carry you over while you sit on the handlebars. Jesus isn’t asking you to do it alone; just that you trust that he will carry you over and through the fearful situations of our lives. (This wonderful story is found in Clarence Thomson’s ‘Parables and the Enneagram’, p.98)
How can we live faithfully so that fear does not hold us in its grip?
In preparation for flying out to Saskatoon last summer for the church convention, I read some articles on how to conquer a fear of flying. Among many tips to do so, this one stood out for me. The advice given by Katharine Watts was: “Develop a clear motivation for overcoming that fear.”
I think this would apply to any fear we might have: To assert the reason WHY you are doing something fearful. In the example of flying, Watts writes, “In order to conquer fears, there needs to be a good incentive … Develop a very specific reason why overcoming your fear of flying is important. Just wanting to travel is a little bit vague. Instead, say ‘every winter I need to go down south’ or ‘I want to adopt a child in China.'” When the good motivation is strong in your mind and in your heart, it’ll be harder to let fear get in the way. But if the reasoning is weak, or vague, or unclear — fear can take over.
In other words, “Remember why we’re doing it in the first place!” Put in front of us the main thing of what it is we’re all about. I think this applies directly to being and doing church.
Remembrance Day is about remembering the bigger picture. Remembering the sacrifice our soldiers made to win us freedom in our public lives — the freedom to vote, for example, which is a civic duty and privilege bought by their blood. Remembering the big picture; the WHY.
When I was young, leaving the house for school my mother reminded me: Remember your bus number, remember your telephone number, remember your address, remember your name, your teacher’s name, your parents’ names. In other words, remember the facts.
While remembering facts is important in their own right, Remembrance Day is not just about remembering history from the point of view of “information” about the past. In truth, we live in a day and age that can be described as “information overload”. Our brains are simply not wired to be able to take in all the information and facts that come flying at us at high speed. At a click of a button we can find out anything we want to on any subject matter you can imagine.
By the time I was in my early twenties, my mother had changed her message about “remembering” — no longer remember the facts, so much. Rather, Martin, remember who you are.
The remembering, the knowing, is so much more than information, facts, particularities in history and doctrinal statements of belief, etc. — as interesting and as important as this information is. The knowing and remembering must go deeper. Remember who you are, why we are, whose we are. I think this is the kind of remembering our society and especially the church needs to engage in more these days.
Remember who we are and whose we are. Remember who we are as the people of God, sitting in those pews. All Saints Sunday last week cued us to a truth in answer to who we are and whose we are: We are beloved creations of God, created to be loved and to love and serve others with the gifts we have and out of that generous love of God. We are already blessed before we do anything!
I wonder if that fearful servant had remembered not all the possible places he could hide his penny, not his position in the ranks of servants and how he could exploit it to his advantage, not his bank account number.
Rather, I wonder if he but remembered who his boss was, the kind of person he was, and got it right (his logic is faulty!); if he remembered to whom he belonged in the first place. If he had remembered that his boss was not the kind of guy who would punish him for taking a risk with his talent, if he had remembered the reason why — and explored more those bigger questions — I wonder whether he would have been so fearful.
I wish there was someone in that story who could have coached him and reminded him of this before he buried his talent out of fear.
If the passage we read today says anything about our God, is that God is generous to those who step it up and step it out.
And though our memories may sometimes be faulty, though we may struggle to remember who and whose we are, we can be certain that God will remember us and never forget us. He holds us in the palm of his hand. We have nothing to lose for trying, for taking a risk, for stepping outside our comfort zone, for putting fear in its proper place; not denying our fear, but subjecting it to a greater truth: the love and generosity of God that will never, never waver, no matter what.
Let us be confident then that when we do anything for the sake of God’s glory, God’s mission, God’s good purposes, then that gift will not be wasted; it will increase! And each of us has been given a gift. Why not use it?
To God alone be glory and honour forever and ever. Amen.