Called to Risk – A Sermon by Sarah Henkel
A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church
By Sarah Henkel, Cross-Cultural Network Coordinator for the Hudson River Presbytery
On the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, November 13, 2011
Peter Hedges, the author of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, spoke at my high school graduation. I don’t remember much of what he said but I do remember what he sang. At the end of his speech he pulled out a small Casio player – remember those? – and he placed it on top of the podium. He said he had composed a song for us graduates, a simple song. As I recall it involved two chords, and three words. It went like this: “Have no fear, Have no fear, Have no fear.” That simple song comes back to me often. It came bubbling up this week as I sat with our two texts, both of which address the Last Days or the Final Judgment and both of which call believers into hopeful activity, not fear.
Jesus recounts the Parable of the Talents in Jerusalem and entering in to his own end of days. The events of his death are about to unfold. He tells this story about the return of the Lord, knowing that he is nearing the end of his time with the disciples. He is giving them a way to live in the in between, the time we have here on earth until he comes again.
The story is of a Master who entrusts to his servants talanta, large denominations of currency, equivalent to many years of wages, more years than a person could live in a lifetime. These are enormous sums of money that would have left the hearers of Matthew’s parable gaping, open-mouthed. The Master entrusts different amounts to the three different servants and then leaves for a long time. The parable recounts his return and the accounting for his talanta.
The first two servants, having invested and multiplied the talents they received, are congratulated and enter into the “joy of their Master”. And then there is the third servant. He did what was prudent, what was safe. He tucked away his one talent somewhere he knew it wouldn’t be found. He saw what he was given, an enormous sum, and was seized with the terror of the many ways it could be lost. And when he is chastised by his Master for his non-use of the talent, his response reveals the essential miscommunication. The servant says in essence, “I was afraid of you so I didn’t take the risk.” The Master responds in essence, “Your only fear ought to have been not taking the risk.”
We are called to risk. Called to leave our fear at the doorstep and step out into God’s promise. Called as the church to risk it all to follow where Jesus leads. Called to enter in the fullness of God’s joy.
This past week a group of 12 of us from the Hudson River Presbytery traveled to the Presbyterian Multicultural Institute in Montreat, North Carolina. I attended in my role as the Cross-Cultural Network Coordinator for the Presbytery. Leslie Mardenborough and Pastor Jeff from this church traveled as leaders of the White Plains Presbyterian church as did many other pastors, elders from other churches. If I had a few hours to preach up here I could probably give an inadequate summary of all we heard and learned. I know that I am still digesting much of what was given to me in those days. But here is what I can say, what I can proclaim this morning about that conference and what is represents: The Presbyterian Church is responding in hope to Jesus’ call to risk.
There are many who believe the mainline church is on its way out, we’ve been given a poor prognosis. There are Presbyterian churches that are choosing to watch and wait it out until the Lord comes, to bury what they have and hope for the best. But there are many more Presbyterian churches that are opting in to the risky call of the gospel to live in hope, to reach out and not to bury.
We heard the story of Oakhurst Presbyterian in Decatur, Georgia, a church that dropped in membership from 900 to under 100 and found itself with the option to splinter further along race lines – a church for African Americans and a church for European-Americans – or to face one another and risk journeying together. They chose risk. Now a church with 310 members of many different races and cultures, their Mission statement is this:
We are a community of diversities, which empowers us to confront God’s truth in the world.
Through Jesus Christ, the dividing walls are broken down, leading us to affirm
that we are called to be one family–through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God is active in the life of Oakhurst and has given us a vision of hope,
inspiring us in the proclamation of the absolute power of God’s love and god’s grace.
We are rooted in the truth that nothing can separate us from the Love of God!
And, the very thing we once feared–our differences–has empowered us to proclaim the
Good News of the Gospel, breaking down the barriers of the world,
and drawing us together to become whole in Christ.[i]
If fear plays a role in the life of the church, it is most often to signal the direction in which we are being called. It is where we sense our comfort falling away, that we meet Christ in new ways, that we find our greatest treasure. Oakhurst Presbyterian claimed the truth that their greatest treasure was their diversity, their differences, and so they risked being together over the safety of existing separate from one another. Hudson River Presbytery and White Plains Presbyterian are living in to that same truth, choosing not to bury the differences we represent but to celebrate them.
Frederick Beuchner speaks these words about the choice of the third servant to bury his talent, “… it seems to me that the one-talent man represents…somebody who buried the richest treasure he had, not just pain, but the most alive part of himself, buried it in the ground. He was never able to become who he might have been. I think the outer darkness the Master casts him into is not to be thought of so much as a punishment, as it is to be thought of as the inevitable consequence of what it means to bury your life. If you bury your life, you don’t leave your life. You don’t meet other people who are alive. You are alone; you are in the dark.”[ii]
We have the choice as the church to stand alone or to go out, to live together, to invite newness in, to face the very things we once feared. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian community encourages them to keeping encouraging one another in these in between days. Our differences will challenge us and our differences will reveal Christ to us. We too are called to speak words of encouragement to one another as we grow and continue transforming. We are called to continue the chorus, “Have no fear, have no fear, have no fear.” God will do great things when we risk to follow.
Let us Pray:
Gracious God, we ask that you dissolve our fears. Guide us to risk so that we might enter into the fullness of your joy. Open our hearts, our minds, our souls to the treasure of difference in our faith community. May we meet you in the spaces between us. May we see you in every face we encounter. We are listening for your call. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.