November 19, 2017–Risk and Trust

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Faith Lens

 

Warm-up Question

What is the riskiest thing you did last week, something that could have cost you time, money, or health.

Risk and Trust

The stock market has been booming of late.  That has a lot of people excited, but analysts remind us that what goes up will ultimately come down.  Investments in the market have potential to make great gains–or lose a lot of their value overnight.  Generally speaking, riskier investments have the potential for a higher payoff.  Safer investments are less likely to lose their value, but they seldom create vast fortunes.

Some wonder why you should even be in the market.  If you want safety, why not put your money in the proverbial mattress?  Not investing has its own risks.  If inflation is running at 2.2% (the rate for the past twelve months) and you are not making any interest, you are losing buying power.

Whether and how you invest in the market is driven by your “risk tolerance.”  Some people get very anxious at the prospect of losing any money at all, and they are happy with modest, but steady returns.  Others like to roll the dice and see if they can score big gains, living with possibility that they will see big ups and down over the short run.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you have any money invested (perhaps in a college fund, mutual fund, or money market account)?  How closely do you watch how it is doing?
  • If someone gave you $1000 with the condition that it had to be invested in the market, would you look for safe, less potentially lucrative investments or would you opt for riskier investments with a bigger potential for quick, large gains?  Why?
  • What might allow someone to make a risky investment without feeling too anxious?

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

 

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

 

Gospel Reflection

I’ve always thought this would be a much better story if the first two servants had lost their shirts.  A man goes on a journey, but before he leaves he entrusts some of his wealth to three slaves (or servants).  One gets five talents (a unit of gold or silver), one gets three, and the last servant gets one.   The first two slaves double their investment and–surprise, surprise–get a rousing affirmation from their master.  The third slave, who just returns his master’s investment intact is called lazy and wicked.  The key question is this:  What is the master affirming, the success of the first two slaves or their willingness to risk?  I think it is their willingness to risk, and indirectly the trust in their master which made them willing to go out on limb.  That is why it might be a better story if the first two had not been so insanely successful; then it would be clearer what Jesus values.

Few parables have been more abused than this one.  It has been the proof text for many “slot machine” theologies:  put in your coin and God guarantees riches.  But when you look closely you realize that the first two servants are just the set up, not the focus of story.  The focus of the story (and thus Jesus’ concern) is the poor fellow who was so paralyzed by his fear that he did not dare to do much of anything.

The tragedy of the story is that the one-talent man assumes his master is harsh and unreasonable–too often exactly the image many have of God.  But the story itself belies that assumption.  A talent was a tremendous amount of money, and the master entrusted it to this fellow.  True, he did not give him as much as the others, but maybe that is because he was not as competent.  Yet, there is no suggestion that the master expected him to do anything more than take a risk with what he has been given.  It is not his lack of success but his refusal to dare which brings his master’s wrath.

The gospel is not a magic amulet which guarantees that life will be smooth as we attempt to follow the way of Jesus.  There is genuine risk that we will be misunderstood, thought a little crazy, or put in the position of standing alone against a crowd.  Sometimes it may well look like we have failed.  God can live with that.  What is much more unfortunate is letting our fears keep us from bearing witness to the way of Jesus.  Whether we are entrusted with five talents or just one, the invitation is the same:  live boldly, love boldly in Christ because it is fear, not failure which is the great tragedy.  Christ came to set us free from fear and assure us that we can dare to take risks because the one who judges us is the one who loves us beyond measure.

Discussion Questions

  • What is your greatest fear?  How might really knowing you are loved beyond measure help you deal with it?
  • With whom do you identify in the parable?
  • Why do you think the master gives the one-talent man’s money to the other servants?
  • What do you need to know or feel in order to take a risk for your faith?

Activity Suggestions

Create a “stock exchange” of faith.  Brainstorm some activities which you might engage in as part of your Christian faith and talk about the risk/benefit of each.  List the “offerings” in which you might invest.  For example,

  • How risky is it for you to worship regularly and how much potential is there for it to make a big difference in your life or the world?
  • What are the potential costs and benefits of taking a stand against the bullying of a classmate?

Talk about what you learned about your own “risk tolerance” when it comes to discipleship.

Closing Prayer

Giver of all good things, you have promised that perfect love casts out fear, yet we often find ourselves very fearful of failing, of other’s harsh opinions, of not being good enough.  Give us courage and confidence to dare in your name, confident that your care undergirds all our efforts.