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Archive for November, 2017

Jennifer Staple was a young woman working a summer job at an ophthalmology office in the summer of 2000, when she was exposed to the need for eye care education and screening programs in her local community. While others might have felt helpless to influence change, Jennifer began Unite For Sight in her college dorm room.

Unite for Sight has now become a global nonprofit organization addressing preventable blindness serving over 400,000 people in 25 countries.

Dr. Bernard Kouchner, Co-Founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres and Former Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, wrote of Jennifer’s work: “Over the centuries, most leaders have sought to bring about change through military intervention.  I’ve tried to mobilize people to undertake another strategy – humanitarian intervention.  Every citizen has the right to receive care and live with dignity,  national boundaries and political or financial circumstances cannot influence who receives that support.  Through her work to expand the fight against blindness around the globe, Jennifer Staple has intervened in some of the world’s poorest communities to ensure that their citizens, too, can lead healthy and productive lives.”

With a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Our Time is Now: Young People Changing the World, tells the stories of 30 young leaders who took risks to try to change the lives of people around them.

Whether we speak about these young men and women as social entrepreneurs or social innovators, they and countless others like them are really extravagant risk takers. They are people who have a vision of what is possible then who go out to put their vision into action and create a new reality.

Edwin H. Friedman, who was a rabbi, family therapist, sailor and map collector, argued that the relationship between risk and reality is constitutive. His study of Columbus, da Gama, Magellan and Drake makes clear that it is the very risking of a new thought or a new spirit that brings about a new frame of reference, a new context of experience, a new way of living in the world — and thereby, changes reality. “Not one’s sense of reality,” Friedman insisted, “but reality itself.”

This is precisely where the parable of the master and three servants meets these young innovators to challenge all of us to become the extraordinary risk takers God calls us and gifts us to be. This parable speaks deftly about possibility, promise, risk, and a new way of seeing and living in the world.

First,  a master gives each of his servants a certain amount of talents. Now, it is important to realize that a talent is money. It is not a small amount of money; rather it is quite a large sum of money in the form of gold. One talent in the Ancient Near East is about one day laborer’s income for 15 years. Putting the sums into today’s monetary values, the servant who was given 5 talents was given about $1.5 million, the second $600,000, and the third $300,000. None of these are insignificant amounts of money.

While the master does entrust each of the servants with his property according to the abilities of each servant, we might think the one with the most talents has the most ability and the second the second most and so on. However, notice that all of the servants have abilities and all are entrusted with talents. All have responsibility and accountability for what is entrusted to them. All are included. Notice something else. There is not a valuation that states one of the servants is more important or more valued than the others. All are equally important and equally valued by the master. The only difference between them is the amount of responsibility and accountability each of them has based upon the talents entrusted to their care.

Also, the master apparently hasn’t told them what he wants them to do with these talents. There is nothing in the reading that tells us what the master wants the servants to do with the talents, nor is there any hint about his expectations for the care of the talents. Also, he didn’t give them any warnings about what might happen to them if they lost the talents given to them. As far as we know, the master simply entrusted his property to them then left. It is up to each servant to decide what to do with what is given to them.

The first two servants immediately go off and invest or put the money to work, proy in some high risk investment because they double the money entrusted to them. However, the third servant is not a risk taking sort of a guy, so he digs a hole and buries what is entrusted to him. He does the safe and secure thing. Indeed, burying the talents in the ground is commonly the way to keep treasure safe from thieves and marauding armies in the Ancient Near East. So, he does what is prudent. He isn’t going to put the talents entrusted to his care at risk.

After some time, the master comes home. He calls the three servants to come before him to find out what they did with the talents entrusted to them. The first two servants come in and say, “Master, look what we did! We took some high risks with your money! And, hey, we doubled it!”

Master says, “All right! You are good and faithful servants. Because you have been faithful in that responsibility, I’m going to give you a whole lot more responsibility to serve me and my will!” But, the third servant is questioned about putting his talent in a hole in the ground. “Why would you do that?” The master asks him.

“I was afraid of you,” he tells the master. “I know you’re a scheming, harsh, greedy person. You always get more from a business deal than is your proper due and I was afraid to take any risk with your property. I just wanted to give you back exactly what was entrusted to my care.”

“That’s not what I wanted you to do! I wanted you to do something with what I entrusted to your care! I would’ve been happy had you just plunked it into a savings account earning 3-4% interest. But, to do nothing with the talent I gave you is unacceptable!” the master shouts and takes away the $300,000 the third servant had and gave it to the first servant; then the master told the servants to throw Mr. Safe and Secure out into the darkness.

What is this master doing? Is he really the greedy, rapacious, harsh person the servant claims he is? Is he really someone who is vengeful, unfair, judgmental, and just waiting to banish a servant out into the darkness of death?

Or, did the third servant allow his own fear to paralyze him into doing nothing? Did his fear of taking a risk, so overwhelm him that he could only see a worst-case scenario? Did it never occur to him in his head or his heart there might have been a rich abundance present in the talent entrusted to him? Couldn’t he hear the master’s boisterous joy and delight in those servants who were willing to risk everything for his sake? Didn’t he realize the real risk taker was the master with his generosity and willingness to trust the servants in the first place?

Probably not. Because to me the one-talent man represents somebody who buried the richest treasure he had, the most alive part of himself, in the ground. By doing this he was never able to become the person he might have been. Also, I think the outer darkness the Master casts him into is not so much punishment, as it is the inevitable consequence of what it means to bury your life or hide yourself away from all the possibilities for blossoming into the wondrous fullness of the person who are created to be. It is as if you light a lamp then put a barrel over it.  You are alone and in the dark. Then comes the really harsh part of Jesus’ parable, “From him who has nothing, even what they will be taken away.” Those are hard words. But, Jesus’ point is that if you bury your life, instead of you growing, you shrink. You become less; you become diminished.  And, Jesus doesn’t call us to be less than we are, rather he is calling us to grow, to be strong, to be the good soil that produces an abundant harvest through discipleship.

But, Jesus warns us in this parable that discipleship does not promise a safe harbor. On the contrary, true disciples are called to take risks, to weigh anchor, to venture beyond the known and secure and be adventurers for God. The “talents” the master leaves with each of his three servants are the God-given gifts we all have received before we were born and are charged with using to the best of our abilities.

The master’s judgment of this servant and his actions reveal that if we wish to call ourselves faithful servants, we had better do more with the gifts we have been given than worry about their well-being. You see, God has never been one to play it safe. A God not interested in taking risks would never have created Adam in the first place. But God not only risked creation. God risked relationship — first with Noah, again with Abraham, eternally with David and the people of Israel. Finally, God even risked the divine self — becoming human in the incarnation and suffering an ignominious death on a cross, only to rise again in the joy of the resurrection.

If God risked everything in the person of Jesus Christ for the sake of our lives, doesn’t it seem likely that this same God might expect more than self-seeking, self-motivated, safety- conscious behavior from those who have been so wondrously saved.  The risk called for in today’s lesson is the willingness to open our lives to a power beyond our own. It is risk based on faithfulness — faith in yourself, faith in God’s ability to work through your life, faith in the power of a discipleship where the ones who came back with more than they started out with, will be entrusted with even more. As the parable says, they traded with their talents. Or as, Frederick Beuchner writes, ”They traded with their lives — a wonderful phrase. We were made to be life traders, because I have what you need, which is me, and you have what I need, which is you.”

The risks God calls us to take are for the sake of others, risking ourselves, not just our money or our status. You see other people should be the focus of our risk-taking as it was for Jennifer Staple and the other social innovators. Yet, relationships are the riskiest business around because they involve risking to love and serve, risking to be vulnerable, risking rejection and ridicule, and risking frustration and despair. These are the truly profound, extraordinary risks God wants us all to take, risking all for the promise of fulfillment.  Risking all for the new reality that is God’s Kingdom and doing it now!

Now, I know being Presbyterian and being risk takers aren’t always put together, but wouldn’t it be great to be known as those Bold Risk Taking Presbyterians, instead of God’s frozen chosen?

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The pool of water was still. Only the humming sound of a honeybee across the pool in the tangle of wisteria and willow on the edge of the water and the murmuring wheeze of the old man’s breathing broke the silence.

“Been comin’ here a long time.” The old man whispered to the man sitting next to him. The old man looked up at the sky. It was clear and cobalt. The sun shone like a gold plate reflecting light. “Good day ta be here.” His companion nodded his head in agreement.

“Yes sir. A good day! You know, I think I just might be ready. I know by the look on your face you’re wondering’ ready for what?’ Well, I’ll tell ya. I’m ready for the train to take me home. Finally, I am ready for the train. It took me a long while, but I’m finally ready. I’ve spent my whole life trying to get ready, but I never felt really ready. When Myrna died, what…three years ago….I wasn’t ready.

I was foolin’ myself still. Myrna, she was ready. She was ready near her whole life. Not a better woman around. She lived the good news. She knew it and she lived it! She took care of folks when they were sick. Baked bread for the new wives arriving in town. Helped people when they were down and out. Had me build a house for those young Murphys when they first came here. Didn’t have a nickel, but sure did have babies. Myrna made me find him a job. She was wonderful. She made us go to church every Sunday.  She said, God gave us over a hundred hours a week, we could praise the Lord for at least two of ’em. Praise him, she said. That’s what we did, too. I..I never really understood her until now. Now, I know what she meant, when she said she was ready. Be ready at anytime. Nothin’ ta fear if you’re ready, she said. Now, I know. I’m ready!”

The old man saw the expression on the face of the man sitting next to him, “You have no idea what I’m talkin’ about do you?  Well, I don’t know how ta explain it, but let me try this way.

You see, a man and a woman stood on the platform at the train station. The day was beautiful with the deep blue sky, wispy clouds floatin’ overhead, and a soft, warm breeze ruffling their clothes and coolin’ the heat of the day down to a comfortable 75 degrees.

The man stepped close ta the woman and said, “Are you waiting for the train?”

“Yes, I am.” she said and inched away.

“So am I.” He said without moving. “Have you been waiting long?”

“Not very long,” she said and smiled at him.

“Me either. Do you know when the train will be here?”

“No,” she said, “I am not sure when it will be here.”

“Maybe I should go and ask the ticket seller.”

“If you want, you may, but I’m not worried about it. I know it will be here sooner or later.” She shrugged and walked away to sit down on one of the green painted benches under a wooden canopy.

The man shuffled off ta see when the train would be there. When he came back to the platform, the woman was still sitting on the bench under the canopy. He marched over ta the bench next to her and plopped down with a “humph” and unzipped his jacket.

“Well, the ticket seller was not very helpful. He had no idea when the train would be here. Said it was delayed somewhere. Might be a long time.” The man said.

“Oh. No matter,” said the woman. “It will be here. The time is not really important.” She closed her eyes and leaned back on the bench.

“You seem very calm about all of this.” She did not answer him or open her eyes. “Don’ t you want ta catch the train and be on time?”

“Of course. I already have my ticket and I cannot be late because the train has a schedule to keep, so I know it will arrive here when the time is right.”

“Why did you get your ticket so soon? There’s plenty of time ta git the ticket.” He looked around the near empty train station. “There’s not exactly a lot of people here.”

“Yes,” she sighed heavily, “but it is better to be prepared, so when the train comes one can board it immediately.”

“Why? I can’t imagine seating is a big problem.”

“The train does not stay in the station very long because it has many other stops to make along the way. If one is not ready to board it, one risks being left behind.”

The man frowned and half-turned away, “Poppycock! I can git my ticket and still make the train. Anyway, we’ve got plenty of time.” The man lay down on the bench and fell asleep. The woman fell asleep too.

The daylight faded into darkness. The lights of the canopy shown down on the two sleeping figures as other lights in the train station broke the darkness into circles of light. In the distance, a whistle blew. The shrill sound woke the woman. She heard the stationmaster shout, “Train is comin’. Train is comin’.” She shook her herself awake and stood up. She glanced at the man still sleeping. She reached down and shook the top of his shoulder.

“The train is coming into the station. You should get up.” She said as she shook him. The man woke with a start. He wiped his mouth and sat upright. “The train is coming.” She said as she walked to the edge of the platform.

“Uh. What?” The man said. “Oh. The train. The train is comin’.” He jumped up and ran to the woman. “How far out is it?”

“I do not know exactly, but I see a light down the tracks.” She said over her shoulder.

“Oh. Oh. Do I…”he glanced toward the station “Do I have time to get a ticket?” The woman shrugged. “How about you. Did you get an extra ticket? Can I get on board with you?”

“No. Everyone needs their own ticket, their own life. I only have one. You better go and get your own.”

“Yeah,” The man dashed off.

“And, you better hurry. The train is almost here.” She shouted after him.

The great diesel train whooshed into the station. The great silver and black compartments gleaming in the circles of light. The train stopped and a door opened in front of the woman. She smiled at the conductor, handed him her ticket, and boarded the train. As soon as she was inside and sitting comfortably in a compartment, the train roared and whooshed off.

The man came running out of the station house toward the train. “Wait! Wait! he shouted. The train roared down the tracks into the darkness. He stood at the edge of the platform. He crumbled his ticket in his hand and threw it down on the tracks. He turned round and walked back to the bench under the canopy.

Somewhere in the darkness an old gospel song played, “Are you ready? Are you ready?  Are you ready to sit by throne? For the Lord is comin’ to carry you home.”

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