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8-Week Program
: With God's Permission

Here's a complete resource for a congregation to begin using an asset-based approach to financial stewardship. "This simple program can help your congregation fund God’s mission in a fresh and exciting manner." Available for free PDF download. From ELCA Stewardship.


How much risk are you
willing to take?

By the Rev. Keith Spencer

Matthew 25:14-30   "Future of Promise Sunday"                            

 There has been much in the news over the past few months about our renewed desire for risk. From betting on the next great thing to come along on the Internet, to betting on suspect economic profits from day-trading, to our culture's embracing risky-yet-thrilling recreational activities such as rock climbing, parachute jumping and air boarding, our culture has taken a passionate interest in risk.

 Taking risk is not something that Americans or any world culture have invented. Consider our Gospel reading for today. Risk is at the heart of it and we should take notice of that fact because while all risk is by definition "risky," not all risk is bad.

 There was a man who was going on a journey who took some of his money and entrusted it to three of his servants. To one he entrusted five talents, to another two talents and to a third, one talent. A talent was the equivalent of 15 years wages for the average working person so it is a great sum of money with which to be trusted and to invest. After a long time, the man comes back and wants to know how each of the servants did with the talents with which they had been entrusted. The one who had been entrusted with five had made another five and the one who had been two had made another two and to both of them the man said, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant!”  But the third earned condemnation. He was afraid to do anything with his talent. The risk was just too great, so he hid it in the ground where it sat for curious earthworms to gawk at while the time past. When the man returned this servant returned it back to him as he had received it. We imagine that he washed it off first and perhaps put it in a new sack. The earning potential of that talent, that fifteen years' wage was wasted and the man who had given it to him was not pleased in the least. Not only did the servant lose the talent, but also he was cast out and condemned for his action.  We might be inclined to sympathize with that third servant. After all, many people are afraid of taking risk, especially with what has been entrusted to them by someone else. Some of us are by nature active risk-takers, while others have a low threshold for stress of risk-taking and are content to live our lives with a minimum of the discomfort that risk can bring. While I was in the Navy, these sort of low-risk folks had a saying about skydivers: “Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” The third servant stood squarely with them. He played it safe, burying the talent in the ground where no one would likely go looking for it. So we may ask, "What's wrong with that? He didn't lose any of it. He broke even, didn't he?” If he had owned a good mattress he might have placed it there.  But the parable anticipates this argument. The owner tells the man: "Then you ought to have invested my money with bankers and then when I had returned I would have received what was mine with interest." Not much risk in opening a savings account, is there? To be honest, certainly in Jesus' day there wasn't an FDIC to insure your savings against loss, so there was at least some risk. At a bank, the rate of interest guarantees you a return, though to receive a much greater return requires more risk. In earlier times this could be made through the shrewd trading of goods. The law of trade hasn't changed much over the years. It's all about supply and demand.  And this servant had been given the talent and he could have chosen the amount of risk, the higher risk of trading or the lower risk of the bank, and come away with something to show for it. But he wasted the kind of opportunity that likely comes along just once in a lifetime. After all, how often just your boss hand you half a million dollars and say, “Go make something out of this?” A talent presents a significant opportunity. God gives each one of us talent.  Through Christ's death on the cross, each of us has been freed to use our talent, like the servants in the parable. A talent for us is no longer 15 years' wages for a day laborer, but God's gifts to us. Because of the use of the term talent in this very parable, our common understanding of talent is now of a gift or ability or knack for a particular activity. Like in the parable, God wants us to be good stewards of the talents that he has given to us. And being good stewards means using our talents to live and further the gospel in the world.  In Jesus’ eyes we are all very talented people. We may not all win an Olympic medal or discover a cure for cancer or beat the stock market ten years running or write a best-selling novel or bring about peace between nations, but each one of us has been given talents through which God can shine the light of the Gospel out in the darkness. Each of us has talents through which God can proclaim the good news of salvation through his perfect grace. 

 But we are not passive actors in this work of bearing the light. If that were the case, then that man with the one talent who buried it would have received a blessing as well as the first who took much risk in doubling his. God calls us to risk for the sake of the Gospel. We have been given time and financial resources and talents and the freedom to choose what kind of steward we would like to be. We can ignore this calling of bearing the light to the world. We can keep our time, resources and talents to ourselves like the third servant. He thought God a harsh figure, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed. He did not understand God, at all. If he knew how much God loves each and every one of us. If he knew that God would not withhold his only Son for our sake. If he knew that through Christ's death that all of us had been set free from the power of death, and that the last word would not be death's dark silence, but life with Christ everlasting. If he knew all of these things, would he have buried his talent in the dirt? We'll never know.

 What we do know, as Apostle Paul knew, is Christ and him crucified for our sake. And with his death and with his resurrection on that glorious Easter morning we have been given the promise of that seals each of us in our Baptism and frees us to risk for the sake of the Gospel.  Most protestant churches have an awful reputation when it comes to stewardship. Too often it comes in the form of a sermon preached one Sunday in the fall before drawing up the budget. Sermons may touch upon personal testimony, or the need to tithe or how much it costs to keep the lights on and the doors open. These churches set a target that looks remarkably like last year’s budget, with maybe a little more a new program or cost-of-living increases. These churches have lost the will to risk for the sake of the gospel. They do not want to risk offending anyone or challenging anyone or even making anyone the least bit reflective about their personal stewardship of time, of financial resources and of their talents.  We must have the will to risk more than that. There is much more that we can do together as a community of faith with God's help for the sake of the gospel. Stewardship isn't about passing the plate, it is about living our very lives in response to the Gospel. Each day is a new opportunity to bear the light. Our pledges and time and talent sheets this day acknowledge our future of promise, together in service to the gospel. And tomorrow we must bear the light again. The joy of stewardship is rising each day as good stewards of our talents and bearers of the light. Amen.

 The Rev. Keith Spencer is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Pembroke Pines, Fla., and a 2000 graduate of Lutheran School of Theology at Gettysburg. This sermon was preached Nov. 14, 1999.