Sermons > 2014 -November 16, 2014 >Safety First
I'm sure you've all heard the expression safety first. It's everywhere – construction sites, wood shops, vocational schools. It's everywhere there is work going on with people and their machines. But you'll also find it posted at airports, schools and campgrounds. You probably even heard it from your mom. Safety First. It has become one of society's most famous mottos. It's a reminder for us to be careful, to avoid risk and to make sure nothing happens that might defy caution in the slightest way. Safety first.
Apparently, it was the philosophy taken by one character in our parable today. The story goes like this…the master entrusts to three servants his wealth and then goes away on a journey. To one, he entrusts five talents and this servant goes and invests it and reaps five more. To the second, he entrusts two talents and he does likewise and reaps two more. To the third, he entrusts one talent and his strategy is detailed for us in verse 18, "But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money." So apparently, this servant is taking the approach of safety first. Keep what's entrusted to you safe and sound. Don't risk losing it through investing. Just bury it in the ground where it will be safe. That's his motto. Safety first.
Then the master returns and asks for an account of those to whom he entrusted his wealth. The servant who had five talents now has five more. Well done my good and faithful servant. The servant who was given two talents now has two more. Well done my good and faithful servant. But Jesus tells the story of the third servant this way: "He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'
I was afraid. There we see his motive. The motive is of fear. And so he does the safe thing. He practices safety first.
Now, surely Jesus isn't condemning being safe here and He's also not saying go out and risk all your money either. I think to understand the real meaning of this parable we need to go back to the beginning section of Matthew's Gospel where this discourse first started. And that would be to the beginning of chapter 24 where we're told that the disciples of Jesus came to Him privately. So they are the primary audience of this parable. And if Jesus is speaking to the disciples who will soon be apostles who will soon be sent out into the mission, what is this wealth that's being entrusted to them? What's the metaphor for this parable?
Well, it's the Gospel. That's God's true wealth, the Gospel; the understanding that Christ has come to save the world from sin. That's what's being entrusted to them. And that's what has being entrusted to us as well. But so often our response to the Gospel is like that of the third servant – safety first; don't take risks. Do what is safe. Do what is easy. Seek security in our calling…rather than the difficult way of discipleship. Follow the path of least resistance rather than the path that is strenuous. Safe things rather than hard things rather than right things.
Mack Stiles has written a very helpful guide for mission trips. In the chapter entitled unnecessary risks, he writes these words, "There seems to be a growing cultural view that safety is our highest value. I don't think it's limited to the secular world either. Few of our students have been challenged to risk their lives for the sake of Jesus. Many pastors and Christian parents demand guarantees of safety that we are unable to give. But those who live for safety alone end up living joyless lives."
Stiles goes on to say that this concern for safety can become a kind of idolatry as we Lutherans understand idolatry as to fear, love and trust in something more than God. We fear for our own personal well-being, we fear losing our comforts or our choice to believe this Gospel or to share it. Now, this doesn't mean we go out in ministry purposely seeking danger. That can be idolatry too. But if we are doing God's ministry, danger will seek us. Opposition will seek us. The desire not to take risks will seek us.
This is the point Jesus makes earlier in chapter 24 when he warns the apostles in verse 9, "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake." What church is telling it's congregation that? That's what you are supposed to expect out there – hatred, opposition and for some, death. Discipleship is a hazardous calling.
And the 21st century is not that much different than the first century. There is persecution and opposition – not just from outside the church, but also from within, and also within our own hearts as we wrestle with that philosophy of safety first.
Our Seeds of Faith campaign will soon wrap up the three year pledge many of us made three years ago to expand the building, purchase land and make sanctuary enhancements. We hope to invest what God has given us that the ministry might grow. It's worked so far. When I first came here nine years ago, we had 40 members. Now, we have 175. Nine years ago, we had no Deaconess intern, no youth group, no preschool, no Grace Circle, no men's breakfast, no new building. Now we have all these things because our congregation stepped out in faith. We didn't practice safety first and these seeds are rooted in the Gospel, the Good news of Christ's death for the forgiveness of our sins. It was first given to the Disciples and now it's given to us.
And even though our three year campaign will wrap up soon, the fund will remain open because we will not yet have reached our goal. And so I challenge you to step out in faith and to remember the purposes for which Seeds of Faith was created. And our church also passed our 2015 budget two weeks ago, which seeks to direct your gifts towards building up the Kingdom of God.
A pastor tells the story of first getting out into the ministry and being taken out to lunch by the circuit counselor. The circuit counselor said to him, "I want you to know that if you are being faithful in ministry; it will always be a blessing. Now that doesn't mean the blessing is not also accompanied by difficulties. Sometimes, God gives both at the same time. But He is always with us to strengthen our faith and give us hope.
In our parable from Matthew, this third servant played it safe. And we must confess that in our ministry, we are tempted to do the same or to get comfortable in our own lives or to think this isn't important. But there is an even greater servant in the scriptures today who also doesn't play it safe. This servant knew that to advance the work of God, to advance the kingdom of God took sacrifice. It involved danger. But he was willing to relinquish his security for that mission.
Paul describes this servant in Philippians chapter two, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Jesus took the hazardous path. He traveled the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows and it cost Him His life because His Father sent Him on a mission to accomplish what you couldn't do. And in His death, He delivers to you who have repentant faith, pardon for your failure, pardon for your sin, pardon for your idolatry and your excuses. But His death was not the whole story.
Paul continues his description of the servant in Philippians chapter two, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." The resurrection is God's approval for Christ's ministry. And in a real sense, God the Father also said to Jesus, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Safety first? Well, in one sense, yes. Safety first and foremost in Christ. Because in Him we are safe and secure. In the security of His grace, we can go forth boldly and courageously into the mission field. We can trust Him with the future of this church and with our own finances. He gives us all that we need to support this body and life as we confess in Luther's explanation of the creed. If we really believe that, let us respond in faith with what God gives us. Let us trust. Let us look back and see how God has been faithful to us over these past nine years because the mission of the Disciples has been entrusted to us.
It is the mission that gives children a place to sing of Christ's love, that gives teenagers a place to grow up with good values, a place where women can fellowship, where Seniors can feel welcomed and where all of God's people can continue in the mission entrusted to the disciples.
I pray that we will be faithful in our giving and support of God's mission to seek out and save the lost. God has taken care of all of our concerns about safety in the sacrifice of His Son. So let us then invest recklessly in the ministry blessed by God that they might double and triple and produce for our master an increase in His investment to us. This way, when He returns us on the Last Day, He will also say to us, Well Done Good and Faithful Servant. In His Name. Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich