Jesus calls us to leave our fear behind and give ourselves over totally to trust and faith in God. We too are called to act, to sin boldly—and to trust God.
Let me tell you upfront—the story of the talents is not about money and investment strategies. It is about our God-given abilities and opportunities and the fear and lack of faith that keep us from using them. In the parable, the third servant, the one who received only one talent, took that talent and buried it in the yard. Why? Well, he says “I was afraid,” and that probably is true. He also calls the master “harsh and cruel,” which may be true. What most certainly is not true is that God is like the master in the story—God is not “harsh and cruel.” And all that “harsh and cruel” stuff is quite beside the point. It’s not his master that the third servant is afraid of; it’s failure. He is afraid of fouling up, being a disappointment, making a mess of things.
My younger son played college basketball. He told me once that the worst thing that can happen to a team takes place in their heads, not in their hands. “Dad, when a team begins to play with fear in their eyes, when instead of winning they are only trying to avoid losing, that’s when they’re in real trouble.” The third servant is playing not to lose. He’s afraid to take chances, afraid to risk anything.
A story from the life of Martin Luther may be helpful here. After Luther got in trouble with the pope, he was summoned to the city of Worms to defend himself against charges of heresy. There he stood, in front of the most powerful man in Europe, the Holy Roman Emperor. And though he was admittedly quite afraid, he refused to back down; he refused to recant. Whether he actually said, “Here I stand,” that was his attitude and his message. He spoke his piece and got in his cart and drove away—headed home to Wittenberg.
His friends feared for his safety; they didn’t trust either pope or emperor, so they had Luther kidnapped and taken to Wartburg Castle. Luther was disguised as “Squire George,” and stories were circulated that he was dead. While Luther was in hiding, his fellow teacher and reformer, Phillip Melanchthon, took charge of things back in Wittenberg. Phillip was as quiet and retiring and hesitant as Luther was loud, aggressive and assertive. Phillip always fretted over doing the right thing and doing things right. Many in Wittenberg wanted rash action and rapid change. Others wanted things to stay the same. Still others wanted a gradual change in church and society.
Phillip just couldn’t decide what to do. He couldn’t make up his mind, so he wrote Luther. He laid out his options. He said to Luther, “If I do this, this could go wrong. If I do that, that could go wrong, etc. etc. I just can’t decide. I don’t know what to do.” Luther wrote back, somewhat impatiently, “Look Phillip, you’re right. It is hard to know what the right thing to do is. Anything you do will have some sin in it. Therefore, sin boldly, but trust the grace of God more boldly still!” (And you thought he was talking about beer or something like that, didn’t you!)
Luther’s advice to Phillip is the answer for the servant with one talent and the answer for us as we face an uncertain and frightening future. Yes, we’re uncertain. Yes. we’re afraid. Yes, we might mess up. Yes, we might do the wrong thing. All of that’s true and possible. But Jesus calls us to leave our fear behind and give ourselves over totally to trust and faith in God. We too are called to act, to sin boldly—and to trust God.
Author Henry R. Rust tells of a visit to a tiny Christian congregation in a village in Kenya. They met in the open air beneath a thatched roof. When it came time for the offering, a round, flat basket was passed up and down the rows of benches as people put in coins and small bills. The basket came to a young woman with two small children. She looked at the basket for a long time. Then she took the basket and placed it on the dirt floor in front of her. Taking off her sandals, she picked up her children, held one on each hip, and stepped into the offering basket, standing with head bowed praying for several minutes. Then she stepped out of the basket and passed it on.
The basket has come to us. What will we put in it? Will we put in only our fear and anxiety, allowing them to hold us back? Or, will we drop our guard in the presence of the holy and step boldly into the center of God’s will and way, giving to God the one thing God really wants, our complete and total trust and love?
Amen and amen.