If you travel to Greece, you will find the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, which is actually one of the six monasteries built in the fifteenth century on the top of a mountain. Those who were fit were invited to access the Holy Monastery by means of the long ladders, which are lashed together. Others, less able, were allowed to ride in a suspended basket, which was pulled to the top by several monks who pulled and tugged with all their strength.
The ride was terrifying. The cliff was steep. On a particular day, an observant tourist got exceedingly nervous about halfway up as she noticed that the rope by which she was suspended was old and frayed.
With a trembling voice she asked the monk who was riding with her in the basket how often they changed the rope. The monk thought for a moment and answered, “Whenever it breaks.”
I would imagine that tourist did a lot of praying until the ride was over. I am quite sure she was thankful the rope did not break. Interestingly, in 1923, one hundred and forty-six stairs were added for a safer climb.
Taking a suspended basket up a mountain pulled by ropes that are old and frayed was a risk. And most of the time humans are very averse to taking risks. I know that I am. Besides, I am afraid of heights.
Matthew’s Gospel invites us to take a risk with everything that God enables us to participate in when growing His Kingdom. It probably should not extend to taking trips up a mountain in an unsafe basket, but it should extend to getting out into the world and making a difference.
Taking a closer look at the parable of the talents sheds some light on risk raking. It was not unusual for a rich landowner to entrust his slaves with significant responsibility. A talent was a significant resource worth more than fifteen year’s wages of a typical worker. Two of the servants were commended for investing their talents. One was not. The fears that the talent might be lost or the resentment of laboring for the master are very bad excuses for not investing in the greater good.
The English word ‘talent’ is limiting. We are not talking about a special skill like playing the piano or being good at football. Instead, God has given us everything. We each are a gift from God – our minds, hearts, resources, relationships. We have the gift of every moment of every day. We have an obligation, a privilege, of taking risks for God. We should put every effort into pushing forward the values of the kingdom.
Driving though a low-income area near his church, Colorado pastor Chad Graham started praying for his “neighbors.” When he noticed a small laundromat, he stopped to take a look inside and found it filled with customers. One customer asked Pastor Graham for a spare coin to operate the clothes, dryer. That small request inspired a weekly “Laundry Day” sponsored by Pastor Graham’s church. Members donate coins and soap to the Laundromat, pray with the customers, and support the owner of the laundry facility.
Their neighborhood outreach, which dares to include a laundromat, reflects Jesus’ Great Commission to His disciples. The risk the members of Pastor Graham’s church took were far beyond providing soap and coins to those in need.
Jeff, a regular customer at the Laundromat, was battling cancer. One day Pastor Graham began praying for him right in the middle of the Laundromat. When he and Jeff opened their eyes, every customer in the room was praying along with them. All hands were stretched out toward Jeff. It was one of the most sacred moments Pastor Graham ever experienced.
The Gospel can be proclaimed anywhere! Are you willing to pray openly in a public place?
According to the family legend, two brothers, one named Billy and the other Melvin, were standing on the family’s dairy farm one day when they saw an airplane doing some skywriting. The boys watched as the plane sketched out the letters “GP” overhead.
Both brothers decided that what they saw had meaning for them. One thought it meant “Go preach.” The other read it is “Go plow.” Later, one of the boys, Billy Graham, educated himself to preaching the gospel, becoming an icon of evangelism. His brother Melvin went on to faithfully run the family dairy farm for years.
Skywriting signs aside, two young boys took a risk and honored God through their vocations. While Billy had a long preaching career, his success doesn’t mean that his brother’s obedience to his calling to plow was any less important. They both made a difference in the lives of others.
Another risk taker is Helene Cooper, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Pentagon reporter for the New York Times. In late July, after hearing Dr. Anthony Faucci’s call for volunteers for COVID 19 vaccine trials, Helene went online and filled out the questionnaire with her medical history. Researchers at George Washington University then invited her to participate in the trial.
What makes Helene such a desirable participant in the vaccine trials is due to being at high-risk. She is a Black woman, a Type 1 diabetic and asthmatic. With tenacity and focus, Helene asked every question about the science of vaccine trials, the safety measures, and the risks. In the end she agreed to participate in the trial. Helene was dedicated to the cause even though she could be given a placebo. She knew the researchers needed to see if the vaccine was safe for folks with her underlying medical issues. She was willing to take the risk.
More often than we realize, the ‘talents’ we possess are not a matter of resources but opportunities we have to make something good happen. Talents can mean contributing a few dollars to make a difference in someone’s life. Talents also involve a willingness to use whatever our skills and resources allow us to do. The Spirit of God prompts us to use our ‘talents’ to bring light into many places by following the examples of Pastor Graham, Evangelist Billy Graham, dairy farmer Melvin Graham, and reporter Helene Cooper.
Let us Pray!
Gracious God, help us to use our skills and resources to make a difference for others. May the message of Today’s Gospel help us to be ready and willing to respond to opportunities (even risky ones) with joy and generosity for the sake of Your Kingdom. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us respond to The Call. Amen!
Resources for this Sermon:
• Lectionary Levity by Ian Markham and Samanthat Gottlich, pp.92-92
• Our Daily Bread for October 15, 2020 and October 22, 2020.