Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pentecost 11 - Year C

”Do one thing everyday that scares you,” says Eleanor Roosevelt.

When I was in my twenties that seemed to be my tag line. This became apparent when I started seminary and had to take a gaggle of psych exams to make sure that I wasn’t a serial killer. One of the outcomes of those tests was that I was an OFF-THE-CHART risk taker.

When asked to explain myself all I could say was that it wasn’t that I was consciously taking risks. I just did stuff.

They asked if I ever quit a job without having another one lined up. Yes.

They asked if I’d ever moved to a new city without knowing where I was going to sleep that night. Yes.

They asked if, in a relationship, I was the first one to confess my love even without knowing how the other would respond. Yes.

They asked if I ever cold-called businesses when looking for a job, if I ever took a job that was beyond my abilities, if I ever asked a boss for a raise. Yes. Yes. And Yes.

And on it went.

What I thought was simply “living” some psychologist thought was extreme risk taking.

Now look at me. 12 years down the road I seem to have lost my edge. I don’t take as many risks as I did as a young punk. I wonder what happened.

I wonder if I’ve grown-up - matured - developed out of my risk-taking phase.

Or I wonder if having children causes a person to drive slower, plan the day more carefully, and check the water before jumping in.

Or maybe it’s because I became a leader in the church, where safety and stability are rewarded, and risk is punished.

There may be something to that.

It’s been said that Christian churches are the most conservative organizations in the world. By this they mean that churches are more resistant to innovation than most other organizations.

Some say that’s because we always look to the past for our strength and identity. After all, our story is over 2000 years old.

Others say it’s because of fear of the unknown. While the world is being turned upside down and old certainties are being decimated in favour of newer philosophies, where the sum of human knowledge doubles every 5-to 10 years, where people change jobs or careers on average of every 2-3 years, where families are crumbling, technology changing the way we talk, at least the church will guard against soul-crushing innovation, at least the church will be a sanctuary brimming with ancient wisdom, opening our eyes when the blizzard of change blinds us

So God tells Abram in the midst of change, “Do not be afraid, for I am your shield.”

Nice. Comfortable. Words.

But Abram is still afraid. Anyone would be. God has asked him to pick up his life and move halfway across the planet. God says that his nonagenarian wife is pregnant. And God tells Abram that his life is just beginning while his pension cheques arrive in the mail.

God is asking him to risk. To trust. To have faith.

I’m guessing it was a hard sell, even for God. That’s why God had to show Abram the pay-off. “Look up at the sky,” God says, “see the stars. You will have as many descendants as the stars you see in the sky.”

Very cool.

So God waited for an answer. I’m guessing that Abram didn’t jump up and snatch the offer on the table right away. There was a lot to consider. He was tired. He worked hard all his life. Someone younger would be better at it. Also, he had a geritol-sipping wife who probably wouldn’t be doing backflips at the thought of getting pregnant and slogging across the known universe all because her husband heard a voice in the sky.

Abram decided the risk was worth it. If for no other reason than he’d spend the rest of his life wondering what he’d lost because he didn’t accept God’s offer.

And it is said that God reckoned that risk- that trust, that faith – God reckoned it as righteousness.

In other words, because Abram risked and trusted God’s promise, it was like Abram didn’t sin - ever.

That’s how much God values trust and risk.

But now, so much in the church is about preservation and survival. So much in the church is about safety and comfort.

Pastor Bill Hybels of WillowCreek Community Church, shamelessly stealing from business writer Jim Collins, called them “BHAGs.” Great word, isn’t it? It means “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.” And Hybels says that it’s the church’s job to set goals so big that it’s only through God’s help that they can be achieved.

Sacred wisdom? Or nice sounding spiritual words from a master communicator?

I like to think of it as setting goals that push us to greater commitment and a stronger vision of the impact we can make in our community.

Doesn’t sound quite as sexy as the way Hybels says it, does it?

So maybe I’ll put it another way: I think God is asking us to risk. Maybe God is saying that if our goals aren’t making us collectively fill our pants than we aren’t risking enough, trusting enough, pushing our faith to the limit.

But we need to remember – and Hybels would agree - that risk is not a whimsical disregard for commonsense or a delusional dream of an egomaniac bent on world domination.

Risk follows a vision of what life can be, a vision of what God wants the world to look like, and how we can help God build that world.

I would like us to start thinking about how God is asking us to risk. I think God is asking us to dream God-sized dreams. I think God would even like to see us fail- and fail spectacularly. I often wonder that if we aren’t failing, we aren’t risking. We aren’t trusting God to catch us when we fall.

I’ve shared this quote by Marianne Williamson with you before, but it bears repeating:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

So, what’s the one thing you’ll do today that scares you? What’s the one thing we as a church can do that will scare US?

Sometimes I wonder if we have TOO MANY opportunities and our problem is choosing just one or two of them.

Other times I wonder if the dreams God has for Good Shepherd are so vast that we shrink from our call to be kingdom builders with God, preferring the safety of a well-run organization to the chaos of faith and trust.

We may hear God tell Abram not to be afraid and hope it applies to us as well.

However, I think that despite God’s best intentions we will be afraid. We will always be afraid.

But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? That’s who we are. Without fear there is no trust. Without fear there is no faith.

Some define risk as pursuing a goal without being sure of the definite outcome.

Or the writer of Hebrews in our second lesson puts it this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Sounds also like a great definition for “risk” and “trust” doesn’t it?

Abram never saw God’s vision for him fulfilled because it’s still being fulfilled. Jesus’ followers are still waiting for the Son of Man to re-appear. And we are wondering what our church will look like 5, 10, 50 years down the road. We don’t see the definite outcome.

But I think God is asking us to look at the sky and count the stars while being dressed and ready for action.

And Jesus says to all of us who are shaking in our sandals, “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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