Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-8, 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

“It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”  This of course is a very famous quote by poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, and is often used to console those who are mourning the loss of a family member or friend, a spouse or significant other, through death or broken relationship or something.  The idea behind the saying is pretty straight forward, that while it really hurts now to have lost someone, at least you had the joy of loving this person to begin with.

It sounds great and all, really… when you’re not the person hurting.  It makes sense in our heads because it is logical to be able to love more than love less, but our emotions don’t always run on logic.  It is always easier to say “it is better to have loved and lost” when you’re not freshly wounded from that loss.

Because let’s be honest, losing hurts.  Bad.  As probably everyone here knows, there isn’t really anything out there that stings as much as a relationship ending.  And those that have felt that sting might remember how long it takes to actually recover enough to even consider entering into another healthy relationship, if at all.

You know, it is almost enough to say that relationships aren’t worth it.  Knowing that there is that prospective pain at the end of a relationship, maybe it is actually better to save yourself from that world of hurt and never love at all.  Better safe than sorry, right?  That fear of that pain could be enough to overpower us, even to the point of taking away all possibilities of what could be.  Because really, why bother?  Playing it safe means you minimize your hardship, disappointment, and burden.  I mean, you can’t lose what you don’t put into the pot, right?  So if we just play it conservatively, we can hang onto as many chips as possible, keep what we already know makes us happy, and invest only in sure things like gold or Google, then we for sure can live with the least amount of complication and distress, and we can just coast through life without ever taking that risk of pain and hurt.

That is what is happening in today’s parable that Jesus gives us for the third servant, at least. The other two were great though, the master entrusted them with a whopping pile of money, and they were able to yield a really high return, 100% in fact.  I don’t know what they were investing in, but I’d totally be in for doubling my money.  But the thing is with this story is that this isn’t their money, but the master’s, who by the description given by the third servant, is a pretty harsh man.  He says literally that, he is a harsh man, reaping where he doesn’t sow, and gathering where he didn’t scatter seed.  The master even admits that this is true later on in the story, and so there is no denying that this guy wants what he wants and will do what it takes to get it.

And with the title of “master,” the guy probably has a great deal of power, wealth, and at very least the authority to throw someone into the weeping and gnashing of teeth, and don’t get me started on that gnashing again, because *shutter* that is some scary stuff.  So how can we blame that third servant for playing it safe?  I wouldn’t want to play with this master’s money and lose it all.  Actually, I don’t think I’d want to play with my own money because I could lose it all, let alone someone else’s.  I don’t know how many of you play poker, but unless you have the absolute highest possible hand, nothing can be a sure thing.  There are bad beats everywhere, just ready jump out at you and crush all your hopes and dreams.

So play it safe.  Be conservative.  Don’t take risks and you won’t lose anything, you won’t hurt, you won’t feel disappointment.  And especially, don’t play with a harsh man’s money especially if he can get your teeth all gnashed up.

Why?  Because fear.  I mean fear is a big motivator, isn’t it?  We are scared of bad stuff happening, so we take uber preventative measures.  Locks, alarms, security cameras are supposed to make us feel safe.  Pepper spray, tasers, self defense classes are supposed to eliminate us getting hurt.  The American second amendment, giving every American the right to bear arms, has been used under the guise of protection, security, and defending freedom.  But how has that worked out for them so far?

The point is, yes, fear can be a big motivator, ensuring that we don’t get hurt.  In the “fight or flight” mentality, it seems much safer to just choose flight because the other person could be a lot bigger than you and maybe have a couple belts in some sort of martial arts, and you don’t really prove anything with a black eye and a couple broken ribs.  But… at the same time, when we succumb to the grip of fear, we essentially are saying no to possibility, progress, and promise.  By that I mean when we give in to fear, when we allow fear to control our actions, when we let fear consume us, we give up the possibility of change, relationship, and community.  We give up any chance of progress in who we are, how we do things, and how we relate to each other.  And we are effectively denying God’s promise of love, that God graciously forgives, and that God’s mercy extends to all of us, allowing us to live in confidence, boldly proclaim this good news, and dispel whatever fears may be holding us back.

I know, there is a lot of pain in the world, and that pain hurts.  Of course, that is pretty much the definition of pain.  And it often seems like a little prudence could go a long way in saving us from that pain and so we err on the side of caution and try to protect ourselves from whatever unwanted hardship we could.  And as Christians, it seems like we might even have more to fear with the prospect of eternal damnation and all that kind of stuff, and again, that whole gnashing thing.  All those end time stories are enough to keep us in fear, making sure that we don’t remove a single stroke from the law in order to stay in God’s good books.  Because God can be scary, and the unknown of what God will do to us after we die can be even more scary.

But God also promises us that grace and mercy we were just talking about.  God promises us welcome, acceptance, and inclusion.  And God of course promises us love. A love so big that it will cover all our failed risks and poor choices.  A love so big that it will forgive even the most heinous of sins, even the nailing of an innocent man to a cross.  A love so big that it could dispel all irrational fear, empower us to live in confidence, and grant us a peace that surpasses all understanding.

So the risk is worth it.  We can and are encouraged to take the chance on love, love for God, for neighbour, and even for ourselves.  We can live free of fear, confidently embracing what life has to offer, accepting the promises of God around community and relationship, knowing that we are indeed God’s beloved children.  We are released from the guilt of failure, the pain of loss, the sting of defeat.  In the words of Martin Luther, the father of our church and theology, “sin boldly, but believe bolder still in the grace of Christ.”  I paraphrase, but the point that Martin Luther is trying to make is that we needn’t live in fear of the consequence of what might be construed as sin, but we can go and live in the confidence of the forgiveness of God should those sins happen to transpire.

This isn’t to say we should take stupid risks thinking that there will be no negative repercussions, but it is to say that we needn’t make our decisions and life choices based on fear, but we can make them knowing that in Christ, all things are possible.  Can you imagine that?  In Christ, all doors are open, all paths are accessible, all dreams can be realised.  The risks that we take are minimalized because of the forgiveness of God, and that we don’t need to fear that guilt and regret.  We are freed from that intimidation and freed to live boldly.

But then, you might think, didn’t the third servant in the parable face consequence?  Wasn’t he punished for acting and living in fear?  Isn’t he banished from the community out into the darkness?  That doesn’t sound like freedom to live, but more fear to play it safe.

I actually think the point of that isn’t to say that he was punished, but rather that is a natural consequence of living in fear.  Allowing fear to take away our risks and relationships, then of course we will be isolated.  When we don’t take the chance on community then of course we will feel separated and alone.  If we bury ourselves in the ground to keep safe, then of course we will miss out on the joys of living.

So is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?  I think we all know that it is true.  As painful as loss can be, the prospect of love is greater, more powerful, and gives us more joy than we could think possible.  The love of God, the love of neighbour, and the love of ourselves opens the way to community in God’s kingdom, revealing to us the joy and peace of God’s grace and mercy, showing us that love is well worth the risk and we really have nothing to fear but fear itself.

And then in living boldly, in living without fear of guilt and regret, in living in the confidence of God’s unchanging promise, we can live.  We can see meaning and purpose.  We can make a difference and recreate the world to be a better place.  Because when all things are possible, then nothing is impossible.  We can do all things in Christ who strengthens us, without fear of failure or pain, knowing that God is the one who heals, supports, and empowers us as God’s own hands and feet.

As we approach the end of the church year and look ahead to another year of possibility and promise, may we continue to live boldly and believe bolder still in the grace and mercy found in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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