Risky Buisness

 Scripture:  Matthew 25:14-30

            At the beginning of 2009, Finnish programmer Niklas Hed saw dark clouds on the horizon.   Back in 2003, while still a student, Hed and two of his friends hit it big and won a video game design contest with a novel and unique idea.  A couple of years later, emboldened by their success, they created a video game company focused on the new world of mobile phone games.  They even received a large influx of cash from an angel investor that gave their dreams a jump start.  However, by 2009 those dreams had stalled out.   Their fledging company was running in the red.   This was not from lack of effort.  Between 2005 and 2009 the company had released fifty one games for cell phones, but despite all of that effort they were not even breaking even.   Their investment capital was practically depleted.  It was looking like they were not going to be a good return on investment.   As 2009 came to an end, they released their fifty second and potentially last game.  This company’s name is Rovio and the game in question is a little app called Angry Birds.   It turned out Rovio was a good investment.   Angry Birds is the most downloaded mobile game of all time.   Angry Bird games combined have over three billion downloads.   Angry Birds turned out to be a multi-media juggernaut that eight years later is still profitable and still growing.   I have to wonder on the mindset of the investor.  In 2005, when the venture capitalists gave the beginning Rovio studio a huge influx of cash, just what did they expect?  Clearly they were hoping the company to successful, but did they expect the company they invested in to create one of the most successful video games of all time?   I wonder just what kind of return on investment they were expecting.   In the four long years of barely breaking even between 2005 and 2009, I wonder how patient these investors were.   Most of us do not have enough money that we can risk being a venture capitalists, so I think the idea of taking a risk on someone else to see if it pays off is a foreign concept to us.   I have to wonder what about the mindset of the investors, because I do not really have the proper mindset to fully understand the thought process.  However, this fascinating parable that Jesus shows us that God can absolutely understand and appreciate taking the same risk that a venture capitalist takes.   This parable shows that God regularly makes potentially risky investments, and what God invest in us.

            The most recent NIV translation used “bags of gold” to best convey the meaning of this parable, but if you have an older translation it is likely that it says the master entrusted his servants with five talents, two talents, and one talent.   A talent is an ancient measure of currency that is equal to a lot.   It is a rough figure, but one talent is approximately $280,000.  This means the servant given five talents was entrusted with somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.4 million dollars, so in this parable that Jesus told we are not talking about an insignificant amount of money.   I recently taught this same scripture at youth group, and I began by asking them “What would you do if I gave you $280,000 and I told you that I was entrusting you with it?”   Now, we have smart teens.   They latched on to the word entrusted, so they knew it would be irresponsible and wrong to spend it on stuff they want.   One of the teens said they would put in the bank, but the rest of them said they would hide it away, and because they are teens the lengths they went to hide the money kept getting more elaborate.   Unfortunately, they found they were in for a rude surprise when I read the scripture.   They quickly realized the answer they gave to hide or bury the money was the wrong one.   I asked the group what their impressions of this story are, did they think the master was fair or unfair.   They unequivocally said the master was unfair.     They went further to say the master seemed like a bit of a jerk.   Now, I can see why they might have thought that, but it is also a bit problematic because it is clear that in this story the master is meant to be God.   They latched onto an oddity in this story, the man was given one talent or bag of gold, and he successfully returned it.   Why did doing that deserve such a harsh punishment?  

            The uncomfortableness that emerges from this story has to do with us taking a far too conservative understanding of the concept of entrust.  The master was not just entrusting his money to the servants for safe keeping.   He was entrusting it to them, so that they could use it the way that he would use it.  Essentially, the master was investing in his servants.   It was the expectation of the master that the servants would put his money to good use.   This means that the servant who buried it, did a terrible job at honoring his master’s trust.   In verse 26 the master calls this servant wicked and lazy.   I have to wonder if the driving motivation though was less laziness and more cowardice.   In order to take his master’s investment and double it like the other two servants this servant would have had to take some risks.   The story is not fully developed, but I imagine the servants who doubled the money probably had some setbacks.  They had to spend their master’s money without a sure bet they would recoup the costs.  They might have been in the red before they made it in the black.   Yet they were entrusted with their master’s money, and they did their best to use the money in the same way the master would.  They honored their master’s wishes, and they were faithful and they were faithful to the task their master had entrusted to them.  It paid off for them in the end they heard their master say “well done good and faithful servant.”  

            This scripture is more than a lesson in venture capitalism.  It is a parable that Jesus told, which means it is a story with a point.  There are a couple of points being driven at here.  The first, is that God is the master and we are all the servants.    We have been entrusted by God with great treasure.    God has provided and blessed us all with so much, and part of that is what God has entrusted us with.   God has entrusted us with skills, abilities, spiritual gifts, and yes capital resources.   In the parable the master entrusts the servants to use what was entrusted to them to continue making money the way the master makes money.  In the same way God has entrusted us with much to continue on in the way that God would use these resources.   That is to use them in love to spread the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near, to proclaim that forgiveness is at hand, and to better perfect this world in love.  

            It can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this scripture does not apply to us.  It can be easy to think that we are not who this scripture is talking about.  After all, when it comes to gifts, abilities, and talents we might have we can always find someone who does it better.  It can be easy to say, that it is their job not mine.   However, this story does not give us that option because it says the master gave the talents to each one according to his ability.  So, as an example it is true that there is someone who can probably do a better job at visiting people in nursing homes than you, but if that is what God has gifted and called you to do then it is meant for you to do as best as you can.   We can apply that same kind of flawed logic to our resources as well.   It is easy for us to say that we just do not have the funds to give and help others.   However, as Americans we have to confess that is not as true as we think it is.   Compared to the rest of the world, even Americans working at minimum wage have more available resources than 93% of the world.   Thinking more creatively about resources, we all have time as resource.   Some of us have more available in a day than others, but that is also a resource that each and every  one of us has been entrusted with and it is a resource we can use to further God’s good and perfect will. 

            In a variety of ways God has entrusted all of us and we are to use those resources to love people, to spread the gospel, to be the hands of Christ, to oppose injustice, to be agents of peace, and to transform this world into a more compassionate place.   We can make excuses, but they are just that.   I challenge all of you this week to give serious thought to exactly what gifts, abilities, and resources God has entrusted you with.  Write them down, it could be helpful to see it all on paper.  Then consider are you being faithful with what has been entrusted to you? 

            In order to truly be faithful, we are going to have to do something, and that something will require taking risks.   In his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase beautifully defines what this kind of risk looks like in a faith setting.  He writes, “Risk-taking mission and service involves work that stretches people, causing them to do something for the good of others that they would never have considered doing if it were not for their relationship with Christ and their desire to serve him.”   Another part of taking a risk, is chancing failure.   When we try to reach out and serve those in need or take a step in faith and share the gospel, it is possible things may not go as planned.   We cannot let the fear of failure though hinder us from being faithful.   Remember, Rovios made fifty one failed games before they developed Angry Birds.   Often failure is a vital part of the learning process, and we cannot let our fear that it might not work paralyze us into doing nothing.  

            The second point that this parable is trying to get across is right in the beginning.  The scripture began with, “Again it will be like. . .”   If we trace back what this again is in reference to the previous thought in the gospel is a parable about the second coming.   That means that this too is a parable of when Jesus returns, and when that happens it will be like when the master comes back and we will have to account on how we used what we were entrusted with.   You When that times comes we will have either used what we were given or we would have done nothing with it.   Now, you might still be concerned that when that time comes you will be before God in heaven with nothing to show because you failed.   However, I sincerely believe that if we truly strive to use what God has entrusted us with to further God’s kingdom then we cannot truly fail.  There might be setbacks, wrong turns, and accidents but in the end if we are faithful to God then there will be much fruit, because Jesus himself told us “surely I am with you always to the very end of the age”, and if God is for us then what can stand against us.   I do not know about you, but when that time comes and I am before God it is the hope of my soul that I here “well done, good and faithful servant.”

            On days like today, I am thankful that God cares us for enough and loves us enough that God has actually entrusted us and invited us to help transform this world.   I am thankful that out of an unending goodness, God has equipped us and entrusted us with what we need to do just that.    I am thankful that God is that faithful to us, so may we be faithful to God.   May we be aware of what God has entrusted us with and may we use it in risky, wild, loving, and world transforming ways.   May we seek daily to be faithful servants of God, because that after all is what a disciple is supposed to be.