It was a championship game. I was an up and coming baseball player. It was two outs in the bottom of the ninth, no one on, our team down by one. The first couple pitches were outside, then I fouled off a few. Two balls and two strikes, the pitcher wound up and threw. A fast ball. It looked outside and so I kept my bat on my shoulder. To my shock, “Streeeerike three,” yelled the umpire. Batter out, game over, championship lost.
Though I haven’t always followed my advice, at that moment, I vowed never to take a third strike. I would go down swinging, if I went down at all. When life presented me with a challenge, I would not leave my bat on my shoulder.
In some ways, that’s the heart of today’s scripture. A cruel businessman gives three employees money to invest. Two take risks, and make a profit, but the third buries it in the ground, neither gaining nor losing but receiving the rebuke of his master for leaving his bat on his shoulder. For preferring a risk free, reward free, life without change, to a life of adventure and growth. We can’t excuse the master’s behavior – it is cruel and parables aren’t always models of good behavior – but we can recognize the difference between using our resources or letting them lie fallow.
The parable is about gifts, about risk and reward, about taking our lives in our own hands and using the gifts God has given us. It’s about stewardship, about using what we have to do something beautiful for God, something that makes a difference in the world.
Many of us are afraid to fail but the only way to succeed is to risk failure. Whenever we try something new – a new way of looking at things, a new sport, a new technology, a different way of relating to others, we make mistakes, and sometimes we fail, and yet out of these failures, new life and gifts emerge. After whiffing on the driving range, you take lessons, keep practicing and then your swing comes together, you hit the sweet spot, and straight down the fairway, 200 yards. After sounding atrocious even to yourself on the piano or trumpet, you finally learn to play a piece and keep at it, and after much practice, may graduate to Purcell’s voluntary, Pachelbel’s canon, or a Bach fugue. After your knees knock when you preach your first sermon or teach your first class, you make a commitment to excellence and spend a lifetime as a pastor and professor.
The only way to move forward is to take chances, even small ones, to do something new, changing the story of our lives, reaching out beyond our comfort zone, trusting that when we use our gifts, God will add to them, blessing and multiplying them as God did to feed the five thousand from five loaves and two fish.
This is true for our personal lives and it is true for our church. We are learning as we go along here at South how to deal with technology, how to worship in a safe way, how to reach out beyond our community in ways that make a difference, all the while using tools and practices we were unfamiliar with a year ago. We have had some interesting zoom meetings, we have wrestled with ways to get beyond our community and yet build the community we have. We have had small failures and struggled with going beyond the way we’ve always done it, but we have taken steps forward and we are here today because, like our parents at South Church, we were willing to risk some failures.
Remember John Kennedy’s words as he launched our quest for space. “We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” We know the risk of not risking. Listen to these words of T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:
Do I dare
Distur b the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse….
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
Greatness lies ahead for us. Possibility confronts us. We have gifts, five,
two, twenty talents, and they can make a difference. We aren’t a large congregation but our five loaves and two fish feed the homeless, nurture children, touch the lonely, and perhaps tip the balance between life and death for persons in our community and our nation. As Margaret Mead counseled, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. That’s all who ever have.”
Let us be these caring people. Using our gifts to care…for others…for the forgotten, lonely, frightened, and vulnerable; for our community, our nation, and the world. Great will be the reward, because we will be working alongside Jesus doing something beautiful for God to heal our world.