Text: Mark 5:25-34
This morning I offer the third sermon in a series that I have entitled: Living a Centered Life in a Splintered World. If you needed to be convinced that we are living in a splintered world the events of the past ten days should be persuasive enough. The first sermon of the series, Holy Habits or Holy Intentions, suggested that living a centered life requires us to live more from intention and less from habit. Last week’s sermon, with the events of Charlottesville resting heavy on our minds, we discussed how to hold together resistance and surrender. In that sermon I suggested that spiritual surrender is not waving a white flag in defeat. Rather, spiritual surrender is saying yes to Ultimate Love and learning to surrender to and trust in that Ultimate Love.
Today, I will try and put words to a third practice when seeking to live a centered life in a splintered world. I want to introduce my topic today by asking you to respond to a set of questions. Each question comes with two statements. Statement A and statement B. For each of the 5 questions, you will answer with either A or B. So, here we go.
A: You’ve jumped or would jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
B: You’re not all that comfortable even jumping off a curb.
A: You disagreed with your boss during an important meeting.
B: You kept quiet when your supervisor made an error and blamed it on you.
A: You possess the most extensive sun hat collection this side of the Mississippi.
B: You don’t even own sunscreen.
A: You don’t immediately change the empty toilet paper roll after using it all up.
B: You bought a special basket to put next to the toilet so extra rolls would always be immediately at hand.
A: You’ve been arrested. Maybe even more than once.
B: You are the person your friends call to bail them out of jail. One, because they know you have money saved. And, two, you are known for being home by 10:00pm on Saturday nights.
You have just taken the “risk-taker indicator.” If your answers fall into the pattern of A, A, B, B, A then you know something of what it means to not always play it safe. If your responses followed the pattern of B, B, A, A, B it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not a risk taker. It may simply mean that you think before you leap. Either way, I want us to think this morning about what it means to be risk-takers as people of faith.
My thesis this morning is simply this: without the risk-taking of our spiritual mothers and fathers, we would have no faith story. As people of faith today, we cannot live a risk-free life in a world that needs the radical love of God.
The Bible, our sacred text, is full of risk-takers. Consider Abraham’s story. An invisible God with a voice says to Abraham, and I paraphrase here: “I want you to leave your home and your land and every thing you own and go to a place that I will show you.” And the story says, “So Abraham went, as the Lord had told him…” Being willing to take a risk.
If Abraham doesn’t convince you, then take Moses. Responding to God’s call through a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames, he returns home as a fugitive to deliver God’s people. Remember, the last time he was in Egypt he had killed someone and there was a contract out on him. But when God calls, Moses responds and he takes a risk to go back home and lead his people out of oppression. Being willing to take a risk.
But it’s just the men of faith who take great risk. Consider Esther. She takes a risk to confront evil in the highest position of authority. She risked her own life to save her people. And what about those risk-taking midwives, Shiprah and Puah? They too, risk their very lives to save the Hebrew babies.
Think of the risk that the disciples took when they left their jobs and lives to respond to Jesus’ call “follow me.” Or the risk that Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, took as he laid his reputation and career on the line to seek help for his daughter from the man named Jesus. The man, the rabbi he had been warned to stay away from.
And then there is the powerful story that Cathy read earlier of the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. As a woman, living within the cultural norms of her day, it’s hard to even imagine the depth of risk she took when she reached out and touched the garment of Jesus. Being willing to take a risk.
The Bible is full of stories of men and women who took great risk for their faith. Our history books are also full of great men and women who took great risks to follow their dreams and hopes and passions to make a difference in the world. But if we believe that God’s revelation is ongoing, and if we understand that every generation prepares the way for the next generation, and if we want to pass on to our children and their children a spiritual heritage, then the questions we must ask ourselves in this splintered world are these: What are we willing to risk so that our world may know of the radical love of God? How willing are we to be risk-takers for God’s justice-love? And dare we even go so far as to actively look for the places where God is calling us to be risk-takers? There is no playing it safe.
I want to tell you a story about a time and some people, right here in our own church, who decided to be risk-takers for their faith. In the winter of 1984 two homeless men froze to death on the streets of Raleigh. In response, a mission group began meeting weekly here at our church to pray and to plan, and to become change makers and risk-takers for homeless men in Raleigh. Paul Carr, Larry Highfill, and Jim Hutchby—all Pullen members at the time—were the core of that group. Over the next couple of years, these three men would take significant risk as they worked tirelessly to respond to the critical shortage of housing for homeless men and to establish affordable housing for homeless men. Out of their efforts came the Emmaus House whose mission is to provide safe, affordable housing for working, homeless men recovering from substance dependency. Now there are three such houses!
I’ve thought a lot about this story lately. I have wondered, “How many people in Raleigh read the article about the two homeless men freezing on our streets and simply turned to the next page of the newspaper?” Hundreds? Thousands? And yet there were three men who didn’t turn the page and go on to the next headline. No, three men opened their eyes and their hearts and their minds and decided to take a risk and to live the words of Jesus—“when you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it to me.” What you ask did they risk? They risked their time, their energy, their knowledge, their resources, their prayers, their comfortable evenings at home. But more than anything, they risked hope in the face of what we all fear the most – failure. Just like our spiritual fathers and mothers—Abraham and Sarah, Esther, Moses, Peter, and the woman who risked her life to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Oh, what risks would we take if we knew we couldn’t fail?
I’ve thought about Paul and Larry and Jim a lot lately and the risks they took. And I have wondered, what risk will we take today for the mother who is being hunted down by ICE for deportation? As the city listed #10 nationwide for human trafficking, what risk will we take for the young girls and women being sold into sex trade? As people of faith who have been entrusted to care for creation, what risks will we take for the environment? What risks will we take for our transgendered family and friends as the church and society continues to marginalize and oppress them? What kind of risk-takers will we be for those who are suffering with mentally-illness?
If we want to live a centered, spiritual life in this splintered world there is no playing it safe. We have to be willing to not only be risk-takers; we have to be willing to look for the risks that we are being called to take for the sake of the gospel and for God’s radical justice-love. If we are willing, then we may find these words of Joseph Campbell to be true.
We have not even to risk the
for the heroes of all time have
gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly
we have only to follow the
thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to
find an abomination
we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to
we shall come to the center of
our own existence.
And where we had thought to
we shall be with all the world.
-The Hero Path
As people of faith, being risk-takers is not optional. It is what ultimately saves us as individuals and what saves humanity. The good news that comes with being God’s risk-takers is that we are indeed never alone. And so, for God’s sake, whether you are 19 or 90, don’t play it safe when it comes to risking something for God’s justice-love in the world.