Morning Worship: Being frozen by inaction is not an option

I take a risk and ride the cable car from the valley floor in Albuquerque to the top of Sandia Mountain,” said the Rev. Joel C. Gregory during his sermon, “It’s About Time: Risk While There is Still Time,” at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.

“I am in a box on a wire with 50 people and a young man gets on with a long canvas bag. When we get to the top he takes out fabric and aluminum tubes and jumps off the top — a hang glider. He takes a risk and trusts the thermals to take him down to the valley. Risklessly, we watch him take a risk.”

Gregory’s Scripture for the day was Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents.

We like to watch others take risks, he said, whether it is rock climbing, river rafting or playing the stock market.

“We don’t often associate our Lord with a call to risk,” Gregory said. “ ‘We never did it that way before’ is the theme of the body whose only status is quo.”

Jesus is Lord of the risk. Gregory noted that preacher Tom Long, paraphrasing writer C.H. Dodd, said that a parable is a story whose meaning is in doubt in order to tease the mind into active thought.

“For many people parables are opaque, for others they are a window into the reign of God,” the pastor said. “For others they are a mirror — a text that interrupts us.”

In the Parable of the Talents, he said, the servant with five talents and the servant with two talents were stage props. A talent, sometimes translated a bag of gold, is the stuff of life, the innate gifts, abilities and networks people have. The one-talent servant was “incarcerated in his own inertia, held back by the paralysis of analysis.”

Gregory told a story from Reinhold Niebuhr about a young man from the midwest who decided he wanted to live the adventurous life of a sailor. His third day out at sea he was ordered up to the crow’s nest and halfway up the mast he froze. He could neither go up nor down. He was afraid of the height at the top and the ridicule by the other sailors at the bottom.

“With the stuff of life in our hands, being frozen is not an option,” he said.

The one-talent servant tried to explain away his inertia: if he had a better background like the five-talent servant or was a glad hander like the two-talent servant, he would have done better.

“We don’t like Monday morning quarterbacks — people who just watch,” Gregory said. “It is better to do something than to do nothing. Halitosis is better than no breath at all.

“Jesus called people to drop everything and follow him,” he added. “He never started a parable with, ‘There was a man in a La-Z-Boy.’ He told a story about a man who found a pot of gold and went out and bought the field. Or a man who found a pearl of great price and sold everything to buy it. At the Alamo, Davy Crockett said, ‘look before you leap.’ Jesus says, ‘leap because I am Lord.’ ”

The third act of the parable begins with the return of the master. The five- and two-talent servants were welcomed into the joy of their master. Gregory said the one-talent servant is so “thoroughly modern, or postmodern, or as my students say, post-postmodern,” that he blames his master for his failure. It was not enough to say he was dealt a bad hand or that he was afraid. He was slothful and his one talent was taken away and given to another.

“What would happen if we risked everything and failed?” Gregory said. ”David wanted to build the Temple and the Lord said no, Solomon would build it. But God said to David, ‘I know you had it in your heart.’ If you are given burlap, you are not expected to weave silk, but God expects you to weave something, because God knows you have it in your heart.”

The universe is not a cyber kinetic machine, spewing out impersonal fate, he said. The soil is tilled by those who take a risk for the kingdom.

There once was a beautiful valley full of green fields, fresh water and game to hunt. Gradually, the valley’s resources were overused, and the young pioneers said that there was another valley over the hill with running water, green fields and plenty of game. The council of the elders, who know how it really is, told them not to go, but they went anyway and the valley was as they heard.

“The new valley again was used up, and a new generation of young pioneers said that there was another valley further on with running water, green fields and plenty of game,” Gregory said. But the original young pioneers had become the council of elders who know the way it really is. And they could not take the risk.”

The Rev. George Wirth presided. Melissa Tawk, a member of the International Order of the King’s Daughter and Sons from Lebanon, read the Scripture. The prelude was “Concerto in C Major” by Antonio Vivaldi presented by Barbara Hois, flute, George Wolfe, soprano saxophone and Joseph Musser, piano. The Chautauqua Choir sang “Come, You Have My Blessing,” by Walter Pelz with words adapted by Ron Klug from Matthew 25: 34-40. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship, led the choir from the piano as the Massey organ was not working. The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund and the Carnahan-Jackson Chaplaincy Fund provide support for this week’s services.