Many years ago, not long after we were married, Juli and I prepared for ministry work overseas. One of the things we were asked to do was to attend classes in language acquisition at a place in California that prepared people for cross-cultural engagement. I’ll never forget one of the fundamental truths repeated by those who led these sessions: acquiring use of a foreign language came from the persistent and courageous use of that language. Sounds simple, right? If you want to speak French, find a native French speaker and start “talking,” using the French you know; you’ll end up learning more than you will sitting in a classroom or studying a program online. Power through the mistakes you make. Keep at it, even when others smile at your errors or speak English back. Persevere, for perseverance is more important than skill. The trouble is that such behavior is easier said than done. When speaking Japanese in Tokyo, I once introduced my older brother (ani) as my “devil” or “ogre” (oni). It’s not easy to be bold, when one little vowel makes such a huge difference! But the people around me were forgiving and gracious. They understood. Be bold with the love of languages God gave you, I learned, and in the end, you’ll be rewarded. As someone who tends to over-think things and imagine all the mistakes I’d likely make, it turned out to be sage advice.
The passage from Matthew for today describes two kinds of servants: some who took risks with the gifts the master gave and gained more…another who played it safe. Contrary to what you might expect, the master praises the BOLD servants, rather than the cautious one. Risk-taking may seem averse to good Christian folks who strive to do the right thing. Shouldn’t followers of Jesus be careful? Doesn’t being a good steward = counting every penny, making sure we do nothing rash with what the master has given? Wouldn’t it be best when faced with an opportunity to serve to first be certain we have more than adequate time before saying “yes”? Perhaps. Today’s text reminds us, however, especially in the context of the approaching End, that life is best lived not so much by insuring a SAFE future but by living bold…by opening ourselves to the possibilities of a less predictable future in our service of the Master and use of the Master’s gifts.
Luther once famously said in a letter to his friend Phil Melanchthon, “sin boldly.” His point was not (as is sometimes suggested) to dispose of God’s Law and live as if God’s will didn’t matter. Rather, Luther meant to emphasize how life in Christ was not found in careful, sinless living (as if such a thing were possible!) but in discovering the abundance of God’s grace. Luther emphasized that living out of such abundance would open our eyes to even greater abundance along the way. The context of the “sin boldly” sound bite bears repeating: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [i.e., “sin boldly”], but believe and rejoice in Christ even more.” For a careful, overthinking type like me, that’s a word of hope. Not a bad way to approach Thanksgiving Day either, is it?