The Danger of Playing it Safe


The following post is a sermon I recently preached which was adapted from Glenn McDonald’s, The Disciple Making Church. This has been a very helpful text for me in navigating the difficult waters of a ministering to a church in transition…

Most of us are aware of the story of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Of the planes that were hijacked, this one would not be used to crash into a building – not because it wasn’t intended to. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, well short of its assumed target.

The events surrounding that day have become such an overused tagline for political rhetoric that it is easy to ignore or gloss over what really took place. This was not a Tom Clancy novel or a Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks war movie. The individuals on this airplane were not soldiers, secret agents or even security guards. They were just regular people who found what their plane was going to be used for. In the midst of a culture of death, they chose to live the life they had left.

There were several phone calls made from the plane that day by passengers who did not know what was going to happen. The passengers were finding out from terrified family on the ground what was going on with other planes that morning. It was becoming apparent that they were a part of something very ugly and very real and seemingly inescapable. That was when probably the most gripping statement was made.

Tom Burnett, on the phone with his wife Deena said, “A group of us is going to do something.”…

Jesus is in Jerusalem, not long before the end of his life on earth. He has been speaking out against religious people who are more concerned with right doctrine than they are with living lives of fullness – lives of mercy, compassion, etc.

The disciples began asking Jesus about the Kingdom – and about his eventual claiming of everything. What were the expectations of life in this Kingdom?

And so Jesus talks to them in stories and parables meant to describe how they should or should not live as disciples of Jesus after his resurrection (which is where we find ourselves today)

Matthew 25:14-25

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

The cautious man, the one who hid the bag of money, was playing it safe. He didn’t risk doing something that might loose the master’s money. Of course it did nothing to increase, but he avoided a loss…which is a gain in some respects, right? He also avoided the dangerous slippery slope.

What if he’d invested the money and the bank had gone under? Remember this is quite a bit before the invention of the FDIC. What if he’d invested, done well and developed a liking for high-risk/high-return speculation? Couldn’t that be considered gambling? And what if he liked it so much that it led to gambling? Or what if he put the money to work and someone tricked him out of it? What if he made a bad decision…Enron?

There were no guarantees – unless you held firmly to what you’d been given. The only guarantee was to not risk anything by attempting anything without explicit instructions to do so.

And when the day comes, you can imagine this guy nervously expecting – or maybe hoping – that the master will appreciate his faithfulness to what was originally entrusted to him. He completely preserved what was originally received. This wasn’t jus the same amount of money, it was the SAME MONEY!

And we know the rest of the story…

Matthew 25:26-30

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

That which he had kept so pure and simple; kept just like it’d been originally given, was taken away from him and given to those who’d taken a risk.

Those people on Flight 93 were undoubtedly terrified. They probably hoped to be able to disarm the terrorists and safely land the plane – but regardless of the odds they weren’t going to sit there and wait for the plane to crash; wait for the crash that would be used as a weapon against innocent people.

Deena Burnett urged her husband Tom not to do anything. She wanted him to play it safe and not draw attention to himself. She was hoping that the situation would rectify itself. Trying something could fail, but several passengers realized that not doing anything meant certain failure.

For the three servants in this parable there was certainly risk associated with putting the master’s money to work. They could very well have lost everything (notice however that doesn’t even show up in the story…it doesn’t seem that failure was Jesus’ concern so much as failure to act due to fear)

For us today the risks are similar. We can choose to function with a “Let’s play it safe” mentality. We can choose to do nothing because we haven’t been given specific instructions on what to do. And we run a great risk of the master showing up wondering what we’ve done with His church.

“Lord we knew you were a jealous and Holy God. And so we’ve not done anything you didn’t specifically tell us to do. We’ve completely restored and preserved your church. Everything is just as you left it. See, here is what belongs to you.”

Playing it safe is a very dangerous game. Anyone who sees the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. We have to be willing to risk it all for the sake of the Kingdom. We risk rejection by our family or by other religious people. That is exactly what Peter and Paul did as they risked ministering to Gentiles…

We risk financially in the name of ministry. We risk being uncomfortable and out of our comfort zones.

Acts 16:6-10

6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

At this point, Paul does something radical. To us this seems like an obvious, easy decision. But in choosing to go to Macedonia Paul deviated from his intended route – his God ordained mission – and paved the way for the Gospel to move West.

God didn’t show up, Jesus didn’t strike Paul blind again. Paul saw a vision of a man. Through this he and his companions decided that God was calling them to Macedonia and they WENT!!!

Who, what or where is our Macedonia?

How are we taking a dangerous risk by playing it safe? Where do we need to be willing to risk everything for the Kingdom? These are important questions for our congregations, AND these are important questions for each of our families AND each of us individually.

Are we just waiting for the plane to crash or is a group of us going to do something about it?

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Posted on October 19, 2007, in discipleship, faith, grace, hope, metaphors, theology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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