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What kind of an investor are you?

Proper 28 2014: What kind of investor are you?

Matt 25:14-30

Being old poses some interesting encounters. For example, last year an advisor from TIAA/CREF called and made an appointment to see me in order to discuss my retirement plans. It turned out that what he really wanted was to know if I would agree to have TIAA/CREF manage my account after retirement or if I was thinking of taking the lump sum and investing it otherwise. I was fascinated by the graphs and predictions he made about whether I would have enough to live on in retirement…all of which carried assumptions about market economy, spending habits, and longevity.  How much risk was I willing to take in investment? How long did my parents live? Which ones, my genetic parents or the ones who adopted and raised me, I answered. He just looked at me like well, that is not useful information. We had a better conversation about risks after we agreed that I had no data upon which to guess about my longevity. My physician says if I don’t slow down I won’t have to worry about either answer. So what do you consider in making a decision that involves risk?

The parable about the three servants given money to manage for their master has some interesting lessons. The talent was approximately worth 15 years average daily wage. So in your mind take your income reported on the appropriate line of your IRS statement for last year and multiply by 15 (if you need pen and paper to do this, consider yourself a person with 5 talents).

The first servant takes the money to the market, to a wealth management firm and invests in high-risk ventures. The second does the same but with slightly less money to invest. Both do well. The market grows, their investment grows, and when the master returns his investment has grown and he is pleased and commends the servants for taking a risk. Now if the market had fallen and his money had decreased in value do you think he would still have praised the men for taking the risk? Your answer says everything about what you do with what you have, be it a talent, an opportunity or whatever.

Now the third servant played it safe, no high risk venture for him, fearing if he lost, he would be treated harshly so he gives the master his money back just as he got it. But the master is not happy to get his talent just as he entrusted it…he is harsh with the man.  One moral to this story is:  to not risk anything, is not to care deeply enough to invest deeply. Playing it safe is not praised.

So what does this say to us about how we live our lives?  How important is this in terms of who you perceive God to be? Do you expect harsh judgment for failure and therefore refuse to take a risk? Or do you think it is worth the risk to invest in something good whether it succeeds or fails?

If we think God is a punishing harsh judge, we will likely be pretty timid about taking risks.

What if this parable is Jesus way of inviting us to be disciples, to live our lives fully, investing them, taking risks? What if we are being asked not to just believe the right things about God but to take his talents and invest them boldly, bravely, reaching high and caring deeply? What if the parable posits an invitation for a high-risk adventure in faith, following Jesus as Lord?

What we do or fail to do shape the world in which we live, and it shapes our individual lives.  Much of how we invest the talents entrusted to us exposes our image of God. As disciples we may experience God in the private spaces of our hearts and be guided to do particular things. When we talk with brothers or sisters in Christ sharing our faith experiences we risk changing our perspectives as we consider things we have not thought about before. Our image of God changes throughout our faith journey, because of our experiences, knowledge, and things that happen in our community and world.

How do we connect with people? Who do we trust? What are we willing to risk and why? How aware are we of what we feel about our place in this community?

If we are frightened by criticism we may shy away from those we know to be critical. Frightening experiences train us not to repent publically or openly. Authenticity reflects how honest we are with ourselves. Our feeling brain center determines what comes from the thinking side!

Neuroscientists tell us we have 6 seconds to decide how to react in a given encounter: whether to argue, react, be angry, fight, or flee the scene, or if we can stop the hot spot trigger reaction we can sit in the situation differently, differentiated, calm, and interactive. It is almost impossible to be empathetic if we are frightened. To have empathy we must feel the pain of another, and to do that we must be fully present to the other.  If you want to develop empathy you need the curiosity to discover what another is thinking and experiencing. If you want to show empathy, you must care enough to ask.

Asking is taking the risk of hearing what you don’t want to hear, of experiencing with the other difficult things, and trying to see in the situation a divine presence, just out of sight and reach. Some of us will find it too risky, making us uncomfortable. We may feel unprepared, unqualified, and we may at a subconscious level know that the other person’s pain may have an impact on us.

My own response may keep me from offering empathy, especially when it is someone close to us who is upset with something we have said or done. It is hard to hear how you caused another pain. Sometimes we ask, take the risk and are rebuffed for the effort.

Our experiences inform our feelings and our feelings affect our thinking! This trinity of neurological connections has everything to do with how we process our experience of the divine in our daily ordinary lives. If we cannot risk being authentic with each other within the faith community, what are we saying we believe about God as revealed in the compassionate, merciful, and forgiving Jesus, the Christ?

Taking a risk for something good is a mark of faith! I invite each of us to listen carefully to hear our Master praise our willingness to take a righteous risk! Can you hear, “Well Done”?

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