I’ll be honest with you; I’ve never been a big risk taker. Whether it is my own insecurities or a fear of looking foolish and failing, I don’t know, but more often than not I play it safe, but looking back, many of the times I did take a risk – the rewards were huge. I took a risk my senior year of high school and auditioned for the CT all-state band. They choose 9 tuba players and I was #9. I took a risk and chose to go to MSU when I didn’t know anyone in the state of MI let alone at MS – but the risk was rewarded with more than 4 great years of learning and growth both in life and in faith. I also took a risk and got on a bus to go spend a summer in Yellowstone National Park and the reward was many mountain top experiences, both literally and figuratively.
Not all risks I took in life were rewarded with success. Twice I moved to California thinking that was where I needed to be and both times were a failure, but I did grow because of those experiences so maybe that was the reward. As I have been thinking this week about risk and reward, what I have realized is that not all risk is rewarded with success but there is never a reward without some risk.
We take a risk and go out on that first date, which leads to a second and then engagement and marriage. We take a risk and apply for a job we would love and that risk opens doors of opportunity and growth. The rewards that come with family and jobs only come by taking risks. There is risk taking in our participation in sports, art, music, drama and other hobbies but the rewards in those activities is often worth it. There is also an element of risk when it comes to our faith. Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to play it safe, the call for all of us is to take some risks.
When Peter, James and John were on the mountain top with Jesus and saw the glory of God transfigure Jesus into dazzling white and when they saw Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus in all of God’s glory, they were not only overcome with awe and fear, but they wanted to play it safe. Peter said, Lord it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters, one of you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. We aren’t exactly sure what Peter is talking about when he makes this offer, but what we do know is that by making it Peter wants to stay in this moment of glory.
The shelters Peter is talking about might just be a shelter to protect Jesus, Moses and Elijah because they are on the top of a mountain and exposed to the elements but he could also be talking about a type of shelter or tabernacle used during times of worship, either way, Peter wants to do something to stay in this moment. Peter wants to stay on the mountain top and in God’s glory. Peter wants to play it safe, but what we see here is that the reward of God’s life and glory only comes with risk.
Just looking at who is meeting with Jesus tells us that reward only come with risk. Moses and Elijah only found reward by taking risks. Moses had to risk everything in order to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. It was risky for Moses to go to Pharaoh and ask for him to let God’s people go. He could have been cut down each time he went, but Moses took the risk. It was risky for Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea and it was risky to lead the people through the wilderness for a generation, but Moses took that risk. There were many times the people wanted to play it safe and go back to the comfort of Egypt and Moses had to continually remind them that the reward of the Promised Land was only going to come by taking some risks to get there.
Elijah also knew something about risk and reward. Elijah took a huge risk when he went up against all the false prophets in the land of Israel and asked God to send fire down upon an altar. It was a risk to step out in faith and trust God to provide for him again and again, but Elijah took that risk and was rewarded for it. Moses, Elijah and Jesus all show us that the glory of God they are experiencing only comes by being willing to take a risk and trust God. None of them played it safe. None of them opted for the easy way out and a comfortable life, they all took risks and found their reward.
Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus in the glory of God tell us that risk and reward go hand in hand, but so does the message of God spoken in this moment. Look at what God says while Peter is making his offer of building shelters. Matthew 17:5. While Peter is still speaking – God gets his attention and gives the final word. God not only once again identifies Jesus as his one and only beloved son, but he gives Peter this command, Listen to him. If the story were to end here, this command might lead us to ask, what has Jesus just said that is so important? If we go back to the last words of Jesus, this is what we find. Matthew 16:24-28.
So the reward of God’s glory comes for those who are willing to deny themselves and take up a cross. The reward of life comes to those who are willing to take a risk and deny themselves and start living for God first. The reward of God’s life and glory isn’t for those who play it safe but for those who risk it all. So when Peter says, let’s build shelters and stay on the mountain – when Peter wants to play it safe – God says, rewards are found by those willing to take a risk. Risk and reward. What risk is God asking you to take so you can experience the reward of life? What risk do we need to take in order to see and experience the fullness of God’s glory? What risk do we need to take in order to experience the reward of deeper faith and to feel the power of God at work in our lives?
Too often we think that the kind of risk God is asking for is to drop everything and head off into the mission field in Africa or to give away all our possessions and serve the poor or preach in the streets, but what we see from the rest of this story of the Transfiguration is that risk often means just returning to our lives and living with faith and purpose. As Peter, James and John come down off the mountain, they aren’t told to go off in a new direction and do something out of the ordinary, they simply return to the ministry they left just a few hours or days before. They return to the rest of the disciples who were trying to continue the work of Jesus.
As Peter, James, John and Jesus come down the mountain they meet a man whose son is possessed by a demon and while Jesus’ disciples had tried to drive out this particular demon, they had not been successful. Jesus had the boy brought to him and drove out the demon himself and then said to his disciples that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed they will be able to move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for you, Jesus said.
Sometimes the risk we need to take is to return to our lives and live each moment of each day with faith the size of a mustard seed. What does it look like for us to live with faith in our families? How might we reorder or schedules, reprioritize our activities and restructure our lives if we took a risk and put our faith in God first? It’s risky to change our habits or restructure our finances to make room for God’s presence and power. It’s risky to say that as a family we are going to pray together, worship together and serve together. It’s risky to say that as a family we are going to set aside time to talk about what it means to live for God. Is this a risk God is asking you to take today? Is this a risk you are willing to discuss when you sit down at the table for lunch or dinner today?
It’s also risky to live with real faith in our jobs. Denying ourselves and following Jesus might change how we speak to others at work. Living out our faith with real intentionality might mean that our work ethic will have to change. Our goals and priorities in our jobs might have to change. It is risky to bring the fullness of our faith into our workplace but maybe that is the risk God is asking of us today. What would it look like if we took Jesus to work with us on Monday? For many, the changes might not be significant, but even the most subtle changes comes with risk. Is this a risk God is asking us to take this week?
I often think what about what risk God might be asking us to take as a church. God has blessed us in so many ways during the past 10 years and the temptation is to get comfortable and play it safe. The temptation for us as a church is to be like Peter and say, hey God, things are going really well in this moment so let’s set up some shelters and just hang out here with you and be happy –but God says, listen to Jesus. God says, take a risk and deny yourself that comfort and security and give away your life.
What risk do we need to take in order to be faithful and live with faith? What risk are we taking as a church to connect with God and one another, to serve Christ and our community and grow deeper in our faith? What risks are we taking to share the grace and love and power of God with others? 62% of our community doesn’t know Jesus – what risks are we taking to reach them and share Jesus with them? What risks are we taking to support the work of God around the world? God has not blessed us so we can become comfortable and take it easy, God has blessed us so we can take greater risks and help more people find the rewards of life of faith.
There are risks every one of us can take today to live with more faith. There are risks we can take as students in school and as members of sports teams and clubs. There are risks we take at our jobs and in our homes. There are risks we take here in the life of the church to grow deeper in our faith and to help the church grow wider through the sharing of our faith. There are risks we can take in our community and world to serve and help and love those around us. Where has God placed us in this moment and what risk can we take to simply live with faith the size of a mustard seed?
In Mark’s gospel, when the disciples asked Jesus privately why they had not able to drive out the demon, Jesus replied, This kind can come out only by prayer. Sometimes the greatest risk we can take is to pray. Prayer which asks God to move in others or in our world is risky because God may want to work by moving in and through us. Prayer brings us into the presence of God which opens ourselves up to the power of God and God’s presence and power always changes things. Are we ready for that change? Are we ready to take that risk?
This coming week begins the 6 week season of Lent which has traditionally been a time to take a risk and grow deeper in our faith. It is a time to start some new routines in our life and faith and familu and a time to deny ourselves and take up a cross. I want to encourage us to all think about what risk we might want to take during these next six weeks. That risk might be to join one of the small groups or Bible Studies that we offer. The risk might be to join the choir preparing for the Easter Cantata or maybe stepping out to serve our children and youth. Maybe the risk is to just pray and ask God to start leading your life in new ways and showing you how to follow Jesus in the ever day routine of your life and family. The risks of this Lenten season can lead to the reward of a deeper faith and the experience of God’s glory as we make our way to Easter.
Risk and reward go hand in hand when it comes to our faith. We can’t play it safe, we can’t build a shelter and stay on the mountain top – we have to head out into the world with faith the size of a mustard seed and take a risk. Let’s take a risk now and come together to pray.
Risk and Reward
What risks have you taken in life?
• How did they turn out? Success? Failure?
What risks have you been afraid to take?
• What have you missed out on because of it?
Read the story of Jesus Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-8 and the words of Jesus leading up to this in Matthew 16:24-28. Identify the risk and reward in these passages
Where might you be playing it safe?
What risk is God asking you to take in one or in all of these areas?
Sometimes the greatest risk we can take is to pray.
• What prayer would be the riskiest for you this week?
• Write it out.
• Pray it this week and invite others to pray it with you.
Take a risk and grow your faith during the season of Lent.
• Join a class, study or small group.
• Commit to serving Christ during Lent through ministries in the church or community.
• Adopt spiritual disciplines of reading scripture, prayer, fasting, tithing and service for the next 6 weeks.
• Begin the Lenten journey by worshipping with us on Ash Wednesday at 7:00 PM.