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A Sermon Preached by Rev. Greg Hall at Clarence Presbyterian on June 7, 2020.

TAKING A CALCULATED RISK

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.     Genesis 12:4 


            This is the first week of phase two of opening up our region from our Corona virus lockdown.  One can see signs of our slow return to some normal routines.  There are many more cars on the road than in April.  I am sure looking at your screen that you are happy that I was able to get haircut on Friday for the first time in over three months.

            Our nation has become so politically and culturally divided that even the response to the virus has raised controversy.  There are some groups who claim we should have never gone into lockdown at all.  We should have let the virus run its course and not destroyed our economy.   There are others with the opposite extreme view who believe that the lockdown should continue until the virus is completely eradicated.  They believe that not one life should be risked to save our economic system.  I know this is slight parody, but it there are representatives of these extremes.

            The same controversy exists within the religious community when it comes to resuming in person programming.  There are voices who say that the Church, synogague and mosque should never be closed.  We should not follow government guidelines that limit our freedom of religion.  We should have faith that God will protect us.  Worship as if the virus did not exist.  This extreme position is largely found in extreme evangelical circles, very orthodox Jewish communities and more fundamentalist Islamic groups. 

            The other extreme is found in more mainline religious communities.  There are voices in these communities, including many of my Presbyterian colleagues, who believe that we must wait to gather in person until it is completely safe.  For many this means until a vaccine is developed, even if it takes five years.       

            It is my firm belief that both of these extreme positions are unreasonable and counter to the teachings of the Bible. 

            Our reading from the Old Testament for today is the call of Abraham.  In this story God comes to Abram and tells him to leave his home to go to a land that God would show him.  Abram does not just immediately take off to follow God’s call.  Abram takes the time to gather his goods together.  He gathers his family.  He makes sure they have food for the journey.  He had a large family group that would help protect them as they made their way to strange places. 

            In short, before beginning his journey Abram thinks through the risk he is taking and seeks to address the problems he might encounter on the way.  While calculating the risk Abram leaves Haran for parts unknown.   We are told that Abram was seventy-five years old.  He was comfortable in Haran.  His retirement plan did not entail moving.  Yet God came to him with a promise of using him to create a chosen people in a special land.  Abram took the risk of leaving and following God’s call.

            I believe that the experience of Abraham is a paradigm for life.  All real human growth includes taking calculated risks.   No risk, no growth.

            We know that this is true in business.  Our economic system is based on risk taking.  Those who risk their capital in new enterprises fuel real economic progress.  Capitalism rewards those who are willing to risk their time and money and are successful. If you take a risk and are unsuccessful you lose.  So the system encourages people to risk by making the rewards high.  People make business plans to minimize risk and then try to make it happen.

            I personally did not have much use for Ross Perot as a politician, yet he was successful in business.  He began his career working for IBM in 1957.  He was one of their most successful salesmen.  Perot could have stayed on at IBM and had a safe, secure and prosperous future.   Yet he wanted his own business so in 1962 he took a risk and left IBM and started his own company.  This company EDS became a great success story.  It was this company that set up the software that processes the Social Security system.

            Sam Walton could have worked for his father-in law.  Yet he too had a dream for retail stores. He risked all of his money and time in starting what became Wal-Mart.  While not all risks pan out, the engine of our economy is risk taking.

            I lift up these two successful businessmen because they were Presbyterians.  Presbyterians who took calculated risks.

            If you do not take risks you will not grow.  One of the problems with some of the great American industries during the sixties and seventies was they stopped taking risks.  The major auto companies became conservative.  In failing to take risks they were unable to prepare for a changing world of global competition. 

            I believe that capitalism is the most successful economic system that human beings have devised because it is consistent with a basic truth of life.   All real progress and growth comes from taking risks in life.  It comes from acting without a guarantee of what the outcome will be. 

            As we come out of this pandemic, we each will take calculated risks.  In this case we are all different.  If you are a healthy twenty year old going to a public place is different than if you are an eighty-five year old with diabetes.  One person will make one decision and another will make the opposite decision.  Each person makes their own cost benefit analysis.  Some people while taking proper precautions will move towards living a more normal life, while other continue to live in more disconnected fashion because the risks are not worth the reward.

            Again all real growth comes from taking calculated risks.

            Just think for a minute about a child's first day of school.  A child has lived in a small unit of the family for several years.  They may have had one of their parents or grandparents with them giving attention.   They are then taken to a relatively large building and left with a bunch of strange people. 

            Yet this risk leads to growth, education and exploration.  If the child stays in the safe cocoon they will never develop.  It is taking the risk to go out in the world that allows real growth to occur.

            The same is true in human relationships.  If we are to grow in love we must take risks.  One of the great stresses of this pandemic has been on brides and grooms who had a wedding

planned this summer.  It looks as if weddings will be able to resume late this summer. When a couple stands in front of this sanctuary and promises that they will care for each other until death, they take a great risk.  They do not know their partner fully.  They do not know what the future will bring.  They take a risk.  They step out in faith to promise love to their spouse.

            Yet it is the risk of commitment that enables love to grow.

            This is also true in our relationship with God.  Faith means taking risks.

            Remember again Abraham in our Old Testament Lesson.   He was living comfortably in his home in Haran. Then God came to him and promised to make him a great nation.  Abraham was not given full information about where he was going or how he would get there.  Abraham made the decision to take the risk of following God's promise.  He gathered Sarah and the rest of his family together.  They packed up their goods and took off to claim the promises of God. 

            Abraham took a calculated risk. 

            Think of Moses.  Moses was out one day minding the sheep.  He came across a bush that was burning but not being consumed.  There was a voice which spoke to him out of the bush that told him that he had been chosen by God to go to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. 

            Moses was not thrilled with this news.  He was comfortable in the life he had made for himself in Midian.  He had no idea how a shepherd was going to go up against the power of Pharaoh.  Moses found all kinds of excuses why he should not be the one God wanted to use.  He wanted some help from his brother. 

            In the end, after God told him not to worry just trust in him, Moses did travel to Egypt.  He took the risk and he was able to bring his people to freedom.

            Moses took a calculated risk.

            In our New Testament Lesson, Jesus calls Peter to get out of the boat and come to him.  Peter is the only disciple to overcome his fear and get out of the boat in obedience to Jesus.

            What about you?  I believe that each day God is calling us to step out in faith in some way.  Each one of us is being called to do something that will help us grow towards Jesus.

            For some it might mean a matter of seeking reconciliation.  You may have offended some one. Or maybe you have done something to another person that you are ashamed of. The anger, hostility and guilt have separated you from that person.  God may be calling you to seek to be reconciled to that person.  Yet you are afraid to approach that person. 

            Fear of rejection,     

                        fear of anger,

                                    fear of confessing your fault

                                                 keeps you from acting to overcome the past.

 

            Today is the day to take the risk and begin the healing process.

            For some it maybe how you use money.  Christ may be calling you to be accountable for the way you use your material resources.  The Bible calls us to proportional giving.  To those to whom much has been given, much is expected.   Yet you have never been concerned about how your faith affects your use of money.  You may be fearful of how giving might affect your lifestyle.

            Today is the day that Jesus wants you to take a risk and begin to give.

            For some it is giving up some destructive habit.  You may abuse drugs or alcohol or act irresponsibly sexually or perhaps overeating hurts your health.  These are forces that control your lives yet they provide some form of comfort.  You are afraid that to give these up would leave a hole in your life.  Yet Jesus is calling you to a more whole life.

            Today is the day that Jesus wants you to step out in faith and begin a new pattern of life.

            For some it is the fact that they have not used their God given talents to their fullest. You may feel bored with your job because it does not make full use of your gifts and talents. Jesus may be calling you away from your present employment to a new vocation. Maybe you are to return for more schooling. You are fearful because you do not know what it might mean financially. Yet Jesus is calling to make full use of your gifts.

            Today is the day that Jesus wants you to take a risk and begin to plan for a new vocation. 

            For some it might be prayer.   You have not really tried to talk to God on a daily basis.  God is now prodding your spirit to begin setting aside some time each day for seeking God's presence in prayer.  You have ignored that nudging.  You are worried that nothing may happen.

            Today is the day to take a risk in opening yourself to God. 

            I could go on and on with this list.

                        For Jesus calls each person differently.

                                    He calls each one of us in unique ways to come closer to him.

                                                 It is up to us to respond.

 

             Faith is not an assent to a proposition.

                        Faith is not merely believing in God.

                                    Christian faith is responding to the call of Christ in our lives.

 

            As God called Abram to leave for a new home,

                        God continues to call you and me to take calculated risks to follow him,

                                    Today is the day for us to begin. 

 

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.