Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Isaiah 19:19-25, Romans 15:5-13, Luke 19:11-27
Common wisdom in business says if an enterprise is standing still, it’s moving backward. This can refer to both innovation and revenue. A business that doesn’t keep up with current technologies and culture ceases to be competitive; even artisans producing boutique, traditional, hand-crafted products need to accept credit cards. A business which breaks even can’t invest in capital improvements necessary to stay competitive or to simply maintain its own aging assets.
Church, like government, isn’t a business but some of the same principles apply. Jesus told a parable about three slaves who were trusted with money by their master while he was away. One invested it and profited tenfold, another profited fivefold, and a third only buried his sum until his master returned. The master was displeased with the third who failed to do so much as put it in the bank to collect interest. This parable is about how we are to invest our own resources of time, treasure, and talent in growing God’s kingdom. A person or church who hoards them rather than risking them is not doing what Jesus says is pleasing to God.
Many Christian individuals and communities are content to take care of their own. Church growth is usually a goal, but it is too often measured only by how many people show up in the pews on Sundays. Since polling consistently shows overall church attendance is declining, any significant increase in the size of a congregation is more likely due to people changing churches than becoming new Christians. Attendance measures little more than the shift of a declining population. A church satisfied by the measures of its own congregation or – perhaps slightly more generously – in its specific denomination is effectively burying its talents in the back yard. If stewardship is defined in terms of the ability to keep the doors open (or to buy bigger doors), the church is moving backward.
Today’s passage from Romans describes a church which flourishes because it expands into territory which was unexpected and to some unacceptable: the Gentile world. The Jews were expecting a Messiah dedicated specifically to the Jewish people; taking him to the Gentiles verged on blasphemy for many of the original Jewish disciples. Yet Paul essentially built the church out of the unacceptable.
The prophet Isaiah talked about a future where Jews, Egyptians, and Assyrians worshipped the Lord together. To the Jews who had been persecuted, enslaved, and exiled by these nations this was equally unthinkable. Yet through Jeremiah God instructed the Jews to survive exile by promoting peace in the city of their captors until they were once again free.
The church does not grow – or fulfill her mission – by patting herself on the back about how holy she is. Yes in many ways we are directed to be a community apart from the world, but should that separation manifest itself in our physical and social separation or in our attitudes and values? Taking credit for poaching church members is like claiming to improve our cash flow by moving money from savings to checking.
The future of the church lies in the people we don’t currently appeal to – and who may not appeal to us. Real opportunities for investment are scary and may not pay off. We have to resist being tainted by the lure of the less savory elements of the world. But our master is not so fearful that we can’t risk what we value by taking it where it really has a chance of multiplying, and then we’ll know the reward of being trusted with more.
Comfort: Our Lord is invested in our future.
Challenge: Do something that scares you today.
Prayer: Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. (Psalm 66:8-9)
Discussion: Is there any group you think the church is neglecting today?
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