Embarrassing story time. Ready?
The first time I rode a roller coaster I wet my pants. I was 8, and scared, and begged my father to have them stop the train and turn around the minute it left the loading dock. But, of course, it was too late because the train had literally left the station…there was no turning back.
My body found a way to express the way my insides were feeling at the moment. Terror had seized me, and if I thought I could have survived it, I would have crawled right out of that car.
That first hill…you know, that hill on the roller coaster that gives you enough momentum to complete the other hills…scared me beyond belief. I closed my eyes tightly and held on tightly. And they didn’t open again until I hit the station.
Until I knew I had survived.
But, of course, I had to ride it again because a) it was fun and b) in my fear I had missed the whole thing!
On my first roller coaster experience, I thought the main characters were me, my father, and the coaster. But I was wrong. The main character in that story was fear.
In fact, I’d say that fear is the main character in many of our stories in life, though they often aren’t named in the credits.
The same could be said in this week’s Gospel lesson. Our November texts are tough texts that talk about beginnings and endings, apocalyptic parables that, if we’re not careful in our reading, could give us the impression that God intends doom and gloom for humanity (and many so-called Christians have said as much over the years).
But that’s not the God we see in Jesus, so that can’t be the God we see in Jesus’ stories, right?
This week’s lesson, the “Parable of the Talents,” is especially rough (click on it to read it). Go ahead and give it a read. I’ll wait.
It’s a tough tale, especially that last line about taking from those who have so little. How are we to interpret this?
Well, perhaps that’s the wrong question, disciple. Maybe we let the parable do its work on us instead of thinking we have to do all the work.
Because this is what I’ll say about the different servants: they’re each me, depending on the situation. And probably you, too.
And the difference between them isn’t their status or education. The difference between the slaves isn’t their trustworthiness, either…the master trusts them all (even though they are trusted with different amounts).
The difference between them all is the assumptions they bring to the task; the fear they bring along with them.
That last slave, entrusted with that single talent, assumes that the giver is wrathful, vengeful, out to take what is not theirs. They lead not with their task, but with their fear.
They are afraid of it all.
And so they miss everything about the task because the fear overwhelms them. The most they can do is just bury the whole thing and pray it’ll be enough to get them through it all.
But by burying it they get the same result as if they’d never been given it at all. So why should the giver bother to give the task in the first place?
In closing my eyes through the whole roller-coaster ride, I missed it all. My assumptions about the whole thing, my fear of the whole thing, left me incapacitated, buried too deeply in myself that I didn’t really experience it.
That’s what fear does: it makes us hole up, bury ourselves to the point that we might as well not even have the opportunity to do whatever task is at hand, whatever experience is in front of us.
We balk at the last line of this parable, about how even the little bit that is given to those with the least will be taken away from them. But isn’t there a deep truth about fear here?
Because fear that isn’t fought will absolutely take even the last bit of yourself from you.
God has not created us to be holed up in ourselves. We have been given gifts to use and share in this world, a peace that passes all understanding (if we’ll tap into it).
And believe me: fear is real. I know this. We can sometimes be so afraid that we wet ourselves, literally and figuratively. We can sometimes be so afraid that we run to weapons or strategies or lock our doors and hide like those talents buried in the field.
But that’s not what God has called us to, Beloved. You can’t outrun, outhide, outsmart, or outdo fear, because fear comes from the inside, not the outside.
If November in the church year says anything to us it tells us that, despite whatever we’re afraid of and the internal fear and assumptions it produces in life, we must keep our eyes open! Because God is showing up, and opportunity is always present, and we will miss it if we let fear be the main character in our witness.
And so often it is the main character and we miss it. Fear has a crafty way of disguising itself like other things. We must stay awake (unlike those tired bridesmaids last week). We must set aside our assumptions and work off of courageous faith, even in the face of fear.
The main character in this parable isn’t the angry giver or the servants, it is fear.
And what about your story? Who is the main character? Because here’s the secret that fear won’t tell you: you will survive.
So let go of your assumptions and invest in the life God has given you.
See you in church.