Reality Christianity: Shark Tank!

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Date: September 28, 2014

Title: “Reality Christianity – Shark Tank!”

Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30

            Shark Tank! is an American reality television show which premiered on August 9, 2009. The show features aspiring entrepreneurs who make business presentations to a panel of potential investors, called “sharks”. The entrepreneur can make a deal on the show if a panel member is interested in their pitch. However, if all of the panel members opt out, the entrepreneur leaves empty-handed. The show is said to portray the drama of a pitch meeting as we watch the interaction between entrepreneurs and tycoons.

             So, welcome to Shark Tank at First United Methodist Church. Imagine coming into this room, or into the Church and Society committee, or into the Board of Trustees, or the United Methodist Women, or into an all-church conference with a grand idea, or a passionate vision, and a need for support. That is precisely what happened twenty years ago, when this congregation decided to invest in a dream – a vision which said it was not acceptable for families with children to live in their cars, or under a bridge, or to be separated from one another in their search for shelter.

             Twenty years ago, the Goose Hollow Family Shelter was created right here – born out of a vision too persistent to ignore, and a faith courageous enough to risk the unknown. The shelter was born in the “shark tank” we call “church” – where every day we ask each other to take a risk, and to invest our time and our money in a vision too persistent to ignore.

             A vision too persistent to ignore… that is what the hapless servant in Matthew’s story could seem to hang onto. At some point he probably thought about investing some of the exorbitant amount of money he had been given. At some point he had a vision, a notion of what was possible. But he didn’t hang onto it, he didn’t live in it, and he let his fears move into its place instead.

             I am reminded of a line from one of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels, in which her character comments on the calling to social justice by saying:

The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.

             It seems to me that the entrepreneurs and inventors who appear on TV’s Shark Tank, courting the investors, are doing just that. They are living inside their hope, right under its roof. They are hanging onto their vision with a persistence that outpaces their fears, just like the successful servants in the story. Just like Jesus.

             Nobody could have accused Jesus of taking the easy way out. In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells this parable literally on the way to his own crucifixion. And he had every reason in the world to be afraid. On any given day we may feel as if we, too, are on the way to our own undoing. And we have plenty of good reasons to be afraid. We are afraid to risk losing money, or losing our health, or losing love. We are afraid to risk making money, or gaining more health, or finding love. It doesn’t seem to matter who we are or where we are in the journey of life. We can always find plenty of reasons to fear.

            That unfaithful servant sounds a little bit too much like us when he says I was afraid. That is really the key phrase in this story, I think…I was afraid. Leonard Sweet puts it this way:

            From Adam and Eve in the Garden, through the Exodus and down to the latest Stephen King thriller, there is one sure-fire way to get people who are excited about a situation and stop them in their tracks: invoke fear. Adam was afraid and hid from God in paradise. At the Red Sea, the Israelites, hearing the distant approach of Egyptian chariots and hoof beats, were afraid. Despite the great miracles they had seen in the preceding days – surviving plagues, taking spoils of their masters and moving to freedom – still they were all but paralyzed with fear at the prospect of heading into the unknown.

            Heading into the unknown…in reality, that is what we do every time we get out of bed in the morning. And we can choose to live our lives with boldness and wonder or with fear and trembling. But we cannot choose a fearful faith. The two simply do not go together. If life implies a challenge, then faith requires a risk. Faith requires we risk on behalf of God’s realm. Faith requires we be willing to invest in and to trust each other, because we are willing and able to trust God.

            William Loader suggests:

            The tragedy is that many people are afraid of losing or endangering God, and so seek to protect God from adventures…We need to remember that protecting God is a variant of not trusting God. When we say “God’s mercy never ends”, we are saying that grace has capital, and love is rich. We need to stop putting God under the mattress or burying God in our backyards, hoping to keep God safe and sound and out of sight.

            We need to remember the clear call of the Scriptures, from beginning to end: Do not be afraid. I think of the story Molly Ivins tells about John Henry Faulk, who used to be a Texas Ranger. Ivins writes:

            He was seven at the time. His friend Boots Cooper, who was six, was sheriff, and the two of them used to do a lot of heavy law enforcement out behind the Faulk place in south Austin. One day Johnny’s mama, having two such fine officers on the place, asked them to go down to the hen house and rout out the chicken snake that had been doing some damage there.

            Johnny and Boots loped down to the hen house on their trusty brooms, which they tethered outside, and began to search for the snake. They went all through the nests on the bottom shelf of the hen house and couldn’t find the snake, so both of them stood on tiptoes to look on the top shelf.

            Ivins goes on…

            I myself have never been nose-to-nose with a chicken snake, but I always took Johnny’s word for it that it will just scare the life out of you. Scared those boys so bad that they both tried to exit the hen house at the same time, doing considerable damage to both themselves and the door.

            Johnny’s mama, Ms. Faulk, was a kindly lady, but watching all this, it struck her funny. She was still laughing when the captain and the sheriff trailed back up to the front porch. “Boys, boys,” said Ms. Faulk, “what is wrong with you? You know perfectly well a chicken snake can’t hurt you.”

            That’s when Boots Cooper made is semi-immortal observation. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said, “but there’s some things’ll scare you so bad, you hurt yourself.”

            Don’t let fear move into the place which should be reserved for hope. Because even through all the risks of failure and in the failures themselves, God is still with us. And God can turn even our failures into things we could never imagine!

            There seems to be a sort of “spectrum of risk” that Christian people can tolerate. Mother Teresa is on one end of the spectrum, opening herself totally in the name of God. And on the other end – the far end – are those of us who cannot seem to hang onto that persistent vision of hope, who let fear move in and allow it to stop us in our tracks. And even, to hurt ourselves in the process.

            Shark Tank – on TV and here in this room – is always predicated on the presence of risk, sometimes with a capital “R”. Who knew twenty years ago what would happen because of the Goose Hollow Family Shelter? Who knew how many families would be helped into housing, given new opportunities and options for their lives? Who knew how many volunteers would be helped into wholeness, given new empathy and experience for their love? Who knew how many people would be drawn into relationship with us, given new meaning and ministry for their faith?

            And who knows what will happen in the next twenty years… when we live inside our hope, right under its roof, where we will find God resides as well! Amen.

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