CSI Jerusalem: "Takin' a Chance on Love"

What's goin' on in Jerusalem? That's what we want to know. Jesus on his way. Crowds gathering. Lessons along the road. What's the meaning of this? What's God up to? And what's he calling us to do about it, all these years later? I don't think it takes the fancy forensics from the CSI teams on TV. It just takes a song title so old not even I could remember the words, just the name and the tune. 'Had to go to Google to get the words right. In Jesus Christ, it's what God's up to and hopin' we'll be doin' too: Takin' a Chance on Love! It's like I can almost hear God singin' through his Son,

Here I go again
I hear those trumpets blow again
All aglow again
Taking a chance on love…
On the ball again
I'm riding for a fall again
I'm gonna give my all again
Taking a chance on love!

What's Lent about? What's the walk to the cross about, with all its teaching along the way? For that matter, what on earth, or in Odenton, is a Capital Campaign in a Church all about, in the most sacred season of the year? It's all about risk. It's all about holy affection and sacred connection. Forgive the singing voice; it's all about "Takin' a Chance on Love!" So, let's take a page from the Apostle Paul and ask, "What then shall we say to all of this?" What might a thoroughgoing investigation make clear?

First off, there's no risk we can take God hasn't taken first. And more deeply, for love's sake. In life, in death, in life-beyond-death, God takes the first risk. He does it for love. Just for love. Our Scriptures use more than a score of words to describe God. But two stand over all the rest: steadfast and loving. We could almost fold these into one (though the Bible does not). God is determined: to love! So he will do anything, and everything, over and over, for love's sake. For our sake! God holds nothing back. And that is the very meaning, the essence, of risk. And the most extraordinary risk God ever took? Almighty God risked making the case for love, not with might, but mercy. Not with a prince, but a shepherd. Not with muscle, but moaning on a cruel cross. Not with an awesome display, but his Only Begotten Son. Jesus! God gives his all, with no guarantee that we will respond. Now that's risk! We are free to choose, because love requires choice, response, movement toward the lover.

I couldn't remember, or maybe never knew the words. You either, maybe. But God in Heaven, God in Christ, knows them by heart:

Here I go again. I gave them paradise, they preferred an apple. I gave them a rainbow after the rain. They prayed to idols. I gave them freedom through the sea and commandments in stone. They gave me the silent treatment. And sin.
Here I go again. I gave them kings; they gave me sin and grief.
I gave them prophets; they gave me hard hearts and stiff necks. So.

Here I go again
I hear those trumpets blow again
All aglow again
Taking a chance on love…

I give them my son. The only one. Despised. Rejected. He bears their sorrows, is acquainted with their grief. I will risk his being wounded for their transgressions, bruised for their iniquities. With his stripes I will heal them. Like sheep they stray, 'turn their own way.
I dare to lay on him… all their iniquity.

As Christ as my witness, we have nothing to risk that can compare. We do nothing that can compare. There's no jeopardy God has not put in jeopardy for your sake and mine. That's what's goin' on in Jerusalem. It's what we need to know. It's the meaning of Jesus on his way, and the crowds and the lessons along the road. It's what God's up to: winning us, wooing us to himself.

Here's a second thing to know, down deep. God's calling us to take a chance on love too. Love for him, love for each other. Take a chance on love. Take a walk with Jesus. That's God's call. Commit everything to him as savior and Lord. Stake your eternity on him. And invest your daily life in him, and in each other. (His Will reads: Love one another as I love you.) Jesus tells us stories about it on the way to the cross. The Master entrusts to his servants, five talents, two, one. The five talent fella risks it all. [On… a pizzeria! (Hmmm, Papa John!)] The two talent servant uses it as start-up capital [for a Curves franchise in Odenton]. The One talent brother fears he'll catch what-for if he loses his gift. [He stores it in the NBUMC garage. (There, nothin' gets thrown out. Very safe!)] Well, those who trusted their Master gave them enough, and risked for the love of him, doubled their share. And gave back freely. They're promised even more. The fearful, riskless soul loses both his present and his future gift. Where there's no risk, there's no reward. And no joy in God's goodness. Now as then, God calls us to take a chance on love, for him, and for each other.

This Lent, you and I are invited to risk, for the Master. It involves pledging our substance (cards go out today), even some of our future income to a great advance for Christ's Kingdom here. We've heard the dream, a Family Life Center, "a Fellowship Hall on steroids", a place that's God's place for every age and praise our church and community can imagine. We can be a modern day parable. Those Bible servants chose. Risk joining-in for the Master, or just observing. That's our choice too. Look what happened back then. Their gifts were joyfully received by their Master, who joyfully gave them both more gifts and more joy. Imagine the look on the grandma's face who comes into this new space for fellowship and leaves… knowing in Christ, she is not alone. We get to choose. Risk doing something to make this happen, or do hardly anything. As a church we can and should ask the cost of moving forward. But we can't forget the staggering cost of burying our treasure like that one talent fella. Imagine the face of the teen we could've shown Jesus in a rec. league or a drop-in center. But did not. And now, that youth is one of those statistics cited here last Sunday. We can risk responsibility or just wish for better times. We're always tempted to be one-talent-timid. 'Member the fella in Jesus' story?
He blames everything from God to the ground for his lack of faith and fear to risk. The Master (God)'s too harsh, his gifts weren't big enough. No doubt he had family issues. He feared inflation, lamp oil and transportation costs were on the rise. It was just the wrong time to risk. Friends, when we're in this mood, it's a great time for prayer. Jesus tells us what to pray right then, "Lead us not into temptation." In Jesus' story, only the fella who failed to risk, who didn't get it that it was trusting time and the Master is always to be trusted, only this fella was left out of the Kingdom rewards. We don't want that. We wanna stand with those to whom the Master says, "Well done! Faithful in much, much will be given you." And we take note. The 2 talent saint gets the same great blessing as the 5 talent soul. They did not give equal amounts to their Master, but they showed the same faith. And God got and gave the same blessing. We don't ask everyone to give the same. We can't. But we can trust equally, risk with the same faith, reap the same joy!

One more thing, the evidence shows. For those who dare, there is more to come through Christ. And better! We've been talking about risk. Withholding nothing, for love's sake. It's the essence of Christ on the way to the cross, and the lessons he teaches. It's spiritual. It's material. It's always today's choice. Now it's time to put the whole matter in perspective for our unique time as Christ's church. Whether you think about this in deciding your gift to Envision the Dream, Building the Future, or you simply apply this to your everyday life, I invite you to remember this. If God has given us pebbles, he doesn't expect us to build pyramids. But he does expect us to build. If he gives us burlap thread, he doesn't expect us to weave garments of gold. But he does expect us to weave something for him. And God will make of what we offer, something more wonderful than we could see at the start, and will bless it more richly than we could imagine in the end. You see, we never throw ourselves on blind fate when we risk for God, but set ourselves on a scale of surprising measure.

A closing story. Safeway, somewhere in the 70's, myself a clerk. One favored customer, a Friday night queen, glory in a toothless smile. She pleasured at the thought. Her clerk was studying to be clergy, maybe at her tiny UMC! I weighed her kale… 2.5 pounds! I started to ring the price. "Stop! You got your thumb on there? It's leaves, not laundry soap!" We looked again. 'Laughed. It was laundry soap. The corner of her family-size detergent had caught the scale. I have forever remembered what happens when an unexpected presence weighs in. Friends, when you and I risk for God, there is a hand on the scale, a nail-scarred hand, that has already taken the ultimate risk. His weight is on our side, even against hell, death and the grave. When we risk for God, the scale is in our favor. So…His song can be our song too! It's alright.
Here I go again. I hear those trumpets blow again. 'All aglow again, 'taking a chance on love…On the ball again, I'm riding for a fall again; I'm going to give my all again, taking a chance on love.
'Taking a chance on love!

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