"Living by Creative Risk"

Message preached March 25, 1990
Greencastle Church of the Brethren
Greencastle, Pennsylvania USA
based upon Isaiah 55:12-13

(this was the final sermon before moving on to another congregation)

We all have our idiosyncrasies, those peculiar habits which make up our daily routine. One of mine is my morning coffee mug. Every day in my office I have a choice to make. It is a choice between two mugs. Which will I drink out of? Will it be the mug given to me by my sister one Christmas 15 years ago? Or will it be the mug I found on the beach of a lake in Canada the summer Karen and I traveled to Alaska?

Oh, these are just two ordinary mugs - but, in a way, they're not so ordinary. The one from my sister reminds me of who I am, where I've been, my roots, my family. The other symbolizes for me the adventure that life is. When we went to Alaska, we traveled on a shoestring, unsure of what was going to happen that summer. On the road to Alaska, we were about the only folks brave or dumb enough to travel in a compact car with over 90,000 miles on it, sleeping in a pup-tent. The second coffee mug reminds me of how life is to be lived as a risk, a creative risk.

Well, every morning I choose between "roots" and "risk", as I pour coffee into a mug. Of course, most mornings it is not a conscious decision. Often times it is more a matter of which mug is clean and which is not. But the choice remains, nevertheless. Some mornings, when insecurity rears its ugly head, I need to be reminded of my roots. Other mornings, when life seems too tame, in a rut, boring, I need to choose to live by creative risk.

Living by creative risk is a healthy thing to do. It doesn't come easy, though. All around us we are encouraged to live safe lives. "Don't take chances." "Play it safe." "Don't fail." Now, don't get me wrong, safety is important. A couple of months ago at a class get-together in the Fellowship Hall, I happened to look up and see Tyler (then 2 years old) almost to the ceiling on our big church ladder. My heart skipped a beat as my shoes raced to that ladder. "Don't ever do that again," Poppa Pete admonished as he quickly pulled down both boy and then ladder. But it is the nature of children to explore, to risk.

Us adults grow prematurely gray as we seek to prevent some of the consequences of this natural urge. In the process, we forget how to live by creative risk. We lose what, I believe, Jesus saw as the best in children, when he said, "let the children come to me. When the apostle Paul wrote of "putting away childish things," & "becoming a man," he wasn't referring to risk as a childish thing. If anything, risk is at the heart of what faith is all about. To be faithful is to be a risk-taker. We are saved by Jesus Christ, but that doesn't mean we are safe, that we should live safe and secure lives. To be saved is to be freed to risk our very lives for Christ. Didn't Jesus say, "He who would save his life will lose it, and whoever would lose his life for my sake will save it?" A life of faith is a life of creative risk.

Have any of you watched as that bi-plane performs aerial acrobatics about once a week in the skies around Greencastle? I've been told that some of the stunts practiced are the most difficult and dangerous in stunt flying. All this performed by our local optometrist. Now, I've heard some folks talk about how stupid it is of this fellow to be involved in such things, especially as he awaits the birth of his second child. There is truth in such a statement. I wonder, though, what of all the young folks who, out of a sense of boredom with life, get caught up in the supposed thrill of drugs or gangs or crime; what would happen if they could experience the thrill of flying, adrenaline pumping in a more creative way?

That's the thought behind such programs as Outward Bound. Kids are encouraged to risk climbing mountains to help them approach life as a challenge instead of a bore. Our own Camp Eder has rock climbing, caving, canoeing, and other adventure camps to accomplish similar goals. Certainly, not everyone is made for flying. I certainly wouldn't be caught dead up there with Charlie Parsons as he flies straight up until the engine stalls, restarting on the way down. Sort of like Karen doesn't like riding with me on the roller coaster. When we go to Hershey Park, we try to take our niece, Jenny, who shares my enjoyment. The rest of the family hits the comfy rides and shows while niece Jenny and I race from ride to ride. Not every challenge is fit for every person; but challenge, risk is important for life.

Christian Psychologist Paul Tournier was once asked how he helps his patients get rid of their fears "Oh, I don't," he answered, "that which does not frighten does not have meaning. All the best things in life have an element of fear in them." We are saved by Jesus Christ, but that doesn't mean we are safe, that we should live safe and secure lives. To be saved is to be freed to risk our very lives for Christ.

Following God's leading can be a pretty fearful adventure. Noah built himself an ark when skies were clear and neighbors mocked. He had to close the door behind and lock he and his family in with all those animals, trusting the boat would float, trusting eventually that God would provide a way through the waters to dry land... Abraham & Sarah were called to step out by faith. God basically said, "I'll provide a way, but you've got to do the walking" ... God provided a way for Moses and the children of Israel. The seas parted, but they had to do the walking... David surely took a risk when he stepped up to Goliath, and later God provided a way to the throne of Israel, but David had to do the walking. Yes, he stumbled here and there but he kept walking.

You could almost say that in the days that followed David, Israel stopped risking for God. God's people chose the comfortable path. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you see it, that path lead to destruction. Their lack of faith, their unwillingness to risk for God, that God would provide a way; this lead them to Babylon, into exile, into captivity. But even there, God provided a way. The children of Israel were set free and called to step out, to risk returning and rebuilding.

But, as always, they were the ones who had to do the walking. Many didn't want to go. Many were satisfied with how things were. Life was comfortable. "Why should we risk leaving behind a life we know, confining, yes, but comfortable. Why should we risk leaving all this to move on into a future that is at best uncertain." Many stayed behind. Even so God still provided a way.

There were those who took the risk, and stepped out in faith, just like Noah, like Abraham and Sarah, like Moses with all God's children, like David. Listen to these words of promise God made to them, from the book of Isaiah. The language is full of metaphors. That is, it doesn't literally tell what's going to happen. Instead, it speaks of mountains singing and trees clapping. Listen:

"You shall go out in joy, & be led forth in peace; the mountains & the hills before you shall break forth into singing, & all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." (Isaiah 55:12)

Going out, stepping out in faith, this is what brings joy and peace in life Too often we think of joy and peace as something we have when finally we have arrived at a place where everything is comfortable. We look forward to retirement, when finally we can enjoy ourselves and live the good life. Or we look forward to the day that kids are on their own and homes can return to their pre-pubescent peace. Or we long for the time when little ones grow bigger and not so demanding of us. Then there will be joy and peace, or at least rest. Or we want to get married, and have kids - then the joy begins. Or we look ahead to the big job, the next promotion, the next date, then the good life will happen. But does joy, does peace only come once we have arrived? Or is there something to joy and peace that is God's gift at every stage along the way of life?

This passage I just quoted from Isaiah states in figurative language that joy and peace are a part of risking for God. Joy comes in going out. Peace is given in being led forth by God. God provides a way of joy and peace, not a way to joy and peace. We are saved by God through Jesus Christ, not that we will lead safe, comfortable lives, but that we will risk, that we will step out in faith. "He who would save his own life will lose it, but whoever would lose his life for my sake shall save it." That's what Jesus said.

A life of faith is a life of creative risk. Now, the world is full of uncreative, destructive risks. The church of Jesus Christ is supposed to model another way, not a way of comfortable sitting and waiting for joy and peace to happen someday, but a way of stepping out in faith, creatively, constructively risking for God today. Going out in joy. Being lead forth in peace.

This verse from Isaiah has been very important for me. I first felt its call in BVS. Karen and I were planning to get married after our term of service was over. Some Christian friends suggested this verse as a scripture to build our wedding around. They, in fact, made this banner, which was displayed at our wedding. We did go out in joy. Stumbling and bumbling, yes. But the marriage road continues, even though there have been times of dryness and exile.

The path led to a church in Indiana which called me into ministry. When we left that church to go on to seminary, I put this scripture, all of Isaiah 55, in fact, into song, and sang it to them the last Sunday as my gift to them. After Seminary, when I was ordained in that same church, Isaiah 55:12 was the central scripture, and another banner was made - to complete out the call of the prophet Isaiah, of God, to "Go out in joy ... & ... Be lead forth in peace."

And I, we did, coming here to Greencastle. I won't try to fool you by saying the road here has been easy. Between 2 toddlers & 250 people, gray hairs are beginning to adorn my head. But the road is never promised to be easy. Joy and peace do not come when finally we arrive. Joy and peace are gifts given along the way of creative risking for God - what we call faith. We are saved by God through Jesus Christ, not that we will lead safe, comfortable lives, but that we will risk, that we will step out in faith. Rooted in who were are in relationship to God, we can risk, creatively.

That's what the early church did. They risked, literally, their lives Many were killed along the way. They experienced much greater hardship than we could even imagine. But they had that Joy and Peace in the going out with the good news, their being led forth even to the colliseums of Rome. We would not be here today had not they risked by faith and became the very hands of God here on earth. We are saved by God through Jesus Christ, not that we will lead safe, comfortable lives, but that we also will risk, that we will step out in faith.

One book that I have found very helpful this past year, was one recommended by my pastoral counselor at Brooklane. It's entitled: There's a Lot More to Health Than Not Being Sick, by Bruce Larson. In it he asks several questions which are really steps along the way to wholesome, healthy living, each of which is a chapter in the book.

                1. Is it becoming easier to say, "I was wrong"?
                2. Have I quit blaming others for my problems?
                3. How am I fixed for friends?
                4. Am I living by creative risk? (That question sound familiar?)
                5. Am I excited about my future?
                6. Do people feel important around me?
                7. Do I have the courage to be happy?

These questions were helpful for me. Did they spark some interest in you? I believe they could be helpful not just for individuals, but also for a church - this church. It's healthy to admit "I was wrong," and move out beyond my wrongness. Stopping the bad habit of scapegoating, of blaming everybody else, that's a wholesome thing to do. Being excited about tomorrow, rather than depressed, that's good. There's too much pessimism around in this old world. Respecting other people, treating them with respect, as I treat myself with respect, makes for good relationships and good health. Being courageous enough to be happy sure beats the easy route of unhappiness. Happiness doesn't depend on everything being comfortable.

Joy and peace are gifts along the way. But we are the ones who have to do the walking. God won't walk for us. It's called living by creative risk or, in more traditional language, walking by faith. The promise remains for those who risk:

"We shall go out in Joy and be led forth in peace, the mountains and the hills before us shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

That's the promise of creative, constructive risking for God, the promise of faith... NOW!... May I share with you, also, that song I wrote over 7 years ago, putting Isaiah chapter 55 to music?

1990 Peter L. Haynes

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