Risky Business

Risky Business

Pentecost 8 (NL4) John B. Valentine
Acts 15:1-11 July 31, 2022


Any football fans among us this morning?

Oh ... come on! Let’s see a show of hands .... FOOTBALL FANS!

Actually ... what I should probably ask is whether or not you realize that ... though it feels like the middle of summer ... that football training camps opened up this week ... high school and college and pro! If you don’t know that ... you don’t actually qualify as a dyed-in-the-wool football fan after all!

Seriously though ... I realize that:

• Some of you have a favorite pro and/or college team ... and some of you don’t.

• Some of you have a fantasy football team ... and some of you don’t.

• Some of you understand the West Coast offense ... and some of you don’t.

But ... to the extent that you can ... I want you to try and imagine the following:

• There’s a minute left on the clock ... and the Bears or the Badgers or whoever it is that you root for are up by three points ...

• Furthermore ... your team has the ball ... fourth and one ... on their own forty-five yard line ... just short of midfield.

So you have a choice to make ...

If you can make that yard and keep the ball ... you’ll move the chains and burn some clock ... and ice the game.

If you don’t make that yard ... you’ll give the other team the ball in your territory with time on the clock and a shot to tie the score ... or worse.

What do you do?

Now ....

Conventional wisdom says that your team should punt ... play the field position game ... and put the game in the hands of your defense.

That’s what the talking heads on the idiot box would tell you is the SMART thing to do.

Fan wisdom ... on the other hand ... says you “go for it” ... you risk it ...

Which has resulted in the development of a saying among coaches that ... “If you listen to the fans, you’ll probably lose your job and wind up being one of them.”

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But there was a scholarly article published a couple of years ago by a political economist over at Cal ... (go Bears!) ... about the economics of “going for it on fourth and one.”

Seriously ... this well-respected econ. professor ...

• Created a formula and ...
• Crunched the numbers and ...
• Came to the conclusion ...

That the fans ... not the coaches ... are usually right!!

That ... on average ... teams that risk of going for it on fourth down win more often than they lose.

His calculations revealed that coaches are too conservative ... and that teams should be “going for it” on fourth down far more than they currently do!

And ... in commenting about his findings ... this economist noted that ...

the higher the stakes ...

the higher the anxiety ...

the more the pressure ...

the greater our tendency becomes to “go conservative” ... to not “risk it” ... to “punt on fourth down.”

Point being ... there’s a big difference in “playing to win” and “playing not to lose”.

And that the fear of failure becomes the cause of failure itself.

Be it in football ... or in finances ... or in faith.

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You see ... in a certain way ... that question ... “Are we going to ‘play to win’ or ‘play not to lose’?” ... is at the heart of that story which our readers read for us from the Book of Acts this morning.

In Acts 15 ... an issue that has been kind of working its way to a boil since all the way back in about Acts chapter one finally boils over.

Remember ... how ... back in Acts one ... the disciples were charged with taking the Good News about Jesus to Jerusalem ... and then to Judea and Samaria ... and then to the ends of the earth?

And how ... in Acts chapter two ... they got their first hints about how the Spirit was going to empower them to speak whatever languages it took to tell the story of Jesus?

And how ... in Acts chapter nine ... Philip shares the story of Jesus with that exotic Ethiopian guy?

And how ... in Acts chapter ten ... the story we read last week ... a Roman army officer named Cornelius commits himself to following the way?

There’s an old youth group game we used to play called ‘the incredible shrinking island’ ...

Wherein you would mark out a circle on the floor with a piece of rope ...

And you’d challenge the group to get everyone in the room on the island ... in the circle ...

And then the island would get incrementally smaller and smaller and smaller ...

And the group would have to work together to see if you could keep everybody on your team ON the island.

But the challenge of Acts isn’t “how to live with one another as the circle keeps getting drawn smaller and smaller and smaller?” ...

But rather “How do we learn to live with one another as the Spirit keeps drawing the circle bigger and bigger and bigger?”

Because ... here in Acts 15 ... there’s some folks who are getting uncomfortable because the circle’s gotten TOO BIG ... and there’s people that just don’t like that!

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“You can’t let THEM in!” ... a group of the ‘early-joiners’ of the Jesus-Club object.

“Why not?” ... some of the others reply.

“Well” ... say the first ... “you can’t because ....

▸ because they’re not schooled in the proper etiquette ...

▸ because they don’t have the right clothes ...

▸ because they don’t have a proper respect for our history!”

“But” ... the others object ...

▸ We decided ... together ... that we needed to grow ...

▸ We decided ... together ... that we were going to bulk mail invitations to every one in the area ...

▸ We decided ... together ... that we were going to waive the initiation fee ....

So now ... how can we turn around and uninvite these folks who did everything we asked them to do in the first place?”

“But you can’t let them in!” ... say the others. “It’d be too ... too ... RISKY!”

“If we let THEM in ... and they invite their friends ... and then THEY invite THEIR friends ... its just not going to be the same any more.”

“And we just can’t risk THAT!”

Anyhow ... the arguments went on and on ... back and forth ... getting more and more heated.

Until ... finally ... all eyes turn to Peter ... the one whom Jesus himself appointed to be the head coach of the church ... as it were.

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So what is Peter going to do?

Is he going to risk it ... or play it safe?

Is he going to “play to win” ... or “play not to lose”?

Truth be told ... everything about Peter up to this point ... would argue that he’s going to punt.

Not that he hasn’t TALKED about taking risks in the past ... but when the chips are down ... he’s been pretty darn consistent about chickening out.

▸ “I can walk on water” ... or maybe I’ll punt.

▸ “I can carry the cross” ... or maybe I’ll punt.

▸ “I can hang in there when everybody else runs away” ... or maybe I’ll punt.

Peter ... St. Peter ... takes the floor and ... and calls the play ... and says:

“Look friends ... we all know full well that ... from early on ... God made it quite plain that he wanted all sorts of people to be a part of this thing.

• It looks to me like God gave the same Holy Spirit to them as God has given to us.

• It looks to me like God treated them the exact same way as God treated us ... beginning at the very center of who they were and working from the inside out ... rather than from the outside in.

Do we have any right to argue with the generosity and goodness of God?

We’ve GOT to risk it. Because ... in the long run ... “not risking it” is riskier than “going for it right now.”


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So what’s the point of this story ... the point of this text ... for us here today?

Maybe just this.

You know how there’s a big hullabaloo going on about college admissions these days??

Some folks say that colleges should be able to let in whomever they want as their next crop of students ... some folks say that ... because those colleges take federal money ... they need to abide by federal rules ...

Some folks say that there should be a carve out for students of prior alumni ... some folks say that there shouldn’t ...

Some folks say it should be all about test scores ... some folks say that text scores are inherently biased and shouldn’t be factored into the equation at all ...

Some folks say that admissions standards should be race-conscious and gender-conscious and all .... and some folks say that admissions should be race and gender-blind.

But ... at the end of the day ... somebody somehow is going to have to decide which students get admitted to a given institution in any given year ...

And I guess that job finally falls to a given institution’s admissions officer ... does it not?

But the church of Jesus Christ ... and people who say they belong to him ... never have the right to pick and choose WHO should be let in and who should be kept out.

We CAN’T go picking and choosing members like you might select peaches or tomatoes over at the Farmer’s Market.

WE don’t have that right.

Because this isn’t OUR church ... folks.

This is GOD’S church.

And the head of the Admissions Office is JESUS!

And it’s pretty clear from Acts 15 that ... if Jesus no distinction ... we don’t get to either!

Think on these things .....

“Risky Business” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship celebration on July 31, 2022.  The text upon which the sermon is based is Acts 15:1-11.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20220731