Anything worth doing involves risk, doesn’t it? Nothing great has ever been accomplished by people afraid to take risks.
I have seen a poster that showed a small fish, closing in on a worm and a fishhook, but unaware that he was about to be gobbled up by a large fish, which was itself about to be a snack for a larger fish, which was in turn in the jaws of a very large fish. The caption on the poster read, “There is no such thing as a free lunch!” Anything worth doing is risky. It costs you time, muscle, money, and most of all you risk something. But not to risk is to achieve nothing.
The insurance salesman comes around, and he talks with you about eliminating risks. He sells you fire insurance so that you are will not lose everything because of a stray spark. But let me tell you, when that fire comes, there will be more holes in that policy than in a slice of Swiss cheese, and no amount of insurance will restore those priceless personal things the fire took away. Insurance cannot eliminate risks. Anything worth doing involves risk.
You went to a guidance counselor, maybe, when you were in high school, and took tests designed to help you decide what kind of work to do. The idea was to keep you from risking a waste of time on something you would not really be able to do. I guess there is some value in that; but when my brother took one of those tests in high school, it said he was way up there on mechanical skills and way down there on musical ability. Now doesn’t it strike you as odd that today he is a professor of church music in one of our seminaries, but the only thing he knows to do with his car is phone the mechanic? The test is fine, as far as it goes; but my brother knew that anything worth doing would involve risk.
We live in a very risky world. Just venturing out in this wintry weather is risky. Buying something is risky; we went to our granddaughter’s fourth birthday party Friday night, and two or three of the toys she was given don’t work. My daughter risked some money, and lost this time.
Risk! More than that, brothers and sisters, relationships are risky. Love is risky. Telling the truth is risky. Accepting responsibility is risky. But what is my thesis? That anything worth doing is risky; but now let me say, as well, that anything worth doing may be risky, yet our God has a way of blessing those who take risks. The Lord honors those who live by faith and not by sight. Our God works in those who learn what it is to risk what they have and who they are, for Kingdom purposes.
Since 9/11 the nation has been caught up in the issue of homeland security. That’s a phrase I don’t think I even heard until after 9/11 – homeland security. Since then it dominates the conversation where I live, in Washington. We have a Department of Homeland Security, with thousands of employees and many agencies. State and local governments have directors of homeland security. It’s everywhere; it’s even in my family, as our son-in-law works with an agency that partners with the government in watching what trucks carry across the borders. He’s just published a book on counter-terrorism. It’s become very clear to me, as I have watched all this take place, that we do live in risky times, but aren’t we grateful that there are people who are prepared to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their honor to keep the homeland secure?
So that leads me to ask what you and I are prepared to risk for the security of the homelands? What are you and I prepared to risk to secure the communities in which we live and the homes of which we are a part? And, gentlemen, brothers, on Men’s Day at Emmaus, what will you and I risk in order to make certain that the church is strong and secure? What risks will we take for homeland security?
In the New Testament there is a person – or really a couple, but today I’d like to focus on one half of that couple – there is a person who can teach us about taking risks for homeland security. And this person’s life will also show us that our God honors risk-takers with joy and with fulfillment.
The person I want to focus on is Aquila. Aquila was a Jewish Christian, originally from the province of Pontus, a tentmaker by trade; the husband of Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla; and, as the account in Acts tells us, at one time a resident of Rome, until the Emperor expelled the Jews from the city. Aquila moved to Corinth, later traveled with Paul and, with his wife, created a church right in his own home. Not only is Aquila’s story told in the Book of Acts, but Paul mentions Aquila and Priscilla in First Corinthians, in Second Timothy, and, most memorably, in the last chapter of Romans. In that Romans passage Paul says,
“Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life ...”
Who risked their very necks. Why? They took risks to secure something important. Let’s unpack Aquila’s story.
First, notice that when we meet him, Aquila was not where he had really wanted to be in his life. He was not in his first-choice location. Circumstances had conspired to pull him up by the roots and put him somewhere other than where he wanted to be. But Aquila knew who he was and to whom he belonged, and so Aquila learned that he could be secure even when things did not go as he had planned. He could be secure because he chose to be who he was and to do what he knew he was called to do, no matter where he was.
What do we know? We know, first, that Aquila was a native of Asia Minor, what is today the country of Turkey, but that he had moved to Rome at some time. We don’t know what that was all about, but it would be a safe guess that Aquila went to Rome because Rome was where it’s at. Rome was the happening town. Rome was the center of everything, and that’s where a young man, talented in tentmaking and leatherwork, might make his mark. I can guess that Aquila went to Rome with his young wife Priscilla and a basket full of high hopes
But then politics reared its ugly head. And not only politics, but racism as well. The Emperor Claudius decided to purge the capital city of those dangerous Jews. Not the first time, nor sadly, the last, when someone would expel the Jews, or worse; we’ve just been through the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where over a million Jews died under Hitler’s hand. Prince Harry, are you listening?! VMI, are you?! But Aquila and Priscilla had to pick up everything they could carry and, with no choice, they had to get out of Rome. Dreams shattered, finances in disarray, friendships disrupted.
So when Paul found Aquila in the city of Corinth, Aquila was not where he really wanted to be. But brothers, if you are not where you want to be in your life, just look around and you may discover that God is doing something at your place and in your work that you never expected. When Paul found Aquila in Corinth, making tents, this wandering Jew had discovered that even though you are not where you want to be, the Lord can give you fulfillment and can make of your life something positive. You just have to take some risks to secure the homeland, to secure your mind and your heart.
When I was in my senior year as a seminary student, back in nineteen-hundred-and-none-of-your-business, I thought I wanted to become a professor. I thought that even though I had trained to preach and pastor, I really wanted my ministry to be in the college classroom. And so I spent a frustrating several months trying to get called to serve a church near one of the universities where I wanted to study for my doctorate. But every time I thought I was close, something would go wrong, and those pastor search committees would turn to somebody else. Finally, in desperation, I accepted an offer to do campus ministry at a small college in eastern Kentucky. I took the position because I needed a job, frankly, not because I felt called to it. I felt I was in the wrong place, not in the place where I wanted to be. But you know what happened? After about six months of doing this work, it hit me right between the eyes! I had said I wanted to do my ministry on the college campus, and here I was, on the college campus – not as a professor, but as a campus minister! I had taken just a little risk, just a little – the risk of going to a place where I had not planned to go – and out of even that tiny bit of faithfulness, the Lord gave me twenty-three years in campus ministry!
Do you see? Brothers, are you some place in your life that is not where you set out to be? Maybe you are not in the work you had your heart set on. Maybe you started out with a bang but it feels like you are ending with a whimper. Maybe you don’t live in the kind of house you and your wife dreamed of when you were starting out. Maybe your income is – well, let’s just say there is always more month than money. Is your life not what you wanted it to be? Then I ask you, risk looking at it again. Risk looking at it from God’s perspective. Risk figuring out that God, in His love for you, knew better than you yourself where you ought to be, and is ready to work with you, right here, right now, to discover how to make the life you have here positive and fulfilling.
Thank God today for Aquila, who risked the loss of his original life plan in order to find a better plan, God’s plan.
But now, I also want you to notice with me that part of Aquila’s secret is that he was secure in his relationships. Not only was Aquila secure in knowing who he was, wherever that might be, but he also took the risk of loving somebody so that he could find security in his relationships. And that too brought Aquila a settled heart and a strength of purpose.
I said a moment ago that I was focusing on Aquila, but that he was just one-half of a couple, Aquila and Priscilla. Let me go a little further with that. Six times this couple is mentioned in the Bible. Many of the Bible’s personalities were married, but much of the time their spouses are hardly even mentioned. Usually the Bible will focus on one and leave the other behind. Exodus is all about Moses, and Zipporah is barely mentioned. Lydia the seller of purple gets headlines, but there is nothing about her family. But this couple are always mentioned together. Sometimes they are called Aquila and Priscilla, and sometimes they are called Priscilla and Aquila. What does that say to you?
Well, it suggests to me that they were such complete life partners that it didn’t matter which one you mentioned first, because the other was always implied. They were bonded together as a tem. In the comic strip “Zits” there are two teenagers who are so into one another that they just have one name, all run together, “Richandsara”. Not “Rich”, not “Sara”, but “Richandsara”. Well, that may not be ideal at the tender age of teens, but at some point in life each of us needs to take the risk of loving someone in such a way that a secure bond and a safe relationship is formed. It may not always be marriage, but we need to risk loving and being loved. Aquila and Priscilla were partners in marriage, partners in faith, partners in life itself. And in that relationship they gave one another immense security and complete confidence.
Now does that mean that Aquila was weak? Does that suggest that Aquila was not a real man, a guy’s guy? Was Aquila the original henpecked husband? I don’t think so. I get the picture of a couple whose care for one another went so deep that at every critical point in life each of them knew that there the other was totally trustworthy. Aquila risked his so-called masculinity to share everything with his wife, and there he found security.
Recently I read Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Sharing Good Times”. Its premise is that the truly choice moments in life are those in which you share both risk and responsibility with others. But President Carter confesses that he did not always do it that way; when his father died, Jimmy resigned his Navy commission and left the nuclear submarine program to go back to Georgia and manage the family farm, and never even consulted his wife Rosalyn about it. Later he filed as a candidate for Governor of Georgia without talking it over with her or with anybody. Mr. Carter admits that he was dead wrong doing those things. He injected a wedge in his marriage that was hard to heal.
I have to tell you that I too have done things like that. Some of us, brothers, tell our wives not to bother their pretty little heads about various things. We do it because we are afraid to risk! We do it because we are afraid of ourselves! We do it because we are not confident of the decisions we are making and the directions we are taking, and we don’t want to risk ourselves. But I must tell you today that no accomplishment is worth it if your life partner is not involved; and no achievement will be satisfying if you have not shared both risks and joys with someone who loves you.
Thank God today for Aquila, who risked his macho image enough to share everything with his life partner, and from that received both love and security.
But we are not finished with Aquila yet. For Aquila’s example teaches us not only about being secure in who we are, and not only about being secure in our relationships, but Aquila also is going to teach us something about taking risks for the Kingdom of God, for the church. This brother, this wonderfully secure man, along with his splendid wife Priscilla, knew how to take risks and accomplish something for the Lord and for the church.
The story in the Book of Acts tells us that there was a very popular preacher in the church in Corinth – Apollos by name. Apollos comes up from time to time in the New Testament; it seems he was a very bright, very forceful speaker. But it also seems he was not quite on target with his teaching. He just didn’t have some of the gospel message quite right. I’ve had the wonderful privilege this past semester of teaching a seminary course, and I know about students who are bright and passionate and personable, but when they write their papers, you realize they don’t quite have it right! They answer passionately, but they are passionately wrong!
Now Apollos – you’ve seen people like him, haven’t you? He’s standing up in church, people are listening to him, he’s gaining a following, he’s popular, the little old ladies think he’s handsome, the youth say he’s cool. Still, he’s off the mark in what he says. He’s not on target!
So what did Aquila do? Aquila and his wife took Apollos aside and taught him, coached him, so that his gifts would not be wasted and so that the church might flourish. They loved the church enough to nurture somebody who had much to give, but who was not quite ready to give it. What do most of us do when we see someone headed in the wrong direction? We grumble and tattle, but do we deal with the person who is off the mark? Oh, no, we say, that would hurt his feelings; I can’t do that. Oh, no, that’s not my business. But Aquila and his wife, believing that the church of the living God mattered above all things, took the risk and invested the time to help Apollos get it right. They did not judge, they did not condemn, they did not complain. They just opened their hearts and contributed what they knew so that someone with great gifts might channel them in the right direction.
In these days the church of the Lord Jesus Christ needs both men and women who will take risks and help others do the right thing. Since my retirement I have preached in quite a number of churches, and found several of them in sad shape, almost disappearing. Why? Usually because nobody really took charge, nobody accepted responsibility, nobody took the risk of stepping in to help others who were not doing church well. Men, if you care about Emmaus church, you will step in and take leadership and will make sure that whatever is done here is done well. It is not enough that you have an exceptionally capable and caring pastor; I am glad that you have her, but for each of you there is a task that only you can fill. It is not enough that you have gifted deacons, talented musicians, and dedicated teachers already in place. Whoever you are, no one can take the place that a risk-taking man can fill in the life of the church.
For this is your homeland – your community, your family, your church. This is your homeland; it must be made secure. It must be protected from hurt, harm, and danger. This is your legacy – your place, your home, this church. Only you, brothers, with the partnership of our sisters, can secure it. It will be risky. It will be tough work. It will cost you. But it will be worth it.
For anything worth doing involves risk. But I remind you of One who made Himself of no reputation, but took upon Himself the form of a servant, One who humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This One, this Christ, risked His neck for us! But for this risk, God has highly exalted Him, and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.
Risk your neck for the security of your community, your home, your church. Anything worth doing means risk. But God is at work in all things – and in all men – who love Him and are called according to His purpose.