As you might know, I turned 67 yesterday and it is hard to get my head around the fact that I am that age. When I was much younger I figured that 67 would be really old. It isn’t, and I am in good health and happy. I love my work, where I live, and have a wonderful family and close friends. But still, that is a lot of years.
In high school I loved math, and thought of being a mathematician at one point. I loved prime numbers – that love has it roots (no pun intended) earlier, but there is something magical about a prime number. Sixty seven is one. I still have some primes to go, I expect. They are pure numbers, individuals as it happens. Unique with a singular integrity. In one of Oliver Sack’s books, he tells of two brothers who shared primes as their private language. They could not do normal arithmetic, but were able to generate primes up to 26 integers in their head. At one point they were separated and they lost the ability to do prime numbers.
Primes. Maybe we should have asked for a 7% increase in giving in our Pledge Drive. That is a prime number, but we are going with 8% instead. In this world, it is not easy to ask for money, and it feels like a bit of a risk to ask for such an increase. It is needed in your search for a new senior minister, but still it feels like a risk. Our pledge drive is our prime task right now.
Risk is a complicated idea. Most people do not want to be timid, or lack courage, or avoid adventure, but many also want to avoid risk. Or, as we often qualify it, unnecessary risk. But we only know that after the fact. We talk of risk factors in health, or risk in investments. Olympic athletes risk injury – I guess we all do in some way. It is a risk of sorts just to get out on the 210 or the 134, or to hike up the hills behind us, to swim in the ocean, just to get up in the morning.
It is also a risk to open our hearts to the world, to be vulnerable, to let others into our lives, to not be so defended that we cannot connect. It is a risk to think in different ways, to get out of a comfort zone. Our congregation says both that it is a place of open hearts and open minds, yet we gather in a sanctuary – risk and safety right there. It is all tied up together. You are risking something in your search for new leadership – my hope is that you will not be timid in your search.
Those are some thoughts for this Sunday, and I am trying to find my way through the thicket of risk and security in my life – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. Where are you in this thicket – brave or timid, foolish or wise?
This is a prime congregation – singular and unique. And this is a singular and unique time for you – a prime time. Maybe time to take some risks – open your lives to something new.
“Risky business”, sing The Talking Heads. It certainly is.
Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson