Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2013
Luke 12:32-40; Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
There are times that I read the scriptures for the week and I feel rich. Today as I hear the lessons again, I am stunned by God’s goodness. We are recipients of God’s generosity and I’m not talking about a hundred-dollar bonus, or a gift card to our favorite restaurant. This God gives childless Abraham and Sarah descendants as abundant as the stars. This God gives them a new homeland. This God promises us the kingdom. Maybe we need to hear that again… this God gives us the kingdom!
Here is what our texts give us today: promises too vast to wrap our heads around and the words that so many others have heard: “Do not be afraid.” So we have stories of those who heard God call them to step out with nothing but a promise of everything, and they did. God has given us the kingdom; and yet how many hours of each day do we spend worrying about our bills, our health, our relationships, and all the problems in our world? I wonder if we really believe this kingdom promise. If we did, we wouldn’t be so quick to stress over things like credit cards, insurance, and how we will get everything done we have committed to do.
We want to believe it, but it’s scary. What would have to change if we took this kingdom stuff seriously? What would our lives look like if everything we did were a response to a God who has already given us the kingdom?
Alyce McKenzie is a seminary professor who does a unit on fasting each Lent with her students. Some have health issues that make fasting difficult, so she assigned them the task of fasting from anxious thoughts for a week. One student raised her hand and said, “Dr. McKenzie, if we fast from anxious thoughts, what else will we have to think about?” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2010/08/thethief-is-at-your-door-lectionary-reflection-for-august-8-2010/)
Wow! On the one hand, it’s funny. But it’s also very real. We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that will go nowhere when God has already given us the kingdom. Alyce goes on to say that “fear is not a protective shield, but a thief. When we dwell on our fears, they become our treasures.”
When God looked for Adam and Eve in the garden, they hid because they were afraid. The Bible is full of stories of folks who fear God. But people fearing God isn’t ancient history. It is true today. Fear is more destructive than we realize. We can become so paralyzed by our fears that we fail to respond to God’s call.
On any given day, there is plenty to fear. But we gather here to give thanks to a God who has given us the kingdom. Doesn’t that make everything different? You will be excited to know that we are preparing for a fall pledge campaign. I have been through this many times and I know about looking at my money and trying to decide what I will give to the church in the coming year. I know about looking at my money with all the caveats… one of my jobs will end next year, we have this big home improvement project coming, and then there are the debts we already carry. What if I say, “God has given me the kingdom. What shall I pledge in response?” How do I live as a person of faith in the face of a God who has given me everything already?
We tend to get things backwards. It is tempting to think that we are taking the lead here. The psalmist even says “Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you.” (Psalm 33:22) That sounds like we trusted in God so God should be kind to us. There are some who believe if we live a certain way, we will be rewarded or punished by God. That doesn’t make sense to me. God breathes life into us and gives us everything. That means everything we do is in response to God.
And if that isn’t enough, Luke tells the story of those who are waiting for their master. Their master arrives and finds them waiting so the master serves them. We show up on any Sunday morning in all forms – we are centered and prayerful or we are running late and a step behind or we are frustrated because someone is driving us crazy. We listen, we pray, we sing, and then we reach this place in the service where we come forward to the altar. God sets the table for us and invites us to come and be fed. Do you ever find as you step into the aisle that you change just a bit? Maybe you are softer, more aware of yourself and those around you, maybe you are more open. I don’t know about you, but so often as I stood from the pew and began to walk toward the front, I would look around and see your beautiful faces and I could feel the table prepared for you, for me, for the whole world. Then I would take my place in the circle and open my hands to receive “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” Some good person placed the bread in my hands, but it was God who is serving me. It is God serving us. That is staggering!
In any given week, there are things that cause us to lose our way; there are things to fear, and so many unknowns. It is in the midst of all of it that we learn to trust things not seen. It’s hard to believe that Abraham and Sarah in their old age would leave their homeland for some unknown destination with no GPS, and no children to carry on the family name if they became ill or were injured. All they had was God’s promise to guide them. We don’t really know our destination. Life has a way of showing us new things and moving us in new directions.
God offers us the kingdom and here is what God asks in return… that we say yes. Not a half-hearted maybe, but a unreserved yes – a yes with our whole being. You may remember that at the Annual Meeting in January, I offered a word to guide our journey this year:
“The word is wholeheartedness. How many of our days are we tired and less than enthused about what lies before us? How often do we find ourselves going through the motions? One of my favorite reflections on this comes from a question David Whyte asked because he was doing work that left him empty. David had no energy for his work and he asked Brother David Steindl-Rast about exhaustion. You may know of David Steindl-Rast as “the gratitude guy.” David Steindl-Rast had a surprising answer to David Whyte’s question about exhaustion:
“The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. It is wholeheartedness… You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers… You must do something heartfelt and you must do it soon.” Brother David Steindl-Rast (Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity pp. 132-133)
That conversation inspired and moved David Whyte forward to becoming a poet who has profoundly impacted the larger world with his words. It is a good reminder that when we enter the world wholeheartedly, many will benefit.
It is easy to get to the place where we are lethargic about our commitments.” (Annual Meeting Report, January 2013) Perhaps some are feeling fatigue in this in-between time at St. Michael’s. In times like this, we may want to slip into the background. Wherever we are, God comes and asks us to commit wholeheartedly with one word: “Yes.” We hope to have a priest in charge in the next several weeks. In the meantime, a generous God is serving us and we have the privilege of being God’s community. All we have to do is say “yes.” We all know that saying yes doesn’t lead us instantly to a life of ease where everything is simple. But saying yes leads us in an ultimate way to the kingdom, to the place where God’s goodness sets us free and makes us whole.