August 11, 2019 – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost — Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
This morning’s lessons speak about faith, about trusting God’s Word and God’s promises, even when from the human viewpoint they seem impossible. In the lesson from Genesis we read about God’s promise to Abram (later renamed Abraham) that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven. The commentary in the Letter to the Hebrews makes it clear how absurd that promise was from a human point of view. Abram was old. His wife Sarai was old and barren. But because Abram trusted God’s promise, because he believed that God would be faithful, “therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born.”
The passage from Genesis makes a very important point about faith. Abram “believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” In other words, Abram “corrected” his vision to be in line with God’s vision, his will to be in line with God’s will. That is what it means to be righteous. This isn’t a simple matter of believing in something in spite of the evidence. We might call that “wishful thinking” or even “denial.” What scripture is talking about is profound trust in a person, in this case the personal God who has made a promise to Abram, even when the promise seems unlikely. As I said last week, part of trusting in someone is believing his or her word, relying on the truth of what he or she says. We might ask ourselves how much we trust God. How deep is our faith in God’s promises? Do we trust God’s vision for humanity so completely that we are willing to align our vision with God’s vision, our will with God’s will? We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” Do we mean those words? Or are our actions proving that what we are really interested in is our will?
In the portion of Luke’s gospel that we just heard, Jesus begins by telling his disciples that they need not be afraid because of God’s promise: “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” If we trust God’s promise deeply, then we will find the strength and courage to do what Jesus told his disciples to do in the verse preceding our lesson: “strive for God’s kingdom” (Luke 12:31). Jesus often told his followers that in him and in his behavior the kingdom of God had come near. Teaching about God’s love and mercy, healing people, forgiving sinners, feeding thousands of people: these are a few of the signs of the kingdom shown in Jesus’ life. Jesus wants us to strive for God’s kingdom, without fear or worry, but with trust in God and in the fact that it is “[our] Father’s good pleasure to give [us] the kingdom.”
The next words of Jesus reiterate the lessons about wealth that we have recently considered. “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Striving for God’s kingdom unquestionably involves helping others who need help, giving what we have to relieve human suffering. That might involve selling our possessions. It might also involve living more simply and frugally, so that we have more to give.
Do you know Jane Austen’s novel “Persuasion”? One of the main families in the book is the Elliot family, an aristocratic and wealthy family who find themselves temporarily in financial trouble. They have to rent out the large and luxurious family estate and home – Kellynch Hall – until their finances improve. They move to rooms in Bath and still live in what most of us would regard as luxury and idleness. But they do have to economize. The eldest daughter suggests that the first item they can cut from their expenses is supporting “unnecessary charities!”
This isn’t striving for God’s kingdom! We are told throughout scripture that we are to give God the first fruits of the harvest, the best animal of the herd, significant and sacrificial amounts of money to support those in need and houses of worship. We are not to give God what is left over – if anything – after we have spent whatever we have on ourselves. This may not be easy. “Striving” isn’t easy. But it is part of living out our trust in God’s vision for humanity and part of putting our treasure and our hearts in heaven.
In the second part of our lesson from Luke Jesus teaches his disciples to be prepared for action and to be awake. In the first parable the servants are dressed and have their lamps lit so that they are ready to answer the door at any hour of the night, as soon as their master knocks. These servants are blessed and rewarded: their master serves them a meal. The second parable about the thief in the night shows what happens when the householder is unprepared for a disruptive event. Both lessons are taught in the context of Jesus’ comment, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Perhaps you know a gospel song called “Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb.” I’ve listened to it sung by groups as diverse as Chanticleer and The Blind Boys of Alabama. The refrain is a good “wake-up call.”
“You know now everybody’s worried about that atom bomb.
No one seems worried about the day my Lord shall come.
You’d better set your house in order for he may be coming soon.
And then he’ll hit like an atom bomb when he comes, when he comes.”
The song goes on:
“Now don’t you get worried, just bear in mind
Trust in Jesus and ye shall find
Peace and happiness, joy divine.”
Trust in Jesus. That’s what we are called to do. To trust in his word, his teaching, not the world’s word and the world’s teaching. Jesus had promised his disciples that he would return, but that hadn’t happened by the time the gospels were written. It hasn’t happened yet. We are still waiting for Christ’s return “at an unexpected hour.” We need to be ready. How? By being faithful followers of Jesus, taking him at his word, trusting in his promises and his guidance for how we live. Our recent lessons point out that how faithfully we handle our possessions and our money can make us more or less ready for Christ’s return and God’s kingdom. The choice is ours.
The second coming of Christ may seem so remote to us that it doesn’t motivate us strongly. What may speak to us more clearly is our awareness of our own mortality. In the parable of the rich fool that we heard last Sunday, the man who built bigger barns to hold his grain and his goods was told by God, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus commented, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
How will we “set our houses in order” as individuals and as a parish? How will we respond to the teaching of Jesus Christ, taking seriously his words of warning and his promises? May God help us to know how important these questions are and move our hearts and minds to greater trust in his life-giving Word and more faithful lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.