Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

YEAR C 2016 pentecost 15

Pentecost 15, 2016
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Preached at St. Timothy's Church, Massillon, OH

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In the early days of our republic, no one ever ran for President.  Showing that you were interested in the office was the surest way to make yourself unqualified for the presidency.  I know that’s nearly impossible to believe, given our current climate, but that was the way it was done, until our own William Henry Harrison openly campaigned for the office in 1840.  He was the first one to publicly let people know he wanted to be the president.  Prior to that, in order to be president, the main thing you had to do was pretend that you did not want to be president.  That’s how you got elected.

And—I have to be honest with you—this is why I find today’s Gospel reading to be so terribly unsatisfying.  Jesus is saying to pretend you don’t want something so that someone will give it to you.  It’s the kind of social advice you expect to hear from Will Rogers, or Emily Post, if not James Carville.

You know, here’s a tip for how to save face at a fancy dinner party.  Sit in the lowest seat, and you will surely be recognized as more important than that, and then you will be elevated to a higher seat.  It is conniving and self-serving.  If you take the highest seat, there’s a chance someone higher might show up.  So, you should aim lower than you know you deserve, so that way the host can come over and move you up where you belong, and everyone at the party can see you being elected president against your will.  Since you know yourself to be better than others, you can pretend to be humble so you can be lifted up.  Check out how humble I am!

I’m sorry, but that’s not the kind of advice I expect from Jesus.  It just feels . . . dishonest, you know?  And—even worse—it is selfish, and uses fake humility to advance yourself.  And not only that, why is this piece of Poor Richard’s Almanack style advice called a “parable,” anyway?  Normally, when Jesus tells a parable, it begins with “A certain man was invited to a banquet,” which is like saying “Once upon a time there was a wedding banquet.”  But in today’s reading, Jesus begins his parable by speaking directly to his listeners: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet . . .”  I wouldn’t call that a parable.

But maybe calling this a parable is the key to understanding it.  Rather than looking at these words as a chapter from “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” maybe we really should approach it as a parable.  Because the first rule in trying to understand the parables of Jesus is to remember, they are not about you.  Parables are about Jesus, and the Kingdom of God.  They are not meant to be tips for how to get ahead in society.  And as soon as the words of Jesus start to sound like Benjamin Franklin, it’s a red flag that we need to slow down and look more carefully at what Jesus is trying to tell us.

We can divide this gospel text into two sections.  The first part (about taking the lower seat) seems to be addressed to the Pharisees, although it might be addressed to the guests; we can’t tell.  But the suggestion is, by humbling yourself, you might end up exalted.  If we take that as a parable (rather than social-climbing advice), we see it as a metaphor or analogy.  The humbled will be lifted up.  We might say, raised up.  True humility is laying down your life . . . dying to yourself.  The dead will be raised to new life, right?  The humbled will be exalted.  And you cannot be more humbled than being dead.  You cannot raise yourself after being brought down to the grave; but God can.  God can come to you and say, “Friend move up higher.  Rise up from the grave to new life.”

But, at the end of that parable, Jesus adds a little conclusion, as he loves to do with parables.  He says, Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted.  This is classic Luke, by the way.  Remember the song Mary sings when her cousin Elizabeth visits?  We call it the Magnificat, and it only shows up in Luke.  “He has shown strength with his arm and has scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”

Only in Luke do we get both the lifting up of the poor AND the casting down of the mighty.  Remember the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew?  Blessed are the poor and so forth?  When Luke tells that story, he adds what are called The Woes.  Blessed are the poor, yes, but woe to the rich.  Woe to those who are well-fed and laughing.  Luke always adds that little flip after the positive.  The low will be brought up, and the high up will be brought low.

And then we have the second part of this reading, where we are told Jesus is addressing those who have invited him to the banquet.  He tells them to invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.  It sounds at first like Jesus is just telling them how to be good people, and decent citizens.  Don’t invite your friends who can repay you by inviting you in return.  Instead, invite the people who can’t afford to invite you back.  That strikes us as really nice . . . really lofty, but really nice.

But here’s the thing: no faithful person of God would ever invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind, because those people are ritually unclean.  This is not about bucking the social customs of the time; inviting those people would make the host ritually unclean, making them unfit to go to the Temple, among other things.  It’s one thing to say, “Invite people who cannot repay you.”  It is quite another to say, “Invite the people that you have spent your entire life completely avoiding for religious reasons.”

And just like last week, Jesus seems to be telling us that people are more important than rules.  The sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.  The poor, crippled, lame, and blind are meant to be invited in and fed, not ignored and shunned.  Look at your neighbors the way God looks at us.  God invites those who do not deserve to be invited.

And that is good news for you and me.  Because what Jesus is telling his hosts is that they should organize their guest list the way God’s guest list is organized.  God is holding a banquet, and at the top of the guest list you will find the poor, crippled, lame, and blind . . . me, and you.  God invites us to dinner not expecting to get invited to dinner in return.  This gospel reading is not a lesson in manners and dinner parties, but is a lesson in the hospitality of God.  A glimpse of how God views the world.  Jesus is not giving practical advice for how to plan or act at dinners.  He is telling us how God does these things.

God invites the unworthy and lifts them up.  God invites those who do not belong and spreads a table before them.  God invites the outcasts and makes them insiders.  God invites the unclean and declares us clean.  This gospel text is not advice for living; rather it is advice for dying.  Dying to yourself, so that you can be raised to new life.

Whoever we think of when we think of “the unclean,” in an ideal world, you and I would invite them to dinner.  And sometimes we do!  And, it is also true that sometimes we get invited to dinner by those who consider us unclean.  But, more importantly, and in the same way, God has invited you and me to a banquet where no one is considered unclean: the heavenly meal that stretches on through eternity.  And at this banquet, no one is called poor, crippled, lame, or blind, because all have been healed and redeemed.  We are all invited, and made clean and pure in every sense of the word.

And this morning, you are invited to a banquet, which is a foretaste of the feast to come.  God is inviting you to this banquet, knowing full well that you cannot offer an invitation in response.  God invites us (knowing we cannot repay the debt), because by inviting us, God is the one who will be repaid “at the resurrection of the righteous.”  So now come to the banquet, friend, and be lifted up.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

YEAR C 2016 pentecost 14

Pentecost 14, 2016
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17
Preached at St. Timothy’s Church, Massillon, OH

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke, we have a pretty straightforward healing story from Jesus.  There’s this woman who has been sick for 18 years.  Jesus heals her on the Sabbath.  The local religious leaders accuse him of breaking God’s law by working on the Sabbath.  Jesus notes their hypocrisy, they are chagrined, everyone praises God.  The end.  And, on that level the story works.  Except that there are all sorts of subtle things to notice if we want to get at what’s really going on in this story.

To begin with, we need to wrap our minds around a different cultural context.  In Jesus’ time, the connection between the physical and the moral and the spiritual was a given.  We get this from Plato if not earlier: The beautiful and the good are the same.  Things are twisted and broken in appearance because they are twisted and broken inside.  No one is just born blind in that culture, which is why the disciples in John’s Gospel ask Jesus, “Whose sin caused this man to be born blind--his own or his parents’ sin?”  A person’s physical appearance was considered the manifestation of their inward state.  We like to pretend we are beyond that, but if we’re honest . . .

Anyway, the people in Jesus’ day were much more convinced of this connection, and it was simply part of the society, the way things work.    Beautiful meant good; ugly meant bad. 

But on top of that outward appearance thing, there’s a huge difference between men and women in Jesus’ culture.  To cut to the chase: Men were considered valuable; women were not.  It’s no coincidence that the 10 Commandments list women (and not men) as possessions one must not covet.  Women were considered necessary as a group, but an individual woman . . . well . . . Let’s just say she’d never be Presiding Bishop.

So, I hope by now you can see where this is going:  A diseased woman, a broken and twisted female, it just doesn’t get much worse than that in those days.  She has no status, since she’s a woman.  And she is obviously spiritually and morally deformed, given her outside appearance.  This woman doesn’t even deserve to be noticed, let alone healed.  And on the Sabbath?!?  That is just absurd!

But let’s review what we know about the Sabbath for a moment.  Well, we actually don’t know much at all, other than it’s Biblical origins and that it is and was very important to the Hebrew people.  You and I have the general sense that it is a day of rest, and probably know that the definition of not resting (or working) has grown over the years into a tangle of restrictions on activities.  People in Jesus’ day could be stoned for violating the Sabbath . . . stoned in the fatal way that is.  It was no small charge to be accused of working on the Sabbath.

And listen again to the objection of the leader of the synagogue:  “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."  I hate to say it, but this is pretty progressive here.  You notice his complaint is only about violating the Sabbath; he does not take issue with Jesus’ healing a woman . . . which is remarkable when you consider it.  So he’s taking kind of a middle stance, having elevated her to the level of at least worthy of healing, but obviously not worthy of being healed on the Sabbath.  You know, take a step back here, Jesus.  What’s the rush?  18 years plus one day?  You’ve got all next week to heal her.  The rules of God should not be broken lightly, right?

But do you remember what her actual ailment was?  The symptom was that she was bent over, yes.  But as Jesus declares, Satan had bound her for 18 years.  Satan is what prevents her from standing upright.  Her illness is caused by Satan.  And that means—if we follow it through—according to the leader of the synagogue, following the Law of God is more important than being freed from sin.  Or, more frighteningly, God cares more about rules than people.  The leader of the synagogue seems to hold that view, right?  The Law is what matters here.  Let her remain in bondage, since the rules are more important than people.

Well thank God for Jesus!  Thank God that Jesus shows up to say it over and over again:  The Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.  Given her bent-over stature, this woman would be a complete outcast for many reasons.  And Jesus heals, frees, and restores her to community ON THE SABBATH.  What could possibly be more fitting?  What better day than the Sabbath to declare God’s forgiveness and restoration?  It would seem wrong to wait, just for the poetic justice of the timing.  Woman, you are set free from your ailment on the Sabbath.  Indeed!  Let’s go to brunch!

But then here’s the really interesting part of the whole story.  Jesus hits them with the obvious point of asking if they wouldn’t do a little work to give their ox or donkey water on the Sabbath.  And he could have left it at that.  But, being Jesus, he has to go all the way: “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?"

Okay, first of all, women were not called “Daughters of Abraham.”  Not until Jesus calls her that in Luke’s Gospel.  The only other reference to a woman being a Daughter of Abraham is found in Maccabees, which is exactly why you and I have never seen this before.  But Jesus’ listeners would have got the reference.  I won’t go into the whole thing here, but the reference is to a woman of extreme courage who brings honor to Abraham through steadfast endurance and suffering.  To connect the woman in today’s Gospel with the Jewish mother in Maccabees is what brings shame on Jesus’ audience. 

NOW they get the idea.  Or are getting the idea.  Because here’s the deeper reference being made in this statement.  Jesus doesn’t say, ought not this woman be freed from Satan to BECOME a daughter of Abraham.  Jesus is not saying, “Once I do my magic hands thing and tell her to stand up, THEN she will be a daughter of Abraham.”  He says “being a daughter of Abraham.”  Present tense.  She does not become a daughter of Abraham because Jesus heals her.  She IS a daughter of Abraham.  Her status is hidden by the binding, and Jesus sets her free to stand up straight, praising God.

The opponents of Jesus are put to shame when he says this.  Why?  Well, it’s hard to know, exactly.  But my guess is it’s best to just take this at face value:  They are put to shame because they couldn’t see what seems obvious to an outside observer . . . particularly those of us with 20 hundred hindsight . . . Neither the binding of Satan, nor the opinion of society takes away the fact that this woman is a child of God, a daughter of Abraham.  The circumstances of life and birth and opinions do not diminish her value in the eyes of God.  And anyone who says otherwise will be put to shame.

And that goes for you and me as well.  God does not heal you to become a child of God.  You are a baptized child of God, and that is why God heals you.  Coming to this altar this morning does not make you a baptized child of God . . . But because you are, you are welcome here.  Whatever binds you, whatever holds you down, whatever society says makes you unworthy, Jesus removes all of those.  Jesus sets you free and welcomes you into the kingdom.  And so it is especially appropriate to say:  Rise up!  You are set free from whatever it is that was binding you, because you are a redeemed child of God.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

YEAR C 2016 pentecost 13

Pentecost 13, 2016
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, I’m not going to lie to you.  This is a difficult collection of texts to preach on.  In fact, throughout the month of August the texts are hard.  (Maybe I should’ve waited until September to start as your Rector.)  But it does fall to me to say something about these texts this morning, and so I will.

Let’s start here: The word “gospel” means good news, or good story, actually.  It’s from an Anglo-Saxon word that comes from a Greek word.  That’s why we often interchange “good news” for the gospel.  It’s also why I always preach on the gospel text, because I want to focus on the good news of God in Jesus Christ.  In the Episcopal Church, we follow what is called the Revised Common Lectionary, along with most other mainstream denominations.  And the Revised Common Lectionary tells us which texts to use on a given Sunday, and the readings usually fit together.

So, for example, the First and Second readings have some connection to the Gospel reading.  And today is no exception to that.  They do fit together, but they’re kind of backwards.  Because today’s Gospel reading—the one we just heard—doesn’t seem to have any good news in it, does it?  The good news has no good news!  I came to bring fire to the earth?  You thought I came to bring peace, but I have come to bring division?  We are a long, long way from that gentle baby born in Bethlehem, aren’t we?

Since it’s always a good idea to give the bad news first, I think our starting point today has to be to look at the words of Jesus, and to look to the other lessons for a sign of hope.  And so first, the Gospel text . . . which is not very much gospel, or good news.

This section of Luke’s Gospel is part of a long scene, in which Jesus alternates between talking to the crowd and talking to his disciples.  Way back at the beginning of chapter 12, we are told that a crowd of thousands had gathered around Jesus, such that they were trampling each other.  Then Jesus speaks to his disciples, then to the crowd, then to the disciples, and so forth.  It gets confusing, to the point that in verse 41, Peter asks Jesus if that last parable was just for the disciples or for everyone.  When we get to today’s section, Jesus still hasn’t answered Peter’s question, and he starts with “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

And then Jesus talks about the division he will bring.  It doesn’t sound at all comforting.  Then he chastises the crowd (I think?) for being able to read the signs of the physical world, but for not being able to read the signs of the times, so to speak.  Jesus is on his was to Jerusalem where he will be brutally murdered, and after his resurrection, the world will be turned upside down in turmoil.  There are dark times on the horizon, and the people don’t see it coming.  They are blind to the importance of what Jesus is going to do, and they do not see the danger that lies ahead.

So, that’s the gospel.  The not-so-good news.  But now let’s look at the first reading, the one from Isaiah.  Here, we have a sort of narrator (like a Greek chorus, you might say) who sets the scene.  “Let me sing of my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.”  Notice that it is a love song.  And in case you missed it, the metaphor is that Jerusalem and Judah are the beloved vineyard.  And then we can just think back through the history of God’s people and see how God’s heart has been broken, over and over. 

God sets them up for success, and their rebellion and wickedness takes over, time and time again.  When they are missing Moses, they make a golden calf to worship.  There’s that whole notion of wanting kings like the nations around them because they don’t trust God.  They embrace other religions of the nearby pagans.  When we read the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, we get a regular parade of offenses against their God.  The disappointment God feels is righteous, and just, and—quite frankly—frightening.  God expected grapes (or good fruit) and God’s people produce wild grapes (or stinkers, as the word is written).  God declares this vineyard hopeless, and will knock down its walls, withhold any rain, and no longer care for this vineyard.  The disappointment is well deserved, and God’s mind seems fixed on letting his people be destroyed.

So far, the gospel and first reading do not give us cause for hope.  Though we know that God loves us, and though we know God has redeemed and forgiven us, there is no reassurance in these lessons.  There doesn’t seem to be much cause for hope.  But then, we come to Psalm for this morning.  Psalm 80.

The first part of the Psalm seems to describe the same vineyard we encounter in the reading from Isaiah.  God has brought the vine out of Egypt—through the Red Sea, we might say.  God prepared a place for the vine—a promised land, we might say.  The vine took root and spread out.  So far so good.  But then the writer asks, “Why have you broken down its wall so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?”  Isn’t it interesting to set this question next to the reading from Isaiah we just looked at?

From God’s perspective, the grapes produced are junk.  From the vine’s perspective, they’ve produced perfectly good fruit that is being stolen by passersby.  A completely different understanding, right?  The vineyard can’t understand why God has broken the wall and made it vulnerable to destruction.  God, on the other hand, has already declared that this was the plan.  The vineyard is an unrepentant disappointment, and must be abandoned.

Repentance.  This is the key to these readings today.  The word repent is the word we get in place of the Greek word metanoia.  It means to have a change of mind.  From what we can see of this vineyard God has lovingly planted, it has no intention of changing its mind, because as best the vineyard can tell, it hasn’t done anything wrong!  God has broken down the protective wall for no reason, and the vineyard is suffering.  The vineyard is headed for the ash heap of history, and is too blind to see who is at fault.  Is there hope?  Is there a chance of repentance?  Well, not from the vineyard, that’s clear.

But then we come to verse 14.  The Psalmist pleads, “Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted.”  It almost sounds like a prayer doesn’t it?  And then we hear, “Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.”  Of course, we all recognize the Son of Man, who sits at God’s right hand. 

And then here comes the most beautiful and hopeful part of all:
“And so will we never turn away from you; give us life, that we may call upon your Name.  Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”

The vineyard never acknowledges its wicked waywardness, but it knows to cry out to God for salvation.  A desperate plea to God for help, knowing that it is God alone who saves.  Is this repentance?  Is this a change of mind?  I mean, not confession, but repentance?  It sure seems so, doesn’t it?  In the midst of suffering, the vineyard turns its mind to the only one who can help.  It stops wondering why this suffering has happened and starts looking to the God who saves.

Now, of course, all metaphors break down if we push them too far.  So let’s get out of the metaphors about vineyards and talk about actual people.  You and me, I mean.

There are those in the Christian faith who will tell you that sins are not forgiven if they are not confessed.  There are people who will tell you that our repentance has to precede God’s salvation.  But I don't think it depends on us, to be honest with you.  God saves us because that is what God does.  We worship a God who resurrects the dead, the ones who cannot repent  The One who lifts us out of hopelessness and despair to new life and new beginnings.  God saves the undeserving because that is what God does.

Salvation is not up to us and our repentance.  And that is good news!  What saves us is actually God’s repentance—the metanoia of God--the changing of God’s mind.  We are God’s beloved vineyard.  God has beautiful plans for us.  But things happen: we make bad choices, we do not love God with our whole heart, and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.  But through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God restores us to wholeness.  And through the bread and wine of the Eucharist, God sustains and sanctifies us.

May our prayer be that of the Psalmist this morning: And so that we will never turn away from you; give us life, that we may call upon your Name.  Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

YEAR C 2016 pentecost 12

Pentecost 12, 2016
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Preached at St. Timothy Church, Massillon, OH

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."  That’s how today’s Gospel reading started.  Remember that?  You might not remember because of the confusing parade of sayings that followed it.  After that straightforward opening statement, the reading becomes a bit of a train wreck of metaphors, which no modern-day editor would allow into print.  But the opening sentence is this:  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

After that happy beginning—spoken to a flock—we hear about purses and treasure, lamps lit by slaves awaiting a wedding guest, a meal served to slaves by their master, a thief breaking in at an unknown hour, and the return of the Son of Man, all within seven verses.  Like I said, a lot of metaphors.  But don’t get me wrong: I’m not criticizing Jesus’ clear-thinking skills here. 

We have this collection of sayings grouped together as though they’re a sermon.  But for all we know, these were thoughts from Jesus spread out over a week, or month, or year.  Just because they appear back to back doesn’t mean that’s how Jesus presented them.  Of course, maybe he did.  We don’t know for certain either way.  Though many a PhD has been earned on arguing over just such a thing, I’m sure.

What you and I need to know is this:  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  That’s the key to getting this right.  That’s how today’s reading begins, and it is surely the most important part of the entire reading.  It sets the tone, but it also reveals something about the nature of God.  In fact, it reveals a whole lot about the nature of God, and I daresay what it reveals is contrary to how we generally think about God.

Back in the early 70’s, there was an animated television series called, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.”  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  But even if you haven’t, you’ve heard the phrase before.  And, of course, it’s not just in the masculine: plenty of children live in fear of the parallel “Wait until your mother hears about this.”  Not only do these phrases reflect bad parenting; they also put one parent in the role of The Punisher, or Bad Cop.  Which is unpleasant, at best.

How strange it is that we’re all familiar with this idea of making a child live in fear of one parent or the other.  And how horrible to be that parent, right?  The phrase is usually thought of as a threat:  Wait until your father gets home, meaning, you really do not want your father to come home tonight.  Awful all around, right?  Bad for the parent who dodges, bad for the kid who spends hours in fear, and bad for the parent whose arrival is used as a threat.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be taken that way, does it?  Wait until your parent gets home could be seen as a positive thing.  When Mom gets home, we’re going to Handel’s for ice cream.  When Dad gets here, we’re leaving for Cedar Point.  Just wait until they get here; it’s going to be awesome!!!  But we don’t usually think of the phrase that way.  We view it as a threat.  As a way to make children nervous and afraid and willing to make all sorts of plea bargains in order to avoid the certain wrath that awaits them.

And THAT is exactly how I’m afraid we view the return of God, deep down.  Just wait until your God gets home!  I think we’re mostly convinced that when God returns there will be some celestial taking of names and kicking of . . . things.  Or, as the familiar bumper sticker has it:  Jesus is coming, look busy.  Like when Jesus returns he will only be happy with the ones who are doing whatever it is he said we should be doing.

And there are hints of that in today’s reading, right?  Or wait.  Do we just assume they’re in there?  It’s interesting how there’s really no bad news in this reading, UNLESS we make the mistake of seeing it as a checklist of things we need to be doing.  If we don’t fight against the tendency when hearing Jesus speak, we risk viewing everything Jesus says as though he’s sitting in the middle Leviticus when he’s saying it.  As a friend of mine likes to say, the Law is our constant companion, but the Gospel is a stranger in our midst.  Our default God mode is the Zeus god of mythology, hurling thunder bolts, sporting a big beard.

But there’s nothing in this reading that suggests anyone is threatened, or in danger, or facing damnation.  Remember how the whole thing began?  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  And from there Jesus goes on to say do this, and be like this, and have this attitude . . . But nowhere does he say, “Or else!”

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.  Not, reluctant whim to give us the kingdom.  Not, grudging concession to give us the kingdom.  And certainly not, God’s good pleasure to see you burn in hell if it weren’t for that pesky Jesus fellow.  Jesus doesn’t walk among us in order to tie the hands of the bloodthirsty Father who wants nothing more than to dip you in vats of boiling oil from Dante’s Inferno.  Jesus IS God, remember?  Jesus doesn’t save us from the Father; God does not save us from God.

And so how do we hear all these words today?  What do we think when we hear Jesus say, Sell your possessions?  Be dressed with your lamps lit?  Be alert and ready for the unexpected return of the Son of Man?  To an outsider, these sound like requirements.  They sound like barriers or blockades to acceptance.  You know, after you have sold your possessions, and kept your lamp lit, and stayed up all night every night waiting by the door, then if you’re lucky, you might just have an opportunity to be accepted into the kingdom.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Jesus tells us to be ready.  We don’t know when Jesus is coming back, but it is a good day when he returns.  It is a day to celebrate, though we don’t know when it will be.  And that kind of implies a celebration every day, doesn’t it?  Since we don’t know the date?

In the 1840’s, an American Baptist preacher named William Miller began studying the book of Daniel from the Old Testament.  Over time, using complicated formulas, he decided that Jesus would return to earth in the year 1844.  Samuel Snow, a fellow preacher narrowed it down to a specific date: October 22nd, 1844.  Thousands of their followers prepared for the day.  Some gave away all their possessions.  They went into fields and on hilltops all over upstate New York.  As I’m sure you know, Jesus did not return in October, 1844.  And for the so-called Millerites, this day became known as The Great Disappointment.  Indeed.

When Jesus says in today’s gospel to sell your possessions and prepare for his return, he does not mean go stand in a field on a specific date and wait for him to return.  In fact, he specifically says over and over, nobody knows the date of his returning.  So whatever he means when he says to be alert and waiting at the door, he does not mean pick a date and stand on top of a mountain in upstate New York.

So, if Jesus’ return is a cause for celebration, and if we do not know the day or the hour, we wait with great expectation, not great disappointment.  We live with hope, not despair.  If we welcome Jesus’ return, then not knowing the day makes every day a celebration, see?  And if you find yourself edgy and nervous at the thought of the return of the Son of Man, it might be that you’ve forgotten how this reading began:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom . . . where there is a never-ending feast of healing and celebration.

We call the Eucharistic meal the “foretaste of the feast to come.”  Because it is the place where everyone is welcomed, everyone is encouraged, and everyone is strengthened for the journey ahead.

May God give us the confidence to trust that God wants what is best for us, and the strength carry out God’s will for our lives as we wait with hope, and the faith to trust that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.