Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, August 7, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 9

Pentecost 9, 2022
Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

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 that 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 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 a lot of metaphors.  

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.  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.

I think we’re mostly convinced that when Jesus 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 just might have an opportunity to be accepted into the kingdom.

Again: 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, even though we don’t know when it will be.  And that sort 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 on October 22nd, 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, then 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 . . . The never-ending feast of healing and celebration.
And there’s a reason 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.


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