12th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – August 7, 2016 – Hebrews 11:11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Little Flock on the Move – Pastor Evan Davis
What shall we be terrified of this week? Take your pick: Zika’s in Florida, another terrorist attack seems to happen every day in some part of the world, our political conversation is poisoned with fear and divisive rhetoric, and it seems like our racial divide is hardly better than it was in the summer of 1968.
Or you could look at it this way: yes, Zika seems like a terrible disease, but people are working to contain mosquitoes, study the disease, and beyond that, it doesn’t do too much good to worry about it. And actually, there is much less violence in the world today than there has been at any other point in human history, even with the wars in Syria and Iraq. The difference is we are more connected than we’ve ever been, so when six people are stabbed in London, we know immediately here in the U.S. If we covered violence at this level of detail decades ago, the news would have been nothing but a long list of casualties. And the fact that we’re so connected as a species is good – it helps us develop empathy across racial, cultural, and national divides. As for our divisions according to political beliefs and our ongoing racial inequality and misunderstanding, we can choose which voices we listen to. Each of us can play a role in developing relationships with people we disagree with, not that we will automatically or always agree, but that we can respect and care about those we might otherwise consider enemies.
Now, doesn’t that feel better? I think so. You may not and you don’t have to agree with my rosy assessment of the news, but part of my call is to offer an alternative perspective on things. A perspective based on hope and faith. To have faith is to trust in something that is not immediately apparent. The writer of Hebrews put it pretty well, don’t you agree? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” He continues, “by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” God speaks into nothingness, and existence begins. God speaks into your heart today, and the seeds of what you cannot begin to imagine are planted. By God these seeds will grow and one day we’ll be marveling as we reap the harvest.
Do not be afraid, little flock! For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. That’s how Jesus put it. I’m pretty sure that’s how he’d tell us to react to the 24-hour news cycle today. I’m pretty sure that’s how Jesus would respond to whatever personal, specific fear grips your heart. Will I ever accomplish what I hope? Will this broken relationship ever heal? Will I or my dear one ever recover from this illness? Will people ever love and respect me? Will I ever be set free from this addiction? Do not be afraid, little flock. For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…that is, to give you what is truly good, what is truly of God.
It may sound like I say this every Sunday, but it bears repeating…Jesus isn’t promising that we’ll receive everything we want. Instead what he gives us is himself…suffering, crying out, dying with us and our dear ones, delivering the promise and receiving it with us from the Father that our death in this world leads to life eternal. That in giving ourselves away we receive a taste of that eternal life now. That in living lives of love, of service, of generosity, in saying no to the greed and fear of this world and saying yes to the trust and faith and hope of the kingdom, we experience now that kingdom which the Father takes such pleasure in giving us.
That’s what faith is – being so assured and convicted of a ridiculous, unimaginable promise that we would risk everything to follow wherever the promise leads. Just look at Abraham. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…so shall your descendants be.” A ridiculous promise to an elderly couple. And yet Abraham takes off walking over a thousand miles, exposing his whole family to the very real danger of death, to go to a place he’s never been, where he has no idea what to expect, where the people there may want to kill him, where he has no reliable way of making a living…why? Because God promised him that’s where he would become a nation unto himself. As the writer of Hebrews says, “therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’”
Jesus says, just wait for it, the kingdom will come! And then he tells this story that sounds scary but isn’t. It’s about slaves or servants waiting for their master to come home from a wedding, because, and this is crazy, when he gets home he’s going to have them sit down to eat and he will come and serve them. Wait, what? The master gets home and usually the servants line up to take care of him…yes master, can I take your coat? Would you like some tea to warm up after your journey home? Would you like a massage? No! The master serves the slaves a meal, so yeah, blessed are those slaves who stay up and wait for this unexpected hour with their lamps lit!
Jesus will show up. So do not be afraid, little flock: be ready to hear what he has to say, to receive what he has to give, to capitalize on the opportunities he will give you, because it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
A pastor asks this week, “what would you love to try, do, dare, or attempt, if you knew that even if you failed, that failure wouldn’t matter?”1 What would you dare to do for yourself, for someone you love, for your community or even the world, if you believed that even if you had setbacks, even if it didn’t work the first or second or third time, that this is something God desires and will keep working to complete, even beyond your lifetime? Go… [discussion in twos and threes, then whole congregation]
Do not be afraid, little flock. No instead, get moving. Take the first step today in that ridiculous, unimaginable journey God has laid out for you, for all of you together. Amen.
1David Lose, “Pentecost 12C: What Would You Do…?”, http://www.davidlose.net/2016/08/pentecost-12-c-what-would-you-do/ (accessed August 4, 2016).