Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sermon, Proper 14C, Genesis 15:1-6; Luke 12:32-40

As we continue to move through Ordinary Time, I continue to ask the question:  what connection do you see between the first lesson and the gospel?  What themes stand out for you as you listen to these two readings?

This is one of those difficult weeks I spoke of when I first started asking you to pay attention to the two readings.  How do we connect a passage in Genesis about a promise of offspring to a gospel passage that basically says, “Jesus is coming soon – look busy”?

If you are having trouble finding a connection between the two, this is your week to have trouble.  While the Epistle readings normally have nothing to do with the other two, today it does.  Unlike other weeks when this reading starts at Chapter 1, verse 1 of a letter and goes to the end, today’s Epistle (I believe) was more or less selected because of its thematic connection to the other two readings.  And the thematic connection it presents to us is Faith.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” says the writer of Hebrews.  Abram had been promised descendants by God.  He hoped for children to carry on his line and his assurance came in the form of God’s promise.  And even though he had not seen these children up to this point, he had the conviction to believe it would be so.

But these verses from Genesis aren’t some lightweight children’s book on how easy faith is.  In these six verses we are shown struggle, doubt, protests and acceptance.  These six verses are, in a nutshell, an entire faith journey.

A few chapters earlier we learn that Sarai is barren and that God promised Abram he would become a great nation.  It’s hard to become a great nation if you can’t have kids.  Nevertheless, Abram believed and moved from place to place in pursuit of that promise.

This is where things get dicey for Abram and for us.  Abram, and Sarai as well, were promised both land and offspring, but they were nomads and unable to have children.  They were landless and childless.  In every sense of the word, they were barren.  God’s promise of abundance to them and us is a promise in the midst of barrenness.

We who are promised abundance must live with barrenness.  This is the promise and the reality.  It often seems we live with barrenness more than we live with abundance.  For us to receive the gifts of that promise, though, we must, by faith, participate in it.  We are invited to participate, but we are not forced to participate.  And it is through our participation by faith in which we believe in the assurance of things hoped for and have the conviction of things not seen.

In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples (and us) that God wants to give us his kingdom.  This is a promise of abundance.  God not only wants to give us his kingdom, but he does so with pleasure.  It’s almost as if God is saying, “Here are the keys to my kingdom; take it, it’s yours.” 

But in that promise of abundance is a time of barrenness.  God’s kingdom is yours – now go and sell all your possessions and give your money to charity.  Use your wealth to feed the poor, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless.

What would it look like if we actually did that?  We would be homeless.  We would be nomads, forced to wander the streets having no place, no land, to call our own.  We would have to cultivate our faith to have the conviction of things not seen.

The promise has been made, but we are asked to live in faithful barrenness and we are asked to act.  Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.  This takes on special significance when we connect it back to all the places where the light of God overcomes the darkness.  Where in the world can our lamps shine in the darkness, shedding the light of God’s abundant promise and lighting up the kingdom of God for all to see?

We certainly can’t do everything, but we can choose to believe God desires to embrace all people.  We can choose to act as if there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, us or them, but that Christ is all and in all.  And we can choose to shine the light of God’s kingdom into those dark places that keep people oppressed and treated as outcasts, less Thans and Others.

Doing something is important.  The gospel passage is a not-so-subtle hint about the next coming of the Messiah.  But rather than sit around reading Left Behind books and trying to calculate the day and hour of his coming, we need to employ our imaginations.  What does the kingdom of God look like?  Who is part of it?  Where do you least expect it to appear?  When we imagine that, we can imagine Jesus’ activity in the world and we can imagine the kingdom of God being present right here, right now.

And now we find ourselves back with Abram.  He was living in an exhausted and barren time of the present.  The promise given is one of an abundant future that does not rely on the present barrenness or darkness.  God can and will cause a clear break between this tired present and an abundant future.

And like Abram, we must do our part.  In the midst of barrenness, Abram believed in the Lord.  His faith in that promise, his conviction of things not seen, allowed him to begin to bring the kingdom of God into the world.  We, too, are given an abundant promise of God’s kingdom.  We also must live in the midst of barrenness, a place where evidence against the promise surrounds us.

In the face of barrenness, do we believe in God’s promise?  Can we place our assurance in things hoped for, and have conviction in things unseen?  Do we have the courage to shine a welcoming light that invites outcasts into God’s kingdom?

If we are willing to faithfully participate, then God will faithfully fulfill.



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