The gospel reading today is actually a continuation of the last Sunday’s gospel reading. Jesus is deep into instructing his disciples before he gives them the bad news that he will be leaving them. At this point in his gospel, Luke is just piling on all kinds of parables and instructions for living a righteous life. And he is making the point over and over that the accumulation of wealth in this world is a dead end for saving one’s soul and for bring about the kingdom of God.
The gospel reading this morning begins: “Fear not, little flock, for it has pleased your Abba to give you the kingdom.” And the kingdom God wishes to give us is a new reality. It is a reality that turns the world as we know it upside down. God has a vision of a flourishing creation. In this kingdom there is no social hierarchy; no need for armies to maintain control; no starving population nor beggars in the streets. People will actually live by the guiding principle God has given — to love God and love neighbor.
God desires a whole new set of assumptions that reflect God’s desires for a flourishing creation and these new philosophies of living together will take root in the real, lived experiences of the followers of Jesus.
In the reading from Luke today we are given a set of examples about how to live so that the kingdom will emerge into reality.
Jesus first tells the disciples to sell all they have and give their money to poorer people. He tells them to make purses that coins will not wear out, because they have no need for coins. The treasure they are to accumulate cannot be used in this world as it currently exists. They are to accumulate their treasure through loving and caring for the neighbor.
In the first part of this chapter, Jesus tells the disciples not to fear. The birds do not sow and reap, nor store up food, he tells them; God feeds them. And the flowers neither labor nor weave and yet they thrive in splendor. God sees to their flourishing. How much more will God do for you, you who are God’s precious flock. Jesus tells them, they must put their faith in God.
In the reading today, Jesus provides a final example of radical reliance on God for how to live a life in the kingdom of God. He tells them a story about the servants of a homeowner. Jesus says that as dutiful servants they should be dressed and ready with the lamps lit anticipating the return of their master. The homeowner may arrive at any moment and it is their obligation to be ready. And to their surprise the master of such an observant household will serve the servants.
If God is the homeowner and we are awaiting his return, we must have our house in order, our lamps lit and the table set. We cannot know when God will enter back into our time, our place. To be faithful, we must be ready. We must prepare our world for radical change. A world in which power is shared with justice. A world where our relationship with others is one of mutual benefit. The kingdom will arrive when we in our faith believe it will happen and in our actions act as though it is already here.
“Fear not, little flock.” That’s what Jesus says. We must have faith that the kingdom of God can become our reality. Faith. Now that’s a hard concept to hold on to. Faith is explored, tested and encouraged in all our readings this morning.
In the conversation Abraham has with YHWH in the Genesis reading, Abram tells YHWH that any gifts given to him will be wasted because he has no heir to inherit them. Abraham doesn’t want material gifts; he wants a son. YHWH promises him a son and even goes a step beyond and tells him his descendants will be as prolific as the stars in the night sky.
Abraham does what YHWH asks of him and still conceives no child with Sarah. Issac is finally born to Sarah and Abraham when Abraham is 99 years old. Abraham and Sarah had to wait a long time to see the promise YHWH made to them fulfilled. We are told that “… Abram believed YHWH, and God accounted it to Abram as righteousness.”
What does it mean to be righteous? Righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God in the Torah. It means to be true to one’s social obligations and commitments. The God described as YHWH in Genesis is righteous. If this God makes a covenant with you, this God will delight in fulfilling those promises. You cannot have social obligations and commitments with a remote god. You must be in a personal relationship to have such mutual bonds.
Abraham and Sarah’s deep faith in the promise of YHWH obligates YHWH to fulfill his commitment to them — no matter how long that fulfillment may take. Abraham and Sarah’s faith is profound and unshakable. And it is more than a one-way street; their faith has a match to that given by God. Righteousness bonds with righteousness. Faith brings about the promises of God.
The example of Abraham’s faith is why we encounter him again in the reading from Hebrews. Here is a community beset with doubts and persecution; some are weary of waiting for the promises of the Lord to be fulfilled. Others in the community are finding it difficult to live by the example of Jesus. Their expectations were that the reward of a new order would come sooner rather than later. The community is now into a second or even third generation since Paul founded them. They can no longer imagine a Kingdom to come; they are loosing faith.
The letter writer is reaching back into the past for examples of how God’s promises are fulfilled and that profound faith indeed is our part in bringing about the kingdom of God. The writer hopes to encourage the people that God does remember God’s obligations and commitments. The writer tells them: “As a result of their faith (Sarah and Abraham), there came forth from one woman and one man, … descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven and the sands of the seashore.” The God who kept the promise to Abraham and Sarah is worthy of our trust.
I’d like to believe that “fear not” is a comforting message for this week in which fear and evil stalked us through one unexplainable mass murder after another.
For me, however, it’s hard to take the advice contained in the Letter to the Hebrews. It’s hard for me to look back over the centuries and see God’s promises to us being fulfilled. I feel our world has forever been falling into an abyss. Within our own lifetimes, our world has experienced wars and armed conflicts that go on decades; hunger and poverty that seem to have no solutions; and now a deteriorating climate and environment that is likely to eradicate life on this planet as we know it. We are no better than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who were devoured by their own greed.
It is in times like this past week when I am praying for a different world to come into existence that I remember an example of how one community faced adversity with love and humility, with generosity and forgiveness, and my own heart begins to heal.
In 2015 the members of Mother Emanuel Church gave us an example to follow in times like we experienced this past week. They demonstrated a faith that will bring about the world that God desires us to live into. That morning church members had their lights lit and the doors ready to open at a moment’s notice. They had prepared the banquet of love for whomever came through the door. Love spilled out as they welcomed the thief to the banquet. Those church members who survived that mass murder spoke of forgiveness and love in the face of the evil that entered their church and killed nine of their friends, family members and congregation. Their faith is as deep and profound as Sarah and Abraham. That congregation demonstrated for us that through love we can live into being the people God wishes us to be.
They set the banquet table with love. They were ready.
Because of their example I can cling to Faith and live into Love. With Faith we can live into becoming the kingdom of God.