Sunday, August 11, 2013

Having faith, charity, and hope: thoughts on Luke 12:32-40

Luke 12:32-40
Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Luke 12 is a collection of sayings about having faith not in earthly things but in God. Last week we heard Jesus remind his listeners not to worry about inheritances but instead to place their attention on God. The lectionary then skips ten verses that are well-known:

22 He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

As someone who can really relapse into worrying all through my life, these verses have always been very helpful to me. However, ultimately, all of our worrying about earthly matters really does nothing except paralyze us, which is really practical advice for everyone.

So let’s look at the assigned verses for this week. Once again, the topic is priorities and the trust that is required to have them in the right place.

One of my favorite albums for the past ten years is Zero Church, by Suzzy and Maggie Roche. It was collected and recorded after 9/11. One of the songs on it took a poem by Kent Keith, which had been a favorite of Mother Teresa’s. Here is the song, “Anyway.” I thought of it after our discussion last week about Mother Teresa and the attitude of the Teacher in the Ecclesiastes reading:

One of the great cures for worry and despair, I have found, is action. And here Jesus gives three commands to his followers, that makes that point clear to all of us:
1. Do not be afraid.
2. Sell your possessions and give alms.
3. Be ready for action, with lamps lit for a journey even in the dark.

Remember the classic trio of faith, hope, and love (or charity)? Here they are again! Look at the commands again. In other words:
1. Have faith.
2. Have charity.
3. Have hope for God’s kingdom here on earth.

1. Have faith- do not be afraid. (verse 32). Did you know that the command “Do not be afraid” occurs 67 times in the NRSV version of the Bible, 49 times in the Old Testament alone? I bet if you thought for a while you could name several instances when this phrase was used—to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds when an angel appeared to them in the gospel of  Luke, chapters1-2. Abram was told not to be afraid in our Old Testament reading today in Genesis 15:1. Jacob (Israel) was told not to be afraid before setting out for Egypt. Moses told the Israelites not to be afraid as the Egyptian army was bearing down upon them as they fled Egypt. Fear prevents us from thinking and seeing reality and instead causes us to react instinctively. Once we are not afraid, we can ACT. Specifically, in this reading, Jesus reminds us of God’s providence and love for us. Following the command not to be afraid, three command verbs are specifically used: sell, give, make. Sell your possessions, give to the poor, make a purse for your REAL treasure—life in God here on earth, which you will have so abundantly you will need a purse for it. We can trust this because God is “our Father” (v. 22), who is pleased to give us the kingdom.

2. Have charity (verses 33-34). The action that flows from conquering our fear is to show our love for neighbor, which the kingdom of God will be grounded upon, by taking care of others. That’s what alms are for. Give to those who can give nothing back. Your reward will be from God for putting your priorities and actions in the right place. Once you have faith, act upon that faith by focusing on others, especially the poor. I have also noticed in my life that being generous is freeing, just as not worrying is freeing. Just as the opposite of fear is faith and trust, the opposite of fear is being openhearted. This involves more than just charity, however, but a total realignment of the values human societies are all-too-often based upon. Some people nowadays claim that government has no function in doing things that should be the province of private charities. But at the bottom of this belief is the idea that government has no function in assuring the basic well-being of its citizens. This idea only works if we conceive of government as something apart from us, an alien institution. But, if one believes in the words of Abraham Lincoln that government is “of the people, by the people, ands for the people,” then government is us, and the gospel here is very clear that this entails obligations to establish a just and equitable society. The foundation of God’s kingdom is justice and generosity. St. Augustine of Hippo said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

3, Have hope (verses 35-38). Be ready for “the master’s” return—here Jesus is talking about when the kingdom of God will be established here on earth and “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” We do not know when that will happen, but it is clear that we have a part to play in establishing it—we must act to bring it into being. This is another tie to the Hebrews reading, by the way—the audience was despairing that the Parousia—the return of Christ from Heaven discussed in the end of the second section of the Nicene Creed—had not occurred yet. Thus this gospel reading could be addressed to the same audience there, as well.

God is offering us an incredible blessing, but we have to be able to appreciate it as such. We are looking forward to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, and we ourselves have a part to play in bringing it about. All we must do is have faith, and then be animated to act, drawing strength from that faith and trust. As mentioned above in the discussion on Hebrews, “Faith is TRUST, which is required because we lack certainty. Yet, if we had certainty, how would we know when we are being blessed, and why would we need to admit our dependence upon God?” As we look at the verse right before this reading, we are reminded of the blessing that is most important—the establishment of God’s kingdom, and the establishment of justice, peace, and ultimately love as the defining values of our lives.

Uncertainty requires faith: thoughts on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By 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.

8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore 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."

13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians to demonstrate the necessity of  faith in Christ as being the sole and complete revelation of and from God. Although some assume Paul was the author, it is more likely not Paul, although some scholars have thought it might have been one of Paul’s helpers, such as Barnabas, or it might have actually had more than one author—the text uses “we” amost exclusively, unlike Acts or other Biblical epistles that flip back and forth between “I” and “we.” The first generation of Christians are passing away, and the second generation seems to be faltering, given that the Messiah has NOT returned as they believed. Early Christians expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes, and yet that expectation was being confounded. Persecution was tempting them back into Judaism, or attempting to Judaize Christianity and expel Gentiles who would not follow Judaic Law. The Church was in danger of foundering and shrinking back into a local mystery cult instead of continuing to spread. This explains the context of todays reading.

Verse one is a wonderful summary of the significance of faith as the lynchpin of our search for God. Faith is the junction of the finite, material world which can be derived through the senses with the eternal world. Faith links us to the eternal and enables us to trust in God’s promises. It is what enables us to know God in response to God’s knowledge of us. Faith depends upon trust—a subject of our verses about Abram in the OT reading. Further, faith is what animates and motivates us to respond to God. Abram demonstrated faith enough to leave the only home he had known in Ur without even knowing what the land he was being given looked like—merely trusting that it was good land, which of course was at a premium.

Verses 4-7 of this 11th chapter that are omitted name what some scholars refer to as “the Heroes of Faith” from the OT—Abel, Enoch, and Noah. Then our reading returns to the subject of Abram/Abraham. Left unsaid is the fact that Abraham is even willing to sacrifice that long-awaited son as a sign of his faith in God. So then the Promised Land of Canaan is tied to the heavenly promised land, the city of God, which is the true inheritance of those of us who come after Abraham but are willing to act based solely upon our faith and trust in God.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly remarks that faith is what made miracles possible—the faith comes BEFORE the miracle, not after, which is something that is very difficult for our modern, skeptical selves to understand. In Matthew 8:13, Jesus assures the centurion that his faith had led to the healing of the centurion’s servant: ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ In Matthew 9:22, Jesus tells the hemorrhaging woman that her faith has made her well after she tells herself that just touching the fringe of his cloak, as well as praising the faith of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:28 who actually argues with Jesus when he first rebuffs her as she asks for healing for her daughter. Other instances include Mark 5:34, Mark 10:52, Luke 7:50, Luke 8:48, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 (See attached). Lack of faith could have the reverse effect, as well. In Luke 8:25, he rebukes his disciples for having little faith when a storm besets their boat.

Yet faith is not a magic wish-fulfillment device, regardless of how these anecdotes from the Bible sound. Faith is required because we are uncertain to begin with, because we cannot see. It is a paradox that faith is required BECAUSE we are not certain; people of faith still encounter prayers that are not answered, illnesses that cannot be cured, and so on. But look again at our heroes of faith. Abel certainly did not escape tragedy, by a long shot, yet his faith was still reckoned as righteousness. Noah witnessed the destruction of most of the people he knew. Abraham waited a very long time indeed for some of those promises to be fulfilled, and yet the twentieth century along visited untold horrors upon many of his descendants.

Faith is TRUST, which is required because we lack certainty. Yet, if we had certainty, how would we know when we are being blessed, and why would we need to admit our dependence upon God? We would just check the “faith” box and move on. However, the world is not perfect. Tragedies happen for unexplainable reasons. Faith enables us to move forward and live our lives without certainty.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sermon at Camp Phoenix, 2013: We are the Body of Christ

Amazing Grace
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
Seek Ye First
Take My Life

Here we are at the last full day of camp.

We have tie-dyed shirts. We have swam and solved puzzles and yelled and sang; we have led and we have been led. We have gathered around the campfire. We have learned new games, like GaGa, and Nine Square, and Quidditch. We have enjoyed the new mat out in the lake, and the beach party, and creek walks, and dock to dock swim.

But we could do all of that at any camp.

THIS is Camp Phoenix.

This is a gathering of kids and adults from the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, and their friends. And that makes this camp different, because when we gather together, we are the Body of Christ.

When we talk about the all the Christian Churches-- including the Episcopal Church, and the Baptist Church, and the Lutheran Church, and our hosts here at Camp Dubois, the United Church of Christ—When we talk about all those churches, we often call them “the Body of Christ.”

When we take communion, we talk about “the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.” You’re going to hear those words in just a few minutes.

But we also have to remember that each of you individually ARE the Body of Christ.

Being the Body of Christ means we are called to do, and speak, and be good in the world.
So, then, this week, we have been talking about mission.

Each day we have learned about a different ministry: do you remember what they are?
Deaconess Anne House
Episcopal City Mission
Hunger Task Force

People in this diocese take part in these missions to carry the love and message of Jesus Christ out into the world. But in doing that, we also bring the message of Jesus Christ, and the love of God, right into our hearts and into our own lives! That’s how the love of God works—by giving, we also receive. By helping, we are helped.

By giving, we also receive. By helping, we are helped.

We’ve heard a lot of stories from the Bible this week. Our gospel reading today is a short but important section of the book of Matthew. In fact, these are the very last words of the gospel of Matthew. This scene took place right after Easter, and includes Jesus’s last words to his followers in that gospel. Often, our last words we say to someone before we go somewhere away from them are our most important words to them.

The disciples realize that they are not going to have Jesus physically present with them any more. However, his work was not finished. So Jesus gives his followers one last set of instructions. These instructions are known as the “Great Commission.” The term “Commission” has a word in it that we have been talking about a lot this week. What word is that?


So in this gospel, Jesus is sending his disciples on one last, very important mission. Jesus gives his disciples power—power to go do three things. Did you hear them? What are they?

The power to go make disciples of all nations,
The power to baptize those new followers to become disciples themselves,
The power to teach the new followers all the commandments Jesus has given them.

The disciples are also promised something—that Jesus will be with them, and all the disciples who will come after them.  Who are those new disciples? We are! And we know then that Jesus is with us, always! So we have been given the power to act into the world. We have this power because we aren’t just the disciples of Jesus—WE ARE the face, and hands and body of Jesus to a world that needs Jesus


A wise woman of the Church named St. Teresa of Avila explains it to us in these words:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Where can we get the power to be the Body of Christ? What makes all our actions work for good? The answer is in our reading from 1 Corinthians— what does it say?

Through love.

The love we receive from God,
the love God gives to us, and, just as important,
the love we have for each other—our friends, our families, our neighbors, even if those neighbors are halfway around the world.

WHAT is our mission? To spread the love of God out into the world, to be Christ’s body, right now, spreading out from Camp Phoenix and our homes and our churches like the rays of the sun.

HOW are we empowered to do our mission? Through the willingness to take action, supported by the love we give and receive from God. When we welcome and love the people we meet and care for each other, we are loved and cared for, too.

As you leave Camp Phoenix for this year, we hope that you will act upon this mission, because everyone here can do something. We hope you will look for ways to help others, to continue to support the ministries we have talked about, or even to come up with your own. You can see the hungry and feed them, comfort the sick, support kids served by ECM, offer a hand to those who need it, help rebuild our community.

This is your Mission-- and Mission Is Possible!