Lectionary Reflection for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
August 7, 2016
They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. Hebrews 11:13b-14
When I was about eight, my father decided that our family would take a wilderness vacation. By wilderness, I’m talking tent camping at a state park. He bought a big brand-spanking new tent and all the necessary accoutrements. We were ready! Off we drove, like sojourners to a strange and foreign land. I was both excited and terrified about the adventure. What if there were bears? What if I got poison ivy? What if I had to walk to the bath house in the middle of the night? What would several days without the comforts of home be like?
It was great fun at first, although the tent was much more difficult to assemble than anticipated and ended up being pitched on a bit of a slope. After hot dogs, marshmallows, hot chocolate, and listening to the night noises, it was finally time to sleep—in the tent, in this strangely wonderful “wilderness.”
Fast forward a few hours to lightning cracking, thunder rumbling, and the onset of a summer deluge. By morning’s light the fun wore off when we realized our tent was pitched in prime run-off area for the flash flooding and was retaining a couple of inches of water. It rained all day long, leaving us thoroughly damp, both in body and spirit. My father, having not lived up to his Daniel Boone ambitions, initiated a hasty and soggy breaking of camp and silent drive back to civilization. So ended our first and last family tent camping experience. The tent and all related equipment were sold posthaste, and our standard vacation lodging reverted to the familiar and dependable comfort of Howard Johnson and Holiday Inn.
Something about that tent camping experience stuck with me, however, and I developed a liking for sojourns and adventure. I grew to appreciate a more transitory lifestyle, which was helpful since I have lived in 25 different homes in 55 years. Moving about, shedding possessions along the way, nurturing an affinity for time on the trail and in the woods have helped to both nurture my faith and give me an appreciation for this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings.
It is an act of faith to look at life as a journey, a passage, and not an end-game. It is a blessing to learn to hold loosely to possessions and rely on the abundance and goodness of God, to trust that there is enough and then some. It is God’s command to live fearlessly in a fear-filled, anxiety-ridden world, and we can do so only by faith. We are foreigners in a strange land, be it city-slicker tent campers in a state park or immigrants seeking a better life in a new country or refugees from war-torn lands seeking safety and hope. Life takes a great amount of faith to live well, to live fearlessly, and to live in the moment knowing that there is indeed something better around over the horizon and beyond our human grasp. These are important words and truth for our present age. Everything in this world is transitory, a part of a larger whole, a dot on the map of eternity, but happy are those who put their faith in God, who are ready to pack their tents and journey on to the final destination God prepares.
We are people of story. Encourage a time of story sharing in worship, perhaps as part of your sermon. Invite people to recall a time when they were on a journey that took an unusual turn that required faith. Or, invite them to tell of a time when God was with them allaying their fears and guiding them home.
Alternately, explore how living life lightly and holding loosely to possessions (you can’t take much in a tent!) is an act of radical stewardship. What would you take if you had to live a nomadic life? What would matter most?
Consider this week using the Alternate First Reading (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20) as a point of discussion. Here we learn what God really wants. It’s not our fancy festivals and assemblies. Instead, God wants us to act differently: to “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Explore what that might look like in our culture today? Where do youth see that happening in the world? Where do they not see it happening? How can they make a difference?
Ready! Set! Go!
In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus encourages his followers to be ready for his coming at an unexpected hour. Jesus also tells us to not be afraid, for God desires good for us. Being “ready” is an important part of life. Boy Scouts work hard to “be prepared.” Firefighters always have their equipment ready to go at a moment’s notice. People who travel in cold and stormy weather keep a winter preparedness kit in the car. Invite the children to think about what kind of “faith kit” we Christians need to be ready to encounter Jesus in daily life. Make a “Discipleship Aid Kit” with a big red cross on the front. You might include a Bible, a cross, a candle, food to share (hospitality), invitations to your worship service, some simple prayers to pray, some money to be able to give. Ask the children what they think needs to be included. Encourage children of all ages and stages to keep their “Discipleship Aid Kit” ready by studying scripture, praying, attending worship, serving others, developing relationships and practicing hospitality, and being generous. End with a simple prayer.
Photos: Ben Christenson,