Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 14 (19), Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
August 11, 2019
Lessons: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are ready and willing to act for Jesus because the reign of God is already breaking in, and the world is about to turn.
Key Scripture: Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit… – Luke 12:35
In times of crisis and distress, fear and worries are natural responses. This week’s gospel lesson begins with Jesus’ admonition “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Immediately before this verse, Jesus spends ten verses addressing worry. In short, neither worry nor fear serve God’s people well.
What about complacency? This seems to be a key issue that Jesus addresses in the rest of this classic stewardship lesson. Yes, there is the exhortation to sell possessions and give alms. We aren’t to get so focused on our stuff and our fear of not having sufficiency that we forget and/or ignore our neighbors’ needs. After all, we cannot take the contents of our homes, storage units, and bank accounts with us into eternity. The next verse should give us equal pause.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
If we treasure our stuff, our comfort, our standard of living, our politics, our hobbies, our privilege, or whatever else becomes a source of attachment then our heart will be focused on those things rather than on loving God and neighbor. We get sidetracked as the character Gollum did with his “precious” ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. We easily forget who we are and whose we are as people of God and Christ followers. I can almost hear Jesus saying something along the lines of, “Focus, people! Keep your eyes on the stuff that truly matters in life, and it’s not the next iPhone upgrade, newest SUV, or whether your feelings are hurt when your privilege is called into question.”
But Jesus doesn’t linger there. He segues right on to a clear call to readiness and action. Be dressed and ready. Trim your lamps. Don’t settle in for a snooze. Friends, we can’t be dressed and ready if we’re always anxious about our lives and focused on our stuff. Navel-gazing is not productive when it comes to the Reign of Christ, because, look out friends, the world is about to change. Jesus is on the loose and the Holy Spirit winds are blowing with power and promise.
We get a hint of that change when the tables turn in the story. Usually the slaves would be ready to tend to the master when he walks in the door. Here, however, the master gets to work and serves them. It’s a foretaste of the eternal feast to come, it’s a glimpse of the Eucharist, and it’s the promise of radical realignment that the prophets foretold and about which Mary sang.
I know it is tough sledding in a lot of our faith communities, and that makes for some challenging preaching and teaching. There’s a lot of anxiety and fear about the future, about whether the center will hold and how long we can continue safe and secure within our beloved yet crumbling edifices. Recent events in the U.S. and around the world are adding fuel to polarized fires and sowing fear, anger, and grief. This is all the more reason for faithful folk to be dressed and ready to respond, to keep their focus on the Christ, and to reject anything that keeps them from fully loving God and neighbor.
No, we don’t know when we’ll see Jesus come in the face of a stranger seeking asylum, a person who is incarcerated, a family experiencing homelessness and poverty, or a person who doesn’t believe like us, look like us, or think like us. What we do know from this gospel lesson is that it will likely catch us unawares and confound all our carefully laid plans and meticulously crafted programs. For this we have faith. For this we have promise. For this we must be fearless. Blessings on your faithful proclamation and teaching for such a time as this!
What does it look like to worship in a spirit of expectation, with an awareness that Jesus is among us and that the reign of God is here—right now? Do the movements of all who lead and serve in worship reflect this energy and expectation? How can we claim the time we spend together as the beloved community in sacred space that allows us to leave our anxiety and fear at the door, to let the Holy Spirit infuse our beings, the Eucharist strengthen us, and our work of praise be our singular focus?
These are questions not only for this Sunday but for every time God’s people gather. This week in particular consider allowing some space before the liturgy for worshipers to center and leave the world behind, perhaps inviting them into some guided imagery, breathing, and prayer.
Invite them to share a story about how Jesus surprised them this week or where they encountered God in an unexpected place or person. If you serve an ELCA congregation you might want to share some of the happenings at the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee.
How hard is it to articulate faith? Consider how the author of Hebrews sought to explain it in this week’s epistle lesson. In his book What We Talk about When We Talk about God, public theologian and author Rob Bell says:
“Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.”
Here’s a short video clip where Bell addresses this issue. Invite your youth into deep conversation about the quote and about the video clip. How can their faith, a gift of God itself, that they have (or will) affirm in Confirmation/Affirmation of Baptism, and doubt be “excellent dance partners” in their life’s journey? How might this dance deepen their faith and discipleship over time?
If you have adult mentors available, invite them to respond to these same questions.
This week’s focus verse is Genesis 15:5– [God] took [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “so shall your descendants be.”
Invite the children to think about how much fun it is to go outside at night and look at the stars. Ask them if they have ever wished on a star or sung “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Ask them if they know how many stars are in our solar system? Of course it’s a trick question because there’s only one (the sun), and we can’t even see it at night. So what about all those other stars out there? Tell them that scientists can’t even give a completely accurate count with all of the advances and knowledge they have. In our Milky Way Galaxy alone scientists estimate some 100 thousand million stars.
So what was God trying to tell Abram, who was worried that he had no heirs to carry on the family line? Perhaps it was to stop worrying and trust that God, who created myriad stars and indeed all of creation, had him covered and would provide. What can we learn from this story? I think that as surely as we cannot accurately count the stars, we cannot put limits on God’s goodness, mercy, and love for us. We are in good hands—God’s hands!
Finish with a short prayer and blessing.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s gospel reminds us that we have to let go of that which distracts us from God in order to prepare ourselves to encounter God in the world. To what are you clinging that prevents you from keeping your eyes on Jesus?
Stewardship at Home
Make this a week to explore the contrapuntal concepts of letting go to be ready. What do you need to release in your life to focus more fully on God? Do you need to declutter your house? Your schedule? Review your priorities? Take a social media Sabbath? Institute a spiritual practice to address fear and anxiety? Open your hands, eyes, heart, and resources and then see if that enables you to be ready to see the sacred in everyday life, to see Jesus in the faces of others, to hear God’s voice calling you to action.
If you have children in your family or social group, you will want to consider more concrete ways to practice letting go to focus on God. For example, you might encourage them to part with five meaningful toys or books to share with others. In exchange create a “ready, set, go with God” box for them. You might include a Bible, a battery-operated candle, a small cross, prayer beads, a mirror to remind them that they are created in God’s image and deeply loved, or some crayons and paper to draw pictures of how they see God at work in the world. Talk about how focusing on God keeps us prepared to encounter signs of God at work in the world and in our lives.
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/08/strangers-and-foreigners/
2010 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2010/08/ready-set-go/
Images: Habitat for Humanity/Tulane University; amenclinics.com; and UrbanPromise, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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