Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pentecost 12-C, 2013: Because we believe

Lectionary:Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

As people of God there is one thing of which we can be certain: we can trust in the promises of God. And God has promised to redeem the whole world and all people.

In the story from the book of Genesis, Abraham, chosen by God to be a father in the faith, has no heir. In his time, an heir was extremely important. A
man’s legacy, the value of the footprint of his life, was in his heir. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were in their 80’s and still had no son, no heir. Yet, God had promised Abram descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. And Abraham believed.

Even when God does deliver on the promise to him, Abraham was given only one son with Sarah. How could he have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky when he was given only one son? Still, Abraham believed.

From where we stand today, we can see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Abraham continue to grow as Christians, Jews, and Muslims (all the children of Abraham) now number about 3.5 billion in the world. (Source:

That’s a lot of stars in the sky.

And Abraham’s faith is a perfect example of what the author of the letter to the Hebrews is talking about when he describes faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

God always keeps God’s promises.

When we look at the arc of the big picture of the story of God’s relationship to us, a perspective we have this many years into the narrative, we can see that. God promised the people of Israel a Redeemer. Many of them didn’t live to see the coming of Jesus, the Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, they “died in faith without having received the promises” but they believed, and God delivered. And in the truth of life eternal, all who died with faith in the promise were able to see and welcome it.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who knew the stories of the faith of their ancestors. They could see the arc of the big picture, the connection of themselves, as people of the resurrection, to the promises in the stories of their forebears in the faith.

On the other hand, the Gospel of Luke was written about 60-70 years after the resurrection to a group of mostly Gentile Christians who were new to these stories and promises. This group of converts to the faith was being persecuted and the second coming that was promised seemed not to be coming at all.

Fear and doubt were creeping in and without a strong historical tether to the stories of the faith, the people were becoming frightened. We can imagine then, how very comforting Jesus’ words were: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

As modern day listeners, this is a good place for us to pause and consider what this says. The word “kingdom’ is one of those ‘religion words’ that we hear so often, but we rarely stop to consider exactly what it means.

The Greek word is, βασιλεία, and it translates as God’s dominion, sovereignty, and control. βασιλεία also means the time when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. So Jesus is saying, ‘Do not be afraid beloved disciples, for it is God’s pleasure to deliver to you the promised reality of God’s sovereign control, the time when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.’

As we look around at our world today we see rampant war, hunger, poverty, violence, oppression. It doesn’t look much like God’s βασιλεία yet. But we can remember, that neither did Abraham’s one son look like descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky – yet. It is in the arc of the big picture revealed to us over time, that the fulfillment of this promise will evident.

You’ve heard me mention before that we live in a time of what’s called the “already, but not yet.” Jesus has already redeemed all creation, but until the second coming, the process of redemption will not be complete. It has already happened, but is not yet complete.

Until it is completed in the second coming of the Christ, we are partners with God in this process and we have work to do. Each of us has been created by God and gifted for our part in that work – in that purpose. In order to fulfill our purpose, we must be perfected, that is, we must open our eyes to see our gifts, then nurture and develop them so that God can use them to bring about βασιλεία.

And Jesus offers us four (4) bits of advice on how we should go about doing that…

1. Sell what you own. Jesus advises us to be unattached to anything that gives us security or identity on the earth. Instead, be rich in God as we heard last week.

2. Give to the poor. Money = power. Jesus calls us to give up our power, just as he gave up his own power and chose to live among us on earth, so that all may become one in him; so that no one is over anyone else, so that no one is better than anyone else. Be forewarned, though, taking Jesus’ advice won’t win you any friends because the world doesn’t respect those who give up power. It panders to those who accumulate it.

3. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This, Jesus tells us, is the test. It’s how we will know where we really are in our relationship with God, other, and self. What kind of wealth do we spend our time, attention, and gifts storing up? Again, storing up heavenly wealth won’t win us any respect from the world, because the world values material wealth and those who have lots of it.

4. Jesus’ last bit of advice is a familiar Biblical theme: Be awake. Be ready. God is coming to you and it won’t be anything like you’re thinking it will. To illustrate the point, Jesus tells the story of the master and the slaves, turning everyone’s expectations upside-down. It isn’t the servant in this story who serves the master. It is the master who serves the slave! Be ready, Jesus says, because God will come to you, sit you down to eat, and serve you.

I can’t think of a better description of our Holy Communion. Can you?

God chooses each one of us and calls us into community where God sets the table and serves us holy food – God’s own self – to nourish us, strengthen us, and embolden us to be co-builders of the βασιλεία of God.

It’s a beautiful and comforting thing to know that Almighty God serves us so that we can serve God by serving God’s people. It’s like breathing. We breathe God into ourselves, then breathe God out into the world.

It’s a dangerous and costly business, though, being church in this way. Breathing the transforming love of God into the world means going where it isn’t. It means going where the vulnerable need protecting, where the oppressed need liberating, and where the poor need justice. It means calling down the powerful from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.

As Deitrich Bonhoeffer says, “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies… So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.” (~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community)
The church must be real, visible, and engaged in the world. As theologians Kelly and Burton said, commenting on Bonhoeffer’s spirituality, “…the church is not called to be a safe haven from worldly turmoil. [Rather,] like Jesus himself, it has to be a visible presence in the midst of the world… even though this way of understanding its mission could propel the church into controversial areas of conflict with government.” (G. Kelly, F. Burton, The Cost of Moral Leadership, The Spirituality of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2003, 147).

That’s why we go to rallies like Moral Monday. Because we believe.

It’s why we stand with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers as they seek equality in church and under the law. Because we believe.

It’s why we willingly sacrifice our own comfort and reputation to offer food and friendship to our Shepherd’s Table guests each week. Because we believe.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to deliver to you the βασιλεία of God.


For your love for us, compassionate and patient,
which has carried us through our pain,
wept beside us in our sin,
and waited with us in our confusion.
We give you thanks.

For your love for us, strong and challenging,
which has called us to risk for you,
asked for the best in us,
and shown us how to serve.
We give you thanks.

O God we come to celebrate
that your Holy Spirit is present deep within us,
and at the heart of all life.
Forgive us when we forget your gift of love
made known to us in our brother, Jesus,
and draw us into your presence.


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