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Pentecost 11 Proper 14C, August 8, 2010

Pentecost 11 Proper 14C RCL August 8, 2010

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12: 32-40

In one way or another, from very different perspectives, our lessons this morning all talk about faith. What does it mean to have real faith? What is the relationship between faith and worship? As persons of faith, how are we supposed to conduct our lives? These are all very important questions.

This morning we meet the prophet Isaiah, whose ministry took place in the Southern Kingdom in the eighth century before Christ. Isaiah’s ministry was at about the same time as Amos and Hosea, whom we have met recently. The situation in the south is very similar to that in the north. The Kings and the people worship God. They offer sacrifices. But Isaiah tells them that God does not want sacrifices of animals. God wants those who have to take care of those who have very little or nothing. God says, “Learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.”

Human awareness of the nature of God is growing. Isaiah and others are telling us that God does not want animal sacrifices. God wants us to offer our lives in compassionate caring and service to others.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” The writer of this letter was addressing Jews who had adopted the new Christian faith. Now they are facing persecution. They are tempted to go back to their former faith community. The writer is calling them to continue on their journey of faith and is holding up that wonderful icon of faith, Abraham, who journeyed into an unknown land and, with his wife, Sarah, brought forth the people of God, numbering as many as the grains of sand on the beach. This happened even though Abraham and Sarah were far beyond childbearing age.

Jesus is on the journey to Jerusalem with his disciples and with us. He has been teaching them not to be afraid for the future and to trust God. Last week we had the parable of the rich man who built barns upon barns to store all his wealth and died. Between that and today’s lesson we have Jesus talking about the lilies of the field, who do not toil or spin, yet God takes care of them.

The reality is that Jesus’ followers have left everything to follow him. They are probably wondering whether they will have food or shelter. Jesus reassures them. The next step in the passage is a parable about the master leaving the servants in charge and coming home to find them alert. The master then serves the servants. This would never have happened in Jesus’ time. The master would have expected the servants to do the work. But this is a parable about Jesus’ shalom. The arrangements of this world are turned upside down. Jesus serves supper to his disciples, who have been ready and alert.

By the time Luke’s gospel was written, it had been more than a generation since Jesus had been crucified and had risen. People were wondering when Jesus would come again. This gospel is a call to be prepared at all times.

Now it has been two thousand years. We are still waiting. Christ’s kingdom has begun but is not yet complete. We are not exactly being persecuted as were the folks addressed in our epistle to the Hebrews. However, in this post-Christian era, the Church is seen by many as irrelevant. Why should we bother? Why should we keep the faith? What is the difference between us and everybody else?

If we were Wall Street bankers, would we invent financial instruments which were, in effect, highly risky games of chance in order to make oodles of money? Hopefully not. If we were in charge of an oil rig, would we cut corners, buzz right past safety measures, and cause the hugest oil spill this country has ever seen? Hopefully not. But we are seeing the same things that Amos and Hosea and Isaiah were talking about.

“Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”

Is it about making a lot of money? No. Is it about doing work that advances Christ’s shalom? Yes. Is it about getting a lot of power? No. Is it about compassion? Yes. Is it about doing work that really helps our brothers and sisters who have less than we have? Yes. Is it about helping people find light in the midst of darkness? Yes. Is it about adding to the darkness? No. Is it about overcoming the darkness? Yes.

The life and ministry and love and healing and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth have changed the world forever, and we know that. The love of Jesus has called us into new life through our baptisms and we know and cherish that. His love is what calls us together. He is here right now and he is about to serve us a meal. Every moment of our lives he welcomes us into new life in his kingdom. This is what calls us together and this is what allows us to be close, as close as family, This is what allows us to share our joys and our sorrows, the real substance of our lives so that we can give each other strength and faith for the journey. Because Christ is alive. He is here with us now, and that is the true treasure of our lives, the gift he has given us.

That is the mustard seed, the invisible yeast, the heart of his kingdom, his shalom. The values of that kingdom are where real life is found.

May we be ready. May we keep our lamps lighted, and although our Master may want to serve us and does, may we also serve him.

Amen.

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