Genesis 15:1-6 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40
This Friday, only hours after the bombings of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, the press was already trying to determine: Did we have any warning? Did the embassies meet the most recent security code revisions? Were we prepared?
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the president’s political opponents assured us that they will be ready when a report arrives from independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
For what are you preparing? A new school year? Retirement? A new home?
Today’s gospel story uses images of service and hospitality to illustrate readiness for the kingdom of God. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible says, “blessed are those who are alert when the master comes.” Other versions say “vigilant” or “awake.” All imply having a clear focus: servants waiting at the heavenly banquet table, their lamps already lit when Christ returns.
As we approach the millennium, there are those who would have us fixate on possible dates for the second coming or for the end of the world. But, as we have just heard, the “Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” The challenge for people of faith is not to determine the exact time. Rather, it is to be appropriately engaged when the time comes.
And so this morning we ask ourselves, are we preparing for God’s feast? Is our energy focused on a time when all God’s people are gathered together around the same table? In a few moments we will come together around this eucharistic table. Will our lives away from here then reflect an interest in assuring that our office tables and our parish supper tables and our hearts have a place for all?
But maybe we are not focused on the banquet table at all.
This weekend, pictures of the bombed embassies and ongoing rescue efforts fill our television screens and newspapers. So far 190 have been found dead. And last week we saw the nation mourning the tragic deaths of guards here at the U.S. Capitol. The stock market dropped 299 points and some became anxious about our economy. We hear of missing children and old people attacked in their homes.
It makes sense that we might want to spend our time preparing to defend ourselves, our loved ones and our country. And so we seek gated communities and comprehensive insurance. Where our hearts have been broken, we put up barriers to intimacy with another person. We want jobs that promise security. And we are tempted to make a beautiful church like this into a refuge from the world.
On any given day, the priorities to which we devote time and energy reveal what we worship. You will recall that our word for worship comes from the Old English word for “worth.” And so today, we will again determine what we “worth-ship.” “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).
How do we balance the charge to prepare for God’s kingdom with our desire to defend ourselves from the dangers of this kingdom?
Here we get a little help from our other lessons:
Listen again to Hebrews: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). We come together this morning as people of faith or people searching for faith. We come as descendants of Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham because he was willing to take a risk or two and to covenant with God.
But in today’s first lesson, he is still Abram. He is like us. When the Lord promises him a great reward, Abram quickly points out the realities of the situation. “You have given me no offspring.” Just as we might say to God, “It’s a rough world out there.” But God made Abram a promise, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them….So shall your descendants be.” And Abram believed the Lord’s promise, which led him into an ever deeper life of faith.
What if we were to believe God’s promises to us? What if we invested in the vision of the banquet table? How might we be servants preparing for the feast?
Maybe we would be sending out invitations telling people about the banquet and Jesus and God’s good news for all of us. Maybe we would be helping others at our tables to open up their hearts and to get to know each other.
Maybe we would scout around for enough chairs…little chairs for smaller people and wheel chairs and taller chairs for people with long legs. Maybe we are building those chairs in our society by offering training programs, or sharing information on possibilities for housing or colleges, or grants or jobs. Or maybe we are building those chairs in our hearts by carefully listening to people who seem different from us and by trying to understand and accept their perspective. Maybe we are setting the table—sharing God’s treasure.
As we just heard from Luke’s Gospel, if we are about the business of this table when the master arrives, then he will have us sit down to eat and he will serve us.
The paragraph that follows the one we just heard in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke contains the familiar words, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” Coming as it does at the end of this section on Kingdom readiness, that passage clearly calls us to use our talents on behalf of God’s Kingdom.
We have all received the same promise, but different ones of us have received varying gifts with which to serve.
And so this morning we thank God for all who are working for peace—in the world, in their neighborhoods and in their families. We remember especially those who build bridges between people, nations, races and religions. And we lift up those who have gone to Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam and Anacostia and Appalachia as neighbors helping neighbors.
Faith is looking forward and opening ourselves to God’s will for us rather than looking back and holding on. Faith is looking forward as Abram did “to a city that has foundation, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
The award-winning author Walter Wink ends his book, The Powers that Be: Theology for a new Millennium, saying:
In the final analysis, the gospel is not a message of escape to another world, but of rescue from the enticements of “this world”…and its ultimate transformation, when “all nations shall come and worship” God (Rev. 15:4). Eternal life is not something reserved for the future in another reality, but begins now, the moment we become alive to God and God’s revealer (John 17:3).
This afternoon we will have the chance to make choices. Will you open your heart or close it? Will you invest in a better future for a child? A committed relationship? A more just workplace? Will you take faithful risks for the kingdom?
We are not alone. A long line of people have been in our position before, beginning with Abram, an old man whose wife was far too old to have a child but did.
Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
For what are you preparing?