Pentecost 9 August 11, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 9  Proper 14 Year C

Gen. 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3; 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Rev. Janet B. Campbell

 

 

 

“You [also] must be ready,

for the Son of Man is coming

at an unexpected hour.”

 

 

Early Christians

expected the return of Jesus

in their own lifetime.

 

It was

this they eagerly awaited,

this they looked longingly toward,

this that shaped their daily lives in hope.

 

The things the world deems indispensable,

the treasures of wealth, position, power,

held little importance

for those expecting a new creation

established in God’s justice and peace.

 

 

“Sell your possessions, and give alms,”

Jesus told them,

“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.”

 

 

The parable of the slaves

waiting for the master’s return

urges and warns

those waiting early church communities

to be alert and ready,

 

“. . . dressed for action and [with] lamps lit.”

 

 

Their ancestors in faith,

the people of Israel,

believed the long-awaited Messiah

would finally come to redeem God’s people

on the night of the Passover,

the ritual meal celebrating

the exodus,

God’s liberation of Israel

from slavery in Egypt.

 

 

For the early Christians

that expectation was transferred

to the night of the Christian Passover,

the Paschal Feast,

 

the Easter Vigil liturgy celebrating

the liberation of God’s people

from the power of sin and death

through the dying and rising of Jesus.

 

 

Versions of the parable

of the waiting slaves

appear in the gospels of

Matthew, Mark and Luke,

but Luke, as he often does,

has added allusions

to the church’s worship,

 

for it is in worship

that the waiting community,

gathered around Word and Sacrament,

experiences the presence of Christ

in its midst,

in the present.

 

We’ve seen that clearly

in Luke’s story

of the road to Emmaus,

which reflects the shape

of the Church’s eucharistic celebration.

 

 

The grieving disciples

recognize the risen Christ

in the Scriptures he opens to them

on the road

and the bread he breaks for them

at table.

 

In a similar,

although more subtle way,

Luke links the parable

of the waiting slaves

to the Paschal liturgy

and the community’s hope

for the final coming of Christ.

 

“Be dressed for action . . . “

or as some translations have it,

“Let your loins be girded . . .

 

echoing

God’s instructions                                  [Exodus 12.11]

to the children of Israel

about to embark on their exodus from Egypt:

 

“This is how you shall eat

[the Passover lamb],” God said,

“your loins girded,

your sandals on your feet,

and your staff in your hand . . .”

 

 

The crucifixion of Jesus, the lamb of God,

which happened at the Passover,

was also referred to

as his “exodus” or his “departure.”

[e.g. The Transfiguration  Luke 9.31]

 

“ . . . have your lamps lit;”

for it is the dark night of vigil, of waiting,

for the Sun of Righteousness to arise.

 

“Be like those who are waiting

for their master to return

from the wedding banquet . . .”

 

The wedding banquet,

another name for the heavenly banquet

the kingdom feast

to which the risen Christ ascended

and from which he would return,

 

and another name

for the Church’s Eucharistic feast,

a foretaste of that banquet.

 

 

And so the early Church kept vigil

on the night of the annual Paschal Feast

expecting, each year,

the final coming of the Christ

at midnight.

 

 

And when he did not return literally,

once and for all, when expected . . .

 

(for hadn’t he said he would be coming

at an “unexpected hour”?)

the Church celebrated the Eucharist,

his continual coming

in the sacrament of his Body and Blood

to feed with his own self

a people hungering

for justice and peace.

 

And so the promise was fulfilled:

“. . . [the master] will fasten his belt

and have them sit down to eat,

and he will come and serve them.”

 

 

Sunday by Sunday,

week after week,

wherever Christians gather

the world around

that promise is ever fulfilled.

 

Through the bread and the wine,

things seen and tasted,

God’s waiting people

receive the assurance of things hoped for,

the conviction of things not seen.

 

 

Like our ancestors of old

Abraham,

Sarah,

and all their descendants,

as many as the stars in the heavens,

 

we live by faith in a promise:

 

“Do not be afraid, little flock,

for it is your Father’s good pleasure

to give you the kingdom.”

 

 

And yes,

“All of these ancestors died in faith

without having received the promises,

but from a distance

they saw and greeted them.”

 

“By faith,

Abraham obeyed when he was called

to set out for a place

that he was to receive as an inheritance;

and he set out,

not knowing where he was going.”

 

By faith,

like Abraham,

we travel through life

not knowing moment to moment

where we are going . . .

 

 

yes, we know we are going

to church, or to school, or to work,

or to the movies, or to the park, or to brunch . . .

 

But where are we truly going?

 

We are warned and urged to be

dressed for action

alert and ready

and with our lamps lit

 

because we are not mistaken

about the urgency of our times . . .

 

this critical and scary moment

in the life of our country,

the life of the nations,

the life of the creation.

 

Where are we going

and

how do we find our way

through the turmoil and darkness?

 

 

Our destination is God’s kingdom,

the promised land

of justice and peace . . .

and the way of Jesus

is the way for us.

 

 

The way of Jesus,

deep, loving, courageous,

determined engagement

with the problems of this world,

the violence and injustice,

the folly and cruelty . . .

 

From a distance we see

and greet the coming kingdom

as we journey

toward its promise.

 

While the concern of Christian living

in times past

seemed to be all about getting out of this life

and making it to heaven

 

Our focus is

 

going deeper into this life,

 

inviting heaven

into this life,

 

becoming heaven in this life,

 

in faith looking for,

working for,

God’s emerging kingdom

in the here and now . . .

 

in us,

through us,

because of us.

Faith is doing what is good and right

whether or not we think

it will make any difference.

 

For God will put the good and right we do

to use,

usually in ways we cannot see or know.

 

Our job:

to provide

what God needs to

build the kingdom . . .

 

feeding people who are hungry,

housing people who have no home,

welcoming people fleeing from danger,

 

challenging political and social systems

that do not serve those for whom

they were created,

 

praying and working and hoping toward

a society of justice and peace

 

with no guarantee

we will see the results,

 

but trusting

that it is God’s good pleasure

to give us the kingdom.

 

 

From a distance,

through the eyes of faith,

we see it,

and greet it,

and, in hope,

live as if it were already here.

 

For though life is fearful,

it is good,

and it is beautiful,

and there is joy

in our companionship

and endeavors.

 

There is joy in Christ,

 

who has not yet returned

finally to establish God’s reign

on earth

 

yet every Sunday, in every Eucharist

is already and always with us:

 

In this the promise is already fulfilled:

“. . . [the master] will have us

sit down to eat,

and he will come and serve us.”

 

Christ, the promise, the strength, the courage,

the encouragement, the consolation, the gratitude,

for our hard work of the week past,

our hard work of the week ahead.

 

Christ our life, Christ our joy.

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