August 7, 2016
Luke 12:32-40, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
“Luke’s Prosperity Gospel”
Last week our scripture asked us to be rich toward God. Today as I hear the lessons again, I am stunned by the goodness of God toward us. We are recipients of God’s generosity and I’m not talking about a hundred-dollar bonus, or a gift card to our favorite restaurant. The prosperity gospel is really popular these days. But the true prosperity gospel is not the story of God giving people BMW’s or mansions. The real prosperity gospel is what we just heard: “It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke is concerned with those on the margins. Luke understands God to be the giver of life not the giver of possessions.
In Hebrews and Luke today, we hear promises too vast to wrap our heads around and the words that so many others have heard: “Do not be afraid.” So we have stories of those who heard God call them to step out with nothing but a promise of everything, and they did. God has given us the kingdom; and yet how many hours of each day do we spend worrying about our bills, our health, our relationships, and all the problems in our world? I wonder if we really believe this kingdom promise. If we did, we wouldn’t be so quick to stress over things like credit cards, insurance, and how we will get everything done we have committed to do.
We want to believe it, but it’s scary. What would have to change if we took this kingdom stuff seriously? What would our lives look like if everything we did were a response to a God who has already given us the kingdom?
Alyce McKenzie is a seminary professor who does a unit on fasting each Lent with her students. Some have health issues that make fasting difficult, so she assigned them the task of fasting from anxious thoughts for a week. One student raised her hand and said, “Dr. McKenzie, if we fast from anxious thoughts, what else will we have to think about?” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2010/08/thethief-is-at-your-door-lectionary-reflection-for-august-8-2010/)
Wow! On the one hand, it’s funny. But it’s also very real. We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that will go nowhere when God has already given us the kingdom. Alyce goes on to say that “fear is not a protective shield, but a thief. When we dwell on our fears, they become our treasures.”
When God looked for Adam and Eve in the garden, they hid because they were afraid. The Bible is full of stories of folks who fear God. Kathleen Norris reminds us that fear in the Bible was a kind of awe or reverence. In that moment of fear, people were blown away by God. She says that fear can set us free. Fear allows us to recognize the holy in our midst. Fear gives us the courage to listen and to let God awaken in us capabilities and responsibilities we have been afraid to contemplate. (Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, pp. 144-145)
Fear is prevalent today. This fear is more destructive than we realize. It is not a holy awe, but as Kathleen Norris says, it can be something that “shrinks us, harms us, and renders us incapable of acting on our own behalf.” (Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, pp. 144) We can become so paralyzed by our fears that we fail to respond to God’s call. Fear may even make us incapable of hearing God’s call. Fear is in the evening news, in politics, in our daily conversations.
On any given day, there is plenty to fear. But we gather here to give thanks to a God who has given us the kingdom. Doesn’t that make everything different? You will be excited to know that we are preparing for a fall pledge campaign. I have been through this many times and I know about looking at my money and trying to decide what I will give to the church in the coming year. I know about looking at my money with all the caveats… one of my kids goes to college next year, we have projects we need to do at home, and then there are the debts we already carry. What if I say, “God has given me the kingdom. What shall I pledge in response?” How do I live as a person of faith in the face of a God who has given me everything already? God breathes life into us and gives us everything. That means everything we do is in response to God.
And if that isn’t enough, Luke tells the story of those who are waiting for their master. Their master arrives and finds them waiting so the master serves them. We show up on any Sunday morning in all forms – we are centered and prayerful or we are running late and a step behind or we are frustrated because someone is getting on our last nerve. We listen, we pray, we sing, and then we reach this place in the service where we come forward to receive communion. God sets the table for us and invites us to come and be fed. Do you ever find as you step into the aisle that you change just a bit? Maybe you are more aware of yourself and those around you, maybe you are more open. I don’t know about you, but so often as I stood from the pew and began to walk toward the front, I would look around and see all the beautiful faces and the table prepared for you, for me, for the whole world. Then I would take my place and open my hands to receive that piece of bread. God is serving us. That is staggering!
In any week, there are things that cause us to lose our way; there are things to fear, and so many unknowns. It is in the midst of all of it that we learn to trust things not seen. It’s hard to believe that Abraham and Sarah in their old age would leave their homeland for some unknown destination with no GPS, and no children to carry on the family name if they became ill or were injured. All they had was God’s promise to guide them. We don’t really know our destination. Life has a way of showing us new things and moving us in new directions.
God offers us the kingdom and here is what God asks in return… that we say yes. Not a half-hearted maybe, but an unreserved yes – a yes with our whole being. A few years ago, I chose a word to guide me for the year.
The word is wholeheartedness. How many of our days are we tired and less than enthused about what lies before us? How often do we find ourselves going through the motions? One of my favorite reflections on this comes from a question David Whyte asked because he was doing work that left him empty. David had no energy for his work and he asked Brother David Steindl-Rast about exhaustion. You may know of David Steindl-Rast as “the gratitude guy.” Brother David had a surprising answer to David Whyte’s question about exhaustion:
“The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. It is wholeheartedness… You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers… You must do something heartfelt and you must do it soon.” (Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity pp. 132-133)
That conversation inspired and moved David Whyte forward to becoming a poet who has profoundly impacted the larger world with his words. It is a good reminder that when we enter the world wholeheartedly, many will benefit.
It is easy to get to the place where we are lethargic about our commitments. Perhaps some of us are feeling fatigue. In times like this, we may want to slip into the background. Wherever we are, God comes and asks us to commit wholeheartedly with one word: “Yes.” In the meantime, a generous God is serving us and we have the privilege of being God’s community. All we have to do is say “yes.” We all know that saying yes doesn’t lead us instantly to a life of ease where everything is simple. But saying yes leads us in an ultimate way to the kingdom, to the place where God’s goodness sets us free and makes us whole.