August 8, 2010: Keep at It


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Initially Jesus’ words might bring some comfort – “Don’t have fear, little flock.” Not fear – you’re asleep if you don’t have fear. We have a rising national debt, unemployment, house foreclosures. Retirements and pensions circle the drain, not to mention terrorists, wars and oil spills. “Don’t fear. God’s good pleasure is to give us the kingdom.” Great – who turns down a free gift? But can we trust it even exists?

Jesus takes a sharp turn south quickly. The kingdom is free – but there sounds like we have to pay for admission: “Sell your possessions. Give alms. Make sure your heart is set on treasure that lasts, safe from theft or destruction. Invest in heaven, not here on earth.” That’s the last thing we want to hear – divest ourselves of possessions and resources? So God’s pleasure to give – meets our resistance to relinquish what we have achieved, strive so hard for – give it up for a kingdom we can’t see, and a God we can only hope is somewhere.

God’s grace is free for the taking offered to all. Yet even a free gift needs to be accepted. We need to do something with it. Unused gifts are like museum pieces – nice to look at, valuable, but set on a shelf, and well – just unusable.

Some years ago, an ad caught my attention. I could buy an ab machine that would reshape my mid-section keg into a six-pack. It seemed to work for the guy pictured on the box. I bought one, brought it home, and over the course of 6 months or so, I wasn’t down to even a 12-pack.  A friend who came over looked at my machine. “It doesn’t work. It’s a waste.” “How often do you use it?” He noticed it sat in a corner looking more like a clothes rack than an exercise machine. “I tried it a couple of times.” “You have to keep at it,” he said. Have you ever thought the intent is equal to the effort? Okay, I’ll admit to being too lazy and uncommitted. I am a “Gain with no pain” guy.

God’s pleasure and nature are to give. Some people expect that and take God’s gifts for granted. That’s why God’s in business. Faith says the good news is that we already live in God’s reign – potentially. God is delighted when we get it, take it, enter it, and allow His love to transform and reorient our direction in this world. Yet some Christians say you have to earn God’s approval. Nothing’s free, especially salvation. They work hard, believe certain things even if they really don’t, too scared to say otherwise for fear they’ll not get taken to heaven one day. They join a church, stop cussing, don’t beat the dog, carry a Bible, and give a poor person a sandwich. They are good people, strive hard. Yet they miss that God has already given what they can’t believe and accept as free. We do like to receive something that’s free, don’t we?

Jesus says to us, “Little flock folk, relax. Relinquish what possesses you – what makes you anxious and afraid.” That’s really what getting so caught up in stuff that can be taken from us, or we lose – means. So if we sell our stuff, give the money away, we’ll be happy and secure? Not exactly – we do have to live in this world. Little flock members live with one foot in a reign God will finally bring, and the other foot rests in this world. In our better, less fearful moments we know our security is in God’s gift, not our attained by our achievement. Letting go so we can receive God’s stuff, frees us to live lightly, secured in and trusting God for the long term – forever. That sounds crazy to stake ourselves on faith in something we cannot prove or see. We’ve been taught to hold onto, earn, save for that rainy day or flooded basement – we can hold our savings account books. Yet faith also reminds us one day – life runs out. We know we can’t take all we acquire, accomplish and struggle to get. You will though, take something with you. The question is will what you have set your heart on possessing be able to go with you? Our treasure reflects where we’ve given our hearts. God’s treasure is in giving, investing love and grace in people like us, all of us.

We’re a little flock, beloved of the Father, in relationship with a master we don’t see. The master will return we know not when. So we can be like the mice at play when the cat’s gone – if we choose. But if we are prepared and ready, listening and waiting, we’ll welcome a knock that comes on the door. We know the loving nature of the One on whom we wait. Like the writer of Hebrews says – saints have kept their eye on a promise they trusted, but wouldn’t necessarily realize on the earthly part of our journeys. So some will be caught flat-footed, stunned, having no idea who knocks – or even believes there’s a master who comes, and some will believe that’s he’s mean, unpredictable and to be feared. What does the master you expect look like? Listen carefully – grab this picture. The master comes in to find us ready and prepared. Immediately he takes us to a large banquet hall and says, “Sit down.” He pulls out china saved for guests, dons an apron, starts the stove, and whips up a feast, a heavenly banquet. Is Jesus kidding – masters don’t do this – unheard of. We wait on the master. And this one is way over the top – delightfully so. Enjoy this story. Let it help you let go of any old ways of clutching to stuff that doesn’t last so you can have room to receive what God gives, what lasts, a kingdom of everlasting life. We are secured in God, not by our stuff. And God so loves us to full capacity, a love that will never run out or be removed. When you get it, – welcome home! Have no fear, little flock. God’s pleasure is to give the kingdom.

Help me with this. You get it. Sunday after Sunday you show up for a banquet tasting – bread and wine – receiving the God who gives freely and nourishes our lives in love. Why do people out there not get it? What can we do to help them realize the love already God has for them? What I will regret is when all is said and done, they’ll realize life could have been so different. They’re starving, and don’t even know it. How do we help others take God up on the offer, seriously? Maybe they’ll glimpse in us. They’ll see a lasting treasure has taken hold of our hearts. In so doing, we become a little flock of God’s delight, we live freely, forgive others, love others unconditionally, without fear – just as Jesus prescribes. Let’s just keep at it – keeping our eyes on the long view, God’s reign.


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