Today’s theme, a lesson in active faith, comes across loud and clear in all three texts on this 12th Sunday after Pentecost.
In the Old Testament lesson from Genesis, we have Abraham and Sarah, well past the ages for procreation and child-bearing, yet displaying a faith in God’s promise which saw fulfillment. God’s people grew in numbers as numerous as the stars in the sky and became a great nation—just as God promised Abraham.
The New Testament reading from Hebrews, likewise, references faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Perhaps the best is the message from Jesus’ own words found in Luke. In this election year when candidates are looking for just the right slogan to capture the hearts and minds of the people, Jesus offers several quotes that could qualify today as excellent soundbites for the evening news. How about this one:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Or how about:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Don’t these sound great?
But it’s really the final six verses that really hit the nail on the head. Jesus spoke about the servants being dressed, ready for service, with their lamps burning… “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes in the second or third watch of the night.”
Karoline Lewis, professor at Luther Seminary, writes about this text. Her insights include this: “Being ready for Jesus’ second coming is less about any actual time and place and more about imagining Jesus’ activity in the world, when and where you least expect it or imagine seeing it. In other words, waiting around, waiting for instructions, is not going to cut it. Fear, treasure, and being prepared is the pattern for discipleship. Being without fear, knowing the source of your treasure — that is, your identity, your worth — makes it possible to be prepared for and an actual participant in God’s kingdom.”
It reminds me of my days in VA healthcare administration. Our regional director headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had a slogan he preached to his hospital administrators regarding their facilities readiness for the unannounced visits from the Joint Commission that accredits healthcare organizations. His frequently heard motto regarding preparedness for an on-site visit was “don’t get ready, stay ready.”
The theme was that if you were always active and on your toes doing what you were supposed to do, it didn’t require a lot of preparation to do differently when the visits came. Those of you with healthcare backgrounds no doubt know and appreciate how the Joint Commission affected your organization, and if you’re retired, no doubt recall more fondly than when you were living through it, right?
Another wonderful insight on this text comes from Pastor Erick Thompson at Trinity Lutheran in New Prague, MN. He offers this, “Those who are ready for the return of the master will be served by God.”
Doesn’t that seem to contradict our usual notion that we are to serve God. Instead, God will be serving us! And this isn’t meant to be a works-righteousness system. Rather, it is more of a promise of what will happen when one has begun to re-center life around God; the good news of Christ will serve you in your life so that you are not afraid.
What are we afraid of?
What causes us sleepless nights, or worry, or anxiety?
Are Jesus’ words a comfort or an enigma, a mystery?
What does he mean when he said on the one hand that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you (meaning us) the kingdom, and then turn right around in the next verse and instructs his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor! What does it mean to “make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This parable about staying ready for the Lord’s coming got the disciples’ attention, as I think it should ours too.
Peter got it. Peter spoke up, hoping the answer was an expectation for everyone, not just the disciples, when he asks in verse 41, the verse following the end of our Gospel text today: “Lord are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” I think he was probably hoping it was meant for more than Jesus’ followers. That others were expected to toe the mark and be involved. And part of Jesus’ response includes these words: “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
So the message here for us is about faith.
It’s not a passive faith, one that dutifully recites prayers without actively living it. Instead, it’s an active faith, with faith not as a noun, but as an action verb. It takes many and various forms–in seeking justice for the oppressed, helping the sick, feeding the starving, fighting for those who are underserved or marginalized in our society and the world—these are the people and this is the living faith that Christ Jesus calls us to perform.
Our text today speaks to us in all three texts, from Abraham in Genesis to the letter to the Hebrews as well as Jesus’ message in our Gospel text from Luke.
Jesus offers us the gift of faith.