By The Rev. Sherry Deets
12 Pentecost, Proper 14 – August 11, 2013
Last Sunday we talked about what it means to be ‘rich toward God’ and I ended my homily with the beginning of today’s gospel lesson: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Did you catch that? God doesn’t just want to give us some things. God doesn’t just hope we do alright. God isn’t just sitting around waiting for us to earn God’s favor or watching to make sure we’re toeing the line. God wants to give us the kingdom and all good things. In fact, Jesus says it’s “your Father’s good pleasure” — that is, God really, really wants to give us the kingdom and all good things.
The rest of this lesson today needs to be read and understood in light of that. It can sound like a bunch of rules, law. And so anchored by the promise that God wants to give us all good things, we can hear these commands and injunctions differently. God wants us not to be beset by worries, to keep our priorities straight, to not be consumed by greed or love of those things that do not bring us real happiness. Instead, God wants us to have and enjoy and share the abundant life that comes from authentic community and right relationship with God and each other.
As for being on the lookout for the coming kingdom, Jesus doesn’t want us to miss when God comes in ways that might surprise us — in generosity instead of accumulation, in community instead of looking out for ourselves, in vulnerability and relationship rather than in strength. It’s easy to miss the God who comes in love and grace, you see, when all we expect is law and punishment.
Presumably the reason Jesus enjoins his disciples to relinquish their possessions is not unrelated to his assessment of the rich man as a fool. The resources his disciples are inclined to preserve can be dangerous distractions from the riches of the kingdom it is God’s pleasure to bestow. Being rich toward God is not primarily about putting sizable sums in the offering plate. Making moth-and-thief proof purses is not merely a better business strategy than building bigger barns. What Jesus charges us, is an orientation toward the whole of life as abundant gift from a generous God—a gift that can, therefore, be giving away with abandon. Neither receiving nor sharing is possible when hands are grasped and fingers clenched. Being rich toward God involves (as Ignatian spirituality counsels) a “generosity of spirit” that opens our perceptions toward manifestations of God’s generosity that are always present, but often at the edges of awareness, easily overlooked when our focus gets obsessive.
How does this relate to the image of servants who watch night and day, as contrasted with a homeowner who fails to effectively anticipate the arrival of a thief? Being on ‘high alert’ and being ‘asleep at the switch’ are not our only alternatives. We can focus our anticipation, our watchful waiting, in ways that are neither fixed nor fuzzy. We can systematically cultivate tacit awareness, peripheral vision. There is a difference between being the lookout and being on the lookout. We can sit loose to what we are naturally disposed, or have been long conditioned to look for. We can position ourselves to be surprised. Surprise is surely what the master’s servants experience when he at last appears and turns their expectations upside down—serving the very ones who have served him. The kingdom for which we are instructed to strive is presented to us, as the banquet is to them, not as compensation or achievement, but as gift.
Think of creative people – composers, artists, authors, mathemeticians, scientists, etc.—who, in taking a break, actually encounter a breakthrough. It does not just happen, though. One must carefully nurture disciplined awareness over time. Through that funded awareness, fresh insight comes while one “is not looking” and from where one is “not looking”. Real mastery in any of these disciplines consists in offering oneself in service to “the givens”. That is in sharp contrast to a kind of perception that impose’s one’s deliberate will, or project’s one’s unconscious fears on whatever one encounters. An accomplished painter put it this way.: “I listen to the colors, who tell me, in good time, and in no uncertain terms, how I must proceed.” The painting then produced is at once a gift to, from and through the painter.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Look for the kingdom that is all around us, the kingdom that is here and now, the kingdom that is present. Amen.
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