9 Pentecost, Proper 14 – August 7, 2022
This week’s gospel reading is full of shifting identities. For example, it seems to describe a thief as both a threat (verse 33) at the beginning of our passage and then as creation’s salvation at the end (verses 39-40). How do we account for metaphors that keep shapeshifting from verse to verse—particularly in relation to the Divine? We might call this week’s reading: Shepherd, Master, Servant, Thief.
Is God’s arrival to be longed for or dreaded? What does seem clear, is that in either scenario, wakeful readiness is key. What is unclear is the mood of that anticipation. What is at stake? And who is this divine Mystery—this shepherd who breaks into homes, this master who returns from weddings to serve food to bleary-eyed servants?
Our identities shift in the passage as well. We are frightened sheep, and we are heirs of a kingdom. We are keepers of treasure, and we are slaves. We are either owners of a house or accomplices to a great heist.
There is a thief who steals and destroys—and there is a Thief who saves. In the words of Alyce McKenzie, God’s Holy Thief is a “burglar…[who] returns to steal our false priorities and overturn our unjust structures.” When he breaks into our house, we will never be the same.
And Jesus, with the wisdom of a patient shepherd, diagnoses the key factor in discerning one thief from the Other: and that is fear (verse 32).
The message of this juxtaposition is: Don’t be anxious. Just be ready! Alyce McKenzie likens this to a spiritual version of Mise en place. Mise en place is a French term used in cooking that literally means “putting everything in its place”. It refers to the act of organizing the ingredients and cooking tools in a way that is as convenient and as accessible as possible.
Mise en place may just be a great metaphor for the art of living. Whatever aspect of life you’re involved in, have what you need assembled and at hand, and be ready to do your best. Have your lamps lit!
We will, very shortly, be baptizing three beautiful children, McKinley, Adeline and Wesley. They have the rest of their lives for mise en place and what Jesus is telling us today is that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We need not live in fear, with anxiety. It is a message about faith. And faith, at it’s core, it about who God is and what God does. Yes, Abraham “believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). And yes, Abraham concretely responded to God’s promise by hitting the road. Our actions reflect our trust in God, but it is not the primary source of faith. Instead, faith begins with God’s self-revelation that calls us into covenant relationship with the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that exists. And it grows as we walk daily with this God, who is always faithful to fulfill His promises.
Faith does not provide an escape from this life, but it does mean holding loosely to everything in this world so that one’s trust is ultimately in God. Ultimately, faith is not a formula for prosperity or a roadmap to navigate the end times. Faith is living in dynamic relationship with a faithful God who guides us one step at a time, one day at a time, in our particular circumstances.
As Debi Thomas shares: Faith as it is described in Scripture is not a destination. It’s not a conclusion or a form of closure. Faith is a longing. Faith is a hunger. Faith is a desire.
According to Abraham’s story, faith is the restless energy that pushes us out the door and onto the road in pursuit of the inheritance God has promised. Faith is the audacity to undertake a perilous journey simply because God asks us to — not because we know ahead of time where we’re going. Faith is the itch and the ache that turns our faces towards the distant stars even on the cloudiest of nights. Faith is the willingness to stretch out our imaginations and see new birth, new life, new joy — even when we feel withered and dead inside. Faith is the urgency of the homeless for a true and lasting home — a home whose architect and builder is God.
Likewise, according to Jesus’s parable of the diligent servants, faith is a posture of active, engaged alertness. It is the rightly aligned heart, the dressed-for-action body, the lit lamp on a dark night. It is the humble willingness to steward a house we don’t possess until its rightful owner comes home. It is the patient ability to wait on a Presence that has not yet arrived, a promise that has not yet been fulfilled. It is an overwhelming desire to welcome, serve, and nourish Jesus — whenever and however he makes an appearance. It is the daily business of living on our tiptoes, our eyes on the door, our hands ready at the knob for the Master’s joy-filled arrival. A mise en place lifestyle.
Perhaps the holy restlessness we feel as people of faith comes from God’s restless love and desire for us. The home we strain towards is the same home God is preparing for us right now, because it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. All we have to do is journey towards it. All we have to do is welcome it by faith.
Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Now let’s all welcome McKinley, Adeline and Wesley into that life of faith. Amen.