Proper 14 (19), Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
7 August 2022
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
As if last week we had not done a good enough job of dodging the bullet of Jesus’ questioning of our wealth, here Jesus draws us right back when he says to those who will listen, Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What is missing is his admonishment not to worry, his words about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, things recounted immediately before the start of today’s Gospel.
But as poetic as all of that is, it seems so impractical. And that we consider it impractical is evidenced by the fact that none of us have sold our possessions but rather try to add to them, or at the very least take good care of them.
As I let the words of Jesus sink in, I thought that perhaps their seeming impracticality is the problem. This is not to do away with Jesus’ demand. It is important for us to pay attention not only to the comforting words about The Father giving us the Kingdom, or the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Shepherd, but to also permit Jesus’ less comforting words to confront us, even if we do not know what to do with them. After all, until a couple of weeks ago we sung in our opening chant, “Come, Fire of Judgment, descend on us,” and “Come to disturb us, descend on us. We gather here in Jesus’ name.” Maybe this is what we were inviting.
As I was allowing the Word of the scripture to work in me, I wondered how much our possessions distract us from the things that are important. How much time and money I spend taking care of things, repairing and servicing things, or just worrying about them.
But I also thought of a request I had received last Sunday. A high school graduate from Germany wrote to me, wondering if he could stay with someone from our congregation for about a week, in a week’s time. This was an unrealistic request, for to share his request with you would suggest that I vouched for him which I cannot because I do not know him.
And then I thought about whether the young man could stay with us. But, of course, the same applies. We do not know him at all, we have no one we know in common, and we really wouldn’t want a stranger in our home while we’re at work.
But then I thought, what if I didn’t have the things I have? What if I wasn’t as compulsively careful with the things we own? Then, hospitality would be simpler. Not necessarily for this young man who does not appear to need to save on accommodation since he is travelling the world, but maybe for others, maybe people who cannot afford to rent a home in this rental market.
You probably think that I am off my rocker now. And I am OK with that. But the point I am trying to make is that the lives we live in the world come with certain obligations. We know that and we willingly subscribe to that, either because we think it’s normal or because we don’t think to question it.
But these obligations tie our hands in some ways, they constitute loyalties we are expected to render, and it seems that these loyalties may very well, and perhaps often, conflict with the call of Jesus.
At other times I have referred to these loyalties as our rationalizations.
We can’t come to church because our kids are involved in too many extra-curricular activities. But we forget that we OK those activities and pay for them. And I speak from experience.
We would like to be more generous but wealth accumulation is part of our culture, part of which may be to think of our children, some of whom are well established and do not need our estate.
We would like to turn the other cheek but look where that got Jesus! And so we continue to fight the king’s wars.
We would like to have more time for others but we are connected to our many devices and gadgets that suck our time away from us, some of that may be play, and some of that may be work.
We can add to this list but the point is that we generally don’t question our loyalties to economy, technology, state (unless it concerns taxes), or certain social requirements, and that these loyalties may well conflict with our loyalty to Jesus.
And since we are not about to sell our possessions, we may be choose to think about where in our lives the demands of the culture of which we are a part of clashes with the demands of Christ.
Thinking about our loyalties is necessary because the unexamined life is not worth living as Socrates is to have said in his defence. Examining our loyalties helps us to not dismiss Jesus’ claim on us outright but gives the Holy Spirit a chance to work on our hearts.
Not to dismiss Jesus’ claim puts us in touch with Abram and Sarai who trusted he Lord, even though they too scratched their heads and Abraham challenged the Lord when he said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, … you have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”
And yet they believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to them as righteousness.
Hebrews chapter 11 (where we find our second reading) is an excursion into the life and faith of central figures of the Old Testament. The chapter begins with these words, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.”
Then the passage continues with Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham and Sarah’s story does not end with a passive faith that sits in church and folds its hands, but people who respond to God’s call with their whole lives, trusting God and God’s promises they cannot yet see.
While they went out toward the land God was to show them, we continue where we are. We planted a pollinator garden. We are planning a neighbourhood celebration. We are hoping to build a labyrinth at the back of our property, and who knows what else may come. Perhaps we will even sell our possessions. Or maybe we won’t.
In the same way that we may find Jesus’ demands overwhelming, we also find the crises of the world overwhelming and a common response is to do nothing, for how could anything we do be enough?
That, however, is to surrender both our hope and our calling.
What is important is that we pay attention, that we examine our lives and our loyalties, that we open our lives to God’s will and to God’s promises, that we move with God and on God’s invitation, even if only with small steps. Only God knows where that may lead us. The Saints are God’s witnesses.
Thanks be to God.