PROPER 14, C
Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40
Last fall, David and I traveled by boat from Romania to Budapest on the Danube River. On that trip we met a very interesting couple from England named Arno and Gwen. Arno seemed to be very knowledgeable in multiple areas, so much so that one of the other English men at the table finally said, “ Well, I just have to ask you, what do you do?”
I was shocked by this, because the English do not ask that sort of question.
Turns out Arno was a therapist, but also had a successful consulting business of some sort, but he clearly was a sort of Renaissance man. We shared several meals with Arno and Gwen, including breakfast on the last day. Everyone else had left the table when Arno and I got into quite a discussion.
Finally I leaned over and said to him, “If you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll confess to you that I’m an Episcopal priest.”
And he came right back with, “If you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll confess that I’m a humanist.” “
“Oh, that’s OK,” I said, “I consider myself a humanist too.” The look on his face would be hard to describe and I must admit it puzzled me. He went on to tell me about the Humanist organization to which he belongs, and something about their burial practices, which quite astonished me.
Since then I’ve looked up the web sites of several English Humanist groups and I now understand the look on Arno’s face. The goals and objectives of these groups reads like an Episcopal manifesto, except that they do not believe in God. But they do believe in the same sort of values that we do, working for justice, working to make a better neighborhood, promoting peace, etc. They put their faith in science.
Whoever wrote the letter to the Hebrews 2000 years ago says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This conviction of things not seen is what sets us apart from the Humanists.
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” Thus we live in the expectation that there is a spiritual world beyond the one we can access with out senses.
Let me remind you again what the word faith means. According to John Dominic Crossan, faith is more about faithfulness and trust than it is about belief, especially as the word belief has come to be used in our time. The Nicene Creed says “I believe . . .” The statement of faith we will say today in its place says, “I trust. . .”
This is important for several reasons, but one of them is that I trust allows doubt to be part of the equation. I believe is a black and white sort of statement. Why does this matter? Well, I ask you, can anyone here prove the existence of God? Can anyone here prove that God does not exist?
Bingo! To live in faith is to trust our own experiences and instincts rather than science on this point. Or it is to trust the traditions and the documents that have been passed down to us – the experiences of others.
Look at the story of Abram. The word of the Lord came to him in a vision, promising him heirs, more numerous than the stars in heaven, even though he was very old and his wife Sarah was barren. There was no evidence, no proof that this would happen. But Abram trusted the vision and the promise that God made to him. And God counted that trust as righteousness.
Did you notice what else the author of Hebrews says about the stories of Abraham and his descendants? This author realized that all of them lived in the light of the promises made to Abraham, even thought the promise was not fulfilled in their lifetimes. Couldn’t we say the same thing about Moses? “All of these died in faith without having received the promises. . .”
The Gospel today is addressing a similar problem. The first generation of Jesus followers lived in the conviction that Jesus would return in their lifetime, but it didn’t happen.
What were the 2nd and 3rd generations to do? Luke tells them to live in expectation, essentially to live in faith, that the promises of God will be kept eventually. “You also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
For our generation, so many years later, the issue of the 2nd coming has lost its power, except, perhaps for the televangelists who use it for their own purposes. What speaks to me much more forcefully is the promise of the Kingdom coming on earth.
Jesus often said that the Kingdom of God is here. Now he says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. This is a promise that it is God’s desire to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. And the teachings we have from Jesus tell us what that Kingdom would be like.
It would be the opposite of the Empire. It would be a new way of the world as it ought to be. It would be a Kingdom without violence where everyone has enough and no one is exploited. It would be a place where neighbors and friends help one another, where fear and greed no longer rule, where concern for the common good is at least as important as the concern for the individual.
After two thousand more years of Empires and wars, after 150 years of industrial pollution and the ravages of over use on the planet, it should be easier for us to see the importance of the Kingdom than it was for the people of the first century, except that they were trampled by Empire in ways that we can’t appreciate, and we so often don’t notice the ways in which the workings of Empire still affect our own lives.
We don’t see how our food is raised. We don’t see the exploitation of workers that allows us to buy things so cheaply. We often ignore the ways in which our own government sometimes acts like an empire would act. We have outlawed child labor and don’t see how many children labor in factories abroad. We don’t see the women and children being sold into the sex trade. We may not experience the many isms that still distort our society – racism, classism, ageism, etc.
Do you trust the teachings of Jesus? I do. And I can see the promise of the Kingdom when I look out at your faces on Sunday morning. None of us is perfect but we trust the promise of God that the Kingdom is possible and that we can help make it a reality.
I can see the Kingdom in your acts of kindness to one another. I can see the Kingdom in your work for the benefit of those you do not know. I can see the Kingdom in your generosity of time, talent, and money to further the work of the Kingdom in the world around us. I can see the Kingdom in the work of the Humanist Society! And I can see the Kingdom in the work of many other groups and religions.
As Bishop Steve Charleston once said, “We’re all in this together, and we’ll all be saved or there ain’t none of us gonna be saved.” We’re all in this together. Willy Nilly, like it or not, we’re all in this together. AMEN