Pentecost 9, Proper 14, Year C

I. Theme – Understanding our Heritage and Putting our Trust in God

The lectionary readings are here or individually: 

First Reading – Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm – Psalm 33:12-22
Epistle – Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Gospel – Luke 12:32-40 

This week’s readings help us to understand our heritage of faith and to strengthen our trust in God. In Genesis , Abram puts his faith and his family’s future in God’s promises. The psalmist sings the praises of the sovereign Creator God. The author of Hebrews gives examples from salvation history of the faith that pleases God. There is a sense of urgency about the parables in the gospel for today. Jesus admonished his followers to be ready for action: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; — Luke 12:35 . Jesus cautions his disciples to live in a manner that reflects the imminent possibility of his unexpected return.

This would have reminded them of the instruction for celebrating the feast of the Passover. At the time of the exodus, when they escaped from slavery in Egypt, they had been told to be ready to move without notice. This urgent readiness was then remembered in the way they celebrated these great events in the Passover every year: so we have the instruction on how the Passover meal was to be eaten hurriedly, in the book of Exodus:

This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. — Exodus 12:11

The Jewish people were used to recalling these directions in scripture every year and would easily have recognized the same idea in the teaching of Jesus about the coming to the Kingdom of God:be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. — Luke 12:36

Today’s readings remind us to seek God’s realm in and beyond our daily responsibilities, and to consider constantly the need to give up certain types of security to be faithful to God’s presence in the persons in front of us and across the globe. We may have an uneasy conscience at times and this is good news, for such uneasiness invites us to mindfulness and intentionality, and reflection on what is truly important in the course of a day and a lifetime.

“See, the eyes of the lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness” (Psalm 33: 18). The Spanish-speaking and Native American peoples have a lovely yarn craft called “Ojos de Dios” or “God’s eyes.” It symbolizes God’s beneficial watchfulness over us.

However, God’s all-seeing, ever-present eye is not a comforting thought to everyone. In order for this to be a soul-warming concept, we must have an understanding of the true nature of God. As the psalmist says, we must be among “those who hope in his kindness.” To those who await only God’s judgment, the thought of God’s eye upon them is threatening rather than comforting.

The opposite of faith is fear. Jesus’ exhortation, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,” is really an appeal to trust God. Trust and love go together. In our human relationships, we know that we trust more where mutual love exists and trust the least where there is no love. We are told that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).

It has been said that every human being responds to God’s existence, either in fear or in love, that is, to judgment or salvation. When we have grasped the good news of God’s steadfast love towards us, the lord becomes our help and our shield. That God’s eye is upon us is our most supportive thought. We can never be lost or alone because God sees us in all times and places. God’s love will provide for us and reward us as we seek God’s will.

We seek God’s will because we are certain that it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We trust God’s perfect love, and this casts out our fear. We have confidence for the day of judgment. When the lord returns, our lamps will be burning brightly for the celebration that will be like a marriage feast. Hearts that have held the treasure of Jesus’ saving love will tremble with joy at his appearing.

Seeking the kingdom is a tough road and we cannot get caught up in our own world, We are reminded that we may not see the fulfillment of God’s promises in our lifetime. All too often, we put our own worldly hopes and dreams in front of God’s promises, believing that God fulfills promises by blessing people with wealth, health and happiness. This could not be further from the Gospel of Jesus, who told the rich to sell all they had, who told the disciples not to take more than they could carry and to rely on the generosity of others, who told us all to become first we must become last of all and servant of all. This is what Jesus has called us to do—to seek eternity, we must not be wedded to the wealth and success of this world, for it will fall away. Our lives are a witness to the future: did we seek to live for Christ by living for others, or did we seek to live for ourselves?

II. Summary

First Reading –  Genesis 15:1-6

At this point in the book of Genesis, the perspective changes from the story of humanity (Genesis 1–11) to the story of a specific man, Abram (Genesis 12–23), and through him and his offspring, to the story of a chosen people.

This is one of several times in this liturgical cycle that we meet both Abraham and God in a discussion about the future of Abraham and his tribe. A couple of Sundays ago it was the vision and visitation at Mamre, and this morning the discussion embraces Abraham’s worry of having no heir. The verse begins with a prophetic cast: “the word of the Lord came to Abram.”

Today’s reading repeats the earlier promise of posterity to Abram (12:1-3, 13:16). Because of his childlessness, Abram was relying upon the custom of adopting a child born of a slave as his heir. He and Sarai are very old, and Abram is concerned about the continuation of his legacy—a common concern of his day and throughout Biblical history, and even in parts of the world still today—how property is passed down becomes the main concern of one’s existence, because it isn’t very long. Abram needs an heir, and it doesn’t appear Sarai will be able to have a child. But God promises Abram and Sarai that their needs will be met, and their descendants will be more numerous than they can count. It is a promise that they did not see fully realized in their lifetime, but were given a glimpse of their future with hope.

In response to God’s promise of descendants, Abram “believed the lord,” that is, trusted God. This put him in the right relationship to God, that of “righteousness.” Abram recognizes God’s promise as valid, and this interaction indeed makes it absolute fact. This attitude and relationship then become the basis for righteous deeds.

Psalm –  Psalm 33:12-22

This psalm was probably recited at the great autumn festival of Tabernacles, which celebrated both the creation and the history of Israel. Psalm 33:12-22 is a song of blessing for those who follow and trust in God.

Its opening verses (not read this morning) indicates that this psalm is indeed a hymn, sung with musical instruments. The psalm is stretched between two points of view: a national one “the people he has chosen to be his own” and a more universal view, “he beholds all the people in the world.”

It is introduced by a call to the congregation to praise the lord (vv. 1-5). Then it praises God as Creator (vv. 6-9) and as the lord of history (vv. 10-19). What is contrasted in the poem is the might of God and any potential might on the part of humankind – “no king can be saved by his mighty army.” God’s power is more subtle, not like the sheer power of the horse. God’s power is made manifest by the word that God speaks.

Verses 20-22 are a concluding confession of trust. The breath that makes the word is like unto the “soul” (literally “the life breath”) that awaits God. It is in this connection of life – the Creator to the created – that trust is found.

The psalmist knows that God’s word and works are unchanging (v. 4) and that God delivers the chosen people (vv. 12, 18-19) because of the covenant promises. When we put our trust in worldly powers, they will fail us, but God is faithful. God is the one who made all of creation, why do we look to created beings to save us? God is the one we wait for, who will be faithful in the end.

Epistle-  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Today’s reading begins a four-week sequence of readings from the letter to the Hebrews. Despite its title, very little can be known for sure about the author or the audience. The book is much more like a theological treatise with a strong pastoral emphasis than like a letter. The author calls it “my word of exhortation” (13:22). It may originally have been a sermon or series of sermons put in writing for the benefit of those who should have become leaders and teachers (5:12) of their congregation but who have become discouraged (10:32, 12:12), perhaps by persecution (12:4).

He refers to the Greek version of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint) and employs the terminology of Greek thought as it had been adapted by Jewish philosophers who applied Platonic concepts to Judaism. Both author and audience seem to belong to the generation of believers after the apostles (2:3, 13:7).

The readers were fretting about promises that God seemed to have withdrawn. The readers were Jews (Hebrews) who had come to believe in Jesus as the fulfillment of their Jewish hopes. This got them ostracized from the institutions (sacrifices, priesthood, rituals) of mainline Judaism. To bolster their faith, the author writes a complex treatise showing that their new life in Christ more than compensates for what they have lost, and the promises to which they are now heirs exceed the promises of old.

In the main body of the letter the author has established the superiority of Jesus to the prophets, to angels and to Moses; the superiority of Christ’s priesthood to the Levitical priesthood; and the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice offered for all time in the heavenly sanctuary to the repeated sacrifices offered on earth by the levitical priests. Given that reality, he can exhort his audience to perseverance.

Today’s reading is a roll call of Old Testament examples of faith, particularly those of our ancestors, of Abraham and Sarah. A wealthy but childless pagan in Ur of the Chaldees (modern Iraq), Abraham heard the voice of God summoning him to a different land, where God promised to grant him many descendants. Despite obstacles and setbacks, Abraham stayed obedient, “for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” (There’s a sentence to emphasize in your proclamation.)

The ancestors are praised for believing unfulfilled promises “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (vs. 1) and we are reminded that Abraham and Sarah did not see the fulfillment of God’s promise to them, but had a glimpse through the birth of their son, Isaac. The narrative of Abraham and Sarah invites us to be risk takers, willing to go forth with only a dream to guide us toward God’s far horizons. This elderly couple gives up everything secure to follow a promise.

Faith is an active attitude that, based upon past experience and outward signs, makes a present and vivid reality out of the future and the unseen. It’s about trust – the trust in the reality of the relationship with, and the promises of, God is especially exemplified by Abraham.

So we must live with this faith: God has promised us a future with hope, God has given us the hope of eternal life through Jesus the Christ. But we may not see the fulfillment in our lifetime, but through our faith, we leave a legacy for future generations. When we are faithful, future generations will look upon our faith and find endurance, and may even see the promises made to us fulfilled. So don’t lose heart.

Gospel –  Luke 12:32-40 

Today’s sayings and parables are told in the context of imminent crisis. The climax of Jesus’ ministry is approaching and with it the judgment of Israel. Thus the time of trial for his disciples and the time of decision for all is also at hand. The disciples are to trust their welfare to God, who is the source of their security.

Luke 12:32-40 contains a brief parable about being ready and waiting for Christ to come in a new way. Paired with the parable of the Rich Fool from last week, we once again are reminded that living for the ways of the world is foolish.

The parable of the doorkeeper gave the early Church a way to think about the delay of Jesus’ second coming and the need for constant watchfulness because of his unexpected return. The critical point for decision, whether met in Jesus’ ministry, in his death and resurrection, or in the expectation of his return, confronts every listener.

So what shall the faithful Christian do? First of all, “have no fear”. The promise from God is that the kingdom will be given to those who believe. What follows are two images: be properly dressed for action and movement, and take a flashlight, ready to move and to see when the Bridegroom comes. We are called to expect the unexpected. It requires attentiveness, willingness to launch out on a moment’s notice, and the possibility that we have to become downwardly mobile for the sake of following God’s vision

Luke will move in coming chapters to the foreshadows of the Passion and the events that will disturb the disciples. However, for the “Son of Man” to appear, we must be ready to accept the coming at any time. Stuck at the end of the first paragraph of this reading is a pithy bit of advice. Understanding what we really treasure is a clue to what we will be ready and willing to do. If the heart is to guide us, it must be the heart of Christ.

For starters, this text – and the others – calls for an examination of conscience to determine what is truly important to us. The hour and moment of God’s coming may or may not conflict with our other responsibilities. It may not represent a sharp break, but it will call us to perceive our responsibilities from a different perspective

Living for our own gain, our own success, our own wealth leads to ruin. One fault that many Christians have is that we believe in life after death, and so we live this life as if it was completely second from the next. Instead, Christ proclaims eternal life, in that our lives lived now prepare us for eternity. Christ tells us to be last of all and servant of all. Christ tells us to store up treasures in heaven, not worldly pleasures. Unfortunately, many have missed this message, living for the moment, ignoring the ones who need to be served, and instead, expecting to be served ourselves.

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