“Watchful Servants” – Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)
Sermon, Proper 14, Year C 2022
Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
We spend a great deal of our lives waiting. Our lives begin with nine months of waiting to be born, and that’s only the beginning of the waiting we will do throughout our lives.
Today’s scriptures remind us that, as Christians, the most important thing we wait for is for God’s reign to become complete on earth, as it is in heaven.
No wonder that’s the first thing Jesus asks us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth, we are praying for God to make the old destructive death dealing ways of the world into something new and life giving.
Even waiting at a stoplight can take on new meaning if I know that the big thing I am waiting for is for God’s reign of love to come on this earth, and that how I wait, even for a stop light, matters.
Abraham is a faithful waiter. God promises Abraham that Abraham’s old life is going to become a whole new thing—specifically, Abraham will inhabit a new land and have many descendants. God asks Abraham to pick up and go to the land that God will show him. And as the writer of Hebrews tells us, Abraham does what God asks and goes, not knowing where he is going—but he trusts that God will lead him where God wants him to go.
As Oswald Chambers points out, “to wait is not to sit with folded hands, but to learn to do what we are told” by God to do. I like that idea, that waiting is not static, but dynamic. Waiting involves active listening for what God might be calling us to do while we wait for what God is trying to make new in our lives.
So like Abraham, who waited faithfully, we must listen for God’s promise to us, and for the world, (God’s reign coming into reality) and as we wait for that promise, to do what God calls us to do, because God is counting on us to do our parts for God’s coming reign as God makes our lives and the life of the world new.
The next thing we must do is to trust. Because we’re human, we can’t often see how God’s promises are being realized in our lives. So we must trust that even when God seems to be asking us to do something that in our understanding goes against what God has promised, then we should consider doing what God is asking.
Jesus faced this dilemma in the Garden of Gethsemane. How could God’s reign on earth come closer to reality through Jesus dying on the cross? How could death lead to new life? But Jesus trusted God and did end up on the cross. On the other side of death, God resurrected Jesus. And God’s reign on this earth is all about the resurrection of the old into something new.
In her poem, All Things New, Frances Havergal lists some of the gifts God provides when we wait faithfully for God to make all things new, especially when we are dealing with difficulties in our lives.
Light after darkness
Gain after loss
Strength after weakness
Crown after cross
Sweet after bitter
Hope after fears
Home after wandering
Praise after tears
Sight after mystery,
Sun after rain,
Joy after sorrow
Peace after pain
Near after distant
Gleam after gloom
Love after wandering
Life after tomb
Alpha and Omega
Beginning and the end
He is making all things new.
Springs of living water
Will wash away each tear
He is making all things new.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid because God’s good pleasure is to give us the kingdom.
Jesus reminds us that in all the waiting we do in our lives, we will want to do what God has asked us to do, which is to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. As we care for our neighbors, God will care for us.
Remembering this puts a whole new spin on what we do with our stuff while we wait for God’s reign here on earth to become fully realized—all the way from that duplicate rolling pin I have in my kitchen, and the extra food I’ve saved up for hard times, to any extra money that God provides.
One of the biggest challenges that Jesus lays out for the disciples in today’s gospel is the need to be constantly ready as they wait for Jesus’ return and God’s kingdom fully realized on this earth.
This challenge is even harder for us than it was for the disciples, for we are the current generation of the countless generations of Christians who have waited faithfully for Jesus to return in glory. Along with the Hebrews, who were discouraged because Jesus had not returned after only two generations, we have grown tired of waiting for Jesus to show up in glory and some of us have even given up and left, placing our hopes in our self-sufficiency, or in the material things of this world, even though we say with our fingers crossed each Sunday that we really do expect Jesus to return in glory. We have simply given up and stopped looking for the signs of God’s homecoming.
So today’s gospel brings us up short!
Jesus reminds his disciples and us that we need to get busy and clear out all that extra stuff that clutters up our minds and our spirits to get ready for God to show up!
In our physical lives, we Christians also have the dilemma of too many material things distracting us and keeping us worrying about the things that ultimately don’t matter.
Last week we heard the story that Jesus told about the rich man who was worried about what to do with his excess crops. He went to great expense to build extra barns to store everything in, only to find that he was going to die that night, and that none of the stuff that seemed so important just hours earlier now really mattered at all.
We’ve all got stuff we need to get rid of, both inner and outer stuff, so that we can travel light and to be ready, no matter when Jesus comes. If we have been getting ready, we won’t get caught by surprise. Until we get rid of the old stuff, we will find that waiting for God to make all things new might be a wait that lasts forever because we haven’t done what we need to do.
Which brings us back to the issue of trusting in God instead of in ourselves and what seems like our material self-sufficiency.
But even after we have done what God has asked us to do, and we find ourselves still waiting, we must trust God that God really is making all things new in God’s own, perfect time.
The thoughts of Christopher Davis, who teaches at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, are helpful here.
Davis says in his commentary on today’s Genesis passage that there comes a place in the process of waiting that our trust gets put on trial. “If you’re going to move from frustration to fulfillment, you must develop an intentional life of waiting…the prize isn’t always finally getting what you wanted, it’s what you learned while you waited.” He goes on to say that our job is to go from putting God to the test to simply trusting God, that it’s not just about what we do, but also about who we grow into.
In the waiting, if we wait faithfully, God really does make us new.
What is God trying to make new in my life, and in yours? What is God trying to teach us in the waiting? What is God trying to make new in our church and in our world?
All of us are waiting for something. So let’s remember that as we wait for whatever it is, that all the waiting, for both the small and large things in our lives, must be informed by our expectant waiting for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
So let’s resolve to listen for God, to wait faithfully and obediently and to trust that even if not in our lifetimes, God’s reign of love will someday come to pass on this earth, as it is in heaven.
And in our intentional, faithful, and trusting waiting, our lives can be a sign to the rest of the waiting world that God’s reign of love really is on the way.
Resources: The poem, “All things new” by Frances Havergal
Commentary on Genesis 15:1-6