For August 7, 2016
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by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
One Sunday morning about 20 years ago I slipped out of our apartment at my usual 6 am, tiptoeing around in semi-darkness to avoid waking my wife and children, who were not fans of the early service. I shivered a bit in the late autumn chill as I got into my pick-up and sleepily tried to put the key into the ignition. It took me a moment to realize that my fumbling was not my fault – the ignition was not where it was supposed to be on the side of the steering column. Startled, I looked more carefully around the cab. Sliding window from the bed was agape, glove compartment open, ignition gone – someone had broken in and tried to steal my car! Not fifty feet from where I slept! For the next hour or so, I thought many unChristian thoughts and said not a few unChristian things.
“…if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12:39-40)
In my childhood, I often heard preachers misuse this verse, and others like it, to frighten people into conversions. The implication was that Jesus was an extremely erratic and irrational bully just waiting in the wings for us to really mess up so he could sweep in and point an accusing finger and say, “Aha! Caught you! Now you’re gonna get it!” And the Good News was, if you could whip out your “I got saved at the Cripple Creek Church Revival of 1964 ‘Get out of hell free’ card,” all would be forgotten and Jesus would give you a big hug and carry you with him back to heaven. That may not be exactly what the preacher said, but that’s what an 8 year old Delmer heard.
Many years of theological education (and not a little therapy) later, I now know that this is not what Jesus was talking about. The issue is not judgement but rather readiness to receive the kingdom of God into our lives. The verse I cited is the conclusion of our reading – it begins with the too often ignored advice to us to “be not afraid, little flock – it is the father’s good pleasure to GIVE YOU the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) We do not have to be afraid when the kingdom comes; it is a good thing – not a bad thing. It is not something we earn, there is no test, no need for a “get out of hell free card,” no way to fail or come up short. The kingdom is a promise – not a prize; it is a thrill, not a threat; it is a thing of joy forever – not destiny of doom.
Between the promise and its realization, as we live in the world of the “already-but-not-yet” kingdom of God, we find ourselves subject to the possibility of losing hope and, when we lose hope, we often turn away from trusting God and give in to the soul destroying temptation to trust ourselves and our accumulation of things to keep us safe in an always dangerous world.
As we see and experience more and more of the distrust, discord, disagreement and disconnection leading to the fearfulness and violence that fill our world, our country, our state, and our communities – it is reasonable and understandable for us to be fearful. And it is not unusual that in such a time of unease and uncertainty we feel ourselves drawn to build up a protective shield of material security. This is what Jesus warns us against -Do not trust yourselves or your stuff – instead trust your God and love your neighbor. “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 will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)
I once knew a man who was what I call “locally rich,” rich compared to the vast majority of his neighbors. He was an ordinary man had made a shrewd investment in a local company when he was young. He and his wife lived in the same lower middle-class neighborhood where they grew up. Though they were worth several million dollars, they drove an economy car and dressed simply. He had had a stroke and didn’t get out much. One day after a pastoral visit that included home communion, he walked me to the porch and said to me, “I think anyone who dies rich has failed to pay attention to Jesus.” After both he and his wife were gone on, I learned how they had given away almost all their money to long list of good causes in their city. They were ready for the kingdom.
Once, when I was a teenager, I was baby-sitting my neighbor’s grandson. He was about four years old. I was preparing to give him a treat of a popsickle. There was a problem; he already had a cookie in each hand. He had been nibbling on the cookies for most of the afternoon, they were covered with a combination of dirt and saliva. It was really hot and he really wanted the popsickle. But I could’t persuade him to let go of either of the cookies, he stared at me and started crying as the popsickle melted but he just couldn’t let go of what he had to receive what he was promised.
Today Jesus invites us to let go of our fear and welcome into our lives the gift of the kingdom of God. He invites us to stop holding on to the false security offered by things in order to take hold of the true life offered to us in the “already-but-not-yet” kingdom of God.
Amen and amen