Toorak Uniting Church

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X marks the spot

Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20     Psalm 50: 1 – 8, 22 – 23     Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16     Luke 12: 32 – 40
Pentecost 11 (year C)
Rev. Morag Thorne
12 August 2007

Sermon Prayer:

O Lord our God, you have given your word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Grant us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, that we may be obedient to your will and live always for your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Today’s gospel reading is, no doubt, a very familiar one, and so there are certain pitfalls we must be wary of, as we engage with the reading. One pitfall is simply that it is familiar, and so we approach it with a certain degree of comfort, and confidence that we already know what it will ask of us, and perhaps we think we have already answered it.
For example, we might think, "Ah, here comes the parable of the Good Samaritan" "That’s fine, we’ve got that one under our belt, no surprises here."

Another pitfall of familiar readings is that we hear them through the filter of what we have previously heard or thought about them. So, to use another parable as an example, if we have always heard the story of the Prodigal Son as one of forgiveness or relationship between the forgiving father and the errant younger son, we miss the reference to the relationship between the older son and the father, which is perhaps more relevant to many of us, and to the reckless way in which the father allowed his love to overwhelm social expectations of a senior man of his day.

This preamble is to set the tone for our encounter with today’s reading; that we try to put aside preconceptions, and approach it with caution and curiosity, alert to what we might discover in it, and in ourselves, today.
Scripture is, after all, the living word of God, and so is never static or wholly known, except as we encounter it as those who have ears to hear. So I invite you to join me in digging into today’s Bible passage, and scratching around in it, to see what we might uncover.

Let’s acknowledge what is familiar. In the first few verses, Jesus is urging the disciples to put their faith in God for the provision of their day-to-day needs, and to give themselves unreservedly to their mission, continuing Jesus’ own practise of investing himself in things that transcend this life, and connect with values and priorities that are God’s own, eternal preferences.

The second part of the reading has been regarded since the very earliest days of the church as a reference to what we call the second coming – the return of Jesus to earth, in an event that has connotations of judgment: it will be good for those who are ready to receive Jesus, and by implication, not good for those who are not attuned and oriented towards recognising and responding to Jesus.

That all seems fairly straightforward, and why should we dig any deeper?
Well, my own curiosity was aroused by reading the other lectionary passages for today, and trying to catch the reflections back and forth between them all.

What emerges from reading all four lectionary passages is that Jesus’ words, v32-34 "Do not be afraid little flock,……… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" is a summary drawing together of the salient points of the lectionary passages from Ps 50, Isaiah 1 and Hebrews 11.

Briefly put, these passages examine the nature of a faith relationship with God. Hebrews reminds us that it was trust in God for the provision of their needs that gave courage to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to journey into new places that were strange and unfamiliar to them.

It notes that their experiences of God’s faithfulness was such that they never turned back, preferring to follow God’s leading even when it became clear that they would not reach the promised destination.

The Isaiah passage is a harangue by God against the practises of ritual feasts, festivals and sacrifices, because they were empty gestures. They were not expressions of gratitude for God’s mercy and provision, they were meaningless habits of duty that did not touch the hearts of those performing them.

Because their hearts were untouched and unresponsive to God’s mercy to them, the people’s hearts were not touched by mercy toward each other. Their behaviour and practices were without substance, and unacceptable to God.

In Psalm 50, by contrast, the LORD does not reject the sacrifices of ‘the consecrated ones’ that is, those who keep a covenant relationship with God, because their sacrifices express their consciousness of God’s grace and favour towards them, and spring from a desire to thank and glorify God.

To return to our gospel reading then,
we might hear Jesus’ words as a reminder of the outpouring love and provision of God for us that stirs up an overflowing of thanksgiving and confidence in us, moving us to give to the poor and pursue the other values of relationship with God simply for the joy of that dynamic of being in relationship with God, rather than routinely observing a moral duty.

If we commit ourselves to the joy of being in relationship with God, we might find ourselves accosted by the sense of immediacy in the parable of the servants waiting in a state of readiness for their master. This has long been understood as a reference to the second coming of Christ, and the full realisation of the kingdom of God on earth, and I do not debate that view.

However, it is one of a number of parables in this section of Luke that addresses how the kingdom of God is made real in the here and now, even if in a patchy and incomplete way. And generally speaking, we accept that this is so, and in that giving to the poor, or working for social justice, we do bring into being, even in this world, the essence of the kingdom of God.

Might this passage therefore hold some implications for the here and now of our experience of the presence of the kingdom? Might we reasonably expect to encounter the presence of Christ in those very times and places where we intentionally engage with the dynamics of the kingdom? Remembering the focus across the lectionary readings between the quality of our faith and the quality of our relationship with God, consider how the parable impacts on us when we hear it as those who are aware and alert, straining with all our senses to recognise and respond to the signs of the presence of Christ.

It will be good, we are told. Unlikely reversals will happen, and unexpected results will flow from the master’s pleasure in finding the servants full of anticipation and welcome. It will be good.

Why should this parable be told in conjunction with the teaching about giving to the poor?
Perhaps to warn us not to let even our good deeds and practises become routine, and empty of the heartfelt response God desires of us. We would not want them to become unworthy, like the empty rituals that Isaiah condemned on God’s behalf.

And perhaps the link has been made to provoke us into examining the dynamics of our motivation. If we consciously and adventurously offer our own gifts and sacrifices to God out of a desire to experience the dynamics of the kingdom, it might modify the form or extent of those gifts and sacrifices only moderately. And it might not alter the outcome of our gifts and efforts in the way that they affect the recipients.

And yet we might find ourselves greatly altered, energised by joy, graced sometimes by the presence of Christ, and led by the Holy Spirit to discover where our true treasure lies, and where our hearts longs to be.

© Rev. Morag Thorne, 2007


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