Sunday, 11 August 2013

Ready, set, go

As I read this week’s gospel reading all I could think about were the words, “Ready, set go” and my mind was filled with images of runners at the starting line of a race in the ready position waiting for crack of the starters pistol. They are so still, not wanting a muscle to move in – no one wants a false start. Depending on the race, it is high steaks. Whether it is setting an Olympic record or running for a personal best time. Hours, probably years of training go into making this one moment.  

Jesus is gathered with the crowds teaching. He starts with the parable of the man who surveys his crops and his holdings. He is quite pleased with himself and puts everything into storage. “Fool” says Jesus. “And these things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) Then Jesus reminds the crowds that they are not worry because God has counted every hair on our heads. So instead of striving for clothes and money, strive for the kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)  

It is after these two teachings that we pick up our story. It is all about being ready just like the athletes in the ready position at the starting line. But unlike runners in a race, Jesus begins with a promise. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Racers don’t start a race knowing that the prize is theirs. They run the race hoping to get a metal or make their time.  Jesus does it using words we’ve heard before, “Don’t be afraid.” God tells Abram as he continues to wait for his promised heir, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield your reward shall be very great.”  The angel tells Zachariah “Do not be afraid, Elizabeth will have a son.”  The angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid for the Lord has found favor with you.”

Here is what else is true about the words don’t be afraid – you can count on the fact that God is asking you to do something big. Elizabeth – she had a child late in life who prepared the way for Jesus and Mary gave life to the son of God. The same is true for Abram. In the reading from Genesis, God asks Abram to do something big. Something huge – to leave the land of his ancestors, to leave behind all that is familiar to follow God to some unknown land. Now if any of you have tried to count the stars in the night sky you know that this is a promise that is much bigger than anything we can imagine. The poet Killian McDonnel tells Abrams story this way:

Talk about imperious.
Without a by-your-leave,
or, may I presume?
No previous contact,
no letter of introduction,
no greeting,
just out of the blue
this unknown God
issues edicts.

This is not a conversation.
Am I a nobody
to receive decrees
from one whose name
I do not know?
And at our first encounter!

I have worshipped my own god.
To you I had addressed no prayers,
offered no sacrifices.
asked no favors,
but quick,
like sudden fire in the desert,
without the most elemental ritual,
I hear "Go."

At seventy-five,
am I supposed to scuttle my life,
take that ancient wasteland, Sarai,
place my thin arthritic bones
upon the road
to some mumbled nowhere?

Let me get this straight.
I will be brief.
I summarize.
In ten generations since the Flood
you have spoken to no one.
Now, like thunder on a clear day,
you give commands:
pull up my tent,
desert my home,
the graves of my ancestors,
my friends next door, leave Haran
for a country you do not name,
there to be a stranger,
a sojourner.

God of the wilderness,
from two desiccated lumps,
from two parched prunes
you promise to make a great nation.
In me all peoples of the earth
will be blessed.

You come late, Lord, very late,
but my camels leave in the morning.

So Jesus, like God with Abram, makes the big ask. He says, “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.  … Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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 knocks.” (Luke 12:32 – 33, 35 – 36

            Not so easy to ever ready. I wonder today what it means for you and I  in our daily living. The urgency that Jesus had, is it still here? He was telling this to the disciples over 2000 years ago to be ready because the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour – like a thief in the night. Be ready. Sometimes when we get to these passages that talk about the kingdom of God we get caught up in images from the movies of the end of time or what happens with the apocalypse and the return of Christ. Movies such as Left Behind have engrained images of heaps of clothes sitting in a pile while their neighbour is miraculous lifted up to heaven. Or maybe we start thinking that kingdom of God is for when we’ve died and traveled to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. The kingdom of God is not about a time or place so much as it is living here and now in ways that make God’s kingdom a reality.  

            Jesus urgency wasn’t about the end of days. Jesus urgency was because the kingdom of God is both something we live into now as well as a future hope. We catch glimpses of the kingdom of God whenever mercy is shown, when we work for justice for all, when there is compassion. We can talk about the people who’ve lived this into the kingdom of God big ways like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King or Ghandi. But that makes it seem like it is something too big for us to do or somehow beyond our reach. God’s kingdom is in our midst in our daily living – it is being kind to strangers, it is praying for others, it is forgiveness, it is justice for all, it is compassion.  It is about making God’s love real in our world today.

If the kingdom of God is now then is it any wonder Jesus is trying to get his disciples ready? It means that every moment of our lives is important. The kingdom of God changes how we live not just in Jesus day but today. We are runners at the start of a long distance race with one difference – we know that God wants all good things for us. So it makes it easier for us to store our treasure in heaven, to show kindness, to seek justice. We do all this in the good company of our brothers and sisters in faith.

Today we are going to start in our own way to make God’s kingdom real. Take out the piece of paper you were given at the beginning of church. On one side it says “God wants all good things for you.” On the back of the paper write down one fear, worry or concern that you are willing to share. You don’t need to write your name down. In a minute all the papers are going to be collected. As you leave church today take one of those papers with you. Your kingdom task this week is to pray for the person whose card you take home and as you pray for that person you know that someone is praying for you. Promise in hand… runners take your mark, ready, set go …

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