Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 7 August 2016
(Genesis 15:1-6 Psalm 33 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40)
“Finding the Itch!”
Once I heard a preacher say that when we are reading a scripture text and we want to hear what it is saying to us, we need to ask ourselves, “where is the itch?” That if you find the “itch”, you will begin to discover the message. So that is how I began my preparation for this sermon—looking for the “itch.” Looking for the irritation! Looking for the thing I most wanted to scratch away!
Upon quick glance, we might say, “that’s easy!” Most people might go to the line, “Sell your possessions…” Isn’t that the kind of line that most of us would say irritates us? In a world where most of us are just trying to make ends meet, selling all our possessions just doesn’t quite fit into our lives! Very often this text opens the door for a sermon on self-indulgence and greed. I’ve probably preached that one myself.
But that is not where I am going this morning. Every time I read this text I get stuck on the very first phrase in the passage, one that is easily overlooked. So that is the verse that becomes the “itch” for me!
Jesus begins, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” [vs. 32]. We are told that God just doesn’t want us to give us some good things. God doesn’t just hope we do everything right. God isn’t just sitting around in heaven waiting for us to earn God’s favor, or watching to make sure we are toeing the “works righteous” line.
Rather, Jesus begins by saying, God wants to give us the Kingdom and all good things. In fact, Jesus says it is “your Father’s good pleasure to do this!” It surely sounds as if God does not want us to be weighed down by worries, does not want us to be consumed by greed or love of those things that do not bring real happiness. Rather, God wants us to have and enjoy and share the abundant life as God continues to offer it to us.
Since that is God’s hope, our job is to be ready, alert, awake so we do not miss it when God comes in generosity instead of accumulation, in community instead of segregation, in vulnerability and relationship rather than strength and power. It becomes so easy to miss the God who comes in love and grace, when all we expect is law and punishment.
The “itch” in all of this is that so much of the rest of our lives is filled by demands both great and small: like the demand to accumulate more and more—the newest can, the newest iPhone, the newest fitbit—in exchange for a false sense of security or “coolness.” There is alasy the demand to prove one’s worth day in and day out. Or the demand to worry our heads off day and night because we feel we are always at risk. I’m the first to admit that it is really hard to trust God’s promises of abundance and give over our worries and live more fully and generously in today’s world.
We have been given the promise that God wants to give us the Kingdom, all good things, yet we all have trouble remembering and acting on that promise. Our purses and possessions do not always meet God’s pleasure. So it takes deep and continued faith in God and faith in God’s faithfulness to us. There’s the “itch” for me! Thus, we need a faith community as the place where we can be equipped to receive and live God’s abundant life.
One of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets comes to mind for me as I try to balance the Spirit Life of Promise with the “do this!” “do that!” life of our world. I’m sharing the entire poems with you this morning….on the screen. It is by Mary Oliver, called “Wild Geese.”
“Wild Geese” (Mary Oliver)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–over and over announcing your place in the family of things. 1
In this poem, I hear a lot of self compassion and self forgiveness, a radical connectedness to the world around us, inviting us to rub ourselves up against life itself, because that is where we enter into the very depth of God.
I want to be clear. We are called unambiguously to work for justice, to put an end to hunger and poverty and unjust race relations and homelessness and war. But we are called first to hear the words of Jesus that what God wants most is to have the pleasure to give us God’s Kingdom. In a conflicted world it takes the faith of Abraham to live our lives out of a depth of soul and a vulnerability of heart, knowing that many days do not end quietly and there are broken hearts, sometimes our own–yet such is the human path where the mystery of God breaks into our lives.
“We do not need to walk on our knees a hundred miles through the desert repenting. . . . . but we do need to be aware of our place in the family of things.” We do need be awake when the Master comes because with God, comes the blessings that sustain us in our daily lives. Amen.
1 “Wild Geese,” from Dream Work by Mary Oliver, 2004.
I am grateful to a blog by David Lose from August, 2013, entitled “The Heart of the Matter.” He stimulated my thinking for this sermon. Thank you, David!