“Don’t be like Garfield”? What does that have to do with today’s Scripture reading? According to the cartoon that adorns this week’s bulletin cover, Garfield was aware of the great needs around him, but he was not WILLING to take off his bunny slippers, put down his coffee mug, and answer the call. Save for the bunny slippers, I, too, fall victim to inertia and fail to act. Sometimes I’m too tired, often I don’t know what actions I could or should take, and way too often I’m frankly too scared to act.
I’ve heard fear defined as an acronym for several phrases, like “False Evidence Appearing Real” or “Face Everything and Recover” or even “Forget Everything and Run.” We can easily guess which acronym Garfield would endorse. Recently, the phrase that’s been going through my mind has been, “Do it afraid.” For me, fear surfaces in terms of my exploring the road to ordination. For you, it could be focused on a problem affecting your work, your family or community, or a larger issue of social justice. The underlying issue that triggers our fear is not what’s important; what’s important is the antidote to that fear.
I hear Jesus’ words as a gentle reassurance: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” To which I say, “Yes, but . . . ” and try to argue why MY fear is justified. It’s the argument that tries to persuade you that if you had my problems, you’d be afraid, too. But Jesus continues with an explanation of how I can overcome my fear, namely by examining what it is I treasure, and evaluating it in terms of my spiritual journey. Am I focused on earthly treasures or spiritual values? Am I relying on God’s grace, or trying to solve the world’s problems by my own will power?
Jesus continues with a long discourse on readiness. He says, “See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” For me, this passage is a bit hard to relate to. In today’s society in this country, we’re not too likely to encounter households replete with servants awaiting their masters’ return. And this reading sounds very much like we’re being chastised and warned about being caught sleeping at the wheel. But if I can get beyond my annoyance at seemingly being chastised, there is much wisdom to be gleaned from the Scripture passage.
What a turnabout we get when the master finds his servants ready for action! “. . . [H]e will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them.” This sounds like a Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carole or at least a Hallmark moment. But it’s really much more than that. It’s the fulfillment of God’s promise to give us the kingdom—a kingdom that we help to bring about through service to others.
Last week we heard Jim walk us through Psalm 139, where we are reassured of the love that God displayed in our very coming into being. We are all enough just as we are—made to live in community and in service to others. Here’s a gentle reminder of that:
The razor blade is sharp but can’t cut a tree; the axe is strong but can’t cut hair. Everyone is important according to his or her own unique purpose—so never look down on anyone unless you are admiring their shoes!
I run into problems when I forget that God made me to live cooperatively with others, that I am NOT supposed to be able to go it alone, needing no one and nothing from others. (I guess we all know this at some level, or we wouldn’t be here in a loving, caring community!) The prayer of St. Francis reminds us that “It is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” So, I surmise that God comes to us as a servant—a master who serves as Jesus did—and nourishes us as we continue the work of building the Kingdom of God.
Another stumbling block for me today is the whole Scriptural discussion of guarding against burglary and not knowing the hour when the Son of Man is coming. It makes more sense to me if I relate it to the reference to where our treasure is. But I scratch my head when I juxtapose the lines “Sell your possessions and give alms” and “You can be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house.” So, do we distribute our wealth or guard it fiercely?
Eureka! Maybe—just maybe—this is saying that we need to choose treasure that will not wear out or be destroyed, and then treasure that treasure. Let me offer an example. With addiction recovery, it is said that the patient gets to decide at what point they want to get well. “Hitting bottom” refers to what I call crying spiritual uncle. I remember hearing a man explain his acceptance of his addiction this way. He said he hadn’t lost his job, his home, his wife and kids, the station wagon and the dog. He said, “All my alcoholism cost me was my self-respect and my will to live.” That for him was worth fighting for, worth his fighting to recover what alcoholism had stolen from him.
I, too, must sometimes stop and ask myself what it is that is robbing me of serenity, peace of mind, or joy. Most often it is when I turn to something else when I should be turning to God. Earthly treasure will never suffice for me. I need a spiritual foundation unless I want to stay stuck like Garfield.
Talking about a spiritual foundation, the book Alcoholics Anonymous says, “. . . he has struck something better than gold. . . . He may not see at once that he has barely scratched a limitless lode which will pay dividends only if he mines it for the rest of his life and insists on giving away the entire product.” Doesn’t this sound like the Prayer of St. Francis—“It is in giving that we receive . . .”?
Back to today’s Scripture, when it says, “You must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” it is not a warning that God will return and find us napping. It is an assurance that God will come to meet us in our moments of weakness, if we just welcome His grace and cooperate with it in serving others. I also think it means that we need to be looking for the Christ in everyone we meet. “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.” So, we are challenged to be the Good Samaritan for each other. It’s just the Golden Rule in fancier language.
And I find that loving others is a lot easier when I have a solid spiritual foundation, when I am actively trying to live out God’s will for my life—be it seeking ordination or cashiering at the local Kwik Trip. I do not have to be afraid to act boldly—or at least kindly—throughout my day. I pray my life—and yours—will give glory to God and joy to those we serve.
Let me finish with a testimony about the power of God’s word.
An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of church services when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled, “Stop! Acts 2:38!” (“Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”) The burglar stopped in his tracks.
The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done.
As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a Scripture passage at you.”
“Scripture?” replied the burglar. “I thought she said she had an axe and two 38’s!”
In the name of the one who will give us the words and direct our actions for the coming of God’s kingdom, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR AUGUST 11, 2019: Luke 12:32-40
“There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.
“Sell your possessions and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
“See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them. It may be in the second watch he comes, or in the third, but happy are those servants if he finds them ready.
You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house. You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.