X Pentecost, Year C
Is 1:1,10-20 or * Gn 15:1-6
Ps 50:1-8,22-23 * Ps 33:12-22
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
* (Genesis 15:1-6)
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the
LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old–and Sarah herself was barren–because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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 your heart will be also. "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 comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. "But know this: 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."
“Fear not.” Riiiighhhht. (as in Bill Cosby’s Noah). Jesus must be kidding. “Fear not?” What’s not to fear? Nothing is secure anymore, everything seems like it is falling further apart.
Fear not. God will provide for you. Provide for others. Be ready, you can be called at a moment’s notice. Our text is that simple today, we don’t have to make it anymore complicated than that. Our ‘abba’ in heaven watches over us, his little flock. He tends to us a good shepherd. More than Mosaic or Davidic metaphors, we are those who trust Jesus enough to leave it all behind. What the ‘it’ is depends on who you are.
For example, why do we fear? Animals (including the human one) are born with only two fears, fear of loud noises and fear of falling. Every other fear is learned (imitated, that is, learned from somebody else). Fear of failure or fear of success? Learned from someone. Fear of the out of doors, fear of the dark? Learned from someone. Fear of terrorists, fear of accidents? Learned from someone. Fear of people of color, fear of other faith traditions? Learned from someone. Fear of being poor, fear of being marginalized? Learned from someone. Fear of hell, fear of judgement? You guessed it. But we are born with none of these fears and we don’t get them from God whose perfect love casts out fear.
Wait a minute. Doesn’t Scripture tell us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?” (Ps. 111:10) How then is it that God asks us not to be afraid, most especially of God? We are taught to be afraid by our culture because fear is the ‘tremendum’, the awe we feel in the presence of the the sacralized victim. This, however, is quite different from the awe we experience in the presence of Jesus’ abba. The “fear” commended in Psalms (remember, Psalms was one of Jesus’ favorite books of Scripture.) is the awe we feel when confronted with that perfect love. It is the only possible human response to God when we allow God truly to be God.
But most religion does not want us to know the difference, to see beyond the god who scares the pants off us. Without that fear, the sacred loses its aura of “holiness” and we see the emptiness of the sacralizing process. We see Satan defeated. Satan has a vested interest in keeping the followers of Jesus afraid. Jesus says, “Fear not.”
In the midst of mimetic crises, Jesus recognizes that, even in spite of their misunderstanding, God is developing something inside these followers of his, God has included them in the mystery of salvation. They are his little flock. They are not the majority, nor are they judged by the size of their, um, ministry. Wealth is not a consideration, nor is status a barometer. It is their willingness to travel this difficult road with him. He invites them into his abba’s love and care.
Followers of Jesus are invited to wander with God. We are a wandering people. We are not those who put down roots in this world. We are not those who place stock in the mimetic representations of social hierarchy (money, wealth, fame, power, status). We are those who abandon such, who are called to abandon such, because we have been given the inestimable treasure of the Father’s reign. In short, followers of Jesus also continue the pilgrimage of the people of God of the Hebrew Scriptures.
It may appear that this is all fine and good in an ideal world but it is impossible to do this in the world today. We (many of us) have families, obligations, commitments. Even the disciples thought this way and Jesus had to remind them that nothing is impossible with God. It is our lack of faith, our inability or unwillingness to trust God that is our only hindrance. If we have what we desire, then we have achieved; if our desire has been imitated (and we have pointed out, it always is), then what we have achieved or acquired has come at the expense of another. It can be taken away by another who is rivalrous or jealous or who wants it more. It can be tangible or intangible but it can be taken from us. Our desires are prompted by only two sources, the world (i.e., each other) or God. If what we desire is acquirable or corruptible, we should not be surprised when it is taken from us or it diminishes in power. If, on the other hand, we desire our Father’s will and reign, we will find that it is possible to live without fear, to live in love and charity, to live as a sojourning people.
Is contemporary Christianity ready for the challenge? Or are our sermons subtle justifications to put off desiring God alone. As A.W. Tozer so wisely put it, “Not God first but God only.” Is this the final hour of humanity, is the clock ten seconds to midnight? Who can say? But if it is are we ready?
Jesus telling the disciples not to take a purse, to go without money raises an overlooked element just about everywhere we read. A text like this cannot be preached today. Or can it? Unless we take it upon ourselves to examine how we are tied into money, what it means to us, how we use it, how we feel when we have it and when we don’t have it, how hard it is to come by, how fast it goes, how much of our time is consumed by it, etc, etc. The overlooked element is our self-examination. We all have paychecks. What is our relation to our paycheck?
I usually enjoy I. Howard Marshall’s insights in his Commentary on Luke but his observations on today’s text are a reminder that even the most astute of scholars fails occasionally and in his exegesis regarding the birds, Marshall shows himself to be thinking within the western rational civilized paradigm that permeates our culture. Commenting on Luke 12:22-34 he says, “Disciples are not to be anxiously concerned about food and clothing. These are of less importance than the person himself. Nor is concern necessary: even birds who show no forethought for themselves are supplied by God, and the disciples matter more to him.” Um, forgive us Dr Marshall, but birds and foresight are two words that do not belong together. Of course birds don’t exhibit foresight, that is a human phenomenon. We are the ones that project ideas, plans, projects; we project weapons, projectiles; we project ideologies and myth. Birds are not like humans and it is to do an injustice to the birds by ‘humanizing them.’
Why the bird analogue then? Birds (and animals) eat what they need. They do not take more than they need, whether for themselves or their young. They are not afflicted with ‘mimetic desire’. They do not have competitions to see who got the most worms that morning. God meets their needs. God meets our needs. Our wants are mimetic desires. Or as the Stones put it “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you’ll find you get what you need.” Foresight is about jobs, paychecks, plans, of which the birds have none.
We have previously noted that scholars are unable or unwilling to acknowledge Jesus’ shamanic (wilderness) background. While we do not think it is at possible to know the origins, processes or mentors of Jesus formative background (excepting John the Baptist), there are enough models in his culture (and surrounding cultures) to suggest that he had a comfort zone in the world of God’s creation. We acknowledge that Jesus does not come to teach a shamanic model, but we also recognize that Jesus can and must be understood as one whose life is oriented to that of the creation. In short, Jesus was a bit of a naturalist.
Fitzmeyer tries to say this: “Jesus draws from the Palestinian countryside vivid details to press his point. Be as free from worry as the ravens, the lilies, even the grass in the fields. They all thrive without worry, because God himself cares for them. Ravens have no barns or warehouses; lilies neither toil or spin and grass grows lavishly.” (The Gospel according to Luke).
Frederick Danker makes two important and interesting observations on today’s text. Danker’s ‘two perspectives’ are really negative and positive mimesis, something we have noted that Luke does frequently. “Measured by human standards, his disciples are unsuccessful. And they are to avoid acceptance of all endorsed status symbols. The Gentiles, that is, those who endorse the tyranny of things, seek control through wealth. The true power, or Kingdom, is God’s to give, and not to gain through standard channels. This is a minority viewpoint, but what seems folly to a self-satisfied establishment and the mass of humankind is true wisdom.” (Jesus and the New Age ).
Second, he connects out text with that of the temptation story of Jesus, underscoring the mimetic character of those temptations. “Luke 12:22-34 is authentic commentary on the meaning of the Temptation of Jesus (4:1-13)”
Finally, Halvor Moxnes makes a good case for Luke’s redactional emphasis that squares with our understanding of one of the principal expressions of negative mimetic power, namely, mammon. “But what is almsgiving? ‘Alms’ appears here in Luke for the first time. Moreover, it is in a key position, a redactional reformulation of the Q saying. Luke 12:33 shows that this addition by Luke here is not accidental. In 12:33, he has a similar addition to the Q saying about not collecting treasures upon earth. In Luke’s version it is introduced by the exhortation, ‘Sell what you have and give for alms.’ This is a parallel to other typically Lukan statements about selling and giving to the poor (6:30, 38, 18:22). Moreover, in Acts, almsgiving appears frequently, most prominently as a sign of the true worshipper of God in 10:2, 4, 31; compare 3:2, 3, 10; 9:36; 24:17. Thus, we have come across a theme that apparently is very important to Luke. It is clearly linked to the central area of Luke’s interest about money, the rich and the poor, and thus it is a theme that has structural significance in Luke’s Gospel.” (The Economy of the Kingdom).
It is possible to live in a way that allows one to survive apart from the false securities of civilization. It is possible to live within, without being enslaved to the economic system. Jesus did. It begins not with the exterior skills but with the development of interior skills, the de-tangling of ourselves from mimetic culture. Wilderness survival skills are worthless if our minds are not freed from the world. Poverty is not freedom from the economic powers and principalities if we still desire what others “have.” [Michael has have sought to explore some of the implications of this kind of thinking in the EcoSpirituality essay (Occasional Articles). ]
On the other hand I like the way Marshall connects promise and kingdom, worthy of Moltmann. “In general the authenticity of the teaching of Jesus in this section is uncontested. The section as a whole is not a collection of proverbial sentiments; on the contrary it contains promises made by Jesus to the disciples as a people who have made their supreme aim in life the attainment of the kingdom of God.”
Michael has a friend who is a professional tracker. He gets asked to leave in a moment’s notice to track adults and children that have gotten lost in the wilderness. Time is of the essence, there is a plane ticket ready, a sheriff’s escort quickly to the airport. In his house he keeps a ‘Go Bag.’ This bag is packed with everything he would need to be called away immediately. Christians today are also required a ‘Go Bag’ of sorts, preparedness in the present for the infinite possibilities of the future.
Jesus commends, in today’s reading, a way of living in expectation that frees us from the need to acquire and hoard for tomorrow. He asks us to be free of the prisons that our fears create.
What do we keep in our Go Bag? How prepared are we to enter the Father’s service? As Michael has suggested above, the contents of our “Go-Bag” are spiritual, interior skills, developed through prayer and practiced submission to God, so that we can, when called upon to act, call on our habits of being to carry us along.
Our task as preachers is to encourage our congregations to develop their “Go-Bags” as a way of living in the present, with hopeful expectation. When a tracker needs his bag, something is wrong. Someone is in trouble. We might use another metaphor, the bag that we prepare when the time of delivery is close, all the things our Lamaze instructors tell us to keep ready. Perhaps this kind of expectation of joy can help our congregations relate positively to living in a state of preparedness…