Sunday, August 08, 2010

Promises, Promises

SJF • Proper 14c 2010 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Our gospel this morning ends with a series of parables about homecoming and servants and thieves. Few people these days can afford to have servants anymore, though most of us have bars or our windows or an ADT alarm system on our homes. Still, a few of us have (or are) healthcare attendants who assist with tasks of daily living. But I think most of us may be familiar with the phenomenon of the babysitter. So let me try a few parables of my own with that in mind.

A couple returned home one night after celebrating the wife’s birthday with a dinner at a local restaurant. As they came through the front door they found the babysitter demurely seated on the sofa watching television, with the sound turned down very low so as not to disturb the sleeping children upstairs. All was well and the parents praised the babysitter and gave her a tip in addition to her wages; and blessed was that babysitter!

But another couple returned home one night after a similar birthday celebration and found the babysitter lying flat out on the sofa, drunk and snoring, with a half-finished bottle of the husband’s best single-malt scotch whisky sitting on the coffee table, and the children rampaging through the hallways after a tremendous pillow-fight which filled the house with feathers and broken knick-knacks, and the kitchen a disaster area worthy of BP after the children’s efforts to microwave a can of Spaghetti-Os. And when the babysitter was roused from her drunken slumber she wondered greatly at what had happened, and needless to say not only didn’t get a tip or her wage, but didn’t get a blessing either! And she was cast out into the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and had a terrible hangover the next day!

The point of these parables, both mine and the ones that Jesus told to the disciples in today’s Gospel, is that being a servant implies both a promise and a trust. People who employ a servant, whether parents or the master of the house, are committing things (or people) they value into the care of someone else. And they trust that the one so employed will take good care of those things or people — whether their children or the knick-knacks in their household.

And from the servants and the babysitter there is an implicit, or perhaps even explicit, promise that they will do what they are hired to do. In short, assurances and promises are given and trust is placed in those assurances.

+ + +

There are, of course, more theological words to express this principle: faith and faithfulness. What is interesting to me, and I hope to you, is that in our life in Christ is to a large extent a reversal of the kind of faith described in those parables — the faith of a master in his servants’ faithfulness. Isn’t it, for us, usually the other way around? It is God who is sure and trusted and reliable and faithful — the one in whom we place our trust, trust in God’s assurances: “In God we trust” (as our money tries to remind us), the one in whom we have faith is our Lord and God, the one of whose promises we are sure.

Surely this is the message of the other Scripture readings we heard today. Abram has a vision in which God makes a great promise: that Abram’s own children will succeed him — that he will be a father and a grandfather and a great-grandfather of many nations, greater in number than the stars of the heavens.

And as the letter to Hebrews continues, Abram — or as he became, Abraham — continues steadfast in that faith. He is assured of the things he hopes for by his faith, faith in God’s promise, faith in God’s great faithfulness, God’s trustworthiness. He sets out from his familiar home to go to an unknown land, trusting and full of faith that he will find a new home; and he lives and grows old for a long time in that land of promise, a land foreign to him and to his people, until in his late old age (and his wife’s old age too) a son is born to him and Sarah. From one as good as dead, the promise was fulfilled, the promise in which he had faith — the first installment on that promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. God’s trustworthiness is proven.

And finally, Jesus calls upon the faith of his disciples. He assures them with a divine promise that they need not be afraid, that that little flock need not fear, because God is pleased to give them the kingdom. In God’s great faithfulness, God’s trustworthiness, God will provide them with all that they need. Jesus calls them to radical faith and radical poverty — the kind that risks everything: to sell their possessions and give away all that they have; to make purses for themselves that do not wear out, and to put their hearts — that is, their faith and trust — where the true treasure is to be found, with God in heaven.

+ + +

This is a great challenge to us, as it was to the disciples. It is a challenge both as individuals and to us as a community, as a church. Beyond that, it is a challenge to us as a society and a nation and a world. Our natural human nature is self-preservation. We want to store everything up close to us, not off in heaven, but here, here: we want our treasure where our heart is, not the other way around. Our natural urge is to store up our treasure, to hold it close, to keep it where we think it will be safe. And so we put it in a bank — forgetting the truth of the old saying attributed to a notorious thief and bank robber of the last century, who, when asked why he robbed banks, said, “That’s where they keep the money.” For not only do thieves break in and steal, but sometimes even the promises of the bankers, the promises of those who tell us that our money is safe with them are unable to follow through on their promises. How many broken promises and failed dreams were revealed as the economy shuddered and sank over the last few years?

+ + +

Not so God. For God is not promising us a return our investments, or a secure retirement, or that the value of our home will go on increasing and increasing year after year. These are the promises the world makes, and it doesn’t often keep them. God promises us more, and his promise is true, and worthy of our trust. Great is his faithfulness, and worthy of our faith in him. For his promise is not the promise of some merely earthly happiness, but of something more lasting; everlasting, in fact: a heavenly hope. We are, all of us, looking from a distance towards a homeland we that will not attain in this life; a better country, a heavenly one.

Now, the worldly will say, “That’s just the same old ‘pie in the sky when you die!’” And what I say to them is what I say to you: we are all going to die someday. And the question is, What next? The promise that we are mortal is a promise in which only the most foolish person would fail to have faith. And since it is absolutely 100 percent sure that we are all going to die some day, having an assurance, a promise from one who is trusted for his faithfulness from everlasting and beyond all time, is of paramount value.

Who do you trust? I know who I trust. I know such a one; his name is Jesus. He has told me not to be afraid, and that it is the Father’s good pleasure to welcome me into his kingdom. He has said the same to you — I know he has; haven’t you heard him? He calls to our minds and he calls to our hearts, that we should place our hearts and treasure in his hands. He has promised us that nothing will be lost, of all the Father has given him.

And so let us put our faith in his promise and our treasure in his care, that our hearts may surely there be set in that place of trust and assurance. An let us as well, in the meantime, like those good servants, be about our Master’s business, doing what we have promised God to do, to do the work he has given us to do. There’s a lot of work to do, my friends, a lot of work to do. But great is God’s faithfulness, and his promises are sure.+


No comments: