Sermon transcript for August 18, 2013
Belmont UMC—August 18, 2013
James Salley, Africa University, preaching
Sermon transcript for August 11, 2013
Ready and Waiting
Belmont UMC—August 11, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.” (v. 32) With these tender and comforting words Jesus teaches his followers how to be ready and postured to receive the kingdom. By kingdom Jesus does not mean the kingdom of heaven and the sweet by and by, but the kingdom is God’s active reign over all things; the kingdom is witnessed here and now where God’s purposes are being fulfilled among us.
The kingdom is the gift of God. And the tense of the Greek verb here indicates that God has already given us the kingdom, but we must be ready and waiting and attentive to receive the kingdom, to receive what God has already given us--to receive the kingdom when it comes, when we witness the kingdom’s fulfillment, and when we are fully engaged in it ourselves.
Jesus invites his followers to get their priorities straight, to invest in things that last—in spiritual things, in our relationship with God. There are echoes here of last week’s text and the parable about the man who had all these things stored in barns but had not taken care of his spiritual life. We are to make the focus of the kingdom our primary concern in all things. We are to be ready and waiting like those who keep their lamps lit and await their master to return from the wedding banquet.
“Do not be afraid, little flock. . .” But we are afraid sometimes and Jesus’ followers, hearing these passages for the first time, had much to fear as well. They were making their way to Jerusalem, to the seat of power, where evil systems were set in place to attempt to upend all that they were doing and experiencing with Jesus. Jesus knew they were afraid and he was saying, “Focus on those things that the downturns in life and hardships, and even the systemic evils, can never take away from you.”
We are afraid, as well. We are afraid of heightened terror alerts, of raging storms that send us to the basement, we are afraid of the known and of the unknown. When I was very young pastor I visited an older church member who had not been at church for several weeks. I found her locked in her house, trembling with fear. The drapes were pulled and the doors were locked. When I asked her what was frightening her, she said, “Everything!” She had run out of food but was afraid to go out to the store, afraid to drive her car, afraid of strangers, afraid of everything. Her fear had imprisoned her in her little house. I spent a long time with her that day and I had to call her family to come and help her. I never forgot that visit.
A mom sent her six year old son to talk to me. He had become obsessed with, and fearful of death and what might happen if he died. I had no idea how this conversation was going to go and I wish parents would not put me in these positions. As it turned out, the little boy did most of the talking so I was pretty much off the hook.
He said, “I have nightmares about people trying to kill me and I wake up afraid that I might die.” (I suggested to his parents that they monitor his TV use and video games a little more closely.) He said, “I wonder what heaven will be like. When I have nightmares I wake up very afraid and I go and crawl in bed between my parents and I’m not afraid anymore. Maybe that’s what heaven is like. Not being afraid anymore because you feel safe.” Then he got up and said, “Thanks, Pastor Ken, I feel better now.” I learned a lot from that conversation. Maybe the kingdom is that place where we do not have to fear because we can feel safe in the presence of God. “Do not be afraid, little flock. . .”
God has already given us the kingdom.
There is always patient and attentive waiting involved in the coming of the kingdom. We do not like to wait; I do not like to wait. We are the culture of immediate gratification. We do not like the process or the time it takes; we like the goal. Last week on Facebook I saw lots of photos of children ready for their first day of school. One photo was of a pretty, little girl, heading off to kindergarten for the first time. I remember when her parents spent many hours in my office--during the time they worked with Miriam’s Promise to adopt a baby. There were long months of waiting and some moments of disappointment. Their house was ready, diapers were bought, the nursery was ready, their hearts were ready and full to overflowing. But the waiting was unbearable. One day the call came and a beautiful little girl was placed in their arms. And last week the parents held each other and cried when they left her at kindergarten for the first time. Waiting for the kingdom is a lot like that, but at the end of the attentive waiting we are handed the gift of God’s presence and grace.
We are called to be ready and alert. Jesus wants us to be able to recognize the kingdom when it comes. What does the kingdom look like? We have to have some idea of what the kingdom is like to see it when it comes. It might surprise us or catch us off guard. United Methodist Communications has this promotional theme called “Rethink Church.” I like the concept but for some of us rethinking church does not come naturally. When I think of church I think worship like this, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, church camp, and many traditional models of church life. But we need a broader vision of those places where God comes to us and reveals the kingdom.
Jim Wallis speaks of one of his “lesser known” mentors, an old Pentecostal woman named Mary Glover. He writes, “She taught me more about the call of Jesus to the poor than any seminary professor I ever had.” Mary Glover volunteered in the weekly food line and she was so poor herself that she, too, needed one of the bags of food handed out there. Mary often said the prayer before we opened the doors each Saturday morning because she was the best pray-er. “Mary was one of those people who pray like they know to whom they’re talking. You got the sense that she’d been carrying on a running conversation with her Lord for a very long time.”
Mary’s prayer was pretty much the same each week and Wallis loved to be present for this prayer. She always began by saying something like this, “Thank you, Lord, for waking us up this morning! Thank you, Lord, that our walls were not our grave and our bed was not our cooling board! Thank, you, Lord!” Then she would always pray the same words as the long line of people waiting outside, “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this door today, so Lord, help us to treat you well.” (God’s Politics, p. 217)
God’s kingdom might come to us in the middle of the week instead of 8:15 or 10:30 on Sunday morning and God’s kingdom might come in the form of the poor, or a stranger, or in the presence of someone who would not feel comfortable joining us for worship or Sunday School, but God comes and we must be ready and alert and able to recognize it in whatever form it comes to us.
What does the kingdom look like? The text presents an image that is quite countercultural. The head of the home returns late at night, he does not threaten or judge, but he dons the apron of a servant and prepares and serves food to those who are alert and ready. It looks like a banquet table full of comfort foods and God is the host and server. There is so much beautiful grace in this passage.
A few years ago I read the book, The Shack, (by William P. Young) because a lot of folks were reading it and kept asking what I thought about it. Though I did not enjoy the book as much as others did, I did love the image of God as one who fries up bacon and eggs for the weary and grief stricken traveler. She speaks to the traveler with honesty and tenderness and you can almost hear her say, “Do not be afraid, little one. . .”
Use your imagination here. Last week I visited my parents in Springfield. It was a few days after my Mom’s birthday and I took a wonderful pot roast and some sides to share with them for dinner. We sat at their small kitchen table and enjoyed the food, food that was simple delicious and familiar.
As we were eating my Mom said, “Your brother came one afternoon last week and around dinner time he offered to take us to dinner, but I didn’t want to go out. I told him that I had some white beans that had been cooking on the stove all day. We didn’t have much, but we made a little meal. I did make some cornbread to go with the beans and I cooked up some fresh corn from the garden. We did have some yellow squash and I found some turnip greens in the freezer because your brother loves turnip greens. We didn’t have much, just a little light supper.” I think I had a religious experience just listening to her description of this little meal.
The kingdom looks like folks gathered around a table, all kinds of people from every nation, every tribe and walk of life. We look like a motley group, a hodgepodge of weary, reluctant and fearful travelers settling down to receive the gifts of God, to eat God’s food that comforts us: there is fruit from the first garden and cake made from manna scooped from the floor of the wilderness, there is bread made from the last oil and flour of a widow in Zarepheth and a bowl with morsels of food brought by ravens to a hungry prophet, there are loaves and fishes (tilapia from the Sea of Galilee) shared from a little boy’s lunch box up on a hillside at a Jesus’ teaching session, there is a breakfast foods cooked by Jesus alongside that same Sea a few days after the resurrection.
And there is wine from Cana and from Elijah’s cup, the wine of joy and forgiveness.
And there are pitchers of water drawn from Samaria’s well, water that springs into eternal life.
We share this food, and we share our stories and together we find strength to journey on. Jesus is there with the towel of a servant around his waist, to serve us and teach us to serve others, and he begins the meal with grace, saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.”