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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 7, 2016

Evan was a pretty good kid. When he went out with his friends, he came home when he said he was going to. When he got back from band competitions, he was half dead and got home right away anyway. I had left the light on for him so he wouldn’t trip on the brick side walk when he came in. But I didn’t sleep very well until I heard that door open and his footsteps tromping down to his man cave in the basement. It was the same with us when we were teenagers. Dad left the light on for us too. I might have had a late rehearsal, someone might be back from a party late, or the trip to camp would have a late return time. And Dad wanted us to wake him up when we came in and so we did. His sleep was much better after that too.

Today’s lesson is about preparation. Preparation for the coming of the Lord. But not the Lord the judge this time, but the Lord the gift giver, the one who is happy to see us. This gospel grabs the end of one of Jesus’ teachings and the beginning of another. They both talk about preparing for the coming of the Lord. The first part is at the end of a teaching on anxiety. Jesus prefaces the teaching with the story of the rich man we heard last week, who was rich in the way of the world but not rich toward God because he didn’t thank God for his blessings or take care of his neighbors. How can we be rich toward God? Jesus says, don’t worry about the things of this world, food and drink and clothing. God takes care of the birds and the lilies and we are much more valuable than they are. But we are to strive for the kingdom of heaven.

How can we not worry? There are many things to worry about – losing a job, hunger, homelessness, poverty, disease and death. We fret over things that might happen to us and things that might happen to those we love. Sometimes we don’t see any evidence of God providing what we need in terms of daily necessities like food, running water and clothes on our back. There are too many people out there who are deprived. There are too many people out there who are sick. There are too many people out there getting killed in wars. If we don’t know about these situations personally, all we have to do is turn on the television to hear all about the bad news. But somehow, we are not to worry. Worry will not solve the problems in the world. Worry cannot add any time to our life span (stress may shorten it), so it is useless in this area as well. As my sister says, “When I get anxious, I take deep breaths and ask myself if there is anything I can do about it. If the answer is no, I go about my business as usual, whether it is working or relaxing or sleeping”. Would that it was so easy for me. Sometimes I can’t turn the worry off. I use a God box to help me. I write the worry down and put it in a container and close it up. That is my symbol of turning the worry over to God. Most of the time that works.

One way we can lessen our worry is to be thankful. God gives us abundant gifts and there are many each day to be grateful for, from our lives to our conveniences to the people we love, to the meaningful work we do. I write a gratitude list before I go to bed and give thanks again the next morning.

So not worrying and being thankful for God’s provision instead is the first way to be prepared for the kingdom. The second way is to sell our possessions and give alms to the poor. We have all been taught that giving alms to the poor is at the heart of Christianity. We are to take care of those less fortunate than we are. But many of us don’t have to sell our possessions to give alms. Jesus is talking to a different audience who was not wealthy, people who would worry constantly about where their next meal is coming from. Jesus is telling those people to sell their meager possessions so they can be rich toward God and store up treasurers in heaven. How much more, then, should we give alms to the poor. Jesus is in the middle of changing the perspective of his listeners. He wants to move them from worrying about the things of this life to focusing on the things of the kingdom, not only in the future but now, because the kingdom has come as gift from God when Jesus came into the world. He is urging a spiritual perspective, because life is more than food and clothing. Life is about how you are in relationship with God and with others. We need to work for the kingdom, but the kingdom is ours. If we are working for riches or status or power, then our search for security and our anxiety about it get in the way of receiving the kingdom when it comes. We are focusing on ourselves instead of our neighbor and God.

So we are given two pretty hard things to do. I’ll bet most of us can’t imagine not worrying about something. A burst of anxiety can move through us immediately in a difficult situation, and we have to hang on hard to our gratitude and God’s promise of the kingdom which is here, but is also coming. We also have to do the hard work of giving alms to the poor on a consistent basis, keeping our purses full of the spiritual principles of the kingdom rather than of money, which will make the purses wear out and fall apart. The life of the kingdom is about giving and not taking (Audrey Bell). God has given us abundant life and we are free to share that abundance with others (David J. Schafler).

Then we have to do a third thing. We have to wait with excitement and anticipation for the kingdom. Waiting is hard too. And the Christian community learned over the years that the wait might be a long one, since Jesus didn’t return very soon as they had expected. Waiting for a plane, waiting for a doctor who is behind schedule, waiting for the rain to stop so we can go outside – what do we do? Well, in this case we keep doing the same thing God has told us to do. We keep our focus on others and not on ourselves. We strive to serve those who are less fortunate than we are. And we keep our lamps lit, our porch lights on. No one can stay awake all the time, but we can keep the return of the Lord in the back of our minds as we go through life and follow the kingdom principles.

The Lord has blessed us with the kingdom in the gift of Jesus Christ, and the kingdom will be fully realized when Christ returns. And we will be surprised. Because when Jesus returns he will serve us a meal. He will once again demonstrate that the kingdom of God is about service others. He will once again model the fact that God is a giver and wants us to be givers too.

David Baldwin is a giver. He is on a cross-country bike ride to raise money for and awareness about the lack of employment opportunities for people with disabilities, according to the Washington Post. The odyssey began in Astoria, Oregon, and will end at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He has already raised $12 million of his $13 million dollar goal. There are more than 1000 volunteers, all givers, helping with the project.

Even though the kingdom has already come as gift, we are to prepare for its final coming by not being anxious, by selling possessions and giving alms to the poor and by preparing to receive the Lord when he comes through prayer, study, meditation, worship and service. Those activities change our perspective on what is important and what is not. God knows we need the things we worry about and God will take care of them, Jesus says, so we can focus on others. What God really wants to give us is the kingdom where God will reign supreme, where care for others will be paramount, where we can love ourselves as beloved children of God, where we can praise God day and night. A perspective change is no doubt in order for all of us. We need to look in a different way, in a different direction to identify where our security is – and it is in God, not possessions. God gives the kingdom as a gift. May God grant that we be open to receive it when it enters our lives.

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works cited:
Audrey Bell, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 3, Theological Perspective, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 338
David J. Schafler, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 3, Homiletical Perspective, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 337