On Wednesday at pastor’s bible study, we welcomed a new pastor to our group, a woman from the Methodist church down in The Dalles and at the same time, I announced my upcoming departure. This group has been my lifeline in so many ways--they have helped me prepare my sermons for the last six years, they have helped me to better understand the Methodist, Lutheran, UCC and Unitarian church systems, they have been my friends and confidants, my prayer partners, and, on occasion, they have lit the necessary fire under my tuckus when needed. It will be very hard for me to leave this group. But it was also joyous to bring a new pastor into the fold! She quickly learned that this group is one that offers laughter, love, thoughtfulness, critique, and lots of care. She will be helped and held in a way that is unique for pastors and priests; this group is unlike any other of its kind...and I know that from talking to colleagues all across the Episcopal Church. To say an “Episcopalian, a Unitarian, and a Methodist walked into a bar” isn’t the start of a joke for us, it is a lived reality--ok, maybe not the bar part, but you get the point.
So what does this have to do with today’s gospel lesson, which is so often used in stewardship sermons--for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also?
Well, there are other important parts to this lesson from Luke that we need to hear, but especially verses 32-35. And this time, I want you to hear it from the Message translation.
Jesus said, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be like house servants waiting for their master to come back from his honeymoon, awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks.”
I love it when Jesus tells us to relax. I can just hear it in his voice...settle down, it’s going to be ok, you don’t have to have it all figured out right this minute, breathe. Honestly, I need to hear that ALL. THE. TIME. And I’m guessing some of you do as well.
And then this…”Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.” In other words, TRUST GOD. Be rooted in God. Be grounded in God. Have your feet firmly planted, knees bent, and breathe God in. Everything else...the need to keep up with the Jones’, the need to have everything JUST SO, the need to be perfect and meet unrealistic expectations out of fear of disappointing someone...not important. God wants to give us the kingdom when we are steeped in God.
And what does it mean to be steeped in God? It means giving abundantly. It means living in a way that sees that everyone is a beloved child of God. It means loving your neighbor as yourself. It means worrying less about what YOU have, and wanting to make sure that EVERYONE has a portion. It means praying and trusting that God is with you every step of the way.
And finally...and I think this is true for everyone, not just me…”Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be...awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks.” In other words, be ready to roll. Be ready to respond when God calls you. Be ready to be a part of the Jesus Movement, the Kingdom of God, a beloved Child of God. Be ready.
The other set of readings that we had to choose from this morning included God’s call to Abraham in Genesis. Abraham had no idea how radically his life was going to change by being ready to say Yes to God. He had no idea that he was embarking on a life-changing mission...one where he would become not just the father of a couple of sons, but the father of the three major world religions--Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. He could have never imagined all the ways that God would bless him, encourage him, prod him along when he felt discouraged. And this is what Jesus was talking about when he said to “Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be...awake and ready...when God arrives and knocks.”
These next few weeks, I’m trying really hard to be awake, ready and steeped in God. I know in theory what I’m moving into in San Joaquin, I’ve read the book written by Jane Lamb about the outcome of the schism, I’ve had conversations with the bishop and the chancellor about bringing buildings back on-line, I’ve heard from clergy down there about how wonderful things are going to be now that the litigation is over...but like Abraham, I really have no idea what I’m getting myself into. So I have to trust God...I have to relax, but be ready. This will be my prayer, and I hope you’ll pray it with me.
And this congregation is also being asked to be awake and ready. God is knocking, and waiting to help you even more as you bring to life the Kingdom on earth. As your vestry and the search committee prepare for the transition of calling a new priest, I hope that you will relax and steep yourself in God. Try to be patient as the leadership prays and listens for the calling of the Holy Spirit. Step up and sign up when you are asked for help, knowing that you are participating in something greater than what’s best for you personally. Pray with and for this congregation, the community, and the diocese. I know that great things are ahead for you.
As the poet Wendell Berry wrote: Everything we need is here. It’s become my mantra since May, and I hope it will become yours as well.
So I invite you into a moment of quiet reflection. And after that I will be happy to take your questions, concerns, and wonderings as we prepare to be awake and ready for God’s knock.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.