August 7, 2016 “ 12 Pentecost, Proper 14
Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
From the years leading up to my graduation from high school, I remember my parents saying things to me like, Don’t worry so much about how you are going to make a living. Pursue the things that you are interested in and things will work out. When I actually graduated and was getting ready to go to college, those conversations got ramped up a little. Take the courses that capture your heart, they said, and that will lead to good things. Figure out what you love to do and someone will pay you to do it.
In mid-August of that summer, I received from them a combination graduation gift/birthday present. It was a great gift with a great message behind it. The gift was a set of luggage. And the message behind it was obvious: pack up and leave. It’s time for you to get out there on your own. To make that message even clearer my parents moved during my freshman year from Columbia, South Carolina, to New Orleans. My nest was taken out from underneath me and it was time for me to fly. Now I would get to see if what they had promised would actually work out.
Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Both our Old Testament lesson and our Gospel lesson begin with words of assurance. A promise is extended. But promises can’t be realized right away. Promises have to be realized as we move into them, as we journey ahead, as we put one foot in front of the other. So with promises, there is the assurance, and then there is the set of luggage, the getting pushed out of the comfortable nest, sometimes even the nest being taken away. God extends himself to us in hope and assurance. And God pushes us into our promise, our potential, his plan for us. There is the safe and comforting assurance that all will be well. And then there is the raw and dangerous feeling of being sent out into whatever is there. There is God’s work of providing a gracious system which surrounds our every move. And there is our work of getting out there and dealing with that system. Faith, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, is the assurance of things hoped for¦. Faith is a gift from God. But faith is not experienced standing in one spot. Faith is experienced putting one foot in front of the other, day by day, hour by hour.
I have to say that my favorite part of the day is early in the morning. It’s dark. No one else is awake. There’s no one else I have to deal with. It’s quiet and safe and that is the time of day when I hear the words of assurance from God. I read, I write, I talk to God, I sit in silence and I listen. It’s so simple and uncomplicated. I can tell God anything and everything. There is no judgment. He doesn’t take anything personally. He doesn’t react with a bunch of words or emotion. He just accepts. But then the sun comes up and people start waking up and there goes all my peace and calm. People are complicated and confusing. They’re up and down, hot and cold, they’re healthy and then they’re sick, they’re alive and then they die. But if I just sat in my nice little place of prayer, I sure would miss out on a lot.
My own experience of prayer, my time of sitting with God and gaining comfort in his presence, is that God is gracious and accepting. He absorbs all my dysfunction and transforms that with his pure healthy grace. And then he basically says to me, Ok. That’s enough. We’ve gone about as far as we can right now. There is more to life than sitting here with me. Get on out there and do something. We’ll do this again later. My own life, and I suspect yours as well, is a continuing series of assurances and pushes. God comforts us and extends a promise. Then God says, pack up and leave, go, serve, work, journey, put one foot in front of the other. It will all work out but you won’t know that until you work it out. We’re all given a nest and we’re all pushed out of that nest. With families it happens usually at that one big time of leaving home. With God it happens each and every day. We return to the nest of prayer and promise. We fly into the world to discover just what the promise is all about.
August is a big month. It’s a time when people get pushed out of the nest and go to first grade or to college; it’s a time when some parents get that first taste of the empty nest; it’s a time when children start another grade with excitement and fear all wrapped up together; it’s a time when families re-engage a schedule; it’s a time when people recommit to their church and to God; it’s a time of ending and beginning. It’s a time poets have spoken of through the ages as the reminder of the inevitability of our own deaths “ fall and winter are coming for us all. We must say goodbye to what is familiar and greet the unknown. Nothing endures other than God and God’s kingdom. There’s an exciting and scary little edge to August. When the children come forward later in the service to receive a blessing for them and their backpacks, that’s a rich symbol of what we all face. This is a place of peace and we are being sent out into a pretty dangerous world but God is with us, God is in here, and God is out there too.
The Gospel offers hope and promises us that, as we engage our journeys faithfully, a great reward awaits. As we invest our lives in the kingdom of God, our hearts know the promises deeper and deeper. If all we care about is what we do day in and day out, if there is no undergirding of listening with God, all is fruitless. Our day to day work eventually fades as summer fades. There must be more. And when there is more, the day to day work itself becomes a joy and a meaningful enterprise.
There is promise and hope given to all of us. Listen to your heart; listen to God; and all will be well. If we don’t hear that promise, life is pretty empty, but the promise is stronger than any of our fears or cynicism: the promise will come to us and inspire us. The Incarnation and the Resurrection are real.
And the promise will push us out into the world where there is work for us to do. We will be afraid of that work but, in that work, we will discover our promise. And then we will be invited to return to the Lord for refreshment and wisdom. We come here for comfort and we get it through the word and sacraments. But we don’t stay here, we go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Prayer is work; and work is prayer. The saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ upholds us and carries us into all that awaits. God said to Abraham, Go. Jesus said to the disciples, Go forth into the world. God says that to each of us as well.