Today’s gospel tells us Jesus is continuing on to Jerusalem. He is asked will only a few be saved. In reply, he said we should work to enter through the narrow gate, which allowed only one person at a time to enter through a very small entrance to the city. But then he talks about the master of a house, who rises up and locks the door and stops the entrance of any more people. Unlike the master in the 17th Sunday’s gospel, the late comers are not friends to the master but acquaintances, people the master encountered in the streets. Surely, they heard him, ate and drank with him and his disciples, but they did not commit themselves to him. In our own time it would be like a person who is baptised and is raised as Christian, but who views his church and Christianity as a place. Christ is a person, as is his church. To be a Christian is a choice to live a life in Christ, a life of love, of giving, of reaching out. God is a God of life and love, offering us the same now and forever. Heaven and hell are not places although we speak of them as such. God does not punish and impart people to hell, actually they do it to themselves. If we do not choose a life of love and giving, but rather choose a different way of life, choosing self or some other thing setting us apart, we have made our own state or choice or place without God and the love he has and imparts. Hell is choosing that separateness and living that way. This is possible because we have been given the freedom to choose and unfortunately we can make bad choices. God doesn’t choose evil or impart separateness, but allows the freedom to choose even at the cost of some being lost. Throughout time He sought to bring all to him, through the prophets of old and through his Son Jesus. He has been a sign for us since his life and death, a sign accepted an a sign at times rejected. For all of us who accept this sign and more importantly live out its life and meaning will find the proverbial door open to them.
Today’s first 2 readings talk of faith and the realization of thing hoped for and evidence of things not seen. I think most of us have received our faith from our families and growing up maybe even took it for granted. In all our lives, I think there has been a moment or time when we faced the reality of belief and Jesus head on. All have met the challenge of the unseen, the darkness of the unknown, the lack of clarity of what the future is to bring, relying on the words of Jesus and the promise of loving God and neighbor and what it will bring. Abraham certainly had no clear picture or even an understanding that Sarah could have a child. Yet he went out, he did what he was called to do. And so it is with our own faith, that we are called, to believe to meet each day, to accept the challenge to love. Most of all faith means to trust. Trust is for some a hard word because it asks that we place our judgment, ourselves in the hands of another. Hebrews points out the combination and the remarkableness of it. Throughout the centuries, we see the faith of many proclaimed in the church. Yet, I would point out today a woman of our own time, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We have heard of her extraordinary work, yet unknown in her lifetime, was the feeling of separation or loneliness or darkness, have experienced a call to an explicit mission, yet never feeling any further contact. Yet, she lived out a life of hard work, never losing her trust. If perhaps you might be interested, while it is a Hollywood movie, The movie “The Letters” available on many of the different services does convey a remarkable life of this woman who was contemporary to us. It shows Faith and love is a journey, and for each it is different, god loves us and relates as best and how he wants to. But his love never leaves us.
I find it ironic, having just returned from my brother’s funeral, to listen to today’s readings. In biblical times and before and after, one of the prime questions after someone dies is what happens to the possessions, how will they be divided. We see today that Jesus is asked to judge and arbitrate a dispute about an inheritance. But Jesus asked who appointed ME to judge? But then he cautions against greed. Although someone might be rich or have many possessions, this is not what life is about. Accumulating money or “stuff” is not a fulfilling life. Money and possessions are certainly a help in life, but who we are and what we are, can not be defined by fancy possessions or wealth. Family and how we relate in the real world of our peers, in our faith community and our interactions with all we come in contact with is what really defines us as a person. The parable of the rich man clearly tells us that. To be steeped in the things of God, means to know and share the love and spirit of Jesus. God has bestowed on us the life we have and only asks we live it out as he has disposed us to do. Jesus never condemned the rich or never criticized the having of things. His concern was that we live, and love and share in a way that showed and shared God’s love with one another. This is truly how we will avoid those words addressed to the rich man and hear rather “enter the home of my father”
The Reading from Ecclesiastes has a similar theme, and I reference to say that Blake’s parents today have chosen to come and show their faith and love and most importantly share it with their son beginning his spiritual journey as Blake is baptised and received into the body of Christ with the love of our community and the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill him up with God’s love and the shared faith we all have. Today we pray for Blake and for his parents.
17th Sunday ordinary time, 7-24-16, Genesis 18:20-32,Ps 138, Col. 2:12-14, Luke 11:1-13
Did you think at first this week’s Gospel and Old Testament readings didn’t seem related? Me too. However, 3 questions emerged from the similarities I did find. Let me tell you what they are and how I found them.
Abraham was sitting in the shade of a tree at the opening of his tent. To his surprise, 3 men appeared to be walked out of the shimmer of the burning hot desert toward his tent. He jumped up and ran to them, offering food and drink. His behavior was not bizarre – it was the “ordinary” and expected gift of hospitality. In the desert, travelers could not just go down the street to the next hotel. Hospitality was life and death in the desert, and every nomad like Abraham knew all too well that the next man to depend on this desert hospitality could be him. People were dependent on each other, and they knew it.
But one of the men blessed Abraham and Sarah with the prophecy that within a year, they would have the son they had longed for all their lives. This was not “ordinary.” Then the men prepared to leave for the city of Sodom, and we are told one of them is God. God and Abraham are “tight” – they have a covenant and a relationship. God sends the other 2 ahead and lingers to confide in Abraham about the Sodom and Gomorrah problem. God is on his way to find out if the complaints he hears about the evil in those cities is as bad as people say. This is a much earlier understanding of God than we read in the New Testament, yet God is, even then, listening- and responding- to prayers. Hold on to that thought for a moment.
Abraham is determined to find out if God values life. This is the first question I found -we would phrase it, “Do all lives matter to God?” The culture of that day concerned communities. A community of at least 12 men was the focal point; that’s what mattered. Abraham means to know if God cares about individuals. The answer is clearly yes, God does number each of us, for God will save the entire city for not 12, but even 10 innocent people. In the end, God finds just 4 innocent people- who are given safety.
What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that they should be destroyed? This has been discussed for centuries. Ezekiel 16 said it was their disregard for the poor, pride in their prosperity, and their complacency. Isaiah 1 says their faith was empty, and their hands were bloody from injustices. Jeremiah 23 lists adultery, living in lies, siding with the wicked, and provoking others to evil. Genesis 19 lists: random, uncontrolled violence and lack of that important hospitality. When the two messengers God sent entered the city, Lot offered them food, lodging, and safety for the night. Then a violent mob gathered & Lot was so appalled that the city residents would attack them that he offered his daughters to the rioters in place of the two men. Imagine putting your own children in danger to protect two strangers- but the point the enormous responsibility of protecting travelers– and how seriously out of control the cities were. The city people call Lot “an immigrant”, using the word like an ethnic slur, and threaten him with violence, too. My 2nd question is then: “What attitude should we have toward travelers, strangers, refugees, and immigrants?” 2 weeks ago we touched on this question with the Good Samaritan story. But generosity and compassion for immigrants and refugees has always been the expectation of God’s people.
There can be little doubt that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had totally severed any relationship to God, and had lost any sense of justice, hospitality or respect. And here is the place we can move to the Gospel reading, even though the contrast with Sodom and Gomorrah is so deliberately striking that the two seem incongruent. But Jesus tells this remarkable and often misunderstood parable of the man who needs bread to feed a traveler who has arrived from his journey late at night.
So we know about the hospitality thing. But something else is going on here. First, Jesus asks literally, “Who from You” (which of you) has a friend to whom you go at midnight and say to him, ‘lend me 3 loaves’…and the answer would be, ‘Don’t bother me, I am not able to get up and give you anything.’” Do you have a friend who would say that? 11 times a question is posed in the Gospels starting with “Who from you” and every time the answer is “No!” The whole point is that no one would refuse to get up and give his friend what he needs. It is unthinkable, unimaginable, an easy conclusion based on everyday life. For sure, the poor sleeping man will hand over the bread. Now look at this parable again. Does it mention any knocking at the door or repetition of the request? No. There is nothing to suggest this is a lesson in persistence. Not that persistence is bad, it’s just not in this parable. We have a problem. The Greek word here translated in some recent Bibles as “persistence” is “anaideia” is correctly translated “shamelessness or bad manners, rudeness”. There are no recorded uses historically of this word in any other meaning. Jesus is using the contrast to make a point about prayer and our relationship to our Abba/ Father. God is not like the sleeping man, who needs rudeness and social convention to produce what you want.
This is a “how much more” parable. In other words, if a man will get up in the middle of the night to answer a request that is rude, how much more will God answer your requests? Matthew in 6: 27 (which starts with “who from you”)has the same thing when he says if God cares about the birds and flowers, how much more will God care about you? This is the same God who listened and responded to Abraham’s prayer for a son and the outcry over the evil in Sodom & Gomorrah. God has a long & impressive resume in handling prayers. In this parable, Jesus is giving us assurance – certainty!- that God hears our prayers and responds… to the point of giving his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit to help us. This parable and the verses which follow affirm the importance of prayer and is an invitation to pray. Come to God with your worries, cares, needs – it’s not a waste of time.
So here is my 3rd question: Can you tell the difference between people with a prayerful, dependent relationship with God, and people who have severed all relationship with God and depend on their own power? I think our readings answer that pretty clearly. To put it another way, what is the defining difference between a violent, out of control mob with no concern for those in need; and people who share their dependence and needs with each other, and who embrace the hungry and the outsider? It would seem that a prayerful relationship with God is the difference here. It would seem that kind of dependence on God completes us as beings made in God’s image.
Two words come out of today’s readings, commitment and freedom. In the first and third readings we see Elijah calling Elisha and Jesus calling new followers. In both cases, the one called is told to move on, to not look back and to steadfastly move on to their new future commitment. I remember that this idea was very strong in people called in past times to a vocation in the church, to the point that contact with family or their past was seen as a negative thing. Certainly, some ties can hold back a commitment to a vocation, but completely moving on and ignoring one’s past is not the best for a person’s vocation or family and friends who have led them to their vocation. Surely, Jesus’ apostles left and followed Jesus, but they visited and remained in touch until a later time when they were called to go out and preach to the surrounding countries and places far distant. God’s call is one we are looking to answer, but his love and its call is not to exclude anybody, especially those who have nurtured our faith. However, our response must be to the moment and to the task that is immediately at hand. Our service of love is one that is personal and involves our attention and action as best we are able to give. In serving God, we all have one master, but serving does not preclude a personal, private life of our own at the same time.
The second word we hear is freedom which is from Paul. In committing to Christ we are becoming free. Free because we are being given the capacity to love, to share our knowledge and love of God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. This is the most Godly thing Jesus has given us and makes us free for others and not in a selfish way. It is the acceptance of the spirit and living in and by the spirit. Freedom allows us to be open and outgoing expressing ourselves as we are meant to be. Surely, Christ’s call is to give up all, but on the contrary, it is gaining all, giving all.