August 11, 2013
At Jack Rhodes’ service we sang This World is Not My Home. Another favorite that seems to go in the opposite direction is This Is My Father’s World. Right now, I want all of you who identify more with This World Is Not My Home to raise your hand. Next all of you who identify more with This Is My Father’s World raise your hand. How many voted twice?
The Gospel lives between these two seemingly opposite ways of looking at our present. Our world is spectacularly good but tragically broken. By grace, we receive healing now as we hope for eternal restoration. We can journey fearlessly with Jesus through today’s uncertainties, confidently proceeding to God’s city that has foundations.
As we just read, we are like Abraham on a journey as foreigners in the very space God has promised to us.
In Luke 12:32-40, Jesus tells us how to be fearless, alert and ready on our journey. He had been teaching his disciples, not just the twelve, but still a small group, and a larger audience seems to have been listening in.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Jesus often said that a deeper reality was behind the way things appeared. What may seem powerful is actually insignificant, but people who seem small are great in the Kingdom. He is trying to sharpen our spiritual perception.
The Church is consistently at its best when it recognizes it is a vulnerable “little flock.” Yet, we need not fear, for it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. God’s delight is to send power through our weakness! Though Jesus was concerned for poor folk, here he encouraged alms, to be generous, for our spiritual health. It’s not about effective charity; it’s about disconnecting from the temporary so we connect with the eternal. If our treasure is secure in heaven, we need not fear losing it.
The parables of the alert slaves and homeowner are often connected with Jesus second coming. Not that they don’t speak to that, but a careful reading reveals that the text does not specify that, and Jesus’ immediate audience would not have understood that. I think Jesus was telling them that if they were alert and ready for the unexpected, they could recognize that he was the Son of Man who was right there in front of them. While we should be alert and ready for Jesus’ return, I think we should also be alert and ready to recognize that Jesus comes to us unexpectedly. If we are alert and ready, he comes to us in Scripture, prayer, worship and communion. More unexpectedly, he comes in unlikely people, the seemingly insignificant, weak and suffering. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) put it this way in a sonnet. “Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the father through the features of men’s faces.” As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame
Jesus represented this great reversal of expectations when he said the master would have the slaves sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. Thus, we journey fearlessly with Jesus through today’s uncertainties, confidently proceeding to God’s city that has foundations.
When I shared my testimony in my July 7 sermon, I mentioned how Abraham’s living in tents has been a defining metaphor for my journey both personally and professionally.
By faith Abraham set out for a place he was to receive as an inheritance, not knowing where he was going. As a congregation on an interim journey, you may feel you don’t know where you’re going and question whether a destination awaits. Remember, whatever is next for First Christian Church, Odessa, Jesus goes with you on the journey to God’s city that has foundations. Today’s churches are not God’s city but its pioneer or frontier outposts, little colonies of pilgrims on their way.
Between here and there, like Abraham, we are strangers, aliens, exiles and foreigners in our own world into which God has promised to bring the new heavens and the new earth. As Jesus’ little flock to whom the Father has promised the Kingdom, we may feel like insignificant outsiders, out of sync with the world in which we live, we are also the agents of that Kingdom, traveling the road to the God’s city that has foundations and inviting others to join Jesus on the journey to go there.
Like Abraham, we look forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Thanks to Jesus, we are able to see more than Abraham did. Hebrews (11:16) uses the past tense to affirm that God has already prepared this city for us. The journey of redemption began when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and leads to the God’s city, the New Jerusalem. It is what Jesus described in John 14:2 when he told his disciples that in his Father’s house there were many dwelling places. We are confused by the word “mansion” in the KJV and imagine an extravagant house on a hill far from neighbors. But in 1611 “mansion” meant an apartment in a manor house. Jesus was emphasizing that there was lots of room for lots of people to live together in God’s city, not in lavish isolation.
When people go through transitions, they often say they look forward to “getting back to normal.” But being in transition actually is normal, and we can never reach a steady state until we arrive at God’s city. Right now this congregation is on the interim journey between pastors. We are all in transitions personally and in our families. By faith, we journey fearlessly with Jesus through today’s uncertainties, confidently proceeding to God’s city that has foundations.
In C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, when the children are in England, they long to get to Narnia. When they are in Narnia, the long to get to Aslan’s country. Like them, our journey with Jesus is to go farther up and deeper in.
We are all prone to get comfortable and want to stay at certain places on our journey that feel very close to God’s city, but we forget that while they may be wonderful, they are temporary. I believe this longing comes from the desire for God’s city that has been implanted in us and is nourished by the Holy Spirit. But to be satisfied with something temporary, no matter how good, instead of what is eternal, is spiritually dangerous. It is a sign our treasure and heart are not securely in heaven.In 1967 Marshall McLuhan wrote that navigating the present was like driving on the freeway looking only at the rearview mirror. Hebrews tells us that Abraham was able to navigate his journey by looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Jesus tells us to be alert and ready because the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. We may learn lessons from where we have been. We may be thankful for what we remember and experienced along the way. But to journey with Jesus is to look forward to God’s city with each step every day.