The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost : August 11, 2013
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Preacher: Jennie Talley, Summer Seminarian Intern at St. Michael’s Church and Senior M. Div. student at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church.
All too often our world seems so full of fear and anxiety. There is a continuous onslaught of breaking bad news: terrorist threats, economic and climate woes, social injustice, health concerns, hunger and starvation, too much poverty and death. So Jesus’ words to us, his disciples, are soothing, and they feel more necessary than ever: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” God’s entire kingdom. What a gift! But perhaps this promise is sometimes too hard to believe. Even though we are prayerful Christians, perhaps sometimes it is hard to see God in our tumultuous world. Sometimes we find it difficult to remember that God just didn’t create the whole thing and flee. Indeed, a few of us at times become functional atheists, having only so much confidence that God is present and attentive to our lives. We often operate in a bubble of self-sufficiency and sometimes act as if everything depends on our figuring out a situation and making something happen within our own human constructs, within the world we can see. And we forget God’s presence in all of it. I’ve been known to do this when I first sit down to write a sermon and it happened again just this week, as a matter of fact. But when the struggle becomes too great, and it always does, I’m then reminded to call upon God for help.
So this morning’s readings call us back to rethinking our priorities and to putting our relationship with God and God’s desires first. And we are called to a very important level of relationship — which is that of complete trust. Jesus tells us that we, as God’s precious “little flock,” have nothing to fear or to worry about. Fear keeps us bound up, tight, constricted, and self-absorbed. Trust and faith take us to a place of expansive wholeness, generosity of spirit, cooperation and love.
And we hear the letter writer to the Hebrews recounting the story from Genesis of a family steeped in a very faithful relationship with the divine. The epistler beautifully describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And with their faith, Abraham and Sarah, in a trusting relationship with God, seem to have their priorities right. Upon hearing God’s call, they leave their family home in Mesopotamia — and all that is familiar — and set out for the unfamiliar land of Canaan, wandering as nomads. In following God, even with the ups and downs of life, the family flourishes. God offers Abraham the familiar and soothing words, “Do not be afraid,” and adds, “I will protect you,” as God protects all of us in a way that only God can — through faith. Then God makes a unique promise to Abraham, telling him that as old as he and Sarah are, and yet without children, that his descendants would be as plentiful as the stars in the sky. The couple waited patiently, and watched closely, and listened carefully, as blessings and miracles filled their lives. They had longed, not for merely a new earthly dwelling place, but had a higher expectation. They stepped out of the mold of their earthly surroundings, longing for a city of God. Yes, they had the right priorities.
The Johnson family has the right priorities, too, stepping boldly out of the mundane. And knowing it or not, I think they are letting the kingdom of God rush through. Kennan Johnson is a 17-year-old from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and she loves tennis! Last weekend, Kennan participated in the National Junior Girls Championship in San Diego, arguably “the toughest tournament of its kind in the United States.” Both Kennan’s single mother and grandmother teach tennis in a public park in Baton Rouge, where they don’t generate much of an income. So in order “to raise money for their trip, they sold more than 400 spaghetti lunches and held a garage sale.”
Now there is a lot of pressure to perform well at this tournament. An official shares, “The oldest girls are all being watched by college coaches, there’s just a ton of competition. … And the winner gets an automatic place into the U.S. Open main draw.” With so much at stake here, most players are so focused on their upcoming matches that they “enter a cocoon, staying to themselves as they prepare for their matches.” So it came as a surprise when tournament officials observed Kennan Johnson’s activity as diners began departing after the tournament-organized dinner, which had been “attended by Billie Jean King, and a couple hundred players, coaches, and family members.” There was a lot of food left over, and officials watched, impressed and in amazement, as Kennan “began to scrape plates, and bag the uneaten food.” Kennan then “took the several bags of food and,” in an unfamiliar city, “drove with her mother and grandmother to a nearby park” where they stopped and fed some homeless folks.
As someone sensitive to the plight of others, Kennan observes, “‘Guys sit on the side of the road and you can tell by the way they look and their appearance that they can probably use [the food].’” Kennan’s mother explained, “It’s just basic caring about humans. … If you see somebody and you can help them out, why not?” Kennan’s grandmother added, “Every time that we see someone on the street, Kennan will say… ‘We need to do something.’” Well, Kennan did not win a tennis title last week, “but she remains enthusiastic about playing in a national tournament. ‘It was awesome,’ she said.”
I think we know something of Kennan’s treasure. As Kennan put aside any fears of tournament pressure, and instead served others in love, I think she and her family pushed the door to the kingdom open further, so many more could peek in. This is just one family’s story of manifesting the kingdom. And there are countless other stories, including many of your own, that continue to lift us all towards that heavenly place. To witness them is, in Jesus’ words, to be alert and to be ready with our lamps lit.
God’s kingdom is not really a place, but it is where God calls us for God’s purposes here on earth, and it is ours because God loves us. The kingdom is where human needs are met in everyday ways, and where we experience transformation through God’s love, grace, mercy, and compassion. The kingdom is where we feel God alive with us, within us, and remember God “searching us out and knowing us” (Psalm 139:1a) in our own personal histories. The kingdom appears when we remember that God “created our inmost parts, and knit us together in our mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:12) And the kingdom is as close as this holy table where Jesus bids us welcome, and gently feeds us. May we set aside our fears, empowered by our relationship with God. May we nurture that relationship through prayer, reading Scripture, in nature, through devotion, and wherever we might hear God’s voice. And may we enter the gift that is the kingdom, and enter it boldly and with love. Amen.
 John Martin, “An Act of Kindness Wins Over a Tournament,” Straight Sets: Tennis Blog of The New York Times, http://straightsets.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/an-act-of-kindness-wins-over-a-tournament/?_r=0, accessed August 9, 2013.