Looking forward to the City whose Architect is God, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 11, 2013
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 11, 2013
Genesis 15:1-6 Psalm 33:12-22 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40
Looking forward to the City whose Architect is God
The first sentence in our Gospel lesson stands out: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it’s your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The more treasure that we invest in the new gentle and loving community that Christ brings the more our hearts will already live forever there. And this sentence seems to go right along with the lesson from Hebrews, which I want to take you through. It is a letter with an unknown author. Luther thought it may have been written by Apollos, a very eloquent Christ-believing Jew, who is mentioned in Acts.
Now faith, a feeling of utter dependence (Schleiermacher), or having an ultimate concern (Tillich), as some theologians would express it, let me call it an unwavering trust in God, so we have the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction about things unseen. With it Abraham and Sarah found favor in God’s sight, because they trusted in God despite all appearances to the contrary; no, we have to say more, despite all the road blocks that stood in the way, they kept on believing God’s promises.
Check out the roadblocks! Abraham was already old and as good as dead, it says, and Sarah was barren and beyond child-bearing years and God promised them that their descendants would be as innumerable as the stars and the grains of sand at a beach. And even though Sarah laughed at the idea, and refused to admit she had laughed while inside the tent, God had the last laugh when she bore Isaac, whose name is derived from the Hebrew word for laughter.
By faith, by trusting in God, whole worlds were prepared by the Word of God, Hebrews continues, so that what is seen becomes made from things that are invisible. God rolls up his sleeves and sets to work on us, because we are lost. Perhaps we have a chip on or shoulders and we are bent on no good. Our life is on the road to being a waste and we are going to waste others with us; although that seems an extreme case, in our society that happens almost every day. Or we may have an addiction that just messes up our lives and seems to be like DUI, like being a drunken driver running over and hurting the members of our own family, like that murderous dude, who with his car aimed at people on the Venice Board Walk running over and killing them. Or there is the White policeman, who is trigger-happy and shoots another Black teenager. He is counting on his uniform to get away with murder. I was the first vice president of the Community Police Precinct Council in Brooklyn and a special internal police contingent, who policed policemen themselves for racism and corruption. Even such people, it is precisely such people, those who are hopelessly lost, who need to hear about Christ and his gracious power that starts changing our hearts. In heaven there is an abundance of grace and some almighty unconditional love to back it. That goes for the cases I mentioned, but also for you and me.
For our kick-start in the new life, Christ starts an invisible revolution in our hearts. This revolution is internal and represents God hard at work in us, readying us for Heaven’s Kingdom, which we enter through a revolution of hearts and minds. We can’t change others. We have to let God begin with us. And no matter how deranged and lost we may be, we can trust in the promises of God, because Abraham was a hundred and it says that Sarah was ninety and they laughed with Isaac, their son of promise. Moving them out of their valley of sorrow and tears, God pitched their new tent in the land of laughter.
God called Abraham and Sarah out of a city, out of Ur in Chaldea, and they then lived in tents, because they looked forward to the land of promise. They looked forward to a city, with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And because they trusted in God, even when they were as good as dead and way past child-bearing years, their descendants became numbered like the stars, because they are the children of God and we want to be in that number.
Now we won’t count all our previous generations who believed God’s promises before us who are hearing God’s Word today, but at this point in history, in the three Abrahamic religions there are 2.2 billion Christians, 1.8 billion, Moslems, and millions of followers in Judaism. God’s promises come true and God made promises to me and to you and God is trust-worthy and will keep them.
We certainly like them become strangers in a strange land, foreigners, whose real citizenship is in Heaven, the country that we want to live in here already, but we’ve not yet received sufficient grace, so we know it is not yet. But when we keep on trusting God and letting God serve us and letting God refashion our hearts, forming us into God’s children by means of the Word of God, then like in the movies, we may not be able to see the feature presentation, but we certainly can see the previews of the coming attractions. For we seek a heavenly homeland. We won’t go back to the place we’ve left behind, because we know we can’t go home again. But we keep our eyes on the prize and we hold on, journeying onward to that better country, that is, the heavenly one. And when we keep on keeping on, with God’s song in our hearts, so that this world becomes safe for children and other living things, then God is not ashamed to be called our God, indeed, God is preparing a city for us. It will be a new Detroit, it will be a new Vallejo, a new Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco. It will be a new home, a new street and a new neighborhood in which you already, but not yet live, but God is calling you and inviting you to come there.
All you have to do is be ready to receive this Lord Jesus, Christ. Roll up your sleeves and be dressed for action. Keep your lamps lit, so you can see what God is doing and what changes God is bringing to us. When you turn up the light of your life to get a better view, then you see our Master, Jesus Christ, will fasten his own belt, have us sit down to eat, and behold, he comes over to us and serves us. The first are the last and the last are the first, where Christ comes from. It’s the master of the house bending down and serving the slaves! Notice how slavery, servant-hood, exploitation, and oppression evaporate into gracious friendship in the Beloved Community! The big ones serve the little ones. The rich provide for the poor. The powerful serve the powerless. Those with voices lend them to those who have no voice. The strong let their strength move the mountains away that have fallen on the weak.
But we have to have our lamps lit, prepared, and ready. Sometimes we say grace around our dinner table and right after it, someone will say, “Let’s say grace.” We all chime in. “We just did.” Where were you? Then we say, “We have to be mindful when we pray.” But like that prayer, we can just go through the whole day and miss it. We can go through our whole life and miss it. Buddhism teaches mindfulness and compassion. That’s what “keeping our lamps lit” means. The light of our minds has to shine ever more brightly so we can see Christ’s Beloved Community coming, and our hearts have to start burning and keep on burning with stronger compassion for those who are lost and hungry, and thirsty, and homeless, without shelter.
I remember the wife of a bishop in Germany, who would see people in need, and you could just see all this compassion moving her. I wanted to be like that, but my heart wasn’t there. I only went through the motions. I did not feel the incredible empathy she felt. I had grown up in a great deal of bitterness that laid like a rock on my soul and it has taken a long while for Christ to roll that rock off my heart. With the bishop’s wife we went to a Bible study in the home of a fellow who owned a chain of clothing factories. We were in his pastel—colored glass porch, where the furniture was exquisite, the glass decor itself must have cost millions to fashion and furnish. The wife of the bishop could not sit down and could not be comfortable in that conspicuous consumption. We all got up and had to leave. I asked the owner if he ever invited some of his workers to have dinner with him. He said, “Definitely not. If I invited one, they would all want to come. That is out of the question.” His wife had invited us. He had no faith. She was experiencing extortion by phony televangelists and wanted us to help free her from their clutches.
So there they are sitting in a villa that was like an impressionistic masterpiece of architecture. But it was not made by God, but all the workers in all his factories. Their fortune was made at the expense of the relative misfortune of many. I say “relative” because he probably paid them a living wage. But look at the poor workers in Bangladesh, upon whom the factory collapsed. Over eleven hundred lost their lives, mostly poor women. We get cheap clothes at the expense of their lives.
We went into Zachary’s Pizzeria and discovered that it is worker-owned. That means that everyone who works there shares in its ownership and profit and you don’t have one fellow acting like a divine king living a fabulous life of luxury, made rich by thousands of workers.
Jesus is our Divine King, who showed us the loving and compassionate heart of God. He knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples and said don’t lord it over others: the greatest among you has to be like a servant or like a child in your midst. And the one most wise has to become a fool for Christ. Like dancing a ballet on a table-top for Christ: Have you ever realized how Jesus was anointed? Jesus is the Messiah, which means the anointed one in Hebrew. Christ also means the anointed one in Greek. And it was a woman who hurried in and anointed him from that Alabaster jar of nard, bathing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. It was also done under protest, because she was a sinner, whose love covered a multitude of sins. That’s why Jesus said what she did will always be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached, because she anointed him the Christ and no less! That incident is so human and done by such a lowly and rejected woman, we don’t even grasp its significance!
Jesus, our divine King was soundly rejected by this old and sorry world. His crown was one of thorns; his throne was on the cruel rails of the cross: the soldiers gave him a reed as a scepter to mock him. He was born in the feed-trough of a stable. And he said, foxes have their holes and birds their nest, but the Son of man had no place to lay his head, our Homeless Lord and Savior.
So won’t you be a fool for Christ. Won’t you become alert and ready to take others with you into the glory land, the grace land, the land full of hope, the land of laughter of those who are dressed and have their sleeves rolled up to carry our God’s wishes and have our lamps lit so that we see the Christ in a neighbors with the eyes of Christ, hear them with the ears of Christ, help them with the hands of Christ, walk to their aid with the feet of Christ, with the brightly burning lamp of the mind of Christ and the heart of Christ full of compassion, yes with the very heart of Christ throbbing in our breast. Amen.
 Acts 18:24-28.