Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16, Luke 12: 32-40
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”.
In the midst of these times of fear and mistrust, it is important for us to hold onto this promise that Jesus reminds us of – that our Creator cares about us and our world and desires that we assist God in creating a world of peace, justice and compassion. This is our vocation. Of course, we have heard this before, in our Sunday School lessons, confirmation classes and in the hymns that we may have sung, sermons we have heard preached. So relax, consider the lilies of the field (which are in full bloom now in mid-August), trust and have faith that all will be well -eventually!
However, that is not an easy thing to do especially as this past weeks news reminds us – 17 people were shot over the long weekend in Toronto, 22 people were killed in El Paso, Texas by a far-right gunman and a shooter in Dayton, Ohio killed 10 people. Closer to home there are regular stabbings, shootings and breakins occurring here in Ottawa and closeby in this area. Daily when I come to work here at the church I am dealing with more seriously addicted people who live on our streets and who I have been told by the police are now being sent to us from smaller cities like Belleville because of all the great programs that are here in Ottawa. There are ever new faces and personalities to interact with.
I don’t need to name for you the many causes for fear in our society as I know that each of you may have your own issues you are involved with, perhaps from another country, or you may be facing some personal struggles in your own families and personal lives. So how does our faith in a loving God help us to live without fear? Is it possible? Does it mean that we can or should achieve that state of perfect faith so that we can then just sit back and let God or Jesus lead the way and do all the heavy lifting in making the kingdom or shalom a reality? What if we do all kinds of work in the name of faith and don’t see any of the results and wonder what it means then to believe?
Indeed, there are so many questions that arise that can lead us to give up on this spiritual path or tempt us to believe either in cheap grace or salvation by works alone, more of a temptation for those of us who are committed to engaging in social justice. Could we ever achieve the kind of faith that Jesus points to in this gospel lesson that would lead a person to sell all of their possessions and to live some kind of ascetic life like a Buddhist monk might do with only their begging bowl in hand?
It is very individual how this text might speak to our hearts regarding the invitation to let go of our possessions. But for all of us, Jesus invites us to look deep within to examine what is at the centre of our lives that will sustain us, that will keep us going and give us hope, especially when times are hard and we are thrown off course by the struggles around and within us. And so I ask, what are the gifts, things, values, those stories which are the treasures of your heart that give you courage and meaning in your life?
Last week from the parable of the Rich Fool in Chapter 12 we were exploring the hold our possessions have on us and we were encouraged not to hoard, not to live out of a sense of scarcity but out of a sense of abundance so that we might be more inclined to share our wealth, to learn how to live lives that are ‘rich toward God’ alone. And so, this theme continues as we explore within ourselves the treasures, the non-material gifts that will help us to live with hope, faith and generosity of being.
My husband Grant was laughing at me somewhat this week having heard last week’s sermon about hoarding because I went and purchased one of those lovely storage boxes they sell at Michael’s, not one but two boxes. I didn’t put anything new in them but simply emptied out one old file folder I found in the storage room that was stuffed with old letters and cards and simply put them into the new more attractive box. I suppose some of you might be guilty of a similar small pleasure. But those bits of paper and cardboard are not of any value in and of themselves, however when I look over those letters, which are letters from family members and church members of former churches I have served over the years, (reflecting a time when people still wrote long letters), they are full of messages of encouragement, humour, stories of peoples lives. Especially meaningful are the letters from people who have passed on but whose love still lives on in the universe and in my heart when I re-read those letters, something I will look forward to doing again when I retire.
So what I treasure is the relationships that God has given to me, in my family and my church family, old friends and I realize how much those written and verbal conversations, the prayers that have been shared even across the miles, have sustained my hope and courage to live each day. These are the treasures that I will make a purse to hold close to my heart.
The writer of Hebrews also believes in affirming the intangible treasures of our hearts and lives, reminding us of the faith in God’s promises that can sustain our lives. He has coined this beautiful poetic verse that attempts to communicate what it means to have faith:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…….by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” Heb 11, 1,3
Remembering the original stories of our Judeo Christian faith also helps us to sustain our faith in these times of fear as it has for previous generations. The Hebrew’s writer lifts up the story of Noah and the ark followed by the story of Abraham and Sarah who set out to find a new land, not knowing where there were going and how he also fathered a child with Sarah even though all of the science even of their day declared it was an impossibility! They did not live to see their new homeland nor did they live to see how their people grew from the birth of their one son. What kept them going was a deep faith that God’s promises were true, that God was on the side of life and freedom and abundance and that they could live their lives with a sense of trust as long as they remained in relationship with this God, Yahweh who had made a covenant with them.
Even as we live into a more secular age which does not value the stories of faith of the ancients that have been passed down to us, there are ways that people still can choose to live out of a sense of hope and trust in the goodness of life whether they have come to know and believe in a God or not.
I was reflecting on the attitude and values that guided my brother Rob who walked a 2 year journey with stage 4 cancer not long ago and how he chose to live fully by the values that gave his life meaning until the day of his death, recalling how he found the energy to play golf to the last day of season, to play hockey in the old timers league until there was not enough breathe in him to skate, how he made sure his partner and our Mom was looked after financially and how he continued to meet with his financial partners and friends on his last day of life despite severe pain to explore some new investments in property. He could have given up right at the beginning, looked only to his death and let it be his defining truth, allowing despair to take hold. But instead he chose life and the people and activities that gave his life meaning and hope. It is in our DNA are humans to wish for and work for a better life.
Many people use these summer months when travel is so much easier to explore their family genealogy, visiting old graves or communities that will give a sense of place, checking in on relatives that you may not have seen for years, perhaps being the recipient of some of these visits, sharing stories of past generations and their challenges and victories, hopefully learning something new and inspiring that can be added into your own sense of identity and worth. It would also be wonderful if people could have the courage to be vulnerable and to share how their faith has been sustained throughout their lives as we often have to guess at that aspect of a person. I know that I love to hear those stories of faith and hope as I spend a lot of time listening to people’s stories from those on our streets of how they have been let down by parents or wives or how they know they have betrayed the trust of children and family – all background for a story of addiction that often seems irreversible. So many have stories where faith never did take root and I grieve for them.
But I like to be reminded of the faith that God has in us that can save and sustain us. God has faith in us and will find ways to reach us, to teach us that we are made in the image of God and have the capacity to bring life and joy to the world. Jesus Christ is the full embodiment of God’s character and compassion that shows us how we too can grow to become Christ like ourselves, that we can draw strength and courage to have hope even in these times of violence and despair. This is our vocation for those of us who have been baptized in the name of our Creator, Christ and Comforter, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This meal that is set before us today is at the invitation of Jesus, for through him God is reaching out to welcome us to the table of life, to feed us with the words of eternal life that will give us hope, desiring to strengthen our hearts and spirits with the simple food of bread and wine, symbols rich with story and truth, and the nutrients that will give us peace and hope.