God’s Invitation to Joy that Lasts
A sermon preached by The Rev. Sarah Henkel at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Twelfth Sunday of Pentecost, August 7, 2016.
Today’s reading comes from Luke 12: 32-48. It continues in a long series of teachings that Jesus shares on the journey to Jerusalem. Last week we heard the Parable of the Rich Fool, who tried to secure himself against tomorrow. Today begins with the end of a longer discourse on letting go of fear and worry because God will provide. Receive these words from the Gospel:
“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.
“Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit. Be like people waiting for their master to come home from a wedding celebration, who can immediately open the door for him when he arrives and knocks on the door. Happy are those servants whom the master finds waiting up when he arrives. I assure you that, when he arrives, he will dress himself to serve, seat them at the table as honored guests, and wait on them. Happy are those whom he finds alert, even if he comes at midnight or just before dawn. But know this, if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have allowed his home to be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.” [CEB]
Over the past year I’ve heard many people talking about a book called, The Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It has gained lots of popularity in the U.S. where the art of accumulating things is well practiced. I have friends who have read the book and then proceeded to get rid of half of their clothes. The basic premise is that you are to pick up an item of clothing or other possession, hold it to your heart, and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If it does, you can keep it. If it doesn’t, you thank the item for its service and give it away.
Of course, this method of paring down possessions is directed squarely at people who have too much, those of us who are not worrying about covering basic needs but have padded our lives with backups of replacements of questionably necessary things.
There are many who have pointed out the inherent privilege of this kind of minimalism. In an article for The Atlantic, Arielle Bernstein, the granddaughter of refugees, writes,
“It’s particularly ironic that the KonMari method has taken hold now, during a major refugee crisis, when the news constantly shows scenes of people fleeing their homes and everything they have… For a project titled “The Most Important Thing,” the photographer Brian Sokol asks refugees to show him the most important thing they kept from the place they left behind. The items they proffer range from the necessary (crutches), to the practical (a sewing machine), to the deeply sentimental (photographs of someone deeply loved, treasured instruments, family pets).
Against this backdrop, Kondo’s advice to live in the moment and discard the things you don’t need seems to ignore some important truths about what it means to be human. It’s easy to see the items we own as oppressive when we can so easily buy new ones. That we can only guess at the things we’ll need in the future and that we don’t always know how deeply we love something until it’s gone.”
Possessions are perilous. Those who have accumulated much will tell you that the joy their possessions spark is fleeting and the security their stuff offers is full of holes. Those who have lost all will tell you that possessions can come and go in an instant. At a global level possessions are pawns of war and greed. The accumulation and stockpiling of things, of wealth, of weapons, of natural resources causes the citizens of some nations to flee their homes leaving everything behind while more powerful nations bar the doors to safe haven to protect what is held inside. Possessions are perilous.
Today’s reading from Luke, begins powerfully with a phrase that is repeated throughout the Scriptures, Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. God takes joy in giving you life in abundance, a new creation where justice and mercy are fulfilled. Because God delights in giving all to God’s creatures, we are free from fear, the accurate fear that no matter how much we accumulate we will not be able to protect ourselves from tomorrow with our belongings, our status, our education, or anything of our own making. Jesus says, lay down this fear and be freed to serve from the abundance God gives. The Study Bible I used puts it this way, “Jesus’ disciples are liberated from the peril of possessions and enabled to reorder their lives so as to care for [those in need].”
The reordered life that Jesus describes is about joy that is secure, placing trust in a vision for the future that is certain and that is visible even now. He describes a banquet at which God will arrive to serve us if we are ready, if we open the door. Jesus is speaking about the end times in a way that would have surprised his listeners. In the Roman household the master does not serve the servants. What kind of meal is this? What kind of God is this? Jesus describes a joyous feast where honor is given to the people at the bottom, where the Human One prepares the feast.
Our readiness for this feast requires practice in creating community that enables us to release fear, to live lives of service, and to treasure the joy of our communion. Last week you all welcomed the “Farm the Land, Grow the Spirit” Summer Institute from Stony Point Center into worship. They are a group of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian young adults who spent the last six weeks tending the gardens together, sharing deeply about their faith practices, and living together in one big house. I’ve learned a lot from them – not only about their different cultural and religious backgrounds – but about how to cultivate care and joy in the midst of a lot of uncertainty. They were all uprooted in a sense – some more than others – away from home, removed from most of their stuff, but with a clear vision on investing their time and energy in whatever God would grow from their time together.
One of the participants, Ahed, left her home in Syria after the intense fighting and bombing of war made it nearly impossible for her to stay and stay alive. She shared with us how hard it has been to be so far away as the city she loves, Aleppo, is currently under siege. Since July over 250,000 Syrians have lived under siege in Aleppo with extremely limited access to food and medical care. (Since the writing of this sermon, the siege in Aleppo was broken. I read it on the news yesterday and then heard Ahed announce the news yesterday at lunch followed by a roar of applause and cheers from the Summer Institute.)
After worship last week, Ahed connected with Heather, a member here at WPPC, who lived in Syria for several years and who knows Aleppo from her time there. They spoke briefly and afterwards Ahed came to me with tears in her eyes, saying, “She knows Aleppo! She knows my city and the restaurants. She knows where I’m from.” She was crying though her voice spoke with joy at sharing precious memories, of being recognized by this community, of feeling a connection to home.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be afraid, little flock” as they left all their things behind and followed him, depending on hospitality as they journeyed, hoping that they would be recognized in the villages they passed through and invited in to break bread and eat together. While they ate, they would remember the vision of the banquet that Jesus described and know that this was a foretaste of that feast.
The table that we come to today is God’s table. The Human One, Jesus, prepares this meal for us. It is a meal during which we practice fearlessness, in which we receive all and are called to give all, in which we recognize the treasure of God’s community as we are fed at one table. May we keep the joy of this meal burning until fear is no more. Amen.