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Sermon for the 9th Sunday of Pentecost (2019)

Aug 11, 2019

Passage: Luke 12:32-40

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Detail:

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (2019)
August 11th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20       Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16       Luke 12:32-40

 

If you’ve lived in this area long enough and you pay attention to billboards, then I’d be willing to bet that you’ve seen a billboard that depicts Jesus, on a backdrop of luminous clouds, standing with his hands lifted up, and the caption reads, “Jesus said, Come unto me, I will return” - with an emphasis on the will. I’ll admit that whenever I see this particular billboard, I can’t help but laugh a bit at the way in which Jesus is depicted wearing a thick, hooded robe over what appears to be an equally thick tunic. My usual thought is that if this is Jesus’ choice of garment for his eventual return, then he probably won’t be back until the heat index drops below 80 degrees! 

I jest here, but there’s something to be said for the fascination a lot of people have with Jesus’ return. It’s sufficiently fascinating for certain groups to pay for billboards advertising it all over the country. And many of these billboards are not as innocuous as the one I just described. A lot of them paint a very stark picture of Jesus’ return as something to be afraid of. And the underlying message - or warning - is that you’d better accept Jesus, or ELSE! 

I’m almost certain that we’ve all seen such billboards or signs, so this morning, I want to talk with you all about a less threatening understanding of Jesus’ return. It’s important because every week, we say we believe that Jesus will come again, and my hope is that when we say that, we’re not secretly afraid of what it means. 

From this morning’s Gospel reading, the first thing we hear Jesus say is, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And that opening line is vitally important for understanding what Jesus goes on to say about his return. Because Jesus talks about his return in terms of how we live our lives in response to the knowledge that God wants to give us the kingdom. 

The ideal is to keep doing the work of the kingdom in the joyful expectation that our work will find its fulfillment when Jesus returns. And the image Jesus uses of a bridegroom returning is particularly fitting. And I think that most of us can relate to it. I’m guessing that a good many of you have been in a wedding party for a dear friend. If you’ve ever helped out with a wedding, then you know that there’s a great deal of work that goes into the event; especially the reception that happens after the wedding. Usually, the bride and groom don’t go immediately to the reception after the wedding ceremony. It’s the wedding guests who gather first at the reception venue, and even though people may begin eating and drinking, there’s this sort of unspoken acknowledgment that the party hasn’t yet begun; and there’s this excited anticipation for when the newly married couple will arrive. 

Again, usually, there’s a flurry of last-minute activity as details are sorted out by the bridesmaids and the groomsmen and others. And if you’ve ever been part of those preparations, then you know how much work is involved. But I’d guess that you don’t think of it as burdensome or terrible. Instead, you probably did that work with a sense of joyful expectation and with an appreciation for the fact that all the work is done to honor the married couple and enhance the celebration. And what’s even better is that, ideally, the married couple wants everyone to share in the joy as soon as they arrive. 

If you’ve ever been to a wedding like this, then I think you can appreciate the sense of joy and hope that Jesus is saying we should all have in looking forward to his return. 

The alternative to living in the joyful anticipation of Jesus arriving like a bridegroom is living in fear of Jesus arriving like a thief.  The thief analogy that Jesus uses in the Gospel is so short that it’s easy to overlook its significance, but basically Jesus is saying that if we view him as a threat, we’re going to want to take precautions against his arrival. 

Most of the time, when our actions are motivated by fear, we tend to isolate ourselves. And in an effort to protect what is ours, we become less willing to show hospitality and share what we have with others. And living in fear can make us adopt an “or ELSE!” mentality. As in, “you’d better lock your door, or ELSE! You’d better not associate with those people, or ELSE!” Or in the case of Jesus’ return, you’d better accept him as your Lord and Savior, or ELSE! The contrast with of the image of a bridegroom who returns to share his joy with his servants could not be more stark. 

The lesson I take away from the Gospel is that if we live in fear of Jesus’ return, we’re going to find ways to cut ourselves off from joy. We’re going to become more stingy and more jealous about protecting what we think is ours lest the “or ELSE” outcomes come true. But on the other hand, if we live in joyful expectation of Jesus’ return, then we’re going to find ways to include others in that joy. 

So I think this week’s Gospel lesson presents us with an opportunity to reevaluate our own understanding of what our belief in the return of Jesus means. We can view it either as an event to be celebrated or an event to be feared. If it’s an event to be feared, then I wonder how that’s going to help us stay faithful to - and proclaim - the good news. If believing in Jesus amounts only to celestial fire insurance against his return, then I’m not sure how effective our proclamation of God’s love is going to be. But if we believe that Jesus return will be like a wedding celebration to which we are all invited, then I think that makes sharing our belief with others a whole lot easier. And it makes living in expectant joy, here and now, with others part of the preparation for the joy that will one day be fulfilled.