August 11, 2013
The Rev. Karin I. Liebster
Pastor for Faith Formation
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our readings today invite us to reflect on God’s kingdom, how God’s time and space and our time and space relate to each other, if and how they can meet, coincide. “It is God’s good pleasure to have given you the kingdom.”
Most people think time is in a line. Time begins, life starts, it unfolds, it can seem it goes on forever, then we see that what was new in the beginning is now old, and we expect it will end. It does end. Time in a line.
We can hardly think about time in a different way. Although we also think of it as in a circle or a cycle.
We watch the cycle of life as we get older. The children have children, people younger than we become our bosses, the kids we taught in kindergarten are teachers themselves, we bury our parents. And we?, – are moved to our new places in the cycle.
The cycle, the circle is better than a line but it still feels linear: the older we get the closer we come to the end. It is all but impossible to think of time in a different way.
The kingdom of God, God’s time and God’s space, is different. The kingdom breaks in. Revelation happens. We know it, and we celebrate the revelatory power of our God in the circle of the church year. Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost. And when the days grow so short in winter that the light seems to come to an end, the ending becomes a new beginning, and it is Advent again and light a new candle in anticipation of Christmas.
The kingdom of God defies the time line. It cannot be pinned on a line, not even on a circle line.
Our faith can’t grasp it. In faith we are on our journeys as Abram was, as Sarai was, even if we sometimes don’t know how we manage to stay on the path. And when our journeys come to a close we look back, and we look ahead, for we hope that like we were raised to a new life in Christ in baptism we may also be raised with him to eternal life. Our hope is that our time line will extend to the future, an afterlife; that God’s time and space and ours will coincide then, beyond our understanding.
In the American religious culture we find a widespread understanding of our time and God in it, in which God is watching from the edges. God “created and orders the world and watches over life on earth. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem. Good people go to heaven when they die.” (Kenda Dean, Almost Christian, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 14)
This may sound like a benign variation of what Christians believe in general, but something is really wrong with this picture. And if it were true, O, how boring, dull and pathetic our life would be in which we just put one day after the other behind us, God watching from the edges, intervening only when we need help.
What is missing in this picture is that God breaks in to our lives with the power of revelation and messes with our time lines.
Here just a couple of examples:
Do you remember Moses whom God calls to stand up against Pharaoh? Moses did not want to do it! Remember God who parts the mighty waters, leads with a cloud by day and fire at night, reveals the best ways to live together on a mountain shaking and covered in smoke?
Or the prophets. On a time line whose only goal is to get us to heaven, there is no room for the prophets to throw our time line a loop, slowing us down with the mighty Word of God, so we would stop and think and repent, begin to take responsibility for our neighbor.
Or Christmas, the incarnation. Even though there was no room in the inn, the time was fulfilled. God is nowhere to be found on the sidelines, but has become the Word made flesh, a baby, flesh and blood, born like every other human being through a woman’s labor and with the messes that come with birth.
Dear friends, sisters and brothers, God messes with our time lines. It is God’s good pleasure to have given us the kingdom. This is in the present perfect, not the future tense. God has a different concept of time.
But life is not only messed up. It is also in a positive sense jazzed up.
Look at Abram and Sarai. They had reached the end of their life, “they were as good as dead,” and Sarai was barren on top of it! Then, already advanced in age, they went by faith on a trek across the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia from the east to the north to the west to the south, and also by faith they received the power of procreation and had a baby. I can only imagine how their laughter must have been a mix of embarrassed giggle, incredulous wonder and welcoming joy. They were beyond too old! God’s promise broke in to their lives. Not one dull moment!
And then, hear again what Jesus says about the kingdom.
Be ready, is the underlying chord. Be dressed, ready to go, like the ancient Israelites in Egypt when it was time to leave captivity.
Have your lamps ready for when the master returns home late from a wedding party. If you are not ready, then, well, you may not hear the master knocking. Who then will remove the big old beam that locks the gate from the inside and let him in?
Stay awake all night, dear servants, and if need be until the morning dawns. Do you worry about the hours passing, are you upset that the master’s delay messes up your sleep pattern, sleep you urgently need to be able to continue the race on your crazy time line?
Well, then be ready for this surprise: the master who finds the slaves ready to serve will turn everything upside down! He will put a belt on his tunic, get the pots and pans out and serve you a lavish meal! Never mind the lost sleep!
Dear sisters and brothers, our God is the God and Father of Jesus Christ whose good pleasure it is to have given us the kingdom. Now, and at a time that we do not know. Do not fear, little flock.
What difference does it make? What about our time lines, the cycles and circles we live in?
The kingdom changes the way we live in this world.
The breaking in of God’s time into our time creates energy. Energy which can be called hope; and hope changes how we approach life, how we handle even our material belongings.
Hardly will we lead a stoic, passive existence in which it doesn’t matter what I do with the means I have accumulated. People who live in the coincidence of God’s time and space with human time and space are generous folk, they share, they give their stuff away, they are in communion and in communication.
When the Lord appeared to Abram in a vision, Abram heard, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” And here we are, servants of God, richly blessed, descendants of Abram’s and Sarai’s faith, as many as stars in the sky and innumerable as grains of sand in the desert.