The scriptures from this Sunday reminded me of my one of my very favorite rollercoasters. Until earlier this year, it was located at Kings Dominion in Boswell VA but is no longer. Called Volcano: The Blast Coaster, you get all strapped in and the car leaves the station at a leisurely pace and you turn the corner. And then it happens. With two intense accelerations happening just seconds apart, the next thing you know you are being vertically catapulted going 70 miles per hour in a matter of seconds, spit out of the top, and hanging on for dear life. All in the name of fun!
Jesus is taking us from 0 to 70 mph, starting with “do not be afraid, little flock, accelerates through “where your heart is” to “be dressed for action.” I felt like I’m going to 70 miles per hour straight up by the time I got to “you must be ready” and exploded out into the bright sunlight.
What do you feel as the ride begins? Excitement? Queasy tummy? Dread? “Do not be afraid” is Bible speak for God is doing a new thing and this ride is going to get wild! So get strapped in and don’t let the gently meandering out of the station fool you.
Many times this passage gets interpreted as coercive, “do it or else,” fear tactic. Nothing could be further from the truth. How do we know this?
We hear: “It is YOUR father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God does not get God’s jollies from making us suffer and then sit back and watch. That’s not the God I believe in!
If this is a loving God, and I believe that this is a loving God, then perpetrating fear makes no sense at all. Fear makes us do crazy stuff. It triggers the amygdala, that residual reptilian part of our brain that tells us to “fight”, “flight” or “freeze.” Paralyzed by fear, we have limited vision, cloudy thinking, don’t see much of a future and find hope absent.
And now the first acceleration: “Where your heart is…there is your treasure.” It is easy to get this backwards – we naturally want to go the other way. But it is where your treasure is, your heart follows. Think about that for a moment. Heart follows treasure, not the other way around. Treasure then heart.
To understand this, what happens when you purchase a car? Suddenly everyone on the road has the same car! Because we have invested in that particular car (put our heart into it) then we see that car and mostly only that car.
Jesus talks about alms in these verses as well. There is an interesting fact about the Greek word that gets translated as “alms.” It uses the same root as the English word “pity”.
To the 1st century Greeks that word means that human beings are connected at our core. That means I feel what you feel. You feel what I feel. We’re connected. We’re in relationship. We’re in community.
This connectedness transforms us and the way we think. The homeless are now our homeless, the hungry are now our hungry.” They are our treasure and so our hearts naturally follow. Not just writing checks but getting involved – really involved by empowering those who find themselves without advantage.
The way we use our money trains our hearts, our wills, our ways of thinking. Where are our hearts for ministry? What are our passions?
This call to this passion accelerates when we hear “be dressed for action and have your lamps lit…”
The gospel of Luke trades on social reversals. It begins with Mary’s Magnificat in the 1st chapter and continues through the gospel. We encounter this parable where the slaves are served by the master, perhaps a foreshadowing of Luke 22:26 where Jesus reminds the disciples, “greatest must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves.”
The truth revealed about God and kingdom is that the leader is like the master who tells the slaves to sit down and it is HE who serves THEM. God has tied on an apron and served us. In dressing for action, serving others, God serves us.
Think about that for a minute. God shows up in the faces of those who we serve. When we serve other people, God comes to us through the other and serves us. How many have said, after experiencing service in the community, that we came to serve the least, the last, the lonely and the left behind only to discover that they, in fact, have served us.
And now going 70 mph we explode out of the top of the blast roller coaster, into the bright sunlight with “be ready.”
Ready for what? The answer is yes. In the Greek, the words for “coming” in verses 39 and 40 are present tense. Here. Now. And as such, that means we are participants in this thing called the kingdom and you never know – the unexpected hour – when God shows up and you just might see Jesus in the face of another person.
Jesus is. Here. Now. Not just the one who was and who is to come (barrowing from Revelation) but the one who is.
So how are we to be ready? Memes that pop in my head, “Jesus is coming…look busy.” To me, that feels like deception, as if we could get one over on God. Are we saying we don’t have to actively BE busy, we just have to LOOK busy, right? God sees right through that. We’re fooling no one.
And as I wrote those lines, a realization took hold. I’m fooling no one. What if all my thoughts and prayers were just so I LOOKED busy? What about that sign in my office, that I got from one of the marches on Washington, THIS sign…thoughts + prayers = action.
Have you ever noticed that math doesn’t lie? Do the math.
We are called to actively, deliberately, and intentionally create and hold space for the least, the last, the lonely and the left behind so that all can experience God’s love through us. We do that by recognizing, listening, advocating for those whom society has deemed less than.
How many of you know that there has been this little meeting going on in Milwaukee WI this past week? Every three years, the ELCA gathers together in a church-wide assembly. Thousands of Lutherans from across the nation and beyond gather in assembly.
Apparently, I had a couple of doppelgangers there as attested by the Facebook posting and messages that I got…are you there? Pictures of march participants. Sadly, no. I was at the Buffett concert and then on the Eastern Shore. But I digress…
This year was a bishop’s election. Bishop Eaton was re-elected on the first ballot. If you don’t know who Bishop Easton is, she’s the “Big Bish” over all the bishops of all the synods.
Something else happened at CWA – church-wide assembly. Yeah.
This was reported by CNN:
(CNN)The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which represents nearly 3.5 million Christians, voted Wednesday to become the country’s first “sanctuary church body,” according to church officials.
The measure, approved during a churchwide assembly in Milwaukee, pledges that in addition to providing shelter for undocumented immigrants, the ELCA could:
— Respond to raids, deportations and the “criminalization” of immigrants and refugees;
— Fight individual cases of deportation, press for the end of mass detentions and lift up immigrants’ voices;
— Take “prophetic action” to extend “radical hospitality” to immigrants and immigrant communities.
The measure, called a “memorial,” notes that some ELCA churches and organizations, such as its Metro New York Synod, are already carrying out these actions. A church committee plans to study what it means to be a “sanctuary church body” and issue a report in 2022.
The ELCA will also develop guidelines and resources for the denomination’s more than 9,000 congregations “to help them explore and develop sanctuary ministries,” according to church officials.
Here’s the elephant in the room for us or the $64000 question, “what does that mean for RLC?”
I. Don’t. Know.
This is what I appreciate about the ELCA – we, in the local congregations, get to discern, get to explore and get to choose how we respond. They will encourage us but in the end, the decision is ours and ours alone.
BUT it is something that we can certainly talk about, right? And afterward walk out the doors as friends and then walk back in the following week, worshiping together. Right? Right?
It is God’s pleasure to have us around. God chooses not to shun, shame or condemn us. God created us. God loves us. God LIKES us! God’s heart so much desires to be in relationship with us. Do you know of any other God that will put on an apron and serve you and me?
So have no fear little flock, God is loose in the world and God is doing new things! And it feels like we’ve gone from 0-70 in three seconds flat. So, hang on for dear life, this ride is going to be wild!