Sunday, August 8, 2010

Eleventh after Pentecost

(RCL Proper 14C) Luke 12: 32-40

Good morning, and grace and peace to you on this summer day, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning certainly after a couple of challenging weeks in the Robison household, as Susy and I have both had brief hospital stays, I do feel very much aware of the wonderful care and friendship and such abundant kindness of this parish family. And so to say thank you for all your expressions of concern and most of all for your prayers, as we’ve more or less gotten ourselves back on our feet.

I’m not sure just when it was. I feel like I’m remembering a moment as Susy was driving me up from Scituate, where we were staying on vacation, to the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts. But as I know some of you know, the intensity of those kidney stones doesn’t always leave much room for reflection and conversation, so maybe it was a bit later, after I’d had some pain medication.

But in any case Susy and I were at some point in all of that ruminating on the terrible timing of it all. We’d been looking forward to that time at the shore for such a long time, and it was also such an important time for family visiting, for all kinds of reasons.

In any case, let me tell you, as some of you I’m sure know--never a good time for kidney stones. But maybe some times are worse than others, and this just seemed very frustrating.

I entered the hospital wearing summer shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, and as I was being rolled from emergency room to scanner and then upstairs, where I would hang around for a day or so before the procedure to remove the stones, I picked up the nickname, with a certain sad irony, “the Vacation Guy.”

But in any case, somewhere in the midst of all this, I found myself saying to Susy, with some philosophical tonality and a deep sigh: “you know, 'if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.'” Had not thought ahead to see that the verse would be rolling along in the lectionary in a week or two.

In some ways directly or indirectly we’ve been thinking about this topic a lot this spring and summer. Certainly since Susy’s sister Marion’s sudden death at the end of May, for our family. What it means to be ready.

Maybe “to expect the unexpected.” In all the scenarios of life which might end with us not getting home this afternoon.

In any case, to move to the front of our consciousness the reality that all of us would know and understand at some level, even as we go about all the routines of our everyday life, with all our plans, expectations, assumptions. The contingency, the provisionality of our lives. We can check our dayplanner and our Google Calendar to see what’s happening for the rest of the week. We had a meeting of diocesan folk yesterday where we were scheduling events into the spring of 2012. But deep down we know, it’s all, as my grandmother used to say, “God willing.” You just never can tell. And time, tide, and kidney stone waiteth for no man.

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” And the question, “Am I ready?” What would that mean, exactly?

I very much appreciated Jean’s sermon last Sunday. And what really stood out for me was that key sentence that she quoted from Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago, as she heard him speak at the convention of the North American Association of Deacons. Bishop Lee talked about a transformation of consciousness, and a sense of identity, and I would say even a depth of conversion, in which the Church would be understood not simply as “a place to go,” but as a “people to be.” A great line: “not as a place to go, but a people to be.”

I think about how I go to ballgames, go to the ballpark, see the Pirates—as some of us will this afternoon. But how I’m in the stands. I’m not “a Pirate,” except in a very remote sense of what it means to be a fan. I don’t throw, catch, or hit. (Maybe sometimes I feel like maybe they should give me a call, but that’s not my point . . . .) The reality is: I’m at the game, but not IN the game. And I think that’s what Bishop Lee was getting at.

What it means for us as Christian people to get out of the stands and onto the field. To understand our faith and our whole life not as a spectator sport, some kind of spiritual entertainment, but as something that pervades our identity, that defines who we are and what we do. Not just, “I go to St. Andrew’s Church,” but “I am St. Andrew’s Church.” More than that, I am the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ in the world.

Which is and would be for us all a deep transformation. For none of us all at once and entirety, perhaps, but in moments of connection, incorporation, action, and contemplation. And with prayer that those moments may grow to be more and more for us all our life long.

What it means to be ready.

It’s a topic that in classical Christian spiritual writing is sometimes called “assurance.” St. Paul talks about faith as the “assurance of things hoped for.” A deep inner sense that who we are, all our being, is surrounded and embraced and fully entrusted to God, for his good purpose. A confidence at the foundation of things that in Christ and through the work of his cross we are healed of our brokenness, forgiven, set free. And not simply as something that feels good and meaningful now, but that is true for us forever. Assurance. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” There is a lot more texture and richness to Christian faith and life than you can squeeze into the lyric of a Children’s Sunday School song. But every long journey begins with a single step. A baby step.

The deacons Jean met in Chicago offered a lot of great images of being the “Church at Work,” as we will remember: prison ministry and care for the poor and the hurting. Which is so important, and all of that so very inspiring. But the emphasis of all that is not about finding our identity and purpose through busyness—even when the busyness is abundant in good works. Instead, and it is simply so important to say this, it is about knowing in our hearts our minds, the reality of our lives, the one who comes for us not as a stranger, but as a friend.

For some of us that assurance, that friendship, may be something that seems to happen in us all at once, in a moment of renewal, and that may seem a very great blessing, and for others of us it is something that gathers in us gradually over time, which can be a blessing also, and the adventure of a long journey. Not so much an activity as a relationship, a sense of confidence, trust, rest. To rest in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Time, tide, and kidney stones waiteth for no man. And we “also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming,” and “at an unexpected hour.”

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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