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Proper 14C-19

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Perhaps, it is part of the unfortunate legacy of the piety many of us grew up with we are apt to hear many reasons to judge ourselves reading today’s gospel. We list them out: “Do not be afraid…” “Sell your possessions…” “You must be ready…,” but miss the graceful promise. It is God’s great pleasure to give you treasure. There is no waiting. In fact, God has already done this. All that remains is the search. Except of course, we’d rather not search.  Who has time or energy to play games? Give us faith now.

Is it with wry humor that Jesus describes faith in this way? Scripture doesn’t say.  We remember how God poked fun at Jonah’s self-pity and discomfort as he lay beneath the withered broom tree.  Like Jonah, we protest. It’s so awful. Do you not see what is happening, how the land suffers, how hate walks the land, how people are at each other’s throats, how people are forced from their homes and lands by war, climate, famine, racism and injustice?  And now, I don’t even recognize my own country. We are entitled to feel weary. Yet as with Jonah, and all the faithful generations before us, God answers our complaints and self-doubting with a strange, excited non-sequitur: come and see! Take up your mat and walk! Have faith.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34) He seems to consider that having faith is like accepting an invitation to undertake a great adventure, like a thrilling a hunt for buried treasure.  This illusive gift of faith aligns our hearts and minds, our striving and desire, with God’s promise to bring in the Kingdom. (The mission, should you accept it, is in building a neighborhood of God like the one our children imagined and created for us behind me.)  This faith, hidden in plain sight, clears our mind from fever dreams of conquest and control. It is God’s desire is to give us all these good things through faith.

Having faith is like hunting for treasure. It’s something we do, rather than something to possess. The hunt for treasure surely is a powerful lure. As a motivation it has few rivals in human history. Vacationing in New Mexico last week, we saw plenty of evidence of how the dream of literal and spiritual treasure carried Spanish priests and explorers of the 17thcentury over the ocean and across the desert plains throughout the American southwest within decades after Columbus. Many of us can testify how the dream of a better life inspired our immigrant ancestors to brave hardships and risk many dangers for the sake of the same hope. The same dream calls to immigrants and asylum seekers today.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The faithful shall ‘be dressed for action and have [their] lamps lit.’ (Luke 12:35). To be faithful is to be restless, like those searching for a better life. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes that to have faith is to “Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”(Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 20th century)

Mircea Eliade, the late professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago, Divinity School, used to tell a story about a Polish rabbi from Kraców named Eisik.  Eisik had a recurring dream. In this dream he was told to travel more than 300 miles to Prague. There, under the bridge leading to the royal castle, he would find hidden treasure.  The dream repeated itself three times, and he decided to go.  In Prague he found the bridge, but it was guarded by soldiers. As he loitered nearby, one of the soldiers noticed him and asked him what he was doing.  The rabbi told his dream and the soldier burst into laughter. “Poor man,” the soldier said, “have you worn out your shoes coming all this way simply because of a dream?”  “I too, once had a dream,” said the soldier, “It spoke to me of Kraców, ordered me to go there and look for a treasure in the house of a rabbi named Eisik. The treasure was to be found in a dusty old corner behind the stove.”  “But,” said the soldier, “being a reasonable man and not trusting in dreams, I decided not to go.” The rabbi thanked the soldier, returned to Kraców, dug behind the stove, found the treasure, and put an end to his poverty.”

Being reasonable and not trusting has been the cause of premature death before the grave for countless human lives. Life presents us with a choice. We can be like the Rabbi or the soldier. To have life is to have faith and to have faith is to search, as one does for buried treasure. Like it or not, the essential ingredient to faith is human effort.

Like the rabbi, pursuing your faith dreams can be thrilling, surprising, even miraculous—even if as in today’s gospel—the only money Jesus talks about comes from your own pocket. Faith fills our hearts to overflowing. The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is complacency, apathy, resignation, and cynicism. As with the soldier, and like Jonah, life without faith predictably becomes self-pitying.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Jesus invites us on a hunt for buried treasure—and God must have a sense of humor because the gospel tells us to dig—right under our nose! The unfailing treasure of grace is always found in the present moment even though it is also true that finding this treasure may require a kind of quest. Yet ultimately, as St. Teresa of Avila once said, “The truth is that the treasure lies within our very selves.”

When Rome was overthrown in 410 C.E., the great Christian theologian, Augustine, was asked why it was that Christians were so badly treated.  If God is so great, why didn’t God protect them?  Augustine’s answer was that the difference between people is not what happens to them, but in how they respond to what happens to them.

Faith means we need not fear the future.  Faith means we need not mourn the past. Our lives are difficult, but God is good.  Like Abraham and Sarah, our destiny is clothed in God’s abundance, our reward is cast as wide and deep and numerous as sand beside the sea, or the number of stars in the sky.