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Sermon for August 7, 2022 – Proper 14

Speaking of Life 4037 | Invisible Reality

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 4037 | Invisible Reality
Heber Ticas

If you never saw a tree, you would have a hard time understanding what a tree was—even if someone described it to you. Trees are so big, beautiful, and majestic that without evidence, you could doubt if trees really existed.

Now, imagine if someone showed you a picture of a tree’s shadow. For the first time, you would be able to guess how a tree looked. You would not know the color of the leaves, the texture of the bark, or the smell of the blossoms, but you would be able to visualize a tree and start to develop a vocabulary to talk about it. You would also have firm evidence that trees were real, even if you did not understand everything about them.

In this illustration, God is the tree and Jesus is the one who showed humanity his shadow. Jesus, who is fully God, revealed the Father, Son, and Spirit in ways we can understand. There is much that we do not have the capacity to know about God, but Jesus showed us enough so we can begin to grasp how big, beautiful, and majestic he is.

At the same time, we must humbly acknowledge that, at best, we only see the shadow of things. This is why faith is necessary. To follow Christ, we have to be willing to believe in things we cannot logically understand or perceive with our senses. The author of Hebrews talked about faith, saying:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Hebrews 11:1-3

Here we are challenged to shift our understanding of reality. Rather than defining reality by what we can perceive, we are encouraged to see God as the basis of all reality. Jesus, who was in the image of God, invites us to live by the word of God, which makes our lives more real in some ways and more invisible in others. We cannot see or touch things like unconditional love, mercy, grace, and joy, yet these things have eternal value. Even though the things of God are invisible, they are more real because they will not fade away like the physical things we can get in this world.

When we seek after the invisible riches of God, we become less influenced by the things we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, and more influenced by the Holy Spirit, who we cannot see. By following Christ, we live in his faith and we become who we are truly supposed to be. No amount of earthy riches can do that.

He gave us a shadow of what it means to live as God intends us to live. He is the true son of Man – showing us what life in communion with Father, Son and Spirit is all about. When we keep our eyes on him, we can be confident that what God has in store for us is greater than we can possibly imagine.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 • Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 • Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 • Luke 12:32-40

The theme for this week is seeing the invisible God by faith. In Psalm 50, the psalmist sees God in the beauty of creation. Isaiah warns us that God “hides himself” from those who practice empty religion. This means that those who put religion over God will have a difficult time building a relationship with him. To see God, his followers must care for others, especially those in need, and be obedient to him. The author of Hebrews, in defining faith, cites Abraham’s belief in God’s promises as a model of faith. In Luke, Jesus exhorts believers to seek heavenly treasures (invisible) over earthly possessions (visible). We are also encouraged to follow Christ as if his return were imminent. Christians should be alert and prepared because his comings and goings sometimes appear to be hidden from us.

The Blessings of an “Invisible” God

Luke 12:32-40

Not long ago, there was an internet trend where parents tempted their young children with candy. The mom or dad sat their child down and placed the kid’s favorite candy in front of him or her. They would make up an excuse to leave the room for five minutes and tell their child not to eat the treat. Of course, a camera would be secretly recording the child’s moral crisis. In most videos, the child is fine for the first minute or so, then you see their willpower slowly crumble. In most cases, the parent returns to see that some or all of the candy has mysteriously disappeared. While the parent was in the room, the child was able to be strong. Once the parent left the room, the child’s ability to stay the course evaporated.

Now, I am not saying anything negative about those children because adults do the same thing. Have you ever gone out to a restaurant with a group of friends, and everyone gets served except one person? Now, etiquette suggests that if the party is less than seven, you are supposed to wait for everyone to be served before you eat. However, humans get hungry and hot food gets cold! In many cases, there is this awkward moment where everyone’s self-control is tested. People start glancing between their delicious, untouched plate and the one who is still waiting. Deep down, everyone secretly wants someone to start eating, but no one wants to be that person because they are somewhat convinced it may be rude. Things stay awkward until the unserved friend says, “Listen, you guys go ahead and eat. I insist.” Of course, the others are obliged to say, “Are you sure?” However, everyone knows that it is just theater. In the end, the diners are thankful that the one without food is a true friend and made a sacrifice for the sake of the many.

These stories are amusing, but they illustrate a more serious point: humans typically have a hard time following the rules when there is no one in sight to enforce them. Whether it is driving over the speed limit, sneaking food into the movies, or having too many items in the express lane at the supermarket, we have all struggled to follow the rules when we could easily get away with doing our own thing. Now, I am not saying this to condemn anyone, but to point out a human tendency we all share. We are often tempted to test our boundaries. Even when we successfully resist, the temptation is there.

This human tendency can complicate our relationship with a God we cannot perceive with our earthly senses. The Bible has numerous stories of people hearing the voice of God or seeing a physical manifestation of his presence; however, these occurrences are rare. Most of us will not hear God’s voice or physically interact with him in this life, yet, as Christians, we are supposed to follow Jesus and obey God’s commands. Unfortunately, an invisible God can make it easy to ignore a lot of what Jesus taught. Of course, there are laws that help us avoid some of the more damaging sins. However, if we resist participation in missional work in our neighborhood, we do not get zapped. As far as we can tell, we are not immediately punished for not being good neighbors. We cannot be arrested for self-righteousness or conceit. God does not manifest himself to enforce these commands, so we can easily ignore them like a child forbidden to eat candy by an absent parent.

God understands this about us, which is why Jesus did a lot of teaching about preparedness. He knew we would struggle in our relationships with an invisible God, so Jesus addressed our natural tendencies. In our text for the day, we read these words from Jesus:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: 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. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:32-40)

In the passage, Jesus addressed two temptations of followers of unseen leaders: the temptation to follow another leader and the temptation to ignore the leader’s commands. In verses 32-34, Jesus warns against making monetary gain our god. Money is easy to worship because it can seemingly do incredible things. With enough money, you can build a spaceship and orbit the earth. With enough money, you could buy a pharmaceutical company that makes life-saving drugs. With enough money, you can purchase your own island and rule over it as you see fit. It seems that money can accomplish god-like feats. Compared to an invisible God, money’s tangible and immediate power can be alluring.

Jesus exposed the truth about money: its power is fading and temporary. The things money gives can be lost or taken, and the things it builds will one day be destroyed. Worst of all, money does not always accomplish what it sets out to do. Despite all the money that has gone into things like cancer research, climate change prevention, and homelessness services, these and other problems are still with us. We have all likely encountered problems money could not fix, so this god, at some point, will let us down. Jesus warns us not to exchange true riches for fool’s gold. He wants us to understand that it pleases the Father to give us the best of what he has to give. He is the great King, and his desire is to share his kingdom with us. In that way, we are already rich. Those who follow Christ are already provisioned in ways we cannot fully comprehend. Jesus wants believers to be givers instead of accumulators. We should look at money as a ministry tool instead of a source of security.

The riches we have in God do not fade and are eternal. A new pair of sneakers is not as good as everlasting joy. A diamond ring is nothing compared to freedom from guilt and shame. A 60-inch television cannot hold a candle to unconditional love. It pleases the Father to lavish us with these priceless and eternal gifts. If we see ourselves as already blessed and focus on cultivating the riches of God, we will never be lacking. We will be content in all situations and see the reality of our blessedness in all conditions. However, if our god is money, we will never be filled. We will always want more and never be satisfied. If you think about it, the invisible things of God are truly more real than the visible things money can give us. The things of God are consistent, constant, and unending. They are forever good and forever true, while the things money can buy will pass away. Jesus wants us to see the limits of our senses. We equate the tangible with the real. However, the intangible things of God are the truly real things.

In verses 35-40, Jesus teaches us to avoid another mistake made by followers of unseen leaders: ignoring their duties. If you went to school in the U.S., you know that few things cause more pandemonium in a classroom than a substitute teacher. It is as if when the substitute enters the room, the class forgets how to be students. I salute all substitute teachers for your dedication to educating our children despite all the spitballs, disrespect, note passing, and incessant talking.  We even have sayings to describe this phenomenon, like, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play!” There’s an edgier saying that conveys the same sentiment: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!” So, there seems to be something about us that is comfortable doing what we know is wrong if we can get away with it, or if no one will find out.

Therefore, Jesus used the metaphor of a prepared servant to show how his followers should live. We should live as though Christ’s second coming is imminent. That is not to say, Christ’s second coming is imminent, however, we should live as if it is. The common reaction for many who read this passage is fear and trepidation. If God is so good and loving, why are so many Christians a little afraid of Christ’s return? I think part of the answer is that we have a fallen image of God, and we associate him with cold, stern judgment. We think that somehow when Christ returns he will no longer be loving, patient, and full of grace. I think the other issue may be that we carry the guilt of knowing that we are consciously ignoring some of God’s commands. This can be tricky. Some of us carry guilt because of lack of initiative when it comes to the things of God. Some of us carry guilt because we have a harsh view of God that separates him from his grace. This causes us to think that nothing is good enough for God. In both cases the remedy is the same: spend time with God. For those who lack initiative, spending time with God gives us an opportunity to see who he is. He is so wonderful that knowledge of his goodness triggers the desire to respond. We have to do something in the face of such overwhelming grace. For those who are falsely motivated by an imagined, ungracious God, spending time with God will show you the depths of his love, mercy, and humility. Our “doing” with God should flow from our “being” with God. Following the will of the Spirit will bless us to feel accepted even when we do not do things perfectly.

We should not be afraid of Christ or his return. Christ’s return should evoke joy in the hearts of those who love him. If we take a closer look at the passage, it tells us that we should be afraid of wasted time and missed opportunities. When Christ returns, there will be no more chances to follow him in this life. We, therefore, should be afraid to miss opportunities to serve our Lord and Savior not because we fear his punishment (although there are unpleasant consequences to continually ignoring the Spirit), but because there is a blessing in store for us when we open the door to his knocking. Jesus gives an astounding image of a master serving his servants because they were ready when the master knocked. In the story, Christ is the master, and we are the servants. This type of humility by a human master would be unheard of in Jesus’ time, and to speak of God this way would be blasphemy to some. Yet, Jesus says that God will bless us for participating in the work of Jesus Christ, and we should be afraid to miss out on something so wonderful.

We miss the point of Jesus’ teaching if we think he is only talking about his second coming. Every time the Spirit prompts us to help a friend, say a kind word to a neighbor, or serve in ministry, it is as if Jesus is knocking at our door. Being prepared, in this case, is doing the spiritual practices that will make us ready to respond when God speaks. We have to practice opening that door, because our natural tendency is to ignore it. What intimacy with God are we missing by not responding to that knocking? What treasures do we forgo when we ignore the commands of our invisible Lord? When the Spirit prompts us to serve him, he is also promising deeper communion with himself. This is why we can never deplete ourselves when we follow the Spirit. We can become depleted in doing things in our own strength; however, the Spirit’s leadership will cause us to be filled by Christ, and he fills us to overflowing.

We do not know when we will be called upon to be a blessing to someone else, so we have to practice the spiritual disciplines to stay in a state of readiness. Praying, listening to Christian podcasts, enjoying praise and worship music, fasting, journaling, engaging in missional work, reading Christian books, practicing silence and solitude, participating in table fellowship, and other spiritual practices are ways in which we prepare for Jesus knocking on our door. As we engage in these life-giving activities, God becomes less invisible. We begin to see evidence of him everywhere. We see him moving in our lives. We see him moving in our families. We see him moving in our churches. We see him moving in our neighborhoods. We see him in every place we look. We will not be the mouse who plays when the cat is away because God is so very present.

Jesus is the Creator of all things. Everything was created by him and for him — both the things we see and the things we cannot see. He holds everything together. He may be invisible to our earthly senses, but he is reality itself. I pray that we would prepare ourselves to receive the blessings of living in that reality.

Humble Hospitality w/ Chris Breslin W1

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August 7 – Proper 14
Luke 12:32-40 “Fear Not, Little Flock”

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Program Transcript

Anthony: Let me read the first pericope, chapter 12:32 – 40. This month, we’re going to focus on the New Living Translation. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 14, August 7.

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. 33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. 34 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. 35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready. “Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

Verse 32, Chris, says it gives your Father great happiness to give us the kingdom. So how are you, how can we experience this inaugurated kingdom, which is so joy provoking for the Father to give to us.

Chris: I think first and foremost, that is the origin and destination. That is the baseline of reality, is God’s delight. That God fundamentally desires to give us the kingdom and that it gives God great happiness or delight. I think we forget that all too often, that is the most real thing there is. And that is where our joy can come from, that we don’t need to muster it or that we don’t have to have the right techniques to mine it.

It’s just right there. That’s who, and that’s how God is. It really makes a difference. And we alluded to it earlier. My ministry is in the neighborhood. And starting with that baseline, I think makes you a different sort of neighbor makes you a different sort of minister.

For one, this is a long game that we’re engaged in. And so if I’m not starting and ending with God’s joy, if I’m starting with some sort of displeasure or an idea that things can be better or must be better rather than just the delight in (you mentioned Eugene Peterson) in the “is-ness” of the place and of the people, that I think that’s where burnout comes and that’s where, kinds of ministry that wind up being violent or being depersonalized happen.

And so, I think starting and ending with joy that originates in God is important. Like again, I’ve been immersed in Barth for the last couple weeks in that book. And like Barth is a joy theologian. He says, actually a theologian that labors, without joy, isn’t even a theologian at all.

Yeah. I think just recognizing and reorienting to God’s joy makes all the difference. Yeah.

Anthony: I don’t know if it was Bart, but I remember somebody writing joy is the serious business of heaven. Yeah, that’s right. And it’s the serious business of earth, is it not? The thing is, it’s like you said, this is who God is out of the overflow of Father, Son, and Spirit. Joy is not something we create. It’s his idea, and it’s good.

Chris: And it’s not even like the byproduct, it is the raw ingredient. It’s on both sides of the equation. I think if we only make it into the byproduct, we start to feel really uneasy or upset when things don’t seem joyful, or we feel pressure to make it that way.

Anthony: Yeah. Let me ask you a personal question, Chris, have you sold all your possessions? Are you taking the Bible literally? I just want to give you a chance to riff on this. It’s easy just to go ahead and say, “Jesus didn’t mean that, so there’s nothing really to say,” but that’s not true.

So, give us a Christological gospel-shaped orthodoxy as it comes to this passage.

Chris: Yeah. My congregation gives me a hard time because I often use the Common English Bible translation and that shares my initials. And they’re like, is this is what he’s saying or is this the serious work of Bible translators?

But the CEB talks about wallets that don’t wear out. And I kind of like that turn of phrase. I don’t know. I think it’s interesting that the kind of hoarding impulse and fearfulness and attachment are connected to joy, that sit in contrast to God’s joy. That generosity and open-handedness are connected to joy. It’s almost as if closing down or holding tight has become our natural state.

And really, I think this is trying to say that is an unnatural state for us to be in.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s well said. Generosity begets generosity. And it’s originally, God’s generous generosity toward us. He’s the generous one. And so, it only makes sense as human beings that this is what life should look like.

And I love what you said that it actually is the work of joy. We know it’s better to give than to receive, but in God’s good economy, we get both. We have received so much. Yeah. Why wouldn’t we share?

Chris: Yeah. There’s great irony that among Western Christians, we’ve fallen into the trap of making Christmas the main time that we give and receive gifts and so it’s really fun. (And we participate in that, and we do some version of Santa and St. Nick and all this stuff.)

But that should be so normal for us, that world of giving and receiving that Christmas is just like one of many days of that feeling and that joy of giving something to someone and the thoughtfulness that went into that and the resources that went into that.

And what would it look like? And I think this parable is challenging us. What would our lives look like if we reorganize them to be pass-through lives, lives where things pass through from God to the world?

Anthony: Speaking of that, what (and this may feel like a loaded question because it can take so much shape,) but what does it look like to be ready for the Son of Man’s appearance? Does all of this work together, based on what we’ve already said, or is there something more to it, Chris?

Chris: When you say, the Son of Man’s appearance, it has such baggage for so many people. So, it takes a lot of imaginative juice to reform a question like that, to do some positive work.

We get a lot of folks at the church that come from evangelical or fundamentalist backgrounds that have heard that question that you just asked, (what does it look like to be ready for the Son of Man to appear?) that gets mobilized towards the decision? It gets weaponized.

And so yeah, to try to re-ask that question in a way that is expectant and prepared and open to God showing up. The Message paraphrase says, “Keep your shirts on and keep the lights on.”

Anthony: We’re like Motel 6. We’ll keep the light on for you when you show up, Jesus.

Chris: Yeah, that’s right. The passage has two images: a wedding and a thief. It’s so fascinating to use a really (maybe) stressful, but generally positive thing, like a wedding, and learning to prepare well, to do all of the inviting and the gathering for a celebratory event, but also to prepare well to be secure to greet God’s arrival as a thief in the night.

And I don’t know, in there’s some difference between alert and alarm. I think we can only survive in a state of alarm for so long. That this passage, and Jesus in it, are calling us to just a state of being alert, a state of being ready and open and expectant both for the good and the bad of what it might mean for God to arrive in our lives, for the ways that we have them currently arranged.

Anthony: Yeah, I appreciate the way you said it, the expectancy or anticipation of his appearance. It’s like when a dear friend or loved one comes to your home. You’re excited. And you prepare for them. You want to care well.

And I think part of your good work in ministry, Chris, I think what we’re trying to accomplish denominationally through a Trinitarian perspective is to invert the way we’ve thought about these passages. [Not] “we’ve got to be afraid,” when we can just rest in his assurance and be about his business as we go. And all will be well, and all will be well, and all manners of things will be well.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Do you find it challenging to believe in things you cannot perceive with your senses?
  • What are some ways we can better live in God’s invisible reality?

From the sermon

  • Can you think of a time you were tempted to get away with something because no one was looking?
  • Do you think it is common for people to see money as a god? Why or why not?
  • In what ways do you think spiritual disciplines prepare us to open the door when Jesus knocks?

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