12 Pentecost C—8/7/16
Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Pr. Scott Kramer
Following worship every Sunday many of us head downstairs for coffee hour. There your attention likely is on the coffee, the food and the conversation. It may be, though, that on occasion you’ve happened to glance at the floor and if you have you’ve probably noticed the red carpet. Well, it’s not so red anymore. These days it’s more like shades of red mixed with shades of black. And you can’t miss the red-colored tape that has been lovingly applied where the seams have started to come apart and where there’s some risk of tripping.
This carpet is in pretty tough shape. I haven’t found anyone who knows for sure when it was laid down but it’s been decades and so of course it shows wear. But you know what, this is a good thing! Churches are not monuments. They’re made for people. Where there are people there will be messes. There will be wear and tear! If a church looks pristine, like a museum, that might be cause for concern. If it is inhabited by human beings, on the other hand, over time it will look lived-in. And thanks be to God for that!
The stories of our faith are full of human activity. They’re messy. There’s plenty of wear and tear. We Christians are not a settled people but nomads—we’re on the move. “Be dressed for action!” Jesus says in Luke’s gospel, “and have your lamps lit.”
There is danger in being too settled: Too settled in our habits, too settled in our beliefs. When Jesus appeared on the scene the people of Palestine were too settled, unable to recognize God when the Divine appeared to them in new ways through Jesus. Where your treasure is, Jesus taught, there your heart will be also. In other words, what we believe in most passionately, where we feel deeply–where we dig in and take a stand–may be the very place where faith has been replaced by something else more settled.
Human nature drives us to seek the settled life. We naturally hunger for safety and security. And yet, the life of faith according to our Scriptures is by definition nomadic. Our spiritual ancestors, according to the writer of Hebrews, confessed that they were “strangers and foreigners on the earth…seeking a homeland.” Be ready and alert, Jesus says, to pull up stakes and move forward, called into the future by a vision of God’s kingdom.
On Friday the summer Olympic Games began, and I always look forward to the opening ceremonies. Before any Olympics there is always criticism of the politics and expense and scandal, and these things are a concern.
Nevertheless, the parade of athletes from many nations for me is a glimpse of the kingdom of God. This year, for the first time, there is an Olympic refugee team, made up of athletes who because of war and politics are not able to compete for their home country. On Friday the crowd’s loudest applause–except for maybe the Brazilian home team–was for the ten members of this refugee team, competing under the Olympic banner. Here is a real-life example of people who know what it is like to be “strangers and foreigners…seeking a homeland.”
How is it with us? To what extent are we settled, dug in? Or, to what extent are we always “seeking a homeland?”
Today’s reading from Hebrews invites us to consider what it means to live by faith, to be a nomad. It all begins with the story of Abram. Abram, and others of our spiritual ancestors, were called by God to pull up stakes. Not knowing where they were going, they moved forward into the future on the basis of God’s promises.
That red carpet in the fellowship hall—and yes, in the sanctuary–may seem to have little to do with these stories. But I wonder. I have noticed in recent months that there has been a persistent call among some of you to replace that well-used fellowship hall carpet. What’s most interesting to me is who is interested in replacing that carpet. It’s not so much younger folks who presumably have some decades remaining in their lives but people in their eighties. Now, it would be easy for them to say, “Well, I probably won’t be around in ten years so who cares about the carpet!”
Instead, something else seems to be going on here. As the author of Hebrews puts it, All of these spiritual ancestors died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. It is an act of faith if you know that you might not wake up tomorrow and yet focus on a vision of something bigger than yourself, beyond yourself–something that will be a blessing to people you will never meet.
It may seem like a small thing but who knew that beat-up red carpet could be an opportunity for discipleship? And yet, Jesus said, Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If I am too settled in the past or in the present, if I am too invested in what I know, where does faith come into the picture? Our second reading reminds us that by definition faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Sometimes we get the idea that the life of faith is something we do for what we can get out of it. For example, if we work hard and do our best God will whisk us through the pearly gates in the life to come. Self-interest is one approach to the life of faith. In fact, investment in the life of faith may start out that way for each of us. But maturity of faith is marked not by self-interest but by love, regardless of what we personally get out of it!
It’s all about “red carpet.” That’s the term we use, right? To “roll out the red carpet,” to give someone “red-carpet treatment” means to provide lavish hospitality. This is what God has done for our spiritual ancestors, and in fact the whole human race. The story of Abram and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, John, Jesus, Mary, Martha, Paul, and all the rest is the story of God’s lavish hospitality. Even before that promised “better country” these spiritual ancestors–and we!–are the recipients of God’s unconditional love and welcome. God rolls out the red carpet for us!
Sometimes we may not see it. I suspect Abram, in his journey across hundreds of miles of desert, probably at least occasionally prayed, “You know, God, you promised a better land but all I’m seeing is sand. As far as the eye can see, only sand!” That is our human experience, whether for a brief time or for a long and sustained time. Still, the truth is that God has rolled out the red carpet. We follow that red carpet into an uncertain future because we are not settled people. We are people “on the way.”
Baptized in Christ, God lavishes red-carpet treatment on each and every one of us. Abram was a stranger to God when he received God’s call. We learn from God’s hospitality toward strangers…like us! We in turn imitate the welcome that God has first extended to us when we give red-carpet treatment to the stranger. It may be as simple as God’s people acting in faith, providing God’s welcome to people we will never know or meet.