"Tugging Urgency," Pastor Fred
[Jesus said:] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
And again, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
And finally, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
One of the things that tugged at me, calling me to become a pastor, was this feeling of urgency in Jesus’ message. It captured me, and wouldn’t let me go. A sense that it was so real, and a grasp that just wouldn’t leave me alone. Do you ever feel that?
God wants ‘to give us the kingdom.’ ‘Sell your possessions and give alms… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ Hearing and taking those kinds of passages seriously, my parents barely had to tell me to be good! I was dressed and ready for action. My lamp was lit! If Jesus was coming, I wanted to be ready.
Why would I want to join in throwing water balloons off the bridge at the end of my block, when I was 12 years old – at the urging of my next door neighbor – to hit the cars passing underneath!? I felt no urge, really, to participate in that. But, full disclosure, I did stand by and watch him do it! And when his aim was true, I ran just as fast, when the driver slammed on his brakes and came running up the embankment after us!
In those days, going to church, praying the prayers, talking with my Sunday School teachers, and hearing the sermon, kept me connected to the urgency of the Gospel. What if it was true? What if we still need to have our lamps lit in waiting for the Bridegroom to enter and come into the banquet? Have you felt this feeling?
I had to find out if it was true! What did it mean that Mary, the mother of Jesus, sang the Magnificat in response to her acceptance of bearing the Son of God? Crooning that, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.” Did that have anything to do with what Jesus says in Luke’s gospel today, addressed to his well off congregation? “Sell your possessions, and give alms… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also?” Did Mary feel the urgency?
Isn’t it also like the little parable that comes next, the same kind of reversal of rich and poor, when Jesus says, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes” – comes back and enters the wedding banquet – “truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” What? The master will serve the servants?! That’s a crazy reversal, that wouldn’t have ever happened in Jesus’ time, except that, Jesus himself did it!
But what if it’s true in the kingdom and realm of God? Is that what Jesus is saying? What does that mean today? I couldn’t, and still can’t let go of this urgency, this imperative.
What if the real life we’re supposed to be living is not this one we drudge through every day(?) – going to jobs where people have only feigned respect for us, and who we really are – who are mostly trying to leverage more and more work out of us, so that they too(!) can keep their jobs and impress their bosses. What if instead of that oppressive, never ending wheel of transactional, transient living, there is ‘a life that really is life,’ a meaning and joy that can fulfill us?
I mean, stop me if this sounds crazy? Does this sound crazy?
I know too, that being called to be a pastor, and all the studying and seminary training, is not the same level of urgency for everyone. But the urgency of the gospel message is not aimed at pastors, but at everyone who hears the Word of God. We all have different gifts to bring, but the same God is urgently calling us.
The disciples who gave up everything to follow Jesus, are never-the-less portrayed in the gospels as being mostly clueless. And it’s not until Luke’s 2nd Book, The Acts of the Apostles, that the Disciples finally understand the urgency of the kingdom, beginning on the Day of Pentecost. And Peter preaches, speaking for them all, because they finally all envision the Kingdom, as Jesus implored them. They “get it,” that God, in raising up Jesus – who is the Anointed one, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, the sacrificial lamb, and Son of God – had indeed turned the tables, and declared that the lowly are lifted up, and the powerful need not lord it over them – and us!
This is what is so urgent, and calls us all. The Spirit is available to everyone. And it lives in community wherever Christians gather, and live out the promise.
But the church has too often been tempted to give up on its mission. Over time, we thought that, either Jesus, or the early church, failed in bringing in the new age of the kingdom. The urgency we read about in the gospels was thought to mean that it would all happen right away, at least within their lifetimes. And obviously it didn’t, not fully.
So, more recently, it was reinterpreted to mean, that the urgency of the moment was personal, each of us comes to our individual moment of decision, or insight. Faith perhaps, is personal, and at the 2nd Coming each of us will be judged on our own merits. And yet, this individualism of faith, doesn’t track at all with the kingdom and realm of God that Jesus described – which was always communal and for the life of the world.
But a new generation of teachers, led notably by Bishop N. T. Wright, have been teaching a 3rd way, one that actually combines the two. Jesus, he says, was talking about the sudden and urgent arrival of the kingdom and realm of God, which collectively was being newly born, out of his own ‘death and resurrection,’ as God’s Messiah. And Jesus’ mission was to inaugurate a new age of peace with justice, a reversal of the ways of this world, that always settle our differences by violence and war, feeding the sin and corruption of the rich few oppressing the poor. As Jesus told his Disciples when they reached Jerusalem in 19th chapter of Luke, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
The disciples weren’t ready to see and understand just yet – no one was – that the urgency of the about-to-happen “visitation from God,” the reversal of the cross by the victory of Easter morning’s empty tomb, was the true way of life and peace. It is the ultimate metaphor and parable, grouinded in the historical structures of our created life together.
But 2,000 years later, how often has this pattern repeated itself, of war and oppression, that even the people of God don’t have the eyes to see the ways of the Prince of Peace?! How many more times before we are able to see and envision the Lord of Life, in a life of sacrifice, justice, and peace?
In the 2nd and final little parable Jesus tells in our reading today, he says, “But know 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, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
So, the final reversal, is that Jesus in the thief! And we, all of us, are living in the owner’s house in the old kingdom, tied to a life of protecting our possessions and trying to keep the thief – Jesus! – out!
But that’s alright, we also live all these years and centuries later, and the accumulated power of the Spirit continues to work on us. “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” The urgency is all around. Our life of faith is the preparation. Our life together in the Spirit, is our hope and expectation – that Jesus, the crucified and victorious Lamb of God has already conquered the Kingdom of this world, and is coming.
He has already flipped the script, and turned the tables, through his ‘death and resurrection.’ We live in the kingdom and realm of God already! Let us rejoice, “little flock,” in this comfort and relief! For our hearts are living there, and here – in the treasure-store of heaven!