Stay awake! (Proper 14C)
Date: Sunday 11 August 2019 | Speaker: The Rev’d Clare Barrie
I don’t know if you have that problem of being caught by those marketing or survey phone calls where the phone rings right around dinner time. With younger kids and rushing to get dinner ready, I confess I’m not very Christian towards the marketers in particular [nope, this is a terrible time – click!].
But in election year there’s lots of phone surveys too and they’ve shown in recent years that the most urgent concern for most people is inequality, for which housing inaffordability and poor health outcomes are linked markers. It is easy to feel powerless and insignificant in the face of such complex and enormous problems.
And in this context, it is hard to relate to Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…”? And his assurance that when God returns and finds the household alert and waiting, God will have them sit at table, and put on an apron and serve a midnight banquet.
What are we to do? How are we meant to live, how are we meant to be, as we bear the knowledge of more and more struggle in our world and right here in Auckland? What is it to be a follower of Jesus in this context? We are all deeply formed by a culture that has raised us to strive for measures of success and security; we’ve all been taught that resources are scarce and the more of them we can grasp to ourselves, the safer and happier and more in control we will be.
You will of course hear echoes of my sermon last week. Jesus’ words in today’s gospel follow right on from his words in last week’s gospel: ‘be on your guard against all kinds of greed…[instead] be rich towards God.’ The problem Jesus was addressing is greed, hoarding – and not just the hoarding of money or possessions but of all of life: our time, our health, our relationships, the created earth. Our desires become shaped by greed so that we look at all that we have and are, and say, ‘my relationship to all of this abundance is going to be to try and keep it all to myself, to store it up.’
Today we are given an image of God returning to us, and finding us alert and waiting; God will have us – though servants or slaves – sit down at the table while God – the master of the household – will prepare and serve the banquet.
This story comes out of a culture that assumed slavery as a norm, and beyond that, a culture where poverty and oppression and extreme inequality were very much ordinary facts of life. The gospel stories constantly subvert the attitudes of that culture, and turn it upside down. Especially Luke’s gospel, for which our community is named. It was Luke who gave those incredible words to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that we know as the Magnificat:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour….
…..He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
So Jesus is calling us to the re-orientation of our deepest selves so that we can see the whole of our lives as an abundant gift from a generous God, and give out of that abundance to others in community.
But the condition that Jesus describes for the household which receives the banquet is that they be ‘alert and waiting’ – ‘Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
What might this mean? What is Jesus inviting us into? That household awake in the night was not waiting for judgement – it was not waiting in fear – it was waiting for a celebration. It was waiting in hope, for something good to happen.
In contrast, being asleep could be characterised as those living in complacency, or in hopelessness; either way, those asleep are cutting themselves off from others and retreating into isolation – they don’t want to risk opening themselves up – waking themselves up – to the struggle and pain of the world, or the real and passionate goodness of God.
To be asleep is to be living an unexamined life. It is being unaware of ourselves and the things that drive us, accepting of the status quo and the entitlement in which we all live, unquestioning in our support of our culture’s illusions. The psalmist describes this in another way – as ‘forgetting God.’
To be awake – to be ‘alert and waiting’, in Jesus’ words, is instead to be living in hope. It is to live honestly with the possibilities of pain and disappointment, without becoming bitter and closing oneself off. It is to sit lightly and with thanksgiving for all that we have, in the knowledge that is is ours only because of the goodness of creation and the grace of God, and it is ours not to possess but instead to share wisely and generously.
To be awake is to live with a holy dissatisfaction, questioning everything in our society and in our own lives that protects the rich and powerful and demeans the lowly and hungry. To be awake is to live an examined life, opening up our hearts to God and other trusted companions in faith, and letting our illusions of success and control be gently challenged and undone.
Sometimes I have moments, days, even weeks, when I know I’m awake in God. And sometimes I find myself asleep – I find that I’ve fallen into complacency or cynicism or I’m simply tired, overwhelmed by the need pouring out on the daily news and the busyness and inadequacies of my life. Or I respond out of my own entitlement; I judge; I dismiss; I turn away. The patterns, the habits of being asleep at the wheel of our own lives are deeply comfortable. One of the ancient names for all of this is sin.
What are the things that help to wake me up? That help to restore me, yet again, to living in response to God’s grace and abundance rather than according to the world’s narratives of success and scarcity? Simple things. Ancient practices of faith, that are available to everyone. We talked about some of these last week too.
- Giving as a practice – regular, deliberate giving of my resources;
- Prayer – both on my own and with others, time that places me in silence in God’s precence. Not defending or explaining or asking – just being silent.
- The eucharist, coming alongside and among others in faith with my empty hands outstretched.
- Sitting down with a spiritual director or companion regularly, someone who has my permission to ask, how is it with your soul? How is it with you and God?
- Naming the times when I’ve been asleep, and asking for absolution.
- Keeping a journal, reflecting on the patterns that shape my responses, and celebrating the moments when I’ve been alive to God’s grace.
- Laughing with friends, enjoying the good gifts of my life and my family, and giving thanks to God for them.
All of these things remind me again and again of who I really am, a child of God and a follower of Jesus – beloved, reconciled, holy. As you all are as well: beloved of God, reconciled and holy.
May we all be called out of sleep, out of illusion and back to our true identities, so that we can live in hope, and can carry that hope to all who need to hear it.
God’s midnight banquet is worth waiting for, and worth sharing.