Sermon for May 26, 2019
Texts: Genesis 15:1-12,17-18/Luke 13:31-35
Sermon title: “Housekeeping”
It has been said that “a goal without a plan is a wish.” Most of us are experienced enough to validate that claim.
The book of Genesis opens with these words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… The text might more suitably read, “In the beginning God had a plan, and then God created…” It started with a plan, and then over the course of six days God worked his plan. The achievement was so satisfying to the Creator that he summed up his efforts in just two words, “very good.”
In six days the vast heavens, the earth and the seas abounding with life were created, and then as we are told in the first chapter of Genesis, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; [and God said] “let us give humankind responsibility, dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
God placed awesome responsibility upon human shoulders, unfortunately humankind proved unequal to the task.
There is no hint in Genesis that God envisioned anything less than equilibrium and symmetry between humankind and the rest of creation. Paradise is what God had in mind, but God’s project went array, for the temptation to “be like God, knowing good and evil,” proved irresistible to our ancient ancestors.
Humankind was introduced to a foreign substance. Origins of that substance continue to baffle everyone who takes the biblical rendering of creation seriously. This substance, sin, was imported in, but we don’t know who imported it, or where the importer got his power.
Be that as it may, sin compromised God’s project so thoroughly that the human mind cannot begin to envision what the world might have looked like in its absence. Sin plays big in those first chapters of Genesis. Not a pretty picture. Cain murders his brother Abel. Wickedness becomes so prevalent on earth that God is made to regret installing humankind on earth at all. Wickedness became so prevalent that God resolved to destroy humanity off the face of the earth, sparing just one family, whose patriarch was Noah.
A great flood inundated the earth—a familiar story—Noah and his band, and representatives of each of the families of birds, animals, and plant life, rode out the deluge in the ark. Chapter two of creation would soon begin, God charging Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” This Noah and his family would eventually do, while God vowed never again to wield his power to destroy what he created.
The vow was ritualized in the form of a covenant [a solemn, irrevocable pledge]. Friends, it was a good thing that God was so bound, for almost immediately sin reared its head again. The descendents of Noah seriously failed in the righteousness department.
God may have renounced his covenant he with Noah as a result of humankind’s disobedience. Keep in mind that a covenant is meant to bind two parties to an agreement. Instead of voiding the covenant, however, God chose to make another one, and that is where our morning’s first lesson comes in. God covenanted with Abram, declaring that Abram, later Abraham, would be the father of a vast nation, a nation through whom his influence would be directed to the rest of the world.
As Abraham’s influence grew so did the obstacles that prevented Abraham’s tribe from flourishing. In just a few generations the people of God found themselves residing in a foreign land as captives.
The people of Israel lived in this alien state until it became intolerable, a ruler of Egypt, having concluded that the foreigners might eventually destabilize his nation, put the clamps on the Hebrews real hard. The moans of the people reached the ear of God, and God, remembering the covenant, selected one, Moses, to extricate the people. This he was able to do, only the deed was accomplished with precious little cooperation from the stubborn, backbiting people under his charge. For the better part of forty years they complained, made idols, and otherwise acted out.
Moses did the best he could, but the Hebrews were so disorderly that ultimately he failed to deliver his people to the Promised Land. Though his successor, Joshua, was able to accomplish the deed, he met with the same kind of resistance as Moses did. The people wouldn’t listen.
What most fascinated the people were the customs of the people among whom they lived. Explicitly ordered to stay clear of foreign entanglements, the people chose to embrace the customs and habits of the people among whom they lived. To this God was entirely opposed. Israel was God’s house and God wasn’t going to surrender property rights. Yet Israel was nothing if not persistent in her errant ways.
Continuing to assert her independence from God, Israel believed that her best interests would be served if she had a king like the surrounding nations. Initially rejecting the demand, God at last relented. King Saul, a formidable man, regal in bearing, managed the household quite effectively at first, but then the wheels came off. Arose, however, the fair-haired David under whom Israel lived some of her best days.
David, though succumbing to human weakness like the rest of us, was able to put Israel’s house in order at last. He was able to consolidate the various tribes of Israel into one monarchy with a capital city, Jerusalem, the establishment of which went off with a grand celebration the likes of which hadn’t been seen before.
With David leading the way, and again, with ceremony befitting the occasion, the Ark of the Covenant, containing the sacred tablets of the law and other artifacts, were brought into David’s city. This was a very big deal, for by virtue of its presence there, the Ark confirmed that God was also present with his people, a reality, Solomon, David’s son, would commemorate with a great, opulent temple.
To this day David remains the most celebrated keeper of God’s house in all of Israel’s history, yet David, or no David, the habit of obedience to God never really took hold, instead it continued to fester.
Fast forward several generations. God resolved at last to make a history altering move; a baby was born in the town of Bethlehem. The first letter of John summarizes the event this way, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” Put slightly differently, God would have the world establish its house, not through a lineage of kings, but through Jesus, his only son.
God appointed Jesus to be the head of the human household. His authority, however, undermined the authority of those who cherished their own authority, and that caused problems that led eventually to the cross on Gethsemane.
Jesus had been warned. Herod was out to kill him. But Jesus ignores that warning, instead predicting that he, like the prophets before him, would die in Jerusalem, the very city to which David lent his prestige. Luke’s Gospel reports Jesus declaring, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills its prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.”
It is interesting that Jerusalem should come in for such accusation, for if we follow the chronology Luke lays out for us, Jesus had yet to even visit the city. Be that as it may, the gospels represent Jerusalem as the symbol for every place Jesus met rejection during his earthly ministry.
“How often have I desired to gather your children, Jerusalem, but the house over which you disobediently preside is closed to me.” Resigned, Jesus could only concede that reality, and allow events to take their course. “Your house is left to you.”
In Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem we hear God’s lament for all the rejection God has suffered at human hands, at our hands. “Your house is left to you. You are left to your own devices.” These were not the words the people wanted to hear. Nor are they the words we, who were baptized to represent Jesus to the world, want to hear.
Keepers of the house, that’s who we are. Cast in slightly different language we are stewards, delegated by the master of the house to keep the place in good condition until he comes home. Even as Lent challenged us to accept responsibility for the individual sins that keep us estranged from God, we who collectively comprise the church of Jesus Christ universal, are challenged to be accountable for our housekeeping, the maintenance of Christ’s house here on earth.
You see, you and I not only bear responsibility for our own personal conduct, as members of the mystical body of Christ, the church, we are responsible for each other. We pray for and with each other. We hold each other accountable. We bear witness to Christ in the world outside our doors.
In worship Sunday after Sunday we frankly acknowledge that we have not fulfilled our calling as individuals or the church. In fact, do we really want to accept any responsibility for the world on Jesus’ behalf at all? That is the question Jesus puts to the church.
Of course the Lord supports the individual efforts by which we hope to demonstrate that we are upstanding and devout people, but Christ has aspirations for his church as well. Jesus gave his life to establish the church, and you and I have been charged to maintain it as his faithful acolytes.
The church’s vocation is housekeeping, to give faithful witness to the one who gave his life for the salvation of the world. Again, we must not yield to the temptation to make the sum of our life under God some purely personal spiritual pursuit.
Our obligation as the church is to be a source of inspiration, hope, and joy to our community and the world at large. It was Jesus who said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” It is a challenging mission to put ourselves out there in that way, but one for which we have been prepared, and continually being prepared, by our awesome Creator. Furthermore, and always remember this, the light upon which we draw is as inexhaustible as the God who is its origins. AMEN.
We gather on a day you have set apart, O God, a Sabbath, a time to gather as the church to celebrate our identity and destiny as the church, the body of Christ. Given new identities in baptism, we severally are united as one in faith and service. Joining brothers from north and a south, and east and west, whom we shall never know, the bond of family is a gift we are privileged to share all brought into existence through Christ Jesus.
O Christ, head of the church, who willingly gave your life to secure our freedom, we freely acknowledge that we, like those who have gone before us, have been quick to express our love for you in word, but slow to fortify our words with deeds. Forgive the many ways our actions deny you, called to your ambassadors, we have adopted the world’s values, the world’s attractions co-opting our time and energy, even as you bid us to follow you.
Called to repent of our ways, O Lord, may your voice break through the clamor of the competing voices of our culture, and may the counsel you offer bring order to our disordered lives.
Holy Spirit, you descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Though your presence in our lives has not been announced in such dramatic ways, your presence is no less real, and no less abiding. Wherever we may go you are with us. Preserve in us an openness to your divine work, a readiness to believe even when hard evidence for belief is lacking.
Holy Trinity, whose love for humankind is expressed is so many ways, the world labors under the curse of division. In your mercy hear the cries of those victimized by anger and wrath, those whose daily lives are consumed by fear and sorrow. We grieve the madness that provokes war, praying, O God, even as we pray for the peacemakers whom you have mobilized in our midst.
O God, abide with this congregation, the people to whom you have given life in abundance. Grant your favor on each one that we may experience that peace which surpasses all understanding.
Privileged to gather at your table once again, endow us with the gift of discernment, O Lord, to experience your presence with us in the elements of bread and juice. May our shared experience of grace at the table, become in our hands a gift we are willing to share with the community and world beyond
United in a common confession of faith with brothers and sisters across the church we offer our prayers, even as we return once again to that pray Jesus taught us…