Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sunday 11 August 2013 Ordinary 19

Possible theme(s): Faith. True treasure. Trusting in God for everything.

Sentence: Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Psalm 33:18-19


God, the strength of all who believe in you,
Increase our faith and trust
In your Son Jesus Christ
That in him and through your Holy Spirit, we may live victoriously. Amen

Readings (related):

     Genesis 15:1-6

     Psalm 33:12-22

    Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

    Luke 12:32-40

Genesis 15:1-6

This reading relates both the the epistle reading (the life of faith) and to the gospel (trusting God that his promises will come true). Abram is offered an extraordinary vision of the future, despite being childless he will father a great uncountable nation. A lesser man might have dismissed God but Abram believes. He accepts that what God says will come into being. Such belief means 'the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness' (v. 6): in other words, Abram does not work to earn God's favour (e.g. through a long obedience to commands great and small, or through great sacrifices, or through intense effort at being holy) but God responds to Abram's act of trust and counts him as righteous: a right living man in a right relationship with God.

Psalm 33:12-22

Are there any happy nations on earth today? If not, there is a reason and the psalmist gives it!

'Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord' (33:12)

What follows is a delightful poem setting out the greatness of God, the one who sits enthroned above the world and sees all that goes on within it. In that light, the fate of nations is not determined by how powerful a king and his military are. No, victory comes to those who fear God - in Old Testament language this is pretty much the same as New Testament language about trusting God.

It is said that Stalin once asked how many (army) divisions the Pope had. Obviously he knew that the answer was none. Many decades later Stalinism is no more but the faithful followers of the Pope (that is, believers in Jesus Christ within the Roman Catholic church) are perhaps more than 2 billion. If only Stalin (who was once upon a time a trainee in a church seminary) knew this psalm!

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Better than a dictionary definition of faith, the first few verses here tell us what faith is: 'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.' Faith is not mere wishful thinking, nor is it imagining things which do not exist. It is the confident conviction that what is not seen (God) and what is not yet experienced (the fulfilment of God's promises) is true and real. God exists (see also 11:6) and the future is the reality that the shadow of the present points to.

In verses 8-16, an example of this definition is given. Abraham (i.e. Abram of Genesis 15) set out in life to receive things which he did not see: 'By faith Abraham obeyed' (v. 8). When he received one such thing (the land promised to him, v. 9) he still needed faith, for he knew there was a great future to come, a city so to speak relative to the tents in which he and his family dwelt (v. 10). So through verses 11 and 12 we find the retroactive reflection on what has been just read from Genesis 15: childless Abraham and Sarah became fruitful, their descendants beyond count.

Luke 12:32-40

Chapter 12:13-30 is Jesus teaching assertively that God will provide for his disciples' needs so they neither need to strive to meet these needs, nor be anxious about God's provision and certainly not store up an abundance of wealth. Verse 32 following continues this theme but quickly flows into the theme of readiness for the coming of the Son of Man (i.e. for the return of Jesus Christ to earth).

Verses 32-34: How do we see God as our provider? As a begrudging giver, perhaps in need of a twist of his arm (e.g. through some form of strong prayer on our part, or impressive display of faith)? Jesus assures us that it is our Father's 'good pleasure' to give us the kingdom. So confident can we be in this generous Father that we should 'Sell your possessions and give alms.' The best way to break the power of money over our lives, to destroy any allegiance to Mammon is to give away what we have. A positive effect of giving is that we will receive 'an unfailing treasure in heaven'. Verse 34 makes a point already made in a different form earlier in the chapter in the parable of the rich fool (vss. 16-20): for our hearts to be in the right place we need to have our 'treasure' in the right place. Money in the bank, multiple properties, gold bars stashed under our beds are spiritually dangerous: our hearts are likely not in heaven but bound here on earth!

Verses 35-40 With no money in the bank, or properties to worry about the next instruction for a disciple is easy to follow! 'Be dressed for action and have your lamp lit.' These verses (which receive further expansion in 12:41-48 and 12:49-59) teach disciples that discipleship is a 24/7 task. We serve our master in the tasks of the kingdom with diligence, patience and persistence, never being found by sudden inspection to have grown slack, complacent or sloppy. Generally in Luke's Gospel the idea of the 'sudden inspection' inherent in the notion of 'Christ's Second Coming' is downplayed compared to Matthew and Mark. But here Luke discloses Christ's clear instructions in the light of the future coming of himself as 'Son of Man' (12:40) - a theme redolent with ideas of judgement, return, restoration and general putting the world to rights (see, e.g. Daniel 7). Disciples are to be 'alert', v. 37, and 'ready', v. 40 for the return of their master.

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