When I first read today’s story from Luke, it reminded me of how impatient I am. Many things remind me of my impatience. For example, when my husband and I bought our house, I was not in love with the front door. I wanted a new front door – one that was dramatic, eye-catching, beautiful. I started working with a door specialist. We pored over different front doors – Gothic and Tuscan and medieval, all these styles to complement our Tudor house. For a while it was exciting. It was fun. I LOVED it! And then I didn’t. I had hit a wall.
Not because of the designer, she was fantastic. But because I just wanted it done. I wanted to come home and see the door already installed.
Some of you in this room and online know exactly what I’m talking about, this kind of impatience. Especially those of you who have built something. Whether it’s a business or a bookcase, an addition for your guests, or you’re updating a room or rebuilding a part of your life…sometimes you get to a point where you just want the building phase to be over.
Today’s readings in Luke and Hebrews are about the things we build. Not just building any ordinary thing. It’s about building the kingdom of God.
Yes, we live in the kingdom of God…we Christians know it is God’s world and God made it. And we continue to build this world the way God intended it to be. Jesus tells us how.
Today’s passage from Luke says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And the line right before that is even more telling. It’s not included in the Lectionary for today but I wish it was, because it reads: “For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
“Strive for his kingdom” is says.
The thing about striving, though, striving to build something, is that it can be hard. It is a challenge. Today’s story from Luke has some tough lines. The parable Jesus tells us uses the imagery of slave, master, and serving. That might seem unexpected when talking about God giving us the Kingdom.
But as Jesus followers, we in this church and online, all of us together, know that Jesus often doesn’t talk in the way we expect. Here, he inverts the social mores of the time by talking about the master serving the slave. Many of us here in church and online might feel discomfort when the words and imagery of “slave” and “master” come up in the Bible. I sometimes do. Yes, slavery was pervasive during the time the Bible was written. It was as basic to the world then as cars are to us now. Like fuel to the economy. Even THAT analogy may seem hard. Any type of enslavement was and is abhorrent. We know that. God knows that. God has always known that.
When we feel discomfort or tension when reading the Bible, that tells us something. Yes the Bible was written long ago for a certain audience at a certain time…and still, today and in the future, the Holy Spirit is always saying something to God’s people. Saying something to all of us, through our reading of the Bible.
In today’s story from Luke, Jesus is using rhetoric to make us understand. Jesus wants to be heard. Jesus wanted to rally the builders. The people he was talking to back then needed to hear him and get the point of the parable, in order for us to hear Jesus’ point today. Because we continue to build what they started. Our spiritual lineage is based on what Jesus started. Jesus chose a parable for that moment. He could have taken the easy route and condemned the slavery of the time. But no, he chose the moment to demonstrate this reversal role rather than condemn the story. The listeners, their moment is to hear what he tells them.
Jesus wants us to serve the moment.
Like in today’s Hebrews reading, we might not know what we’re being called to as it was with Abraham. We need to listen and pay attention. The church continues to trust and respond even if we don’t go the same way.
Why is Jesus talking about enslaved people and masters? Because Jesus is talking about people that we often don’t hear from. He is saying, Look, THIS is what the Kingdom of God looks like. This is what heaven on earth looks like. This is how you make the world a better place, better in the way like how God designed it. When we listen to and serve those that may be unheard, those that may be sidelined….there is wisdom in that. What we hear in this story is that in God’s world, everyone has a seat at the table. Everyone is served there.
Last week we talked about the wisdom of God and how it might look foolish to the world. What we take from today’s passage is What does it mean for the master to serve? It means God is the master. As Christians we need to do what God does. Serve.
Jesus himself, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John uses analogies of servant, master, slave, of servants not being greater than the master, of Jesus himself serving. Jesus talks about how he came here to serve. Jesus tells us to do the same. As Christians, we are called to do the same. To do what Jesus did. To serve.
Yes Jesus came to serve. But Jesus did not only serve the person. Jesus served the moment. He served the moment in time. He was always talking about how it’s not time yet, it’s not Jesus’ time to do XYandZ.
We know that God is out of time and in time and beyond time. Yet God sent Jesus to serve the moment in the time. That’s what it means to be ready, watchful, alert like today’s story in Luke says. To serve the moment you are in. To be observant of what’s going on in the world and in our corner of it, and then to be attentive to it, to tend to it. That’s what it means to be a Jesus follower. Serve the moment. These are moments when we pay attention.
Our ancestors served the moment when they abolished slavery and ushered in the Abolitionist Movement. Paying attention served the moment during the Civil Rights Movement, which led to laws of segregation being changed. Serving the moment of Covid 19 led from it ravaging the world, to masks and the vaccine that help save the world.
This is the way we build God’s world. A world of hope and healing, of equity and equality and justice, and a world of God’s care and God’s love. Today’s reading from Hebrews is all about God’s love. It talks about Abraham being led by faith, even though he didn’t know where he was going.
Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” And this “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”
What we hear in both stories from Luke and Hebrews is how our spiritual ancestors built the kingdom with multigenerational add-ons and rooms. We are heirs to that. We hear echoes of Abraham’s call in our time in George Floyd and the Me Too movement and . We’re saying, Finally we get it. Enough with voices being silenced and unheard. Uncover it all. We will pay attention and we will set out for where we are called. We will serve the moment.
As the church we keep on building. We don’t have it all figured out. The moment teaches us. And like our spiritual ancestor, Abraham, our faith and our obedience when we are called, teaches us too.
The Spirit is always speaking to us. God is patient. God is patient enough to know that Jesus put seeds in this parable back then, seeds that the Holy Spirit stirs in us right now. We hear seeds of service. Seeds that show God’s love. Sometimes serving the moment leads to serving people. Here at Epiphany we respond to the moment. Like when we reaching out to our siblings in the Ukrainian Church that we share space with here. And the backpacks that we put together and so much more. This is the moment we are in. We pay attention. We hear what the world needs; we hear what the world shouts that it needs, and we hear what it whispers. We have the tools of time and God’s love to build the rooms and the walls. We hear the sound of the hammering of humanity. We might not know who we are serving, but we can’t afford to stop building. We serve the moment. We continue to build the Kingdom because we can’t afford not to. And the Holy Spirit is right alongside us.