What do you hope for? Take a brief time now and think about that. Ask yourself: What do I hope for?
Every morning, my cat, Sunshine, accompanies me to the kitchen and she sits next to the cabinet where the treats are kept. She begins to drool a bit in anticipation for what she hopes will happen next: that I notice her and will give her the awaited treat. Would that we would put that kind of passion to work in us for what we are hoping for.
On one of my walks this week, I got to thinking about what I hoped for and so many things passed through my mind. I kept coming back to the Lord’s Prayer that we pray each week: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is this kingdom of God like? What are we praying for each week, hoping for each week? We pray for God’s kingdom—the time of love and peace and justice. The time of wholeness for the whole of the creation, not just for human beings, but for all that God has made. And not only in the future, but here and now.
Will that time ever come? When we look around us today, it is a rather dismal scene. I don’t need to paint the picture for you with words that will drag us down. We know the scene too well. We don’t need to rehash it over and over because that does nothing to change things. What we need is something to counter that dismal scene, some hope that things can and will be different. The Epistle lesson reminds us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the convictiton of things not seen… what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” -- Hebrews 11.1, 3b
When we have hope, we have faith; we believe and have assurance that our hopes will come true and that things will be different.
Then we read these powerful, hopeful words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
I think of you three little flocks: the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and the Methodists, the little flocks here in New Paltz. Little flocks that have decided to join together for study, for worship, for Sunday Church School, for mission. What a sign of hope that is, that different flavors of Christian sisters and brothers can live together in not only harmony but in loving support and encouragement and mission. That is a powerful witness to this fractured world all around us. Your witness is a sign of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom has come right here! Your witness makes the invisible God visible.
And just think, it is God’s good pleasure to GIVE us the kingdom. This is what God wants and gives to us freely. The rest of today’s Gospel lesson then tell us how this will happen, how to live our lives so that we are able to receive this gift that God so eagerly and blissfully gives to us. You are doing this already but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. There are a couple of instructions here that will help us on our kingdom journey.
The first lesson concerns our possessions. A giver must have a receiver: God, the giver, needs us to receive what is freely given. We don’t have to be afraid that God will withhold the gift. There is no need to be anxious for the fruit of the kingdom, for the satisfaction of our hope, for the kingdom to come. God wants us to have it and not to fret about having it. What a generous and loving Divine Parent we have. Jesus tells us that we can count on the treasures of the kingdom when we put our hope and trust and faith in God and not in material things. It is not money or power or status that holds the promise of the kingdom but it is in the spiritual dimension that the promise is had. How we use our money or power or status is what will yield the treasures of the kingdom. Our hearts and treasures will be one.
Years ago, I was part of an ashram on Long Island, taking instructions in yoga and its spiritual disciplines. The gurani taught us that the more things you have, the more things you worry about and have to protect and care for them. Live simply and be worry free. Don’t be afraid of losing or giving up material things. Be more concerned with attaining the peace that comes from being worry free. Good lessons here that have served me well. Jesus said the same thing using different words. Wisdom is wisdom. Let your heart hold the true treasures of life: love and peace and justice. Trust that God will provide for your needs, giving you what you hope for.
For me, that is where community is important. When I moved from New Paltz to Hyde Park, I was gifted with many helpers from the Hyde Park UMC, where I was serving as their Minister of Pastoral Care. My needs were supplied by God’s people, people who served a loving God and brought a bit of that kingdom love into my life at that time. They painted the inside of my entire town house, moved me, and helped me to settle in. What a love gift that was!
People in this community receive a love gift from you with each meal you provide, with the fresh produce you give away, with the welcome you give to everyone, and with all the many ways you demonstrate that the kingdom of God is among us and is here and now.
Jesus further instructs us on how to live this kingdom life. He says to be ready for action. No snoozing allowed. Don’t miss out on the opportunities that come our way but be ready for them. Grab those times when they present themselves. This can be scary at times for we may wonder how it is that we can do what’s expected. Remember Jesus’ words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God is with you, ready to give you what you need to help the kingdom to come. Don’t be afraid to take the risks involved. In the parable Jesus used for this lesson, the master returns from the wedding banquet and finds his slaves alert and ready for him to arrive. The master then serves them, providing a meal for them as if he were a slave himself. The master blesses those who were ready for him and becomes their slave. If we are alert to the needs of those around us, serving those needy people, then God will bless us and serve us as well. Do you remember that old adage: it is more blessed to give than to receive? The truth of that is that both the giver and the receiver are blessed.
The last lesson in this pericope is that we just never know when and how the kingdom of God will come to us. We have to be always ready for it. How many times have you been blessed by an unexpected kindness, a caring that just came out of what seems like nowhere? Whenever this happens to me, I am filled with joy and amazement. It is the kingdom come. The work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives that provide these kingdom surprises is amazing. I recall a time in my home church many years ago that happened to one of the parishioners. She had just started seminary and was on a limited income. The tuition was due and she needed $800 that she did not have. When she went to the mailbox the next morning, there was a cashier’s check in that mailbox for $800. She never learned who left her that love gift. What of the casseroles that arrive in your home after a procedure or a hospitalization and you didn’t even ask for them! Or the offer to take you to a place you were afraid to drive yourself? The list goes on and on. They are all the proofs that the kingdom has arrived. They are evidence that God has given us the kingdom. Yes, it is but a foretaste of all the joy and celebration to come at the end times. If it tastes so good now, perhaps making us drool just a little or at least salivate, just imagine what is to come.
Keep hoping. Keep dreaming. Keep imagining. Keep taking those risks. Keep believing that God will give us the love and peace and justice now. While it is just a small taste, it is enough to whet our appetites, our hopes, into a passionate response. Be the receiver of God’s good pleasure and pass those gifts on to others so that they, too, may have a taste of the kingdom and know the fruits of love and peace and justice. Bishop Anthony of Sourozh said: “We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.”*
In closing, I pass on to you this prayer that came to me this week. Let us pray:
May the Giver of all good gifts of life
bless you and keep you,
be present in, with and through you,
strengthening you to dream and generate,
a world of peace, justice, equity, and love for all. Amen.