Scripture for this Sunday:
Genesis 15.1-6; Psalm 33.12-22; Hebrews 11.1–3, 8–16; Luke 12.32–40
There used to be a man called Fred who busked outside some of the shops where we lived in Canada. One day, when our kids and their friends were going past, he stopped, and called out, “Jesus is coming, clean out your garage.” They were not sure what to make of it. Neither was I.
Perhaps it was a variation on: “Jesus is coming – look busy!” It begs the question about what it is that we are to be busy doing. I know very well that there are people who earnestly try so hard to be busy about doing what they see to be Christian things that they lose sight of who Jesus is and what he is.
I think that Fred might have had an understanding of human nature and religion that belied his rather unprepossessing status and appearance. Cleaning out our garages? Why? Are we going to invite Jesus to stay there? Well, actually, we do tend to park Jesus in the garages of our lives. That way, he’s safely nearby, but not too close to what goes on in our homes. After all, he can be just a little disturbing.
In using parables to guide his disciples, Jesus can use counter-intuitive language. After all, who is the ‘thief in the night?’ Surely that is Jesus himself, arriving to overturn established order. The problem with overturning things is that we are quite often comfortable with the way things are and don’t want anything to be overturned.
Henri Nouwen, in Spiritual Direction, wrote about the two, conflicting inner voices he experienced – one urging him to be self-sufficient, the other suggesting that he should stay close to the heart of Jesus as his first priority. We all have those voices competing for our attention to one degree or another.
It raises the question about what is truly of value in the Christian context. Saint Lawrence, celebrated on 10 August, was martyred for presenting to a government official the “treasure of the church” in the form of the poor, hungry and needy. The official was not amused and had him roasted to death. But Lawrence’s sense of value, although used to trick an official, actually portrayed the true values of the church.
Tied in with the matter of value is the question of how we discern God’s purpose and apply Christ’s values to our own lives. This hinges upon the way in which we perceive and practise our faith. The letter to the Hebrews mentions hope and faith. The challenge is to treat life as a journey, a pilgrimage, which we make in the company of others, as individuals, yet as members of a community, people whose pilgrimage journeys intersect and overlap.
If we follow the example of the patriarchs and prophets, then in our life’s pilgrimages we may have faith in our ability to make a difference in our world if we stop clinging to our desire for instant gratification. The letter to the Hebrews catches this wonderfully in the examples of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob: all, especially Abraham, had to trust that God’s covenant would be fulfilled, even if not in their own lifetimes.
So Jesus is coming – he who constantly confronts in the form of those we meet along life’s journey, in the decisions we make. Jesus is coming: the thief, who is quite likely to threaten the established order, who will more than likely bring discomfort to the comfortable and peace, and comfort to the poor, the needy, the dispossessed, the sick.
Whether we wish to look busy or not, we might like to be sure that whenever he comes, we should be ready to invite Jesus to come a little closer than the garage. Maybe, like Henri Nouwen, seeking to be close to his heart might be better.