What is demanded of us?
Ordinary Sunday 19, 11 August, 2013
Fr Alex Ross
Assistant Curate, Christ Church South Yarra
Wis 18:6-9; Psalm 33:1,12,18-19,20,22 ; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48
Message: We have been entrusted with the gift of the Kingdom, so what is demanded of us?
Outcome: Combat apathy and to revive commitment to discipleship in expectation of Christ's return.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit: Amen.
I'd like to thank Fr Hugh for his invitation to preach and deacon today at St Peter's Eastern Hill — my first Sunday as Assistant Curate at Christ Church South Yarra was last week, and I was at Christ Church Brunswick the week before ... so I fear I'm going to get a reputation as a 'flying curate', but I must say it is a great pleasure and privilege to be back here at the 'Hill'. The last time I was here was on my wedding day almost two years ago, but it is a place which has also played an important part in my Christian formation and in the discernment of my vocation to ordained ministry. When I first started attending as a parishioner here, my 'regular pew' was as far down the back as possible — hiding behind the pillar. But despite my best efforts to hide, this place — and this tradition — has had a huge role in nurturing my faith.
I'm also particularly indebted to St Peter's, through the Klingner Scholarship, for the financial assistance over the past four years which has made possible the theological study and ministerial formation that I've been doing in the UK at the University of Oxford and Ripon College Cuddesdon.
So it was with no small sense of trepidation that I read the final verses of this morning's Gospel — "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." This place has given me much — and, in today's invitation to deacon and preach, has entrusted me with much ... so I set about diligently to pray through the readings in preparation for this sermon, but couldn't quite decide whether they were comforting — or confronting?
Christian faith can be like that — a mixture of comfort and confrontation. This dynamic between the comfortable and the uncomfortable is picked up in the lives of Abraham and the Patriarchs by the writer to the Hebrews: where faith is described as like inhabiting the promised land, but as a stranger in a foreign land.
Faith is seeking a homeland — looking forward to a City whose architect and builder is God. The problem is, the City hasn't yet been built — it's a promise.
That promise, for the Patriarchs — and perhaps for us too, is a little bit like buying an apartment off the plan ... the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen!
I imagine that buying an apartment off the plan is a somewhat uncomfortable situation to be in, at least for the unseasoned investor! Of course there's an element of certainty built into the contractual arrangement — but the promise remains unrealised, it remains yet to be built. So we also respond — perhaps somewhat uncomfortably — in faith, to the promise that God's Kingdom will be built. In this way, faith isn't 'belief' in anything — nor is it suspending disbelief — but it's trust. Trust in a promise that is yet to be realised.
Now that might be cold comfort — we might not want God's Kingdom to be established, we might be happy with the kingdoms and powers of our own making ... which we can control. But the Scriptures play deliverance and destruction ... blessing and danger ... punishment and glorification ... off each other as just two sides of God's justice. But always, that justice is one which is to be awaited and expected with patient and hopeful anticipation.
So we ought to long for the building of God's Kingdom among us.
So we ought to pray — as our Saviour taught us — May God's Kingdom come, May God's will be done.
So we ought to affirm — as we do each week in the words of the Creed — "He will come again, in glory, to judge the living and the dead and his Kingdom will have no end."
That creedal affirmation adds something of an extra dimension to the promise foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures — because it identifies Christ as himself the cornerstone of the promised city — the manifestation, the incarnation, of the promise — the first fruits of the harvest. The building of the City of God has started, in Christ, and it will be completed in Christ. So standing in the shadow of the Cross we cannot claim to be, like Abraham, strangers in a foreign land because we are already beneficiaries of the inheritance though Christ's death and resurrection and through the gift of God's Spirit.
We have been entrusted with the gift of God's Kingdom — so what is demanded of us? What is the call of discipleship? What is Christ's claim on our lives?
Jesus' parable cuts straight to this question of how we might respond as watchers and heralds of the Kingdom:
The first is to be attentive. Watch for signs of God's grace working in the world. Wait with patience and expectant hope, challenging despair and hopelessness. I was writing this sermon in the parish office at Christ Church South Yarra where there is a postcard on the wall that says: "Jesus is coming, quick look busy!" Of course, busyness may be the antithesis of attentiveness — but the Gospel's charge is to "be dressed for action and have your lamps lit!"
Secondly, the parable encourages us to prepare our house ... making it ready for the master's return. You might think of your own life as that house — how can you clean it and prepare it? Attending to broken relationships, making time for regular prayer and reading Scripture, offering hospitality and generosity. Then again, the house we are to prepare might be a corporate house — a collective body ... whether a whole nation — which I think gives us a pretty clear mandate to stick our noses into the political issues of the day so that God's justice and God's Kingdom is promoted over self-interest and point-scoring (and we're likely to see a lot of that now as we enter an election campaign). Or the house we're called to make ready might be this house, here, at St Peter's Eastern Hill. What will this community's distinctive and unique contribution be to ushering in the Kingdom of God?
At the very least — shake off apathy ... re-examine the challenge of your discipleship ... recommit yourselves to Christ. Watch for him, pray for him, prepare for him.
But, perhaps hearing all this — you're a little like Peter, you want to ask:
"But Jesus, is this teaching for us or for everyone?"
For the disciples, or for the crowd?
For me, or for them?
For the servers, or for the choir?
For the regular attendees, or for the Christmas and Easter lot?
The answer depends on what you think you've been entrusted with, what you think you've been given.
After all, "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded."
But, "do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom."