Anticipation, NOT Anxiety

[Jesus said:] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Luke 12:32-40

There’s a reason Jesus is reminding his disciples to not be afraid. They are about to have the rug ripped right out from under them. And for the 1st C Christians who were reading Luke when it was first being circulated, there was a lot of comfort in those words as well. Those followers of Jesus were facing fears of all kinds — persecution, uncertainty about the future, confusion about the “old way” of doing things and this “new way” of doing things. Letter of the law vs. LOVE, etc.

These are words we need to hear as well. “Do not be afraid.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling lots of fear these days. The world is in chaos, our own nation is polemically divided, and there are more words of hate and violence than there are of love and reconciliation.

Whether we face these times with anticipation (Jesus said, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit”) or anxiety depends a lot on what we think we are dressed and ready for. And what we are dressed and ready for really comes down to a question of faith.

Jesus teaches us that it is “your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” So as you face these trying times, are you doing so with the anticipation that God is bringing you something wonderful and good? Or with anxiety that everything you see and hear and experience around you is going to win out in the end? How does your faith guide you to respond?

Our Hebrews passage grants us reason to think about faith a little bit. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. . . By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

What is it that we hope for? One of my favorite writers on faith is Fredrick Buechner. In his book, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, he reminds us “that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth.”

That is what we hope for — the last truth. We hope that God has the last truth. And what is the assurance of what we hope for? According to Hebrews 11, it is faith.

But faith is a difficult concept to define! Ask anyone what faith is, and you will be greeted with silence. It’s one of the only questions I know that is certain to elicit at least a pause. Ask a pastor, and they are likely to quote our Hebrews passage: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” but that doesn’t exactly explain faith.

Theologians and philosophers have tried at great length to explain faith. But Buechner reminds us,”Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.”

If theology can’t define or explain faith, how on earth are we supposed to “share our faith?!” Friends, faith is something that needs to be lived out and shared experientially.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews continues this passage by telling the stories of the “heroes of our faith” like Abraham and Sarah. And that helps me — I know those stories and I see their faith being lived out in the courageous steps they took and the promises they held onto even though, according to the scripture, they never received the promises themselves (All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 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. Hebrews 11:13-16).

We too, are seeking a homeland. That’s the promise we are holding out for: that final truth — the city that God has prepared for us. Buechner describes this beautifully, saying, “Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting” (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons).

We all have, even in this chaotic world, caught glimpses of this city God has prepared; we have experienced small “foretastes of the Kingdom of God” (we use these words in our liturgy for Communion, calling Lord’s Supper a “foretaste of the Kingdom of God”). You certainly, even if just once in your life, have felt something holy and wonderful — perhaps when you have seen someone being “good” or “pure” down to the very core of their being. Maybe you’ve noted this in a loved one when you realize the sacrifices they have made for you over the years. Maybe it is the safety you’ve felt when you are in a comforting embrace of a loved one (I felt it snuggled up on my grandma’s lap, listening to her heartbeat). Perhaps you’ve teared up once or twice watching a video or “feel-good” news story and you’ve thought, “That’s the way it should be!”

That feeling? Those tears? That melancholy? That’s the homesickness — the longing for God’s Kingdom.

May you, as you try to make it through these turbulent times, continue to hold out for that “last truth.” When you sense the presence of the Kingdom, may you hold onto that, hold tightly, and may it guide you to press on in faith. May you always find yourself anticipating, without anxiety, your own understanding of God’s “final truth.”

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Paula

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