SERMON FOR AUGUST 11, 2019
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Reading I: Wisdom 18:6-9
Reading II: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
THE HARDEST STEP
A wise observer of human nature noted long ago that the hardest step is in the start. The clutter in the garage is multiplied to the place where space that once housed two cars now looks like an over-stuffed storage unit. You know, your family knows, even your neighbors know someone—that’s you!—needs to tackle that job. It’s the start that has you stymied. Whether it’s that essay for 10th grade English, the car that needs washing, the windows needing to be cleaned or a stack of photos screaming to be organized, the hardest step may always be in the start.
Our lessons from the Letter to the Hebrews and Luke’s Gospel seem at first hearing disconnected. A quick reading of the texts first seems that way. And then it hits you. Our Lord’s admonition to his disciples to “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” and the roll call of the faithful ones in Hebrews have one glaring similarity. Both tell us that being a person of faith requires taking one bold step at a time.
We know in our own experience a smidgen of what that means. We wait for lab results praying that faith will sustain us no matter what tumbles out of our physician’s mouth. A wounded heart, bruised by a friend’s betrayal, hears the whispers of grace. Our faith tells us the offering of forgiveness is the Jesus way. A relatives’s house is flooded. We have those empty rooms and know what we need to do. Following Jesus in what often feels like the foggy unknown requires taking a first, an uncertain step. It’s those first steps that are always the hardest.
On this late summer Sunday, we are halfway through the season between Pentecost and Advent we call Ordinary Time. In this longest segment of our worship year, we hear lessons that focus on following our Lord, the risks that go with being a disciple, and the Spirit’s strength offered us for the journey. Somewhere about right now, it hits us. There is nothing “ordinary” about the Christian life. Our faith’s fore-parents – Abraham, Sarah, and millions across time—discovered one step at a time how living in faith transformed there common, routine, ordinary lives.
But the hardest step is always at the start. What are God’s resources that stand with us and accompany us every time we know God is calling us to step with faith into the future? Hear our Lord’s first response to that question when he said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” One pastor discovered that the phrase “Fear not!” or “Be not afraid!” shows up 365 times in the Bible: one reminder for every day of the year to let go of our fear. “Easier said than done, preacher! You have no idea what I am facing.” And you would be right.
But God knows. God knows every menacing threat that keeps us up at night. God knows the hard days ahead for those beginning a regime of chemotherapy. God knows the helpless feeling that comes when you lose your job. God knows where we are, the hand of circumstances life has dealt us, the future’s veil that always appears opaque. And because God knows all our stories, we can with confidence trust the One who whispers to our souls every day of the year, “Fear not.”
Jesus then instructs us to do the impossible: sell our possessions, give alms, entrust our so-called wealth to God. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Is it possible to hear that sentence in 2019; this era of human history seduced by money, power and possessions? “Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” Note how our Lord inverts our behavior. We convince ourselves we need a new vehicle or a larger house or a “cooler” something. We set our heart on the object and start planning how to acquire it. The heart steps out first, followed by our treasure for 48, 60 or more months or dozens of years.
Jesus said the opposite. Jesus tells us to take the hard step of putting our treasure where God can bless, God can use, God can multiply. The Bible defines money management as stewardship. Everything we own and the life and health and work to acquire it is a gift. Here, perhaps more than any other segment of life is where we meet the hardest step of all.
How we take these first hard steps shows up next in a parable. Our Lord tells a story about faithful and unfaithful servants. That p arable is difficult to hear; even more difficult to dissect. At its heart is the promise that God blesses faithfulness.
God's blessing always shows up in life as grace: unexpected and unearned. Rather than God doling out lavish blessing to a few, God showers blessing on all. His blessings are abundant and unending.
Likewise, faithful followers of Jesus seek God’s purpose for life. So did the people of the Old Testament. In those most difficult, brutal moments of these adult lives, they took the hard step of following God’s voice. They knew God was calling them to high purpose. They believed the choices they made and the life they would live would make a difference. We too are most faithful when we live aware that the choices we make can change our lives and the lives of others.
Finally, faithfulness erupts into joy. Joy is living aware that we belong to a Master who loved us so much he showed us the way of love is the way of life. Yes, living by faith requires one hard step after another. It’s hard to forgive hurt and seek reconciliation when we are wounded. It’s hard to stare at medical test results and hear God’s voice say, “Fear not!” It’s hard to live placing our treasure where it will honor God and bless others. But such is the life of faith that summons our ordinary lives to follow Jesus.