A reflection on the readings for Proper 14C: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40*
It was a warm spring night, we had just finished a board meeting and were heading out for dinner. I was the “community member at large” for a home health nursing company where I also served as a volunteer providing massages to the hospice patients. Another board member and I were talking about my resignation from the board as I prepared to go to seminary in the fall. This board member said to me that she no longer believed in God. Her faith died after she prayed long and hard for something and did not get it. She wondered how there could be a God if God does not answer our prayers and give us what we pray for.
I admit, at the time, I had no good answer for her.
Over the years I have come to wonder if maybe that board member’s question was off the mark? We have no idea if God says no, nor do we know if God intentionally does not answer our prayers. It’s possible that we are unable to perceive the way God responds to us.
Are we able to see within our lives the way that God acts, guides, informs, and forms us?
The author of the letter to the Hebrews and our Gospel reading this morning both offer some insight into this question.
Hebrews aims to assure us that in and through the life of Jesus we can come to understand that God’s presence in our lives is real. The love of God that manifests in and through the life of Jesus is intended to inform and sustain within us a sense of hope. This God inspired hope guides, forms and informs us. God’s presence is known to us in and through our sense of hope. Hope that causes us to take that one small step when we would rather just stay put. Hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Hope is both a thing of grace and a daily decision. God offers us hope, we have to decide to let it live within us.
Two centuries ago most people lived on farms, made their own clothes, and raised their own food. People lived further apart and were less dependent on the people around them. Today we have to have faith in the people around us. We have to trust the food prepared at the restaurant, trust the pilot of the airplane, and trust the caregiver at the day care.
All around us are messages reminding us that we much to fear. We are encouraged to be afraid of the weather, the stranger, our neighbor, schools, movie theaters, churches, even our own homes may not be safe. Our vulnerability is always before us, if we choose to focus on it.
The letter to the Hebrews offers us the reassurance that what is seen is not all that is. The Letter to Hebrews speaks of faith as having “the conviction of things not seen.” It is a reminder that our fears of need not have the last word in defining our lives. This requires some intentionality on our part, choosing how we will live and what we will focus on.
I like to start my mornings early, walking to yoga class. The sun is barely up and the light is soft in tones of pink and lavender. One day, a few months ago, when the leaves were still unfolding something caught my eye from the bridge over the Rouge River. There, not far from me, was a blue heron. It was magnificent. I was close enough to see the markings on its beak and its feathers. It sat perfectly still, looking more like a branch of a tree than a bird resting from its morning meal. I stood and watched for a long time.
I don’t need to walk to yoga. I could drive or ride my bike. Walking is intentional. It slows me down and in slowing down invites me to be more attentive. Slowing down enabled me to see that heron.
Our Gospel reading suggests that slowing down is a good way to know God’s presence and be filled with hope. This reading asks us to “Be ready so that we can receive blessing.”
Receiving God’s blessing does not mean we will get what we want. God’s blessing of hope means we come to trust that somehow all will be well. This is not some naïve expectation, but a reality of God’s presence conveyed by people of faith down through the ages. From Abraham and Sarah, who followed God to an “unknown land,” to the Hebrew’s who came to know God’s presence in the face of persecution, to us, living today in a world that tries to dominate our emotions with fear.
Our readings this morning call us out of fear and into trust and hope. Do not be afraid, Luke tells us, for it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We can choose how we want to live, what fills our lives. Our readings ask us to choose hope. To be ready and to anticipate a blessing from God, even perhaps a blessing that reveals itself in a beautiful lavender sky, a tree-lined river, and a bird, that sits unafraid, held safe in God’s creation.
Surely there is hope in that and an answer to prayer.
* thanks to Feasting on the Word for influencing how this reflection unfolded….