The collect and readings for today, Proper 14C, the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, may be found here. The appointed gospel is Luke 12:32-40.
Jesus said to his disciples, “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.”
“Be like those waiting for their master to return.”
One reality of life is waiting; waiting for someone to show up, for something to happen, for things to change. Another reality of life is that most of us do not like waiting. We look for the shortest line at the grocery store and the bank. We become impatient, even angry, waiting for the doctor or the waiter who is slow or inattentive. And just look how we behave when the coke machine is slow to deliver or the elevator is slow to begin moving. Lots of buttons are being pushed – the machine’s and ours.
Sometimes it seems like life is nothing more than waiting. As children we wait for Christmas, summer vacation, and to grow up. As adults we wait for just the right job, that special someone who will make our life complete, a promotion, retirement. Some people wait for the diagnosis, others for a cure. Some wait for the day the pain will stop and the grief will end. Others wait for the answer to their prayers. Many of us wait for that day when we have enough time, enough money, enough freedom, and the day we will live happy ever after.
Many in the Anglican Communion wait for healing, reconciliation, and the resolution of conflict. Sometimes it seems as if the world has waited from the beginning of creation for peace, and the end of war, hunger, and poverty.
At some level waiting takes place every day. Each of us could name the things or people for which we wait. Sometimes we live with the overwhelming feeling of waiting but with no clear idea of what we are waiting for.
When I look at my waiting I realize that I generally don’t wait in the present. I either move into the past or into the future. The great tragedy is that in doing so I lose the present moment. That’s part of what makes waiting so painful and difficult.
Waiting in the future most often brings fear and anxiety about what will happen. We are haunted by the unknown and lack of control. Waiting in the past brings sadness, anger, or guilt about things that have happened, or the things done and left undone. As difficult as our present circumstances may be, that’s the only place where we can ever be fully alive. It is the only place we can truly experience God.
When we move out of the present – either way, into the past or the future – we not only postpone life; we deny life. We deny our resurrection. We desecrate the sacrament of the present moment. We have refused the gift of God’s kingdom.
Everyone, everywhere, in every age waits. Jesus does not eliminate waiting. If anything, it sounds like just the opposite. He tells the crowd, “Be like those waiting for their master to return.”
Today’s gospel is not, however, simply about passing time. It is about presence and being present. Jesus sees waiting as an act of faithfulness; the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
So we are mistaken if we think today’s gospel describes an absent God, a God who left some time ago, for whom we wait. We are equally mistaken if we think we are waiting for a God who lives out in the future.
Jesus is teaching us how and where to wait. He’s inviting us to be present to the One who is always already present. He’s inviting us to listen for the knock, to watch, and to be alert. He’s inviting us to be present to the reality of God in each other, in the world, and in ourselves. This is the God who is present in the ordinary circumstances of our lives, even in our waiting.
We might be tempted to ask, “So where is God in all our waiting?” But maybe the better question is, “Where are we?”
Several years ago I served as chaplain at our diocesan summer camp for a whole bunch of 11 and 12-year-old campers. Each night before the kids went to sleep they would have some devotional time in their cabins. One of the counselors asked her campers, “Where did you see Jesus today?” A very surprised and excited camper cried out, “You mean He was here today?!”
Jesus responds to our surprise and excitement saying, “Yes, yes, yes. I was here. I am here. And I will be here.”
So he says, “Be dressed for action. Something is going on right now. Right here. And I want you to be a part of it. Come participate. For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. This is for you.”
“Have your lamps lit,” he says. “There is something to see. Move out of the darkness. Come into the light. See what is right in front of you, what is all around you, and what is in within you. For the Father wants you to have the kingdom.”
“Be alert,” he commands. But this isn’t a threat of punishment. It’s an invitation to be blessed. “Blessed are those whom he finds alert.” Jesus is not just inviting us to be awake, to be ready, and to be watchful. He is calling us to be fully alive and to remain alive. Blessing and life are synonymous in God’s kingdom. It is as if Jesus is saying to us, “Be alert, be blessed, and I will come and serve you. I will feed you the bread of life. I will serve you the cup of salvation.”
All of this, Jesus says, happens at an unexpected hour. Like a thief in the night the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
So when is the unexpected hour? When will all this happen? Well, my guess is that for most of us, maybe all of us, the most unexpected hour is today, right here, right now.
The most unexpected hour is the hour spent in the hospital waiting room; the hour sitting next to the phone waiting for news of a loved one; the hour praying for a miracle; the hour in which we wait for clarity and a way forward; the hour waiting for the grief to end and life to return to normal; the hour in which it seems as if nothing is happening, life is not the way we want, and there is nowhere to go.
“You mean he was here today?!” Yeah, right here in the most unexpected hour of your life.