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Rev. Ken Orth
Aug 7 2016


Wait! Did you just hear that? It sounded to me like a knock on the door! Oh, great! And just when I am scheduled to give this sermon! Wouldn’t you know it? Don’t you think whoever it was would have the decency to call ahead and let me know they are coming? I mean, it’s only the polite and proper thing to do, right? So who could it be? Let’s go see!!

Well, whoever it was must have left already … Although … although … Sometimes the knocking is not so literal. Sometimes it is metaphorical … the one who is knocking and trying to be recognized is a part of ME that I have kept hidden, maybe even from myself.

All this reminds me of a poem called “The Guesthouse” written by Rumi, a mystic and spiritual teacher who lived in the 13th Century. He put it this way:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, t¬he malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

Jesus said a similar thing. Remember when he said, “Why do you worry about the little speck in your brother or sister’s eye – and ignore the big old log you have coming out of your own?” 2000 years later, we call it “projection”: we see in another what we most want to disown and get rid of in ourselves. It’s about finding scapegoats we can call “the problem” while ignoring our own responsibility for the issue at hand.

Yet taking responsibility and staying conscious of my part in the whole is sometimes really tough. Let’s face it: sometimes I like to float through my day. Don’t you? Maybe that tiredness and reluctance is the very part I am sometimes called to accept or make peace with, so I am not quite so hard on others when they don’t live up to my supposedly “perfect” standards.

Jesus is reminding those around him of this when he begins this week’s lectionary passage by saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

If only we knew this, understood this, took this into our hearts, wouldn’t our fear melt away? If I knew my true identity isn’t in the labels I wear,
the supposedly utterly brilliant remarks I make,
the clever quips and social repartee that I banter about,
the elegant Coach messenger bag I put my “treasures” in.

No, these things are a false identity that keeps escaping me, making more anxious and afraid and desperate. My true identity is simply being one of the little flock, the human being that I am. The one who is beloved from the beginning in Creation by the utterly loving, merciful, eternal Creator. That true identity is really my treasure! And that is an identity no one, no thing, no principality or power can take away. This identity is my true treasure, where no thief can steal it, no moth can eat it, and no rust can corrupt it.

This is OUR treasure! That we are amazingly, outrageously, unexpectedly loved! “What a covenant, what a joy divine!”

The fears of a contrary culture, a disappointing self, an angry God all fall away in the face of this treasure which God gives us every day.

Jesus says, “It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We do not create it all alone by ourselves. God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are busy bringing about the kingdom with us to live into more fully.

Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” We direct where we place our treasure. And our hearts follow along to that place of our treasure. When I bury my treasure to make sure no one will take it, I will also be burying my heart there also. When I share my treasure with those who also need sustenance and life, I share my heart. To be generous and share is to be filled again and again and again …

There is a legend about the city of San Lorenzo that tells us a mystery about a treasure. The city of San Lorenzo was a medieval city, with a wall surrounding it. The legend speaks of conquerors coming to the gates of the city, demanding of its inhabitants, “Bring us your riches!” It is said the people go back into the city, and come to the gates carrying the infirm, the elderly, the widows, the orphans, those who are unable to move by themselves, those dispossessed, the least, the last, the lost. They carry them gently, cradling them in their arms saying, “These are our treasures.” And it is said the conquerors threw down their weapons, took off their armor, and fell to their knees. “May we come and live here?”, they asked, “This is the city we have been looking for our whole life!”

So does it end there? “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also?” No. There is a part of this week’s gospel reading that I have often skipped over because it just made me too uncomfortable and confused: masters and servants and slaves? Oh my! And waiting. Oh, the waiting! Then I read it again and again, asking, just what was Jesus getting at in telling this story?

In the story, he tells us to be like those who are dressed for action and have our lamps lit, ready to open the door to their master when he comes, no matter the hour.

And what happens when the master arrives? What actually goes on? Did I get this wrong? He does WHAT? He fastens his belt, has them sit down, and comes to serve them? To pay loving, gracious, total attention to them? To offer them the food and drink they need and a whole lot more? Sparkling water and delicious hors’ dourves. Then he goes to the kitchen to cook up the most amazing meal ever and brings it to them to serve them with dignity, grace, and joy.

That is just outrageous! How would our social order, our social systems, our world as we have constructed it survive such behavior? Doesn’t a master know he or she is the one who is to be over the servants? Maybe that is one of the points: God comes to disrupt unjust systems of power, prestige, and what we have made important, the systems of privilege we have treasured.

The kingdom of God is full of unexpected reversals. Think of the hymn “O For a Word”, where we sing, “The poor are rich, the weak are strong, the foolish ones are wise. Tell all who mourn, outcasts belong. Who perishes will rise.”

When we apprentice ourselves to God, God comes, as one who demonstrates to us and for us the reality that it is in the service of others that we find profound joy on both sides of the equation …

But all of these reversals! It just doesn’t seem right! If things can get reversed, how will I know I am absolutely in the right? I love to be right! Don’t you love to be right?

The Israeli poet living in Palestine, Yehuda Amichai, puts it this way in his poem, “From the Place Where We are Right”:

‘From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up our world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.”

To tend God’s garden we must be ready to dig up the hard and trampled yard of our “being right all the time” and allow loves and doubts to dig up our world so we can plant God’s crops of patience, mercy, compassion, justice, and hope.
So my friends, what are we waiting for?

We are not waiting to be rewarded for good behavior! Nor are we waiting to be punished for all we have done wrong. We are waiting to have our expectations reversed without our even knowing what it is that we await! We are waiting so we can understand the whole reward/punishment system is one the Master is trying to apprentice us out of! That our treasures are in the most unlikely places, hidden in plain sight in our very breath, in our experience of life itself (which by the way keeps happening as we are waiting, if we will but wait in each present moment – the only place where we can encounter God!)

God is teaching us how and where to wait. Be present to the One who is always and everywhere present. Be present to the reality of God in each other, in the world, and in ourselves. To be present to the surprising mercy and justice God brings to us as a gift, which we are to discern.
Where are we in our waiting? Are we present in our waiting? Or are we somewhere in the past thinking about all the opportunities missed or resentments held? Or are we in the future, dreaming about the false self’s victory over losses, mistakes, prestige and power?
James Joyce reminds us,

“Hold to the now, the here,
Through which all future
Plunges into the past.”

Be dressed and ready for action. Have your lamps lit. There is something to see! Come into the light and move out of the darkness. See what is right in front of you. What is all around you. What is within you. For God wants you to have the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Be Ready – for the unexpected hour may be now! As Anthony Mello says:

“I called through your door,
The mystics are gathering
in the street. Come out!”

“‘Leave me alone. I’m tired.
And I think I’m sick.’”

“I don’t care if you’re dead!
Jesus is here, and he wants
to resurrect somebody!”

Remember this isn’t about being afraid of punishment. This is about an invitation to be blessed. “Be dressed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and mercy.”

Be alert: stay conscious in this present moment, which is a gift of unspeakable value. Our greatest treasure.

Remember Jesus said, “And I will come and serve you. I will feed you the bread of life. I will serve you the cup of salvation.”

Wait! I think I just heard something. Was it a knock? I’m going to go check. I’ll be right back.

In the meantime please stay awake! Be dressed for action, Remember when we apprentice ourselves to God, who is Love, – only Love is coming our way!

It may be love that is mysterious.
It may be love that is harsh and dreadful.
It may be love that is broken and battered.
It may be love that rises from our broken dreams.
It may be love we hardly recognize at first
Until God’s dazzlingly new world shines through.
Love is coming! Let’s be ready! Amen.