“Fear not,” God said to Abram just before drowning him in Grace. “Fear not,” said Jesus to the disciples right before walloping them with a truth beyond their capacity to receive it. When these words appear in scripture, it’s often too late to prevent fear from grabbing hold, like when angels show up and fear steals the breath from the unsuspecting human. Yet, when God says these words to Abram or Jesus says them to the disciples, it isn’t because the hearers are so afraid they cannot breath. It’s just the opposite. It’s a warning to take a breath because some sacred gift is going to temporarily paralyze your lungs and you might not know why.
In Abram’s case, God was preparing him to receive a promise so enormous Abram couldn’t really comprehend it. Of course, Abram believed that God would give him children so that the promise would be fulfilled, but how could he begin to fathom the enormity of the promise. At any rate, it was that belief, that faith, that made Abram righteous. I wonder at what point he resumed breathing at a normal rate. I mean, seriously, how daunting would it be to know that God had plans to make your descendants more numerous than the stars?
Generations and generations later, Jesus does something similar to his disciples. “Fear not,” he says. I hope they took a deep breath in that moment because what comes next is startling to say the very least. Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t be afraid because God delighted in giving them the Kingdom*. Yes, it had already happened and it continues to happen. God has already bestowed the Kingdom on God’s people and continues to delight in doing so. The action is past, or so the use of the aorist active indicative tense (eudokesen) implies in the Greek. It also means there is significance in the action. I take this to mean that the Kingdom has been given, continues to be given, and God’s delight has no end. I don’t think the disciples heard this when Jesus said it any better than we hear it now. When it hits you, the truth is enough to stop your heart and your lungs from functioning, at least for a moment or two.
God created a covenant with Abram and wrapped it in grace. Abram trusted God and Abram was righteous. Then Jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the Kingdom and God delighted in the giving. This truth is blanketed with so many layers of grace that you and I are included. It has to be, because unlike Abram, the disciples missed the message. They didn’t hear it or trust it; they didn’t reach Abram’s level of righteousness. Sadly, neither do we.
This delightful gift of the Kingdom to the people of God is one that we human beings have tried to put so many limits and conditions on who gets in. How have we missed the fact that the Realm is God’s to give as God sees fit. And, at least according to Luke, it’s a done deal. It’s been given. Maybe the delighted giving was part of the covenant God made with Abram. Maybe it was just expanded in Jesus. When will we figure out that God delights in us, especially when we try to live in Love (which is what the Kingdom of God is all about).
Now the problem is, of course, that if all faithful people are supposed to have been gifted with the Kingdom, why isn’t the world in better shape? Bottom line? We don’t believe it. We don’t trust it. It’s like it was too easy. God just handed over the Kingdom without strings attached? Nope, that can’t be it, can it? Surely we have to be good and perfect and follow all the rules? Only a few people are good enough to inherit the Realm, right?
If only we were all more like Abram. God keeps trying to make of us a holy people and we resist. God keeps telling us to love one another with the same love God has for us, and we don’t trust that. That’s why Jesus went on to tell the disciples to be careful what they valued and to keep serving those in need around them. It’s too easy to mistake material things and creature comforts as a sign of God’s blessing. The real blessing is that we were made to love and be loved. The real blessing comes when our gratitude informs our daily living. When we serve those whose needs are greater than our own, we catch glimpses of a Realm created and sustained by Love.
Many people have asked why the world seems so filled with violence and hatred these days. The answer is multi-layered. However, a significant piece of the answer is that people do not know that the Kingdom of God has already been gifted to us. People have a hard time finding a place where they belong, where they feel valued and known, where they have a sense of purpose. When we are so stingy with God’s Love as we often are, other things flood in to fill the gaps. Hopelessness, fear, anger, hatred, desperation… to name a few. Communities, identities built around these things have no trouble with injustice and oppression.
What will it take for you and me to trust God’s Love, to trust that we have already been given the Realm and God delighted in the giving and will continue to do so in every generation? What will it take for us to live rightly with God, as Abram did? What will it take for us to love as we are loved by God? The sooner we figure this out, the more possibilities we have in truly building the Kingdom here on earth…
*Fun fact for those interested in such: “Kingdom” in Greek is Basileia which is feminine in form.
RCL – Year C – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 with Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 or
Genesis 15:1-6 with Psalm 33:12-22 and
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16