Tissot, James, 1836-1902. God’s Promise to Abram, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55535 [retrieved August 4, 2022]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tissot_God%27s_Promises_to_Abram.jpg.

RCL Year C Proper 14 (Alternate Readings)
Genesis 15:1-6, Psalm 33:12-22, Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16, Saint Luke 12:32-40

The Epistle gives us the classic definition of faith: “[F]aith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[1] Hebrews goes on to give examples of Abraham’s faith, examples of how Abraham lived faithfully, how he believed the Lord’s promises and how the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness.”[2]

If you lay the Gospel beside the reading from Genesis, you will see, I believe, a similar pattern. In Genesis, God makes a promise to Abraham, and Abraham believes the promise and acts according to his belief. In the Gospel, Jesus makes a promise to his disciples, and to us, and the matter becomes whether the disciples, and we, will believe the promise and act accordingly.

The promise the Lord makes to Abraham is that he will indeed have his own heir, and his own descendants will be as numerous as the stars.[3] The promise Jesus makes in the Gospel is that the disciples, and we, will be given the kingdom.[4] Christians understand that the kingdom comes both in the here and now, and at the end of time, when Jesus comes “again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”[5] I believe that promise to be true, and I have known it firsthand. Let me share something of that experience with you.

The kingdom of God that Jesus promises is not a physical kingdom, but it resembles a physical kingdom in that one can be either in it or out of it in the same way that one can be either in or out of Montana, just to name a physical place. At every moment of our lives, we are either in or out of Montana. So it is with the kingdom of God. We are either in it or out of it every moment. The promise Jesus makes in the Gospel is that the disciples will be given the kingdom. I take that to mean that they will be in the kingdom more often than they are not in the kingdom.

In my experience, it is possible to be in the kingdom and a second later not to be in the kingdom. The reverse is also true. It is possible not to be in the kingdom and a second later to be in the kingdom.

The difference between being in or out is simple to define. At those moments when my will is aligned with God’s will, I am in. At those moments when my will opposes God’s will, I am out.

The kingdom, then, is a spiritual place that any one of us can enter when our wills are set to do God’s will. We have been told this, I believe, in the Lord’s Prayer, when we ask, “[T]hy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Christian life, then, is disposing ourselves to be in conformity with God’s will and doing what we can do to transform earth into heaven by transforming our wills into God’s will.

It is a tall order, I know. God’s perfect will is that our will be aligned with his, and God’s permissive will is that he permits us to will what we want to will. That is what it means to be the human creature. We are given the freedom to align our wills as we wish, and that freedom means we choose to be God’s obedient or disobedient servants.

The Gospel today contains a lot of advice from Jesus about how to be ready to receive the kingdom: “[S]ell your possessions, and give alms…be dressed for action and have your lamps lit…Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert…You also must be ready.” I take all these things to mean that it is easy to slip in and really easy to slip out. We have to keep our eye on the ball. He wants to give us the kingdom, and he wants us to make every effort to receive it.

[1] Hebrews 11:1.

[2] Genesis 15:6.

[3] Genesis 15:5.

[4] Saint Luke 12:32.

[5] BCP, page 359.