Photo by Gillie
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sts. Clare & Francis
August 11, 2013
Wisdom 18:6-9
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12
Luke 12:35-40
Homily by Frank Krebs

The Household of God

At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus asks us to be vigilant, or alert, about the way we relate to each other in “the household of God,” that is, the church.

Jesus tells a story about a typical Roman household where master and slaves are living in the same family unit.  Jesus is certainly not condoning slavery, as we shall see; but he will use a familiar household example to say something about his vision of a different kind of household, namely, God’s household. 

Motivating Tension

The story has a kind of tension that comes from the servants not knowing when the master of the house will return from a wedding.  Naturally the possible imminent return of the master would motivate the servants to behave differently than if, for instance, they knew that the master had died.  In that case they could live with abandon!

It strikes me that this is the same kind of tension that a vision or a goal generally establishes.  Some psychologists suggest that goals are effective because they create a kind of tension in us.  We are at A; the goal, which is desirable, is at B.  I’m unsatisfied until I am at B.  This tension motivates us to act in the present the way we will be acting in the future, i.e. to move toward the goal.  Hold that thought!

Surprising Turn of Status

Getting back to the story, we as the listeners are invited to see whom we identify with.  If we are members of the church as Luke’s readers would be, we have two choices; we are either the master or the slaves.  Since even the master in this odd story acts like a slave when he does finally arrive, we are all invited to see ourselves as a new kind of household, where even the person of authority is a servant.  This is a new vision of household that Jesus is proposing as a possible future for us to consider and choose: a community of mutual service where even the leaders are servants.  It would not be to grandiose to say that Luke and the early church are proposing this as the Jesus-inspired goal of history.  Mary’s Song at the beginning of Luke is clearly playing in the background; the world in Mary’s and this present text’s vision is turned upside down. In this vision of Jesus, this goal for us, “hierarchies of status are nullified.[i]

The Church of Utrecht

As you may know, I just returned from taking an intensive theology course in The Netherlands.  I was studying the theology of the Catholic Church of Utrecht, which has been independent from Rome for almost 300 years.  They really have tonight’s gospel down.  They very much believe in the role of the ordained.  But they very much do not believe in a hierarchy of status within the church.  Everyone seems to understand this from the Archbishop to the lay members of the church.  (Notice I didn’t say, “…on down.”)  We met with the Archbishop and over and over again he stressed the non-domination character of the church and the ordained in particular.  And once when I was with a laymen going through a museum together, I was making a comment about a painting and saying that in the ancient world the important people always walked at the beginning of the procession and that Paul wanted to change that by putting church leaders at the end to emphasize there servant nature (1 Corinthians 4:9).  Making the point one better this member of the Church of Utrecht said, “this phrase, ‘the important people,’ is very dangerous.”  I knew then that I had found a church that understood the gospel the way I was beginning to.  I later asked one of their leading theologians if the bishops ever interfered with their work, e.g., told them what they could or couldn’t say.  He said no and that in fact the bishops would never put out a statement without consulting with everyone including especially the theologians.  I really believe that this is a church we can use as a model for us.  It is very Catholic in every important way; but it is a “community of servants.”  I’ll address more about what I learned over there along these lines on September 21st at a convocation.  On that day we will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ECC.  For now I just want to add that we in the ECC are at the beginning of a process of electing a new presiding bishop.  I am being considered for nomination.  I am at total peace about however this goes.  But I know with all my heart that being a presiding bishop does not mean dominating; it means serving.  It means providing the kind of leadership that allows all to thrive.  That’s what servants do: attend to others needs.

Revelation of Jesus, The Model

Getting back to the gospel, we are halfway through Luke’s story.  This passage echoes the beginning of the story with Mary’s Song of a world turned on its ear, where the lowly are raised, the great are lowered, and where a world of brothers and sisters is created.  And it echoes the end of Luke’s story where Jesus at the “Last Supper” finds his disciples arguing over status and says, “It must not be so among you.  The leader must be like the one who serves.”  And then says, “I am among you as one who serves.”

What We Are Celebrating at the Eucharist

So as we continue with the Eucharist, look at the meaning we have to take with us:

  • The goal of the world is that we all sit down at the same table as brothers and sisters. 
  • We’re at the table now in a kind of sacramental tension; the vision is being revealed again and Christ is serving us.
  • All are fed.

We are sent out with this goal in our hearts to begin again to make

[i] Green, The Gospel of Luke, pp. 496ff