Luke Chapter 13 and 14 (NRSV)
We've been keeping a relatively measured reading pace in Luke so far. Now we need to pick things up if we're going to get to the end of the Acts of the Apostles by Easter. So today we have our first two chapter reading day.
Jesus is beginning to teach about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. He warns us that all of us need to take the Kingdom seriously, none of us can presume it is simply going to happen for us. He reiterates that the Kingdom is primarily a place of mercy rather than justice. And then he reminds us that we need to respond to the invitation. The mercy that the Kingdom represents requires a response. (I often wish it wasn't that way, that we would have God's Kingdom sweep us all in whether we wanted it or not, but that's not what Jesus is teaching.)
The two very short parables about the Kingdom early on in the reading, how the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, or how a small experience of the Kingdom can change everything in our lives, became more real to me this summer than they had been previously. In late July, after having been elected as your bishop, I travelled to Rhode Island to start planning for my move here. Because the camp up at ECC was almost half over, I decided that I'd better swing by to see what it was like since it was going to end before I moved to Wickford at the end of August. The Rev. Meaghan Kelly gave me a tour, invited me to lunch with the counselors and staff and then had me sit down with all of them in the barn for a conversation.
I asked them to introduce themselves to me. I had hoped that would happen quickly and then we'd be able to start talking about their dreams for the camp program. That didn't happen. As they introduced themselves, many of them gave me their camp history. How they were second or third generation camp folks. "My grandparents met here." "My parents were married here." "I was baptized here." And they all talked about how the camp, the community of the camp was to them the emotional center of their experience of God and the place where their faith became real.
As a parent I recognized those words. Our daughter had a profound faith experience at the Diocese of Arizona's camp Chapel Rock five years ago, and that camp has become her church as a result. My own experience at a camp in Reading PA is similar. In all the stories there's a shared sense that this is a place apart, a mountain top, a moment or time in people's lives when they knew what it was like to live in the household of God.
I was just going to tell them the young people at ECC how wonderful they were when we were interrupted by a cloud burst and everyone ran off to their cabins to put their laundry under cover. What I had meant to tell them, and I suppose I'm telling them now, is that what they were telling me was that they had found a field with a pearl of great price within it. They had found a measure of leavening that had changed their life. They had seen the Kingdom with their own eyes.
But were they willing to respond with their lives? Would they, would you or I "sell everything" to posses it as Jesus urges us to do elsewhere? Would we allow the experience of the Kingdom to change our whole lives, not just the part that had experienced God's household here on Earth?
When young people leave camp, it's often with great sadness. They have, for the time they were there, experienced a community of deep love, mutual support and profound spirituality. They frequently ask why camp has to be so different from the rest of their lives.
It's not helpful to do so at the time, since they are actually grieving, but I want to ask them now, what do you need to do in your life so that camp is not a place apart from the way you live in the world? What do any of us need to do so that we can "possess" the Kingdom every moment of our lives?
We need to respond. We need to take it very seriously. At least that's what I hear Jesus telling us in the reading this morning.