Last week, we considered what it means to be “rich toward God” and this Sunday’s text picks up almost where we left off. As we join the disciples in trying to figure out how to be rich toward God, Jesus continues to teach us what the Kingdom of God is like, and how different that Kingdom is from anything we might imagine. Jesus must have noticed some looks of concern around him as the disciples tried to grasp this up-ended view of how the world should be. He addressed this concern with assurances that we each matter to God, so we can stop worrying about our basic needs, because God will provide for us. If he feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the field, God can be depended on to care for every detail of our lives, because God loves us so very, very much. Let’s join Jesus and his disciples again, as they travel toward Jerusalem, and the story continues.
Hear the Word of the Lord.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” – Luke 12:32-40
This passage offers us three things to consider, as we continue to learn how to be rich toward God. First, do not be afraid. Second, store up heavenly treasure, and third, be ready for the Kingdom of God. I have to tell you that this might be the first time I’ve ever preached a standard, three-point sermon, and on the surface, it may seem that these three points have very little to do with one another. In reality, they are closely connected. Let’s figure out how.
We heard the opening phrase, “Do not be afraid” earlier this morning, in the reading from Genesis 15. When God spoke to Abram, his very first words were, “Be not afraid, Abram.” Just like Mary, when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, Abram probably was shocked when God spoke to him. Just like Mary, Abram accepted the Word of the Lord on faith, “and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
The Greek verb phobeomai gives us the root for our word “phobia” and it means “fear” or “be afraid.” But me phobou means a bit more than “Fear not,” or even “be not afraid.” A better translation might be: “Stop being afraid,” or “fear no more.” We aren’t talking about hypothetical fear that might occur sometime down the road here. This isn’t even a warning against becoming afraid. The angel Gabriel didn’t say, “Heads up, Mary, I don’t want to startle you, but I’ve got a Word from God for you.” We are talking about real fear that is already present, fear that has been with us for some time already, fear that won’t let go of us. And Jesus says, “Stop it. Stop being afraid.”
What are we afraid of?
Despite Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inspiring words, we’re pretty sure we have more to fear than fear itself, right? We fear what we can’t see, what we don’t know. We fear losing control of our lives, making ourselves vulnerable to someone else. We fear getting hurt. We fear what others might think of us. We fear shame.
We may try to escape our fear by ignoring it, or by building elaborate fantasies to hide from it. We may even try to escape our fear by “drowning our sorrows” or “getting high.” We may try to stockpile comfort to offset our fear. Maybe we overeat. Maybe we seek attention, even if it’s negative attention. Have you ever heard of “the law of the soggy potato chip?” Back in the late 70s, Psychologist Fitzhugh Dodson wrote a parenting book called, How to Discipline With Love (1977). His premise for the Law of the Soggy Potato Chip was that children would rather have negative attention than no attention at all, just as children would rather have a soggy potato chip than no potato chip at all. But potato chips won’t get it, no matter how crisp they are. None of these things will take away our fear.
Yet Jesus says, “Stop being afraid.” Just stop it.
Fear motivated the rich farmer from last week to stockpile all his goods. He was willing to tear down all his barns right before harvest, in order to build bigger barns to keep all his stuff for himself, remember? It’s easy to call him a fool, since Jesus did, but are we any better?
Bruce and I have been “purging” our belongings as we prepare to move to New Ulm from the house where we’ve lived for fifteen years. At first, we carefully selected items that we thought might have value to someone else, and we sold many of them on eBay and Craigslist. This weekend, we held a garage sale to get rid of even more things. We have noticed that it gets easier and easier to let go of stuff, the closer we get to moving day. We wonder why we didn’t do this sooner. And we wonder how we managed to accumulate so much stuff in the first place. Are we afraid we might need something and not be able to get it when we need it?
Yet Jesus says, “Your Father in Heaven knows what you need.”
And Jesus also says:
Store up treasure in heaven
Get rid of your fear
Get rid of your need to be in control
Get rid of your stuff
Instead, deposit your treasure into the bank of the Holy Spirit
Remember what Paul wrote to the Galatians? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
In ancient Rome, gifts were given to create a sense of obligation for repayment. It was the way one climbed the social ladder – making sure others were in your debt and owed you favors. But in Kingdom Economy, God lavishly gives away his entire Kingdom to us, and when we, in turn, give without expecting anything in return, we participate in that Kingdom and receive even more from God. More love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more generosity, more faithfulness, more self-control, more, more, more.
More … treasure.
Your treasure is the Kingdom of God, which he has already decided it is his pleasure to give you. What stands at the core of this Good News is not the fear of shame, but God’s amazingly tender concern for us, his own little flock. This is an invitation to trust that our future rests in the gracious promises and presence of God. The Gospel invites us to put first things first. The Gospel says, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
Because it was God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom in the first place.
This is the same good pleasure (or “delightful decision”) that the angels announced at Jesus’ birth when they sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” It is the same good pleasure God announced at Jesus’ baptism when he said, “You are my Son, the Beloved;with you I am well pleased.” And this good pleasure, or “delightful decision” has already happened. God has already given us the Kingdom through his Son, Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is not just eternal life in the sweet by and by; the Kingdom of God’s active and current reign over heaven has begun on earth through Jesus’ ministry, and continues to the present time. It is here, now.
God has already given us the Kingdom. We respond by carrying out the values and standards of that Kingdom, which include getting rid of possessions, giving to the poor, and making purses that contain ultimate, inexhaustible, heavenly treasure.
Instead of getting rich by accumulating human treasure, our hearts are set on what God ultimately treasures, which is compassion and mercy for those in need.
Since God, in his own good pleasure, has already given us the Kingdom, we are called to be prepared for its fulfillment when Christ comes again. While Jesus is certainly talking about the end of time, when he will come again in glory to reign over a new heaven and a new earth, we should not be distracted by attempts to pinpoint the day and the hour this will happen. We should also not be lulled into passively twiddling our thumbs while we wait for Jesus to return.
Luke offers the certainty that Christ will come again, and the uncertainty of when that will be. This certain uncertainty focuses on the point of this passage: instead of twiddling our thumbs – or, at the other extreme, living wildly – because the end is near, we need to be faithful and alert.
Stop being afraid. Invest in the heavenly treasure of God’s kingdom, and be ready for Christ to return.
“Being ready for Jesus’ coming is less about any actual time and place and more about imagining Jesus’ activity in the world, when and where you least expect it or imagine seeing it. In other words, waiting around, waiting for instructions is not going to cut it. Being without fear, knowing the sources of your treasure – that is, your identity, your worth as a child of God – makes it possible to be prepared for full participation in God’s Kingdom.” In this passage, the focus is not so much on the end times as on the end ways. The consistent message throughout the passage is not “be ready so that you will avoid punishment,” but rather, “be ready so that you will receive blessing.”
It is like keeping your house staged like a picture out of Better Homes and Gardens, because you never know when the realtor is going to want to show your home to a prospective buyer. This kind of “being prepared” is less about being on high alert 24/7, and more about focusing on the things of God, while developing our peripheral vision in anticipation of being happily surprised when the time comes.
Have you ever seen the kitchen of a really excellent restaurant? Every tool, every ingredient, is within easy reach of the chef who prepares the food. Everything has a place, and there is a place for everything. What you may not notice is the army of prep cooks, dishwashers, and other staff who make sure that every tool, every ingredient is within the chef’s reach. Meals leave the kitchen with elegant precision because the kitchen is prepared to anticipate every guest’s order. The room hums with activity. Maybe you’ve seen the joke “Jesus is coming back soon. Look busy.” Looking busy isn’t enough. Our waiting is an active participation in the Kingdom.
Remember how Luke likes to flip the tables of our expectations? He gives us one more image in this story to do this again in the short parable about the master returning from the wedding banquet. To understand this parable, we need to know what it means when the master “Fastens his belt.” Older translations called this “girding the loins.” This quaint term simply means to gather up your robe, your garment, and tuck it into your belt so you can run, or do physical labor.
According to first-century wedding customs, the bridegroom would go out to meet his bride and return with her to his own home. His servants would be properly attired, ready to serve, and their lights burning as they waited eagerly for him to bring his bride back to his home. But when he arrives, what does the master do? He girds up his own loins, and serves his servants!
Look at the image of Jesus in our window here above the chancel. Is he looking at you with love and compassion? As you look on this image, has it ever occurred to you that you might be viewing the reverse side of it? That maybe the direction of Jesus’ gaze is outward, over the city of New Ulm, as much as it is inward, looking down on us gathered here in this sanctuary? The light shines through the glass in both directions. Are we being bright enough in here to let Christ be seen out there?
Stop being afraid.
Know that your treasure is the Kingdom of God, which in his own good pleasure God has already given to you.
Be prepared for his coming, with all the spiritual tools and ingredients you need within easy reach, and your garment tucked up into your belt so you are ready to work. Then look out the window and see who Jesus sees. Be prepared. The Kingdom of God is at hand.