August 11, 2019
Last week, we considered how greed can actually make you poorer, as we heard Jesus tell the story of the farmer who wanted to keep all his crops for himself. This week, we pick up Luke’s story almost where we left off. Jesus has been teaching how different the Kingdom of God is from anything we might imagine. He has just explained how we each matter to God, and how God wants to provide for all our basic needs.
If our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the field, we can depend on him to care for every need we have, because God loves us so very, very much. You wouldn’t give your child a snake or a scorpion to eat, would you? How much more is our heavenly Father eager to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. And how much more God wants to give us, his own beloved children! So what are we afraid of?
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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. 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12:32-40)
What are you afraid of? What keeps you awake at night? 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. We fear getting hurt. We fear what others might think of us. We fear shame. Of course, there’s always FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.
Deep down inside, at some time or another, each of us has to face the fear that we don’t matter, that when we are gone, the world won’t miss us. We are afraid that our lives have no meaning, and we’ve wasted “this one wild and precious life,” as poet Mary Oliver puts it in her famous poem, “The Summer Day.” We may even be afraid of death itself.
When God spoke to Abram, his very first words were, “Be not afraid, Abram.” The angel Gabriel said the same thing to Mary, when Gabriel told her she would give birth to the Messiah. Throughout scripture, whenever God makes an appearance, the person receiving the visit hears the same message: Do not fear.
We aren’t talking about hypothetical fear that might occur sometime down the road here. This isn’t a warning against becoming afraid. We are talking about real fear that is already present, fear that won’t let go of us. Fear that you might be experiencing every day.
And Jesus says, “Stop it. Stop being afraid.”
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?
When was the last time you cleaned out your fridge, or your closet? Why are self-storage units a booming industry? How did Marie Kondo get to be famous for making people let go of things that don’t ‘spark joy’ in their lives? Is it because we are afraid to get rid of something we might want or need later?
Yet Jesus says, “Give it all away! All of it! Things don’t matter. Life does not consist of the stuff you accumulate.” And we have to remember that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. This will be his final trip from Galilee. He only has weeks to live.
So when Jesus says, “Get rid of your stuff and invest in the kingdom,” he is speaking with some urgency. And his urgent words hit us right where we live, don’t they? He is speaking right to us, the ones “who have health insurance premiums and rent and mortgages and credit card bills and car loans.”
Yet Jesus says, “Your Father in Heaven knows what you need. So, get rid of your fear. Store up treasure in heaven by giving away what you have to others.”
In ancient Rome, gifts were given to create a sense of obligation. It was the way to climb the social ladder – you had to make sure others were in your debt and owed you favors, to get ahead in the Roman economy.
But in Kingdom Economy, God lavishly gives away his entire Kingdom to us, and when we also give without expecting anything in return, we are partners in God’s generous work. The act of giving is an investment in Kingdom treasure.
Because it is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom in the first place.
This is the same good pleasure 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 God’s good pleasure has already been revealed. 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 is reigning now. And our task is to prepare for its final completion.
It’s easy to be distracted by attempts people make to pinpoint the day and hour of Christ’s coming. And it’s easy to be lulled into doing nothing, just passively waiting for Jesus to return. Luke balances the certainty that Christ will come again, with the uncertainty of when that will be.
For some people, that uncertainty creates anxiety and fear, and that uncertainty has caused some pretty questionable theories to develop about the end of time. For some people, salvation is more about their fear of ending up in hell than Christ’s saving grace that promises eternal life with Jesus.
The kind of preparation Jesus is talking about is less about fearing punishment, and more about joyfully anticipating a feast. It’s more like eagerly waiting for Christmas morning than dreading Doomsday.
Get ready, the Lord is coming! Stay alert for the happy surprise that is coming! There’s work to do! Looking busy isn’t enough. Our waiting is an active participation in the Kingdom. And just to be sure we understand this, Jesus tells … another parable!
According to first-century wedding customs, the bridegroom would go out to meet his bride, and then bring her back to his own home for the wedding banquet. His servants would be ready to serve, and their lights burning as they waited eagerly for him to bring his bride to her new home. But when he arrives, what does this master do? He seats his servants at the banquet table, and he serves them!
Within a few short weeks, Jesus would wrap a towel around his waist and kneel to wash his disciples’ feet – taking on the role of the servant in real time. I wonder if any of those disciples remembered this parable as he wiped their feet with the towel. I wonder if they had any idea that they were receiving the treasure of the Kingdom of God, that ultimate gift of love poured out like water.
And that is what he calls us to do, pour out love like water over our neighbors in this community. The Christ window over our altar reaches in toward us, and also out toward the city of New Ulm. The light shines through the glass in both directions. Are we being bright enough in here to let Christ be seen out there?
What are you afraid of?
Make no mistake, there is risk involved. Accepting our place in the kingdom God is pleased to give us requires something of us. We cannot enter this kingdom half-heartedly. We must go all in. But isn’t that what Jesus has been saying to us all this time, since he first set his face toward Jerusalem?
Have no fear, little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. In return, Christ urges you to give all you have and all you are to that kingdom, just as he gave all of himself for you to have it.
When we accept this great gift of the kingdom from God’s own hand, we come to know without doubt that it is God’s good pleasure to love us, to care for us, to give us all good things. And when we realize that, David Lose writes, “it’s a lot easier to give rather than hoard, live from a sense of courage rather than fear, operate out of a sense of abundance rather than scarcity.”
This is how we prepare for Christ’s coming again. By giving – not just generously, but extravagantly, just as God gives to us. By serving – not just as needed, but whole-heartedly, looking for ways to reach others and share this good news.
We have no idea when Christ will appear. But we know he will. So we wait and work expectantly for that day, as if we were waiting expectantly for Christmas morning instead of dreading Doomsday. Have no fear, little flock, God’s pleasure is already being realized. The kingdom of God is here.
 Luke 2:14
 Luke 3:22