Tag Archives: fear

Have No Fear – Sermon on Luke 12:32-40

August 7, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus continues to teach us what the Kingdom of God is like, and how different that Kingdom’s priorities are from the priorities we set as sinful human beings. Let’s join Jesus and his disciples as they travel toward Jerusalem.

 “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

 

Three years ago, as I began my appointment to this congregation, I talked about not being afraid, storing up treasures in heaven, and being ready for the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness. I could probably preach that same sermon again, and all the things I said three years ago would still be true. But today, I’d like to focus on just one verse in this passage, because I think it sums up the whole reading pretty well. It’s the first verse we read: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.“

DO NOT FEAR…

We hear the opening phrase, “Do not be afraid” throughout scripture, whenever people encounter God directly or through a heavenly messenger, like the angel Gabriel. You probably know by now that it is one of my favorite phrases in the Bible.

I’ve shared with you before that the Greek phrase for “Fear not,” or “don’t be afraid” really means “Stop being afraid.” We aren’t talking about hypothetical fear that might occur sometime down the road here. This isn’t even a warning against becoming afraid. 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, “Just stop it. Stop being afraid.”

We live in a world that runs on fear, it seems. We fear what we can’t see, what we don’t know. Our imaginations see threats to our community and nation on every side. As individuals, 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 and embarrassment.

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 through self-medication in various forms. Maybe we overeat. We might try to accumulate comfort to offset our fear, buying things we don’t really need, in the hope that they will provide some kind of security.

None of these things will take away our fear.

Yet Jesus says, “Stop being afraid. Your Father in Heaven knows what you need.” In fact, it gives God pleasure to give you what you need.

… YOUR FATHER’S GOOD PLEASURE…

I have a sister who loves to give presents. She would much rather shop for gifts than for groceries. It’s her nature to give things away. She loves to be generous. It gives her pleasure.

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” (Matthew 6:33).

Because it was God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom in the first place. Have you ever thought much about what gives God pleasure? The movie Chariots of Fire follows a couple of English runners through the 1924 Olympics. One of those runners, Eric Liddell, is torn between his devotion to serving as a missionary in China, and his desire to run. In one scene, he tells his sister, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

What gifts or talents do you possess, that can be put to use for the benefit of the Kingdom of God?

What do you do that gives God pleasure?

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!” (Luke 2:14). 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” (Luke 3:22).

And this good pleasure, or “delightful decision” has already happened.

…TO GIVE YOU THE KINGDOM

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 already begun in 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 reminds us that, instead of passively waiting or living wildly because the end is near, we need to be faithful and alert.

Being ready for Jesus’ coming is less about any actual time and place and more about recognizing Jesus’ activity in the world when and where you least expect it. In other words, waiting around for further instructions doesn’t cut it. Fearlessly claiming your identity as a child of God allows you to immediately participate in the Kingdom that it is your Father’s good pleasure to give to you.

Karoline Lewis writes,Jesus is asking us, what is it that encapsulates the Kingdom of God for you? What is the one thing that if someone asked you about it, you would be able to give witness to your faith in God, your belief in the work of Jesus, your confidence in the presence of the Spirit? … Jesus says that the treasures close to your heart are those you can actually clarify to another in a way that the other gets what you mean, can sense that it matters, and that it matters deeply. … This is not a call to recite proper doctrine, but to be able to express in your own words, close to your heart, what your faith means to you. … confessing what matters.” 

What matters is this, dear friends. Christ calls you to let go of your fear, and accept the gift of the Kingdom of God, which it is your Father’s good pleasure to give to you. Will you receive it? Will you accept this precious gift? As we approach Christ’s Table, I invite you to drop your guard, to let go of your concern about what other people might think, and simply receive the assurance that you are God’s own beloved child, redeemed through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Have no fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

 

Holy Fear – Sermon on Mark 4:35-41

June 21, 2015 – Pentecost 4B, Father’s Day

I don’t like to preach about current events. I’m much more interested in the timeless truths of the Gospel than the fleeting nature of the daily news. I’d rather tell you about Jesus than talk about the latest political crisis or natural disaster.

It’s not that I don’t think we have a responsibility to stay informed. And I know for certain that the timeless truths we find in scripture apply directly to our everyday lives. Looking at the evening news through the lens of discipleship is a great exercise for small group discussion, helping us to determine what it means to follow Jesus through the events that shape our culture and our lives together in this community of faith.

When this week’s news brought us those alarming images of a church surrounded by police tape and the faces of nine people who died there, my first impulse was to just work this into the pastoral prayer. After all, the bulletin was already printed. The scriptures were already chosen. The songs and hymns had been selected weeks ago.

There wasn’t time to change gears. It seemed the simplest thing to do was add our prayers to those of people everywhere, prayers for comfort to the grieving, prayers for justice, for God’s Kingdom to come and put an end to hatred and killing.

But my clergy colleagues wouldn’t let me get away with that. Continue reading

He Isn’t Here! Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 for Easter B

April 5, 2015

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. – Mark 16:1–8

You would think that Mark would end his story of the “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1) with a satisfying resolution, a happy ending. But he doesn’t. Continue reading

Eureka! Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 Epiphany B 1/4/2015

There’s a story of a woman who searches store after store for the perfect Christmas gift for her husband. A friend has come shopping with her, and the friend tries to help this woman find what she is looking for, but the woman shakes her head “no” at everything the friend points out. Finally, in exasperation, the friend asks, “What, exactly, are you trying to find?” And the woman answers, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

Have you ever stood in front of an open refrigerator or kitchen cupboard, looking for something to eat? You’re hungry, but you don’t know exactly what it is that you want? What will satisfy your grumbling stomach? There’s plenty of food available, but what will you choose? What do you really want? What will fill you up, and keep you satisfied for more than an hour or two? Will you know it when you see it? Continue reading

Be Prepared – Sermon on Luke 12:32-40

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.”[1]

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.”[2]

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.”[3]

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!”[4]  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.”[5] 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.


[1] Genesis 15:6

[2] Galatians 5:22-23

[3] Matthew 6:33

[4] Luke 2:14

[5] Luke 3:22