Sermon

 

 

The Rector’s sermon for August 11, 2019       


                                                                                                                                      

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40



                                   

In this section of Luke, we get a snapshot of Jesus teaching his disciples, and anyone else who wants to hear. Previously He has warned the disciples about hypocrisy—specifically, about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were some of the most respected teachers of the time. He has warned them that, sooner or later, everything will become known; nothing will remain hidden.  He has told them that God’s eye is on even the sparrow; that the very hairs on their heads are numbered; that, whether they realize it or not, because they are His followers, they are already involved in a brewing rebellion and they can expect to be dragged before rulers and authorities because of their beliefs.  He has told them—and us—to shun one of the favorite pursuits of all time: the pursuit of wealth.

           

And then he tells them… not to worry!   Really?  Don’t worry about any of it, he says. Everybody worries, but don’t you, says Jesus.  To those first century apostles who clearly had a right to worry about just about everything, Jesus says: Don’t worry about anything.”  To those persons living on a fixed income as the cost of living continues to rise, Jesus says, “Don’t worry about what you’ll eat, don’t worry about your body, don’t worry about your clothes, don’t worry about the span of your life—don’t worry!  Instead,” Jesus says, “Strive for one thing: the kingdom of God.  Strive for that, and everything else will take care of itself.”  What does really mean?

 

Jesus made a habit of saying “don’t worry” or “don’t be afraid.” Do you know how many times Jesus—or His angels or someone delivering a message for Him—said that?  Over a hundred times in all of Holy Scripture we hear in some form “don’t worry.”   The biblical encouragement to be unafraid and not worry is not a silly, unrealistic request.  It’s not advice not to worry because God is going to snatch us up out of any trouble or trauma without really being touched by it.  Jesus and his followers didn’t shrink from the harsh realities of life in this world, and he in no way bids his people to shun suffering for His sake. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that his persistent “Do not be afraid” shows up right in the midst of warnings of war, famines, collapsing towers, catastrophe—and more of the same on the way.  That was first century Palestine, but it could be a description of today.  And in the midst of all of that, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid!”

           

My question is: Why shouldn’t we be afraid?   The answer may not be what we want to hear.  We shouldn’t be afraid simply because we already have what we need.  What we need is in the process of being delivered to us, without our having to do anything—not even strive for it, or work for it, or even have a precise idea of what it is we’re waiting for, other than that it will prove to be all that we really need.  It’s about the kingdom!

 

The kingdom is yours, Jesus tells anyone around him who is open to hearing it. The kingdom is yours, he tells us too.  It’s ours not even for the taking, because it is God’s will—“your Father’s good pleasure”—to just give it to us. We don’t have to take it; all we have to do is receive it.  It’s a lot like the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  You don’t take it…you receive it.  There’s a difference.  Taking implies you have a right to it; receiving means it’s a gift  that you humbly receive in your brokenness, because God…loves…you…the way you are.  And it’s the same with the kingdom.

           

What is this kingdom that is being handed to us?  It’s hard to understand…there are no photographs or blueprints. All we know is that it’s the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven.  It’s a world that perfectly conforms to what God had in mind when he created us.  A world whose citizens perfectly conform to the commandments and the beatitudes, a world that conforms to all the beautiful word-pictures offered by prophets like Isaiah — “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples...he will swallow up death forever.”  There will be food and drink in abundance, war and famine and disease will be no more, death will be no more, poverty and injustice—gone forever.  If we’re honest, it’s what we’ve been looking for and longing for all along, most of us—in our better moments, anyway. And what Jesus is telling us is,  Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry! It’s all yours! 

 

Everything we need is in the process of being given to us. The catch is the surrender of all we have.  Now don’t misunderstand: what’s being asked of us isn’t sacrifice;what’s being asked of us here is faith.  It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom; it is God’s will that we receive in full measure the kingdom that is already being prepared for us.  What need do we have of possessions then, really?  If you seriously think about it, what need do we have for 99 percent of the stuff we keep dragging around with us?  This is the context for selling possessions and giving alms.

 

Sell your possessions, says Jesus, give away the proceeds—not because we want to look spiritual in order to earn a place in the kingdom.  Jesus says we should divest ourselves of possessions simply because… we don’t really need them!  Think about that for a minute, in relation to all the stuff that you have. Don’t we all have an abundance of wealth?   And in reality, will any of it last?  As I wrote these words, the lyrics to a current Christian song ran through my head.  The title of the song is “Till I Found You.”  Listen to the words:

 

I searched through the Earth for something that could satisfy
A peace for the hurt I had buried deep inside
Knees on the floor, I finally found everything I needed
You lifted my soul and opened up my eyes

    And I never knew anything lasts forever
    Till I found You, till I found You
    I never dreamed anything could be better
    Till I found You, till I found You

Gone are the days I'm chasing after what won't last
I'm done with building these castles that crumble like sand
I finally found that everything I needed was always right in front of me
You gave me a name, You changed everything,  

I never knew anything lasts forever
I never dreamed anything could be better
Till I found You, till I found You

 

If we could understand the surrender of possessions in that light, downsizing would be a goal.  It’s not about showing the world how courageous we could be surviving on little (as if the world really cared).  The goal is preparation—making ready to receive the kingdom that is already ours, because that kingdom can only be received by faith.  And what better expression of faith is there than to trust the words of Jesus to hold in possession only those things that will give us joy in the Lord and His coming kingdom.

 

Take an inventory of your life, of your possessions, and it’s not about selling off all that you have. Learn of the kingdom, seek the kingdom, expect the kingdom and ask yourself what, of everything you own, stands in the way of your receiving that kingdom?  What do you value, really?  What do you treasure? “For,” as Jesus says in our reading, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And this realization is, for most of us, a life-long process.

 

It is our Lord’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. That is the understanding that informs our surrender of all that we have, and that should be the understanding that informs all that we do. We’re not called to rolling up our sleeves and building the kingdom of God.  We can’t “build the kingdom of God”;  it is God who builds within us in preparation for our final home.  Strictly speaking, we’re not “called to action,” we’re called to preparation.  We’re commanded to wait, with our lamps lit because Jesus is coming and He brings the kingdom God has prepared for us.  Our job?  To be ready for him when he comes—to be prepare, and when that time comes, that is when the real action will begin.  We can’t know what that action will look like, any more than we can know what the kingdom will look like, but we are to prepare ourselves for it.

           

How shall we prepare ourselves?  We are to activate the same ethic that informs our attitude toward possessions. Learn of the kingdom.  Live its values now, as best we can, as a church and as individual believers.  Love and serve one another.  Love and serve the church.  Prepare the way of the Lord, who we know is coming in God’s time.  And above all, may we keep our lamps trimmed and be ready for the action to which he will call us.