The Gospel according to Luke the 12th chapter
Jesus said, "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."
The Gospel of the Lord
I love the Olympics. I know there are always problems, but I am inspired both by the gathering of the nations together for a peaceful event and by the Olympic athletes themselves. They have all sacrificed time, money and considerable energy for this moment. But this year, I am most inspired by the athletes from the brand new “Refuge Team.”
One of Refugee Team athletes is Yusra Mardini. With her sister, she fled the Syrian war, traveled through Lebanon and Turkey and boarded a dingy with 18 other people to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Greece. But on the way, the boat broke down. Mardini and her sister and the two other swimmers jumped overboard and swam for three hours, guiding the boat to safety. But that’s not all. It turns out that while she was in the water pulling the boat, Mardini noticed a six-year-old boy in the boat who looked scared. She said, “I had to be funny and make smilies even when in the water because I didn’t want him to think we were dying.”
Fear is a powerful force. Fear causes us to react in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze. This can be a very helpful instinct when facing a tiger or bear in the wilderness – or when you are in a sinking boat. But while it’s a good initial instinct, fear doesn’t work well for most of our life decisions and choices because fear fills us with anxiety. And we tend to make bad choices when we are anxious.
In our Gospel, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Just like the angels delivering Good News, Jesus knows that we too can easily get caught up in fear. So he speaks to his disciples – and us – in these tender words as a Shepherd speaks to his lambs. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”
“Do not be afraid, little flock for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Listen to that again. Jesus said, “it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” You. God wants to give you the kingdom. This is what God wants to do. This is God’s desire – to give you and me the kingdom.
Speaking to his disciples – and us – Jesus wants to free us from fear and anxiety so that we may have faith to trust in the promise of God. That is what Jesus wants to give us: faith to trust God.
So how do we live into that promise and live in Faith and not in Fear?
Jesus has some ideas. Using the Message Bible translation, Jesus says,
1) Be generous.
2) Give to the poor.
3) Be ready.
Remember, Jesus doesn’t say that you have to do these things in order to belong or to be welcomed into God’s Kingdom. He’s already said that the Father wants, desires, plans to give you the kingdom. Being generous and giving to the poor are things that we can do in thankful response to God’s grace. These are ways for us to live in faith and not in fear.
And if back in Biblical times, money, resources, “stuff” could be distracting, what about now?! Jesus said then – and now – “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”
In his book, Giving to God, Mark Allan Powell points out that most people read this passage backwards. Before I read his book, I used to read it backwards too. We think it says, “Your treasure – namely money and resources - will follow your heart.” But that’s not what Jesus says. What Jesus says is where you put your money and resources… that’s where your heart will go. The heart will follow.
So… Take a look at your bank and other financial statements. Where does your money go? That’s where Jesus says your heart is. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”
I have some friends who used to live in Chicago. They told me that they wanted to join a big church in downtown Chicago – and so they made an appointment to see the pastor. The secretary called them back to tell them to bring a copy of their taxes from the previous year. Curious, they did. When they met with the pastor, he looked at their taxes and said, “Thank you. For your offering, our financial office will be billing you for 10%.” That’s one way of having your heart follow your treasure.
But…that’s not how we do our stewardship campaign.
Rather than force or tax you into giving, we invite you to share the resources that God has entrusted to you with Faith-Lilac Way so that together we can do God’s mission in this place and outside our walls. Because giving back to God and God’s mission is a matter of faith – not fear or tax or obligation. Instead, trusting in the promise of God, we give back to God what God has first given us.
Live in faith – and not in fear. Be generous. Give to the poor. It’s really counter-cultural. Every day we are bombarded with news that is designed to instill fear. From the election, to violence in the world and in our neighborhoods, to health risks to environmental disasters, we are given reason to fear.
I think that’s one of the reasons that I found the story of the Refugee Olympic swimmer Mardini and her sister so inspiring. They were in incredibly frightening situation. The danger was real. But Mardini did not give into fear. Instead, she acted not only to save herself and the other people in the boat, but she sought to bring hope – and not fear – to a frightened little boy.
For, while fear can be a motivating force in times of danger, it is not what we need to live. Jesus knows we need something different. Jesus gives us faith. When we live and act in faith, we are generous, give to the poor and…are ready. We are ready to respond, in faith, to whatever comes our way because we know that God is with us.
Do not be afraid. Instead - be ready. Be ready – not because we need to be afraid – but “Be ready to be blessed!” Because here is the surprising end to this teaching: when the Master returns, he doesn’t demand service. Rather, he serves the slaves. Do not be afraid. Jesus gives us the gift of faith so that we can live out that faith by being generous, caring for those in need and being ready to receive God’s blessing.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are free to live in faith not fear. Be ready to be blessed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
August 7, 2016