A sermon preached on Sunday August 11, 2013 at Trinity Anglican Church, Aurora.
Lectionary Texts: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40
In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard Jesus speak to a large crowd that, according to Luke, numbered in the thousands (cf. 12:1).
Jesus told the crowd the parable of the rich fool who selfishly hoarded treasure for himself, but failed to be “rich toward God” (12:21). The fool was too focused on his own prosperity and failed to acknowledge God as the provider of all things.
Following the telling of this parable, Jesus turns to his disciples and unpacks the meaning of the parable. Listen to Jesus’ words: “do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying…Instead, strive for [God’s] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (12:31).
I’m sure the disciples’ reaction to these words is the same as ours is: “Sure, Jesus. Easier said than done!”
Listen to Jesus’ next words:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32).
It’s almost as though Jesus knows exactly what is going through the hearts and minds of his disciples…through our hearts and minds.
But then Jesus follows these words of comfort with a harsh command: “Sell your possessions, and give alms”.
Jesus’ disciples have already given up their careers and left their families to follow him and now he is asking them to sell their possessions and give the profit to the poor?
This is an extreme demand.
This is an impossible demand.
Hearing the difficult words of Jesus makes us uncomfortable because we fear that Jesus might actually mean what he says.
However, the harshness of Jesus’ words should not distract us from discerning what Jesus is getting at.
Jesus knows how easily his disciples can be distracted by possessions.
Jesus knows how easily we can be distracted by possessions.
But, the question remains: what are possessions?
Possessions are not things that we own; possessions are things that own us.
Possessions are those things that shape our desire, form our imaginations, and demand our allegiance. Possessions are those things that we think we cannot live without.
In other words, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (12:34).
Jesus is concerned that his disciples do not become distracted from the mission he will send them on once he returns to the Father. To be clear, Jesus is not saying that things like food, clothing, and shelter are unimportant or that we shouldn’t enjoy the gifts we have.
Rather, Jesus is saying that the excess accumulation of things can too easily become a distraction, especially when we selfishly hoard these things rather than use them to bless others.
After all, the mission of the disciples, of the Church, is the same mission given to Abraham: to be a blessing to the nations (cf. Gen. 12:2-3), to be a blessing to all people.
Listen once again to Jesus’ words of comfort to his disciples: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32).
In these words we hear Jesus comfort his disciples who are undoubtedly troubled with and confused about Jesus’ difficult words about material possessions.
In these words we hear Jesus comfort his disciples to prepare them for life without him, to prepare them for their mission.
However, in the context of the verses that follow, an additional meaning to Jesus’ comforting words is evident.
Jesus tells a parable about watchful slaves, slaves who are ready for their master when he returns.
Jesus is telling a parable about his second coming.
Jesus knows he will be leaving the earth, but, in the parable of the watchful slaves, Jesus indicates that he will be coming again.
Following Jesus’ ascension, his disciples expected his imminent return. They assumed it would be merely a matter of weeks or months, or possibly a few years before Jesus returned. This expectation was also held by St. Paul in his early writings.
Once we remember that Luke was the last of the four Gospels to be written, about 50-65 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection, we hear Luke using Jesus’ words of comfort not only to address his disciples then, but also to address the second generation of Christ followers, to give them comfort amidst their anxiety and uncertainty so that they may continue to fulfill Christ’s final earthly command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
Indeed, Luke uses Jesus’ words of comfort to address every generation of Christ followers since.
So, why should these words matter to us today, 2000 years later?
The matter because they address with our discomfort with Jesus’ command to sell our possessions and give the money to the poor.
They matter because they challenge our anxiety about the future.
They matter because they confront our doubts about whether or not Jesus will really return like he promised.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we avoid talking about Christ’s second coming and all that goes with it.
It’s not considered a topic for polite conversation and we certainly don’t want to sound like those who, time and again, claim to have the exact date and time of Christ’s return figured out.
Furthermore, we aren’t sure if we even want Christ to return, especially when things are going well in our lives.
And yet, Christ’s words, “do not be afraid, little flock” remind us that amidst the turmoil of life where suffering, death, and evil seem to have the last word, that we have a promise from Christ that he will give us the kingdom.
Christ’s words of comfort remind us that we know the ending of our story – that Christ will come again to establish his heavenly kingdom on earth and will restore all things such that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.
These words remind us that the future second coming of Christ is anticipated and, in many ways, is embodied in the present life of the Church.
Christ’s second coming is embodied in the Church that follows Christ’s command to “be dressed for action” (12:35). The King James Version translates this phrase as “let your loins be girded”. It is a funny phrase. In the context in which Luke was writing, it meant to prepare oneself for battle. Although the imagery of getting ready for battle may be unsettling to some, the phrase underlines the urgency of Christ’s words.
The Church must be prepared for Christ’s return “in the middle of the night, or near dawn” (12:38), times at which it is most difficult to stay awake, especially when you’ve already been waiting for some time.
As disciples, as those slaves who are to be ready for the master’s return, we are baptized into the life of expectant waiting. However, our waiting is never idle. Our waiting is not idle for we are called to cultivate God’s Kingdom here and now. In so doing, the future of God’s kingdom becomes a present reality.
The life of discipleship requires patience and perseverance in the midst of anxiety and fear.
The life of discipleship requires vigilance that we do not become possessed by possessions or distracted by calculating the time of Christ’s return.
The life of discipleship requires faith, the same faith of Abraham who left his homeland because he trusted in God’s promise.
Of course this is all easier said than done. But once again, recall Jesus words to his disciples: “do not be afraid, little flock”. Jesus is not addressing his disciples individually; rather, he is speaking to them as a group. While Jesus’ words can and do offer personal comfort, we must remember that he is speaking to his disciples, then and now, collectively. This means that as Christ followers, we do not face our struggles and fears alone, but in the company of our fellow sheep, those who trust him, those who are entrusted with the task of cultivating the Kingdom.
In the Nicene Creed, we confess that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” Likewise in the Apostle’s Creed, we confess that “Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead”.
The confession of Christ’s second coming remains central to our Christian faith. And, it remains central to the good news that we are called to proclaim – that through Christ, God will reconcile to himself all things (cf. Col. 1:19).
The challenge we face as Christ’s disciples is this: do we believe our fears about the future or do we trust in Christ’s promise that he will come again to set the world aright?
Do we trust that Christ is the master who will return and serve his faithful slaves, those who were waiting, watching, and ready?
Are we waiting?
Are we watching?
Are we ready?
Do not be afraid, little flock. May you find comfort in Christ’s words, trusting in his promise. And may you go from this place to patiently prepare for Christ’s return by loving God and your neighbor as yourself, as you pursue justice and invite others to participate in God’s kingdom of shalom here and now.