Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 19), August 11, 2013
Genesis 15:1-6, Psalm 33:12-22, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-41
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” Raise your hand if that was your first thought when you heard Jesus say “Sell your possessions and give alms.” Sell everything and give it to the poor? Really? That’s not a very popular thing to say in America, where we love our possessions. And I doubt it was very popular in Jesus day, either. We accumulate stuff. It seems no matter how much stuff we already have, pretty soon there’s something else we have to have. We love money, too—it’s how we get more stuff, and it’s how we keep score. It’s how we tell who’s important and who’s not. Sell it all and give it away? Really?
When you start to look at the reasons behind our dependence on money and possessions, it often comes down to fear. We’re afraid of not having enough. We’re afraid if we don’t get it now, the price will have gone up when we need it. We’re afraid of what people will think of us if we don’t have the latest model. There was a study done once of rich people, and it found that people with a lot of money and no debt were, on average, just as afraid of not having enough money as poor people were. In fact, they were sometimes more afraid! So here Jesus is, telling us to give up our money and our stuff and give them away? It’s no wonder that many preachers choose to follow Peter’s lead on this text and others like it and find a way to explain why it doesn’t apply to them and their congregation. They’re afraid of what might happen if they take it seriously.
But notice how our lesson starts out. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Do not be afraid—the same thing the angels almost always start out with when they come to bring messages from God. And Jesus also says “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That’s the heart of the Gospel, right there. Or, as Jesus puts it in the Gospel of John, “God didn’t send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.” That is the place where our relationship with God starts—God loves us and the whole world so much that God was willing to die for us, in the form of Jesus Christ. We have been given the promise of the kingdom, the promise of a world where there is no evil, where no one goes hungry, where no one is sick, where no one hurts anyone else. A world where all our sorrows and our ills are healed, and we are whole and filled with joy. A world where the master—our Lord God—bends down to serve us out of love. That is what we have been promised in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can’t create God’s kingdom on our own; it can only come as a gift from God. And God has promised it to us because he loves us, and because that’s the kind of life God wants us to live. That kingdom will come when Christ comes again.
There is nothing we could ever do to earn God’s love and forgiveness; nothing we could do to be worthy of it. When Jesus says “Store up treasure in heaven!” he isn’t saying “Do good deeds so you can buy forgiveness from me.” What Jesus means is, “I love you and have already given you a place in my kingdom. It’s a much nicer place than this rat race you’re trapped in, and all the things like money and power and all your possessions won’t be worth anything in my kingdom. Why not get out of the rat race? Why not focus on what you have that’s a sure bet—a place in my kingdom—rather than on stuff that’s going to rot and decay and get stolen.”
So when Jesus starts telling us to do things like give away all our possessions, it’s not a test. Jesus isn’t saying that the only way to get to heaven is to condemn ourselves to poverty. When he gives us a warning to be ready, there is no sinister undertone implying that if we aren’t ready in the right way, we won’t get to heaven. Instead, it’s an invitation to live as God’s people. It’s an invitation to take salvation seriously. It’s an invitation to live like the kingdom were already here. Because we have been saved, we should act like it. We should love God, and wait for his coming, and love our neighbor as ourselves. And in this world where poor people have fewer opportunities than rich people, in this world where medical bills can wipe out a family’s whole life, in this world where some people go hungry and others don’t have a safe place to live, part of loving your neighbor is helping those in need.
In God’s kingdom, nobody will go hungry. So we should feed the hungry. In God’s kingdom, nobody will be sick, so we should heal those who are sick or injured. In God’s kingdom, nobody will hurt anyone, so we should stop doing things that hurt people. In God’s kingdom, there will be justice for all, so we should work to make sure everyone has justice here. In God’s kingdom, everyone will have a safe place to live, so we should help people have safe places to live. And if that takes money, well, everything that we have comes from God, so we are spending what God has given us to take care of God’s people. Whenever we feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the lonely, work for justice, we are waiting for God’s kingdom to come. We are looking forward to the day when our Master returns. We are looking forward to the day when the promise of salvation becomes a reality. We are preparing for what life will be like on that day.
In the meantime, we don’t need to be afraid. We don’t have to be afraid that we’ll miss out on the kingdom; we don’t have to be afraid that we aren’t good enough to be saved. We don’t have to be afraid that we’ll run out of money or possessions and calamity will strike. We don’t have to be afraid of what life will bring, because we know that God is with us and that God’s kingdom will come. Now, we don’t live in that kingdom yet. We don’t live in that world of milk and honey, that land where all people are welcome and happy and whole and good. So things in this life won’t always be good. There will be hard times. There will be times of wandering in the wilderness. There will be times of grief and pain and loss. None of the people in the Bible had an easy life, not Abraham and Sarah, not Moses and the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt, not the prophets, not Jesus. And I’m sure you all know many good, faithful Christians whose lives have been hard, and sometimes heart-breaking. I know some good and faithful Christians who have lost everything they had—possessions, but even more importantly, they lost loved ones.
But even in the midst of their loss, God was with them. Even when it seemed like there was no hope, God’s promise stood firm. God has never broken a promise, and God will not break the promises God has made to us. God promised Abraham and Sarah a child, and God gave them a child and grandchildren and literally millions of descendants. God promised Moses and the Hebrew slaves freedom, and they walked out of Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God promises us that we are saved, that we are God’s own beloved children, and that God’s kingdom is near. God has never broken a promise, and God never will.
So what do we have to be afraid of? Why do we need to hoard possessions and money and ignore the needs of those around us? Why do we get so caught up in the cares of life that we forget whose people we are and where our home really is? We are the children of God, and God’s promises are sure. We look forward to the kingdom and the life God has promised us. May God help free us from our fears to live in the light of that promise.