May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It has been quite a week, hasn’t it? Acts of violence, multiple acts of violence in multiple places. We know from the news that even in Champaign-Urbana we are not without such evil. It is easy to see that there is much to fear in the world around us: terrorism threats, the economy, changing weather patterns, unemployment, hunger, poverty, homelessness, drug and other addictions, disease and death and on and on. It has seemed impossible to escape the knowledge of evil acts all week. And with our awareness of that evil often the effect is fear. We may question, where are we safe? Where are we able to get away from the chance of violence touching us or our loved ones. If we have not been afraid before, we fear now. This week, if you are like many, you may feel that the world has tipped a bit; things aren’t quite right. Even if we are not outright afraid, there is a sense of heightened uneasiness.
So, what is a Christian to do in the middle of this uneasiness? How do we, who are believers in Jesus Christ, deal with this fear?
Well, one thing you have done this morning is to come here to this oasis, this sacred space, in the middle of the storm. You have come to hear scripture, to pray, and to be fed by the sacrament. These are the basics of Christian life and in stressful times, may I please not sound like a sports coach, in stressful times it is best to go back to the basics: Holy Scripture, prayer, sacrament and Christian community.
Today’s gospel passage began this way. “Jesus said to his disciples, Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Living in fear is not the life God wants us to live, nor created us to live. Jesus said…do not be afraid. I hope those words caused you to take note. Perhaps your breathing became deeper, your heart rate slowed and you knew, yes, this is what I needed to hear today, this week. Do not be afraid. These words are not just a coping mechanism like turning on the brightest light in the dark or covering our ears when facing bad news. Rather these words of Jesus are a reminder that what is seen is not all there is. Our Lord tells us, do not be afraid. We belong to him. We are Christ’s. We are reminded with Jesus own words that the fears that come with earthly living do not have the last word in defining our lives.
This morning’s gospel passage is a continuation of Luke’s twelfth chapter. This is not the first time in just this one chapter of scripture that Jesus has said, do not be afraid. There are multiple times in all the Bible of God or God’s messengers telling human beings, do not fear. I guess part of the message from scripture is that the tendency to fear is a part of the human condition. And even more that God continues to bring humans reassurance.
For a moment let’s look at more of the 12th chapter of Luke and hear our ancestors concerns and worries as our own.
Jesus asked in verses 4-7, “Are you afraid of being killed?” And his answer is, “Remember that God is concerned even with the number of the hairs on your head.” In verses 8-12, Jesus asks, “Are you fearful about having the right words to use when others question your belief in God?” Jesus tells us that we are to have confidence that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.
Then last week’s portion of the chapter talked about our fears about our future, will we have enough? Do we save and save and amass more and more as a way to combat that fear? Remember Jesus’ parable’s about the rich farmer building larger barns. His point is that we cannot take it with us.
Are we worried about our lives, about food or clothing or any of the outward signs that we have made it in the eyes of the world? Jesus reminds us that those are temporary ways of meeting our fears. And we are to not let our concerns about worldly things, keep our attention away from God’s kingdom. Across centuries of human experience, Jesus gives us these words of extraordinary comfort in a threatening world. Our Lord knows how much we human beings need this reassurance.
So I do hope that you have taken in and been calmed by this first sentence in today’s gospel. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We have a God who not only created us but who is also intimately involved with us and with His creation. We have a God who understands our fear and who wants to be present with us. By turning our attention to God, we are reminded of what is lasting and everlasting. We can trust our God and his promises and his presence. He desires the best for us, for each and all of us.
That said, and I hope that heard, this passage today does not end with this reassurance. Rather it is the beginning of what Jesus wants us to know. He tells us today that we are to be ready for His coming, to be prepared for His coming. Note he did not say this so much for judgement but rather that we are to be ready to receive His blessing. There is a banquet God has prepared for us after all!
How are we to be ready and prepared? Jesus calls us to place our confidence in the treasures of heaven rather than the treasures of possessions. The passage challenges us to think about how we can give to others; how we can assist in making God’s kingdom known on earth as it is in heaven.
This directive is not solely about alms giving. Are our lives ones of taking, or are they ones of giving? That’s the tough question today. How do we, the ones who have been comforted by and learned from scripture, prayer, sacrament and Christian community, how do we show God’s love to the world?
We can’t really do that by closing ourselves off in fear from the problems of the world. God’s desire is that his kingdom takes root in our real life experiences-- that we put into practice the love he pours out upon us. We receive and we give, rather than we receive and we receive.
And again, this is not just about giving money. Rather it is about giving of ourselves. We give with our money as a part of giving of self. But we give also by respecting another’s dignity; we give by standing against injustice when it is right in front of us; we give by including those who do not necessarily look like us. Honestly we don’t have to look for occasions to live out what we have received from God. They are in front of us each day. God’s desire is that we put into practice with our words and with our actions the love we have been given from him.
Our faithfulness requires diligence--that is what being ready means. We go back to the basics of scripture, prayer, sacraments and community for the purpose of being ready. We watch for ways to connect with God and God’s people in our daily lives. God’s kingdom is available for all and we are to be ready when He calls to share His love and His kingdom with those around us.
Our fears from living on earth do not define our lives. Jesus turns our attention today back to this fact and reminds us that we are to remain attentive to God’s way of life and the promises he has made to us. We are to be ready to share these ways with others in our path.
So, if you came this morning for reassurance and calm, I hope you have heard Jesus words spoken directly to you. If you came this morning for hope, I trust that you will find it in the sacrament Jesus gives to you. If you came this morning for challenge, I know that you will receive that as you are blessed and dismissed. God loves us and he wants the very best for each and every one of us. Our world needs this message now more than ever and the challenge to each of us is putting into practice the giving of God’s love to all.
I encourage you especially this week to take home the lectionary leaflet and to pray daily this week’s collect.
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”