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“Be Prepared”

August 8, 2021 Tenth Sunday After Trinity The text is Luke 12: (32) 33-39 (40).            

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32Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 “Sell your material possessions, and give the money to the poor. Make yourselves wallets that don’t wear out! Make a treasure for yourselves in heaven that never loses its value! In heaven thieves and moths can’t get close enough to destroy your treasure. 34 Your heart will be where your treasure is. 35“Be ready for action, and have your lamps burning. 36 Be like servants waiting to open the door at their master’s knock when he returns from a wedding. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I can guarantee this truth: He will change his clothes, make them sit down at the table, and serve them. 38 They will be blessed if he comes in the middle of the night or toward morning and finds them awake. 39 “Of course, you realize that if the homeowner had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let him break into his house.  40 Be ready, because the Son of Man will return when you least expect him.”

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This morning’s reading begins at a rather strange place in Luke’s Gospel.  There are a group of verses before today’s lesson, which I began reading on verse 32.  For some added clarity, I chose to start one verse earlier and include one additional verse at the end of the reading; don’t tell Pastor Andrew.  It’s kind of a shame that we don’t get to hear these previous verses in the lectionary this year; they fall in between the lesson Pastor Andrew preached on last Sunday and today’s reading.  They are some of the more widely known and familiar verses; in these preceding lines Jesus tells the disciples not to worry, that God will provide for them.

This is the parable he told: “(Jesus) said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”  

To quote Doris Day; “Que sera, sera”; “what will be, will be”.  For those of you under a certain age, Doris Day was an actress and singer who was very popular about 150 years ago.  But this song title sums it up pretty well.  Jesus tells the disciples (and us) basically to relax, God’s got it covered; ”your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”  Then, in the later verses of today’s Gospel Jesus admonishes the disciples to be ever-ready, to be sure they have their minds set on the hereafter, to be poised for the Second Coming at any time.  Kind of reminds me a bumper sticker I once saw.  It read: “Jesus is coming, look busy”.  

The main theme of the Gospel this morning is alertness; being ready for when the Son of Man comes again, when God will call his children home.  We are told to set our sights on heaven for; “your heart will be where your treasure is.”  Now here’s the danger inherent in “pericope”.  Something that preachers do all the time when preparing a sermon.  It’s Greek for “cutting out”.  It refers to examining a specific portion of Scripture to determine its larger meaning; usually combining a group of verses that encompass a singular thought.  This is rather evident in this morning’s Gospel.  Basically; “be ready”. 

But as we discovered, this portion is somewhat of an extension of the verses we didn’t read previously, in which Jesus basically tells the crowd, “don’t worry”.  Now, here’s a peek under the tent.  The verses after today’s Gospel zero in on what Jesus truly wants us to know.  Again, it’s a shame that these few verses are not combined with today’s reading and the portion before it.  To my mind they are intertwined; they deliver a more fully-formed message when read together.  Here is an excerpt of the verses that come after today’s reading, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.  That servant who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.  From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

It seems that Jesus had more to say after first telling the disciples “not to worry” and then to “be ready”; it seems, he intended a threefold lesson.  The final admonition is “you know what you are supposed to do, now go and do it”.  Now some of you may be thinking, “okay Tom, you’ve taken it upon yourself to show how three portions of Scripture are inter-related, right?”  “But did you stop to think that they also proclaim three messages that, on the surface appear to be in conflict with one another?”.  Actually, I did eventually see that, but thanks for pointing it out.  As often happens, part-way through preparing this sermon it dawned on me that the neat little bow I thought I was ready to tie on it, wasn’t going to result in the conclusion I was initially prepared to come to.  The references to “don’t worry”, “be prepared”, and “do something”, seemed to combine to make a statement of how we are to act as Christians, as followers of the Way of Jesus.  However, on closer inspection, we discern contradiction.  Odd, isn’t it, that this tends to happen a lot in Christian theology?  It starts out appearing to be rather basic, rather simple, superficially.  But we don’t have to dig too deeply under the surface before we discover apparent paradoxes.

If God is willing to provide us with our every need, why do we need to store up treasures in heaven?  What is the need for expectant readiness?  And ultimately, if everything is already given to us, why do we need to do anything at all?

“‘Jesus is coming, look busy”?  This all sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it?  It did to me.   But the apparent paradox is dispelled the moment we examine it through the perspective of God’s mind and not ours.  Instead of approaching these themes from the viewpoint of an uninvolved observer, Jesus is telling us that there is more under the surface than we might initially think.  Firstly, we need to remember that we are in a covenantal relationship with God; he has claimed us and we are his children.  And if we keep this foremost in our minds as we explore Jesus’ admonition, we ultimately recognize that as active participants the themes evolve into much more than benign suggestions.

Perhaps God is more concerned with our actions as community, rather than as isolated individuals.  After all, Jesus taught us to pray saying “our Father”, not “my Father”.  With community in mind the three erstwhile disparate themes sound more like “prioritization”, “preparation”, and “vocation”.  It’s less “don’t worry about anything, God will provide”; but more, “focus you minds on the things that are more important than you as an individual and be concerned for the welfare of your brothers and sisters”.  It’s less “be ready, for the Son of Man may show up at any time”, and more, “Jesus expects us to act as if he is always with us”; because, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, he is!  It’s less, “just be doing something when the Master returns”; but more, “work together in community, because to whom much has been given, much will be required”’.  “Much has been given”, indeed.  And as it always does in Lutheran theology it turns out that that which has been given to us, is God’s grace. 

God has chosen to bless us with grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.  All this was brought about through Christ’s work on the cross.  We have done nothing, and are unable to ever do anything, to deserve this grace of God.  And as humans, the broken, sinful creatures that we are, we struggle to even comprehend how God can love us to the point of bestowing God’s unmerited grace on such undeserving sinners.  But here’s where the point about God’s mind being different from ours comes into play.  God can allow God’s undeserved grace to envelop us because that is what God chooses to do.  I gave up a long time ago trying to figure this out, and I’ve come to simply accept grace for what it is. 

And, it’s just this.  God loves me in spite of who and what I am.  God loves you in spite of who and what you are.  God loves us in spite of who and what we are.  God’s children don’t have to do anything to obtain this grace.  But the only appropriate response to this gift of grace is to desire to do good works to show our thankfulness for being blessed with it.  And that is really what this morning’s gospel lesson is showing us.  We are admonished to focus our minds on the things that are more important than us as individuals and be concerned for the welfare of our brothers and sisters.  We have to remember that Jesus expects us to act as if he is with us always; because, as we’ve acknowledged, he is!  And finally, we are to work together in community, for it is in community that we share in one another’s strength, enabling us to do those good works that express our thankfulness for God’s infinite grace.  We don’t have to do anything to receive God’s grace, but we should still strive to, out of gratitude and thanksgiving for this blessing.  There is work to be done.  Jesus is coming, BE busy!

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, help us to remember that although we need not do anything to receive your grace, that we should always act in ways that proclaim our thanksgiving for your blessings.  Remind us that our abundance is meant to be shared; that we need not worry, that you will always ensure we have enough; and that it is our duty to live in expectant readiness for Jesus’ arrival.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whose return we await.  Amen.

God is good, all the time!  All the time, God is good!

Preached by Minister Thomas Houston at Grace Ministries on August 8, 2021.

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