August 7, 2022 Ninth Sunday After Pentecost The text is Luke 12:32-40.
[Jesus said:] 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 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. 37 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. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “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. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
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.
The very last words of my sermon last Sunday were, “you can’t take it with you”. This was in response to the “Rich Fool” parable, in which Jesus tells the story of the farmer who decides to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to store his abundant harvest. And, in this morning’s gospel in Luke, Jesus continues to teach the crowds about the futility of storing up treasures, since we already have all that we need. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Note that Jesus tells us that God is “pleased” to bestow the kingdom of heaven on humanity.
There is no need to accumulate excessive material goods, because God is “pleased” to give us the extravagant gift of life eternal solely because God chooses to; this is grace! This is the promise of a flourishing, abundant life for those who follow Christ. A life justified before God, granted by God to those who profess faith in his Son. Why then, was this Rich Fool, why are we compelled to build bigger barns to store up our earthly possessions? Why worry about the future when it is already promised to us? Our only necessary response to this good “pleasure” of God is faith in Jesus. We are saved by faith, through grace alone, without the need for works. Very Martin Luther, very Lutheran, indeed!
But later in his teaching Jesus reminds the crowd, and us that faithfulness requires diligence, alertness, and readiness. In the parable he teaches that the servants must be vigilant and prepared for the return of the master of the house. If they remain so the master will reward them with hospitality; he will serve those who are his servants. So, who is this parable Jesus tells the crowd really directed to? As is always the case, Jesus’ teaching is intended for all who come to know of it, and as always that includes us. In return for our faithful preparedness, we will be rewarded when Jesus returns. The promise of God’s kingdom will come to fruition at this Second Coming, the “Parousia” of Christ.
This parable is an allegory for Jesus’ eventual return at the end of the age, and the lesson therein is explicit. We are not expected to simply sit around and wait for Jesus to come back to earth to herald the coming of the kingdom. While all we are required to do by faith is to accept God’s grace and good “pleasure” in giving us the heavenly kingdom, what we should do is be the alert, prepared, diligent servants who await the return of our Master. We are called to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the world until he returns. If our lives are centered on God and his love, grace, and mercy, we will be prepared for life in the world to come. While we are not obligated to perform good works, we ought to do so out of thanksgiving for the gifts and blessings we receive from the One who, although the Master, is willing to be a servant to us. And, by preparing for life in the next world we help to make living in this one more abundant for ourselves, and more importantly, for others.
And there is no better way to serve others than to share with them the Good News of God in Christ Jesus! Now this doesn’t mean we have to stand on the street corner and annoy people walking past. We don’t need to knock on the doors in our neighborhood; it’s not required that we berate non-believers on Facebook. The best way for us to spread the gospel is by living lives that are expressions of the thanksgiving we have for the gift of faith we have received. This is best accomplished through servanthood; acknowledging that God’s blessing has been bestowed on us, and that we intend to share this with others.
There are basically three references Jesus makes in this morning’s reading;
“don’t worry”, “be prepared”, and “do something’. And it’s clear that these define how we are to act as Christians. 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? Like the bumper sticker I’ve seen before, “Jesus is coming, look busy”? This all sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? 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 uninvolved bystander, 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 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 your 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 with us always”; because, through the action 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; no works required. But let’s do these good works, anyway. We have nothing to lose and others may have everything to gain.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, help us to prepare for the coming of the kingdom and the return of Jesus. Make us vigilant, aware, and willing to serve those in need. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who came not to be served, but to serve others; all of humankind. Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.