Sermon for August 7, 2016

Anna V. Copeland

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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. Blessed are those servants 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those servants.

“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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”     

                                    Company’s Coming

         You might not know it to look at the parsonage today, but when I was a young mom, my house was often a complete mess. Oh, it was clean enough. We took care of that every Saturday morning, but it was definitely not company ready. One summer’s day, a couple of neighbors dropped by unexpectedly to share some produce from their garden. I invited them in, only to realize in horror that my house must have looked like a tornado hit it. There were toys all over the floor and a diaper sitting on the kitchen table. Long before we could afford a dishwasher, there were a couple of days worth of dirty dishes stacked up in the sink. The trash hadn’t been taken out lately, and the remains of peanut butter and jelly sandwich making littered the kitchen counter. With one child on my hip and the other on the floor, my hair was awry and t-shirt stained with baby food. You get the picture. I was mortified. I was afraid of being judged, of being seen as an inadequate mother. And I definitely wasn’t company ready.

         The gospel lesson this morning reflects our tendency as human creatures to carry around a generalized anxiety or outright fear that we’re somehow inadequate to the tasks set before us. We’re worried about things we think we ought to be able to fix or control and we struggle to put things in order. Jesus has compassion on our anxiety and shows us what to do about it. 

         He said to his disciples with some tenderness, “You don’t have to be afraid.” "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." "Do not be afraid" is the hallmark of good news throughout Scripture and occurs here in Luke's story of Jesus as well. Typically, "Do not be afraid," is the rhetorical prelude to the announcement of God's mighty and saving deeds. And it is the starting point and anchor for everything else in this passage. It is God's good pleasure - God's intention, God’s plan, and God’s delight - to give you the kingdom! If this is true, then disciples, or followers of the Way of Jesus can trust that God will keep God’s promises and give us all good things. As disciples or followers of the way of Jesus, we can trust that God will care for us in every circumstance as a shepherd cared for sheep.

         Trust changes everything. When we trust that we will receive all that we need, then we can resist the seduction of wealth, and release constant anxiety about worldly needs. When we trust that all that we need will be provided, and then we can share freely and joyfully what we have with others.

         At first read it sounds as if we only get to receive God’s promises if we live spiritually prepared and ready, that freedom from anxiety depends on our spiritual housekeeping. Like servants waiting for the master of the house to come home late at night from a wedding feast, we’re supposed to wait up with the lights on to let him in when he returns and they will receive blessings. But listen more closely. We know that God’s promises depend on God, and not on us. We know we can’t earn God’s blessings by moral living and good spiritual housekeeping. Rather, good spiritual housekeeping simply prepares us to receive God’s blessings. It doesn't make God’s blessings come.

         Living generously isn’t a way to earn our way into heaven or get virtue points on some predetermined scale of faithfulness. Living generously is the consequence of trusting God. We only hold on to stuff when we’re afraid we won’t have enough, be enough or do enough for God’s blessings to flow our way. Jesus turns our thinking on its head.

         Blessings flow when we trust God enough to let go of anxiety about everything. This frees us to live generously and freely. It’s not that generosity gets us chits that add up to heaven. It’s that trust frees us to live without anxiety in a lighthearted and open way. That’s why generosity is a mark of the Christian life. Generosity of heart, mind and possessions is the consequence of our trust in God. In God we trust that all manner of things will be well, whether we can see it or not.

We trust God when our kid gets into trouble with the law and we’re waiting to go to court and our chest is tight and we can’t breathe.

We trust God when the doctor calls and the cancer is back and we don’t know what the future will hold.

We trust God when the market falls and our retirement funds slip away and we sigh wondering if what we’ve saved will be enough to see us through.

We trust God when we lose our job, when someone gets hurt, when we hurt somebody else, when we say something we wish we hadn’t or fail to speak up when we wish we had.

We trust God when there’s yet more bad news on the television about who is doing what to whom in our nation and around the world. Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, little flock. Trust God. Regardless of what you’re up against or what’s up against you, trust God in ALL things.

When we trust God, our house is company ready. It’s not that the dishes are clean and put away and the floor picked up and swept and snacks at the ready just in case. We’re company ready for the kingdom to come when we trust God enough to let go of worrying about anything.

There’s a beautiful movie out in recent years called “Bridge of Spies” about a Russian informant caught passing information from the United States during the Cold War. Tom Hanks plays the attorney who defends him and ultimately arranges the consequences for this man’s actions. Throughout the film, the spy remains maddeningly calm. His life hangs in the balance, with a life sentence or execution possible for his crimes. He knows this, but he never seems worried, and he never looks afraid. This baffles his attorney. When Tom Hank’s character asks him repeatedly throughout the story if he is worried about what is about to take place, his answer is always offered up with an almost childlike trust. “Would it help?”

When your granddaughter calls to tell she’s an alcoholic and you’re tempted to wring your hands, “Would it help?” When a Zika epidemic breaks out and you’re tempted to lock yourself in your house and never travel again, “Would it help?” When one out a million frustrated refugees takes aim on a crowd of innocent people and we decide to skip the parade and stay away from crowds, “Does it help?”

The preparation Jesus invites is not an anxious anticipation of whatever seems like the end of the world, but rather an eager expectation of God's promise of life. What Jesus is commending to us is that we have faith regardless of what happens or we’re afraid might happen- trust that frees us to be generous; trust that enables us to leave anxiety behind; trust that creates in us confidence about a future secured not by human endeavor or achievement but by God alone.

Jesus creates faith by announcing a promise: Like a parent loves her children deeply and desperately wants all good things for them, so also is it God's good pleasure to give God's children the kingdom

Years after my dear neighbors dropped by unexpectedly and found me unprepared, I told them how anxious I had felt after they left that I had somehow missed the mark. They told me then what God says to all of us all the time,  “I drop by unexpectedly to share from the abundance of my garden because I love you and want you to be happy. I want a relationship with you, more than anything. I’ll sacrifice whatever in takes to be in relationship with you. I’ll do anything to get it. You need never be ashamed of the condition of your house. You are forgiven. You need never blame yourself or others. You are set free. Don’t spend a single minute on anxiety and fear. I will take care of you. I never see your messy house. I never notice your unkempt hair.”

We don’t have to get it right to earn God’s love. God loves us unconditionally as a parent loves a child, standing at God’s door in our world stained t-shirts.

 All of our instruction about the Christian life - whether about prayer, money, watchfulness, care of neighbor, and more - are therefore anchored in this gospel promise.

 Do not be anxious, little flock, it is your Creator’s happiness and good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Trust and receive God’s blessings, for YOU. This IS good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.  Amen

With gratitude to David Lose