Luke 12:32-40 – Don’t Be Afraid to Give

The Good Shepherd by He Qi

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand 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, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (New International Version)

The most oft repeated command in all of Holy Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” The Lord says it 365 times. It seems like we are meant to be reminded of this every day of the year.

The particular stating of the phrase by Jesus is in the context of money and possessions. Christ is telling his disciples to not fear about personal resources. Since we have a kingdom inheritance, we ought to freely give what we have to the poor without fear of being in need ourselves.

And it isn’t something we ought to procrastinate about – because the Lord could return at any time; and he doesn’t want to have to go looking for us underneath a pile of money and possessions in order to find us.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

Fear is a real thing. Fear, at its core, is being afraid of losing what we have and getting hurt. Fear can be a helpful emotion, meant to protect us and keep us safe from harm. The problem, however, is that our fears can lead us to some unhealthy behaviors such as:

  • Vilifying another, afraid that others I don’t know or who are different from me might harm me, my family, or my community.
  • Hiding my emotions, afraid my weaknesses or failures will be exposed or exploited.
  • Serving others compulsively, afraid that I won’t have worth, meaning, or purpose without helping.
  • Achieving or winning, afraid that I will be irrelevant or unwanted, if I lose.
  • Smiling and being upbeat, afraid of facing and feeling the deep sadness within me.
  • Procrastinating projects, tasks, or conversations, afraid of being disliked or rejected.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Yoda

All of those unhealthy practices keeps us at arm’s distance from the poor and needy. Getting close to poor folk creates fear with some people, that is, being afraid they might hurt me, or afraid that they will get my money.

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Faith is the opposite of fear. Faith tethers itself to the promises of God and frees us to be generous. And faith allows us to confidently minister and build relationships with all kinds of people, especially the poor and needy.

One of the great preachers in church history, St. John Chrysostom (the fourth century Bishop of Constantinople) lived in a large city full of both rich and poor. He lamented the large class difference between them. He said this about poverty and wealth:   

“To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others.  By this we are taught then when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal.  For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it.  If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty. 

This is why God has allowed you to have more, not for you to waste on… indulgence, but for you to distribute to those in need….  If you are affluent, but spend more than you need, you will give account of the funds which were entrusted to you… for you obtained more than others have, and you have received it, not to spend it for yourself, but to become a good steward for others as well.”

“Whenever you see anyone longing for many things, esteem him of all persons the poorest, even though he possess all manner of wealth; again, when you see one who does not wish for many things, judge him to be of all persons most affluent, even if he possess nothing. For by the condition of our mind and spirit, not by the quantity of our material wealth, should it be our custom to distinguish between poverty and affluence.”

The point that Jesus makes of selling possessions and giving to the poor is not to elevate poverty over wealth – or the poor over the rich – but rather to lift generosity as a significant mark of the Christian life.

In the same way, the watchfulness Jesus commands is not an anxious hand-wringing anticipation of the apocalypse. Instead, it is an eager expectation of God’s final act of doing away with all injustice forever.

In other words, Jesus is extoling a faith that frees us to be generous; enables us to leave fear, worry, and anxiety behind; and that creates in us confidence about how the future is all going to shake-out in the end.

The Lord’s Table is meant to remind us that God is hospitable and generous.

Communion together is meant to show us that we are not alone in faith.

And the Eucharist allows us to celebrate a future we know is coming, that as often as we eat and drink the elements of bread and cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns to judge the living and the dead.

Like the feeding of the 5,000, there is plenty of bread for all – and the cup will never run dry. That’s because the Lord we serve is a God of abundance. And when we are near to such a generous God, we feel safe and secure, and are able to freely share what we have with others – without fear and without panicking that there isn’t enough. There’s always enough because God is enough.

Generous and gracious God, You came to honor the least, the forgotten, the overlooked and the misjudged. You came to give first place to the last, those left behind, and those who are misunderstood and undervalued. You came to give a warm welcome to the lost, the abandoned, and the destitute.

Help us to be your ears to listen to their cries. Help us to be your voice speaking out love and acceptance. Help us to be your feet walking beside those in need. Help us to be your hands to clothe, feed and shelter them. You came for the least, the lost and last of this world. Lord, hear our prayer. Amen.

Luke 12:4-12 – Dealing with Trouble

Jesus the Teacher by J. Kirk Richards

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (New International Version)

A new resurrected life is a beautiful thing. And it can be a hard thing, at the same time.

Decades ago, I once preached in a church for morning and evening worship services. As I entered the church building for the evening sermon, one of the deacons greeted me by saying, “Man, did you ever stir the pot this morning!”

It turns out, because I did not stay behind the pulpit when I preached, but freely roamed around the sanctuary, many parishioners believed I was not being under the authority of God’s Holy Word. They took my actions as subversive, even rebellious. Others defended the action. The entire church became divided over it.

What I found so interesting about the whole affair is that I was simply and genuinely being myself – and it caused trouble to the point of families dividing and imploding in on themselves.

Sometimes people lose sight of what’s really important, and the gospel of grace ends up bringing division. Jesus tended to cause trouble in his earthly ministry, just by being himself – and a lot of folks didn’t take kindly to him exercising authority like God does.

Trouble tends to follow Christian mission and service. That may seem odd. Yet, God’s kingdom is an upside-down one. The way of resurrection and new life comes through a cross and a death; the way to succeed is to fail; the one who loses their life will find it.

We ought to expect opposition and trouble from the world.

Fortunately, nobody ever accused me of being in cahoots with the devil. But that happened to Jesus, on more than one occasion. (Matthew 10:24-25)

Christians are not above their Master – they will be treated as he was. Jesus didn’t want his followers to be surprised whenever they face opposition.

We don’t need to be afraid of getting into trouble.

Fear has to do with the unknown and about what is going to happen to us. Since we know opposition and trouble is expected, we can avoid living in dread. Early on in the church, Christians actually rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus.

We are given a promise that we’ll receive special help in times of adversity. Believers possess the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our helper and advocate for such difficult situations.

God sees all things. The Lord isn’t surprised by your hardship and will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this old fallen world. The wrath of God is to be much more feared than the wrath of people.

God observes all the details of our lives. If God cares and is attentive to the least little things in my life, then how much more will the big issues in my life be handled!?

Blaspheming (saying hard things against) the Holy Spirit is nothing more nor less than attributing the work of Satan to God.

We aren’t doomed to hell if we are crushed under a heavy load of distress and pressure. God won’t strike us with lightning if we make mistakes, mess up, or fail to live as we ought. The Lord will likely be sad, but fire and brimstone will not be in the picture.

You might be wondering how I handled the hubbub with the church who fractured over my preaching apart from the pulpit. I came back in the evening and purposely caused trouble by preaching the Beatitudes of Jesus while walking up and down the aisle.

After all, when somebody is secure in Christ, why not say and do what needs to be said and done?

Gracious God, your love is sufficient for us. May your guidance and wisdom hold us tightly, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Guard the hearts and minds of believers in places of hardship, war, and persecution so that your church may stand strong in faith.

Although trouble may come, neither any person nor any power on this earth can take our souls from us. We belong to you. May your church stand strong in grace and love, being assured with the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

We pray for the day when we will all be together in worship and praise at the consummation of your benevolent kingdom. Until that day, may your love flow to all our persecuted brothers and sisters. May your blessed Holy Spirit strengthen and fill them with faith, hope, and love, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen

John 11:45-57 – Gripped by Worry and Fear

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary [the sister of Lazarus] and had seen what Jesus did [raised Lazarus from death] believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So, from that day on they plotted to take his life.

Therefore, Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead, he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. (New International Version)

Helping others, Christian ministry, and compassionate service can be risky business. Just ask Jesus.

The Jewish ruling council (Sanhedrin) was deeply disturbed by all the hubbub Jesus was stirring. Rather than celebrating the healing of many people in both body and soul, the rulers were anxious, worried, and afraid. They feared the worst: All the attention might rile the Roman occupation of the land. Then, they will obliterate both temple and nation.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Yoda

Wherever you find a group of folks living in continual fear that something awful is going to happen, there you will find a strict code of conformity and no allowances for difference. After all, rocking the boat only draws attention. Fear dictates that if anything, or anyone, deviates from established protocol, the entire religious system and even its people will be destroyed.

Jesus was anything but a conformist to the status quo. He frequently operated outside of established religious norms. Thus, Christ was viewed by many religious leaders as a loose cannon that was making too much noise and needed to be silenced before something terrible happened.

One of the problems with living in the fearful worry of what horrible thing may occur is that we play an ignorant game of prognostication. We simply do not know the future. We can predict. We can become full-time pundits, opining about what’s going to happen. Yet, when all is said and done, the future is not ours to see. Only God is privy to standing above time and space.

Any institution whose chief focus is keeping everyone in line out of a fear of losing influence, power, privilege, money, devotion, buildings, or people will likely experience a self-fulfilled prophecy of doom. Therefore, it is necessary we define our ministries, services, and actions by who we are and not by what we don’t do.

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

Gandhi

Today’s Gospel lesson chronicles the forward progress of Jesus to his ultimate suffering and death. Within the Gospel of John, there are two streams running parallel to one another. There is a group who observes Jesus, listens to his teaching, sees his miraculous works, and believes in him.  Alongside them is another group who experiences all the same events and hears all the same words of Jesus – yet responds in a different manner by plotting how Jesus might be arrested and killed.

Fear can take such a tight hold within an organization that premeditated murder is executed without any moral misgivings.

Worry can worm its way so deeply into a group that verbal assassinations seem both justified and necessary.

Anxiety can overwhelm an institution to such a degree that rationalizations for unethical behavior are rife. People cease to be looked at as people. They are referred to as threats, demonized as monsters who are trying to take away a way of life.

Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke to his fellow religious leaders, perhaps without even knowing the truth and deep import of his prophetic words: “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Indeed, not only did Jesus die for the nation of Israel, but on behalf of all nations, and all people. 

The implications of Christ’s death are magnanimous. The extent of his atonement for the people includes redemption from the bondage of sin; reconciliation between us and God; satisfaction of God’s wrath against the sin of the world; and victory over demons, death, and hell.

With all this incredible work of restoration and renewal, fear and worry take a back seat. Courage and confidence take the wheel.

Merciful Jesus, you are my guide, the joy of my heart, the author of my hope, and the object of my love. I come seeking refreshment and peace. Show me your mercy, relieve my fears and anxieties, and grant me a quiet mind and an expectant heart, that by the assurance of your presence, I may learn to abide in you, my Lord and my God. Amen.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b – God Is Bigger Than Our Fears

Psalm 104:3 by J. Michael Orr

I praise you, Lord God,
    with all my heart.
You are glorious and majestic,
dressed in royal robes
    and surrounded by light.
You spread out the sky
    like a tent,
    and you built your home
    over the mighty ocean.
The clouds are your chariot
    with the wind as its wings.
The winds are your messengers,
    and flames of fire
    are your servants.

You built foundations
for the earth,
    and it
    will never be shaken.
You covered the earth
with the ocean
    that rose
    above the mountains.
Then your voice thundered!
And the water flowed
    down the mountains
    and through the valleys
    to the place you prepared.
Now you have set boundaries,
    so that the water will never
    flood the earth again….

Our Lord, by your wisdom
    you made so many things;
    the whole earth is covered
    with your living creatures….
With all my heart
I praise you, Lord!
    I praise you! (Contemporary English Version)

The world is a gift from God.

When God created the heavens and the earth, Adam and Eve, the first humans, were the apex of God’s creative activity. Their charge, as people created in the image of God, was to steward the earth. And that mandate is still in effect. We are to take good care of this creation we inhabit.

However, due to the fall of humanity, there has always been a bent toward exploiting the earth for our own purposes, rather than carefully maintaining it. Wherever we see abuse of both land and lives, behind it is the fear of not having enough and not being safe enough. Our anxiety gets the best of us.

It seems to me that creation care must begin with ourselves. The lack of self-care inevitably works itself out by neither caring for other creatures nor creation. We need to acknowledge our fears and address them. Then, place those fears in the shining light of our Creator’s glory.

My kids grew up in the ‘90s watching Veggie Tales. The tunes were catchy and full of some solid truth about God. One of their favorites was “God is Bigger.” Here is the chorus:

God is bigger than the boogie man.
He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV.
Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man,
And he’s watching out for you and me.

Today’s Psalm expresses the bigness of God – clothed with splendor and majesty, covered with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. Indeed, God is big – bigger than anything and everything. The Lord is sovereign and supreme over all creation, and always does what is right, just, and fair. God sees all and watches over the earth.

Sometimes we get lost in our situations, problems, and screw-ups. We get stuck in our anxiety and fears. We view them as larger than life and can become so overwhelmed and burdened with our inabilities, weaknesses, and lack of handling things well, that we lose sight of the reality that God is bigger than it all. 

Instead of fear and anxiety ruling the day, we can allow sound theology to purge the worry and trouble from our minds and hearts. Using today’s psalm to pray and praise God is a foundational way of beginning to put into perspective the issues and problems of our lives.

Confident living, and mitigating our fears, cannot simply be mentally or emotionally stirred up. Confidence needs a foundation, a basis in truth and reality. The believer’s assurance comes from the firm ground of God’s character and competence. Trust is born when we have a vision of a Divine Being, large and filling the universe with grace and justice.

Tending to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health begins with a sense of divine largeness. Initiative and assertiveness can be freely exercised when we are secure and non-anxious because of God’s immense presence.

Caring for creation, and enjoying our great big world, is the logical action of being peacefully connected to the Creator of it all. We are all bound together as creatures and creation. We’re all made up of the same stuff.

Everything in the universe, including creatures and creation, share 97% percent of the same kind of atoms.

The crucial elements for life on Earth – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur – are all found in abundance across the stars of our galaxy.

Our differences make us unique. Our similarities connect us. And we are inextricably connected to every atom in this universe. Just as we carry the DNA of our ancestors within our biological bodies, so we are all holding the same elements of the physical creation.

The ultimate connection, from a Christian perspective, is that Jesus holds it all together – thus making him the supreme Connector.

The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything. (Colossians 1:15-18, CEB)

Christ is our connection to all things, reconciling us to our fellow creatures, creation, and the Creator. All the bigness of God lives in Jesus. In the face of the Lord, all fears melt away.

Almighty God, you are mighty big! My problems are really small as I glimpse your sheer immensity. Lord God, you are very great! I bless your holy name. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah, Amen.