12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 11, 2013
Luke 12: 32-40
It was the summer of 2002, the first time since I was 15 that I didn’t have a job. Summer Greek. By being available for 8 weeks of the summer, I was able to study two semesters of antique Greek, a requirement to read the New Testament in Seminary. It was pretty traumatic, learning a new language in a new alphabet at my age, giving up my own home to live in a dormitory room, being surrounded by all those bright young people who were so accomplished in the academic world. But I loved it. Our professor was one of the best teachers I’d ever encountered, encouraging and able to take you even at your baby-step level into the depth of the text and its Gospel message. We spent three hours each morning going over our translations of the previous day’s material, and then spent the rest of the day translating the next chapters. At the end of four weeks, we enjoyed a Greek lunch at the professor’s home. Monday morning, we would begin the second semester with a new professor. This academic setting was already making me so insecure, so I was really nervous about the change. The new professor wrote on the board in Greek and asked us to translate on the fly: “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He’d been retired from active teaching for several years, but always came back for summer Greek because he loved to see the lights go on in student’s minds as they began to get to the place where the text began to open up to them. As far as I know, he’s still there in the summers although he must be almost 80 now. When I hear these words, I always think of Ev Kalin, using this to help us see that we could trust him to lead us forward with care and skill.
Jesus is on the road, remember? He’s on his way to Jerusalem, and Luke has slowed the narrative down to a teacher’s pace, walking along with Jesus as he concentrates on his disciples and what he wants them to have with them when he leaves. As in his teaching about prayer that we heard two weeks ago, he wants them to understand the nature of the God he’s come to talk about. It is not a God with a yardstick, measuring your every move, and calling you out when you fail. It is not a God with thunderbolts, ready to smite you and burn you up in judgment. It is a doting father who wants to give you every good gift. It is a wise ruler who knows what you need, and will lavish upon you everything necessary for life to be sweet. All that stuff about the ravens and the lilies tells you that God is trustworthy, and that you are not alone in the world. All your striving to be secure can distract you from relying on the One who can be trusted to see and hear you when you are afraid and in doubt.
People worry. People are afraid. Things happen that rip away the things we count on and snatch away the people that we love most. How can we pray when it feels as if our prayers are not answered? How can we not worry about money and shelter and food when people don’t have enough? How can we feel secure about the future when we hear constantly about the dangers that surround us from nature and from terrorism? Is Jesus just giving us good advice? It all seems pretty idealistic if we don’t get all the way down to the heart of his message: that God is trustworthy; that God can bring life from death; that the way we live in a confusing, chaotic world matters.
“Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Jesus is asking us to hold together the presence of the kingdom he has won for us and the present reality of the ugly world we survive. God’s kingdom is the one in which no child dies before it’s time, where memory doesn’t fail before the body fails, when there is no hunger or deprivation or grief, and God is with us in person day by day. God wants us to live as if the end is guaranteed, even though today may be a struggle. Because the end is guaranteed. Not because we have earned anything by our constant prayer or by giving up what seems important. Not because we have worked so hard to live the right kind of life, or because we have tried so hard to follow God’s laws or find God’s will. It is because in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have proof that God’s love is stronger than death; that evil is defeated and even if it takes our life, it cannot ever separate us from God’s love for us. We have this proof that God’s promises are the surest thing in our world, and that the God we trust is always, always faithful.
Knowing that changes everything about the way we live. We do not have to be afraid. We can live with generosity, with kindness, with hope. When D-Day happened, the whole prospect of the Second World War changed. It was just a matter of time that we would win. Even though horrible suffering and drastic losses still were the truth about each day, there was purpose because the end was assured. That’s what Jesus is talking about. Living with that kind of assurance, so that we can invest our time and our action and our hope in the end that we know is ours, even if we do not actually see it in this life. Is it possible that Luke’s narration of Jesus’ teaching can help you imagine life based on trust in God’s promises to you and to all of us? Will that change anything in the way you see how important you are and your place in the world God imagines? May you hear these words and treasure them: fear not, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.