Sunday, August 08, 2010


[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Luke 12:32-40
Like the other three gospels in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, and John, the Gospel of Luke tells us about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But each of the gospel writers do this in their own style. In Luke, chapter 9, verse 51 through chapter 18:14, a section that the scholars call the Great Interpolation, we see Jesus’ movement to His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension as a journey, a journey Jesus was intent on taking no matter what the cost, a journey that would bring all who repent and believe in Him everlasting life in God’s kingdom.

The careful reader of this section of Luke will notice that in Jesus' journey, there are echoes and allusions to another journey, the one taken by the ancient Israelites when God led them out of slavery in Egypt to a land that God had promised to give to them. That journey had taken forty years and had been filled with challenges, difficulties, and temptations. In the end, only two people from the original generation that left Egypt ended up crossing the Jordan River into the promised land. One was Caleb. The other was God's designated successor to Moses, God's hand-picked leader of His people, a man named Joshua, whose name in Hebrew is Yeshua, in Greek is Yesus, and English is Jesus. It's a name that means, God saves.

One-thousand, five-hundred years later, God the Father would send another Yesus, Jesus, this one both a sinless man and the incarnation of God Himself, to once again save people, this time from sin and death, and to lead those who believe in Him to a better place. So, there are good reasons for Luke to portray Jesus’ movement to the cross and beyond as a journey, not the least of which being that you and I are on journeys too; we call it life.

Along the way, we, like the ancient Israelites, as we read in the Old Testament, and like Jesus and His first followers, as we see in Luke's Gospel, face challenges, opposition, and temptations.

Will our journeys culminate in our living eternally in the presence of God and in the fellowship of all who trust in Christ?

This is a question being answered daily throughout our own life journeys. Forgiveness, life, and hope are free gifts from the God most fully revealed to us in Jesus. But, as was true of Jesus’ first followers, it's possible for us kick all of God’s free gifts away. That happens when we trust in ourselves, or our own reasoning, or wealth, or power, or acceptance, instead of trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Doing any of these things constitutes betrayal of Jesus and builds up walls between God’s grace and us that can only be torn down when we turn from sin and surrender to Christ.

During His journey to Jerusalem, when the temptation to look out for Himself must have been incredible, Jesus spent most of His time encouraging His first followers—and you and me—for our journeys through life, assuring us of God’s love and and grace and favor for us. Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke comes from Luke's journey narrative. If you would, please pull out your Celebrate insert and find the Gospel lesson.

Our lesson can be divided into two major sections. The first is verses 32 to 34. Here, Jesus is finishing up some teaching on money, possessions, and worry. Those three things always seem to go together. And after twenty-six years as a pastor, I can tell you that this cluster of issues is one the most important causes of marital discord. Most couples who call me up to talk about tensions in their marriages will immediately mention this as a major cause of tensions. So, Jesus’ words are really important here. Read along silently while I read these verses:
“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 [alms are gifts of charity for the poor]. 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.”
Here, Jesus addresses His flock—the Church—and all its individual members. “Don’t worry about your finances [Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to be reckless spendthrifts. He says not to worry about finances.]” Then Jesus says. “Just as it brings God pleasure to give You His kingdom, give to others.” The God Who gave His Son and gives us, as James puts it elsewhere in the New Testament, “every good and perfect gift,” frees and commands us to be givers as well. Secure in all of God’s good gifts, we are set free to be the loving, giving people we were meant to be.

The WELCA group members know that, this past week, I read about two modern American churches that have tried to live out these words, not as a means of earning God’s favor, but as a way of expressing their thanks for God’s grace and as a way of saying that in the journey of faith, their fear of poverty would not trump their trust in God.

In one church, a pastor wondered one day how much money was being spent on altar flowers every Sunday. He then proposed setting up a fund made up of money the congregation otherwise would have spent on altar flowers; the fund was designated for the emergency financial needs of members of the congregation. Their sanctuary may not have been as pretty on Sunday mornings without the flowers, but all who gave and all who received were drawn closer to Christ!

In another congregation, members reached a stunning—and seemingly impossible--decision: “There will be no needy among us.” The church set up a fund to provide for the needs of its members.

These churches took seriously Jesus’ admonition not to allow our purses to become weighed down or worn out from carrying the stuff of the world. Instead, they invested in what lasts—the love of God and the people of God.

How might we do this at Saint Matthew? Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also!

Do we treasure Jesus more than we do our wallets? That is a question that Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves every day!

When we do value Jesus more than anything, we will see our money not as an end—a god to be worshiped—but as a means of sharing Christ’s love. (I am still learning this, by the way.)

In verse 35, Jesus changes subjects. After He’s gone through cross, resurrection, and ascension, He says that one day, He will return to the world. When Jesus does that, He will set all of creation right. How should we live as we continue this journey of life before Jesus' return, then?

Again, read along silently with me while I read verses 35 to 38.
“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 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”
In first-century Judea, where Jesus lived, weddings would begin whenever the groom and his party showed up at the door of the bride’s house. And the celebrations could go on for two weeks afterward. (And you think you've been to some wild wedding receptions!)

There was no telling when the groom would come back to his home. In this little parable, Jesus says that the smart servants or slaves of a groom would be ready for his return at any time. Elsewhere, the New Testament describes the Church as Christ's bride.

Are we in the Church ready for Christ the groom’s return?

Are we trusting in Jesus more than anything?

Are we heeding the authority of Scripture more than our own supposed wisdom or cleverness?

Are we seeking to love God and love our neighbor?

There are many congregations that are more social clubs than churches.

Some are more political organizations than churches.

Some are places for the elite to meet and exchange business cards.

Some are hubs for the self-righteous to look down on the rest of the world.

Jesus says that if, when He returns, we are serving Him and sharing His good news with the world, He will do something extraordinary. He’ll fasten His belt—that is, cinch up his robes, to be ready to work—and He will serve us. The God of all creation, Who has already given His life for us on the cross, will serve us!

That’s a fantastic promise. But it’s followed by daunting words from Jesus. Again, read silently along with me, if you would, verses 39 and 40.
“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.”
Thieves don’t announce their break-ins in advance. Jesus says that, just like a thief who arrives unannounced, He—the Son of Man—is returning to this world at a time we cannot predict. In 2 Peter, in the New Testament, we’re told: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some of you think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

Jesus’ return to the world has been delayed by a God Who wants to give we Christians the opportunity to share the Good News of new life through faith in Jesus with our neighbors, friends, and relatives, people who will be separated from God forever apart from repentance for sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

But, as surely as He first came into this world, as surely as He died on a cross, and as certainly as He rose from the dead, Jesus is coming back one day. Are we prepared?

We prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus by valuing Him more than anything on this earth—including our money.

And we prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus by turning from our sin, by trusting in Him.

We prepare by telling all we know about the God Who wants nothing so much as to love us, to give us His blessings, to forgive our sins, and to feed us on His grace for all eternity.

We prepare also by being steady in our praying, laying the whole world before God, asking His Holy Spirit to move in every facet of life, and by remaining steady in our serving others in Jesus’ Name.

Whenever Jesus returns or if we see Him face to face before He returns to this earth, may we be prepared. May we be found to be faithful. May we hear those words which I have said before I long to hear more than any others, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Amen

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