Lectionary Sermon on Luke 12:32-40, Ordinary 19C, Aug. 8, 2010

Little Flock Lessons

Everyone with email has received at least one Nigerian-based scam that went somethingwindfall.jpg Windfall image by seriejunkies like this: you are informed that someone has died and left you a large sum of money – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range – and the informants need a few things to enable them to get the money to you.  First they need to know your bank account numbers, and then they need you to deposit some money with them to make the procedure work out.

Of course this is a complete scam, but what if it were true?  The amount they ask from you is substantial, probably several thousand dollars, but it’s nothing compared to the windfall you are about to receive.   It would be utterly foolish to turn down the windfall simply because you didn’t want to spend the initial cost.  We all would do it – if it were real.

The Kingdom on offer

This is where our text begins: with a real offer of something so huge, that the cost involved pales by comparison.  Listen to the offer:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

The kingdom” – that language hardly resonates with us, but it certainly did to the ones Jesus had just called his “little flock.”  Everyone in Jesus’ audience had grown up with stories of the great kings David and Solomon.  The quest to return to the glory days of the great Kingdom of Israel, stretching from the Euphrates to the Nile (at least in the fantastic phantasy version of the borders) was alive in everyone’s heart.  Exile to Babylon could not quench that burning hope; neither   could the power of Persians, Greeks nor Romans overcome the quest for the restored Kingdom, even after many years!

The thinking goes like this: When you have your kingdom back, then you have what you need: you have your land on which to grow food and build shelter; you have your walled cities for protection, you have your army to defend you; you are finally secure.The security of the restored kingdom is what people longed for when Jesus said:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

So what is the cost of the freely given kingdom?   Here is where the promise begins to look like a Nigerian scam.

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.”

Bait and Switch?wealth.jpg Wealth image by Burgman_007

Now it is time to ask ourselves: is this a game of “bait-and-switch”?  Is this an offer of intangible in exchange for cold hard cash that somebody intends to pocket?  The world has known plenty of religious hucksters who want you to part with your treasure so that they can walk out the door with it – promising your reward will come “in the sweet by-and-by.”

Not at all.  Jesus said that the proceeds from the sale of your possessions is to go to the poor in the form of “alms.”  Yes, you are indeed asked to part with some cash, but there is no offering-plate being passed around.  You are to direct the cash to worthy causes that you have selected.

So, this is not a huckster’s trick: but it still leaves the question: what do I get for my sacrifice?   How am I better off for having parted with my hard-earned treasure?  What is this kingdom that the Father is giving to me?

The Windfall Fantasy

I wonder how many of us have had the fantasy of suddenly coming into a large sum of money (actually, I wonder if there is anyone who has not had that fantasy)?  Where does that thought come from?  Why is that our wish?  Is it not because we believe that a substantial burden would be lifted from us if we just had enough money?    It would make us secure, it would ensure our survival and the survival of our families, it would allow us to experience good things – food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and provide for leisure in our golden years.  At some level of our consciousness – the level that daydream fantasies come from – we think that money will save us, if not ultimately, at least substantially.

We have to start by being totally honest with ourselves: we treasure our treasure.  This does not make us all evil – it makes us human.  Of course having adequate food is better than not; of course having shelter is better than not; of course having medical care is better than not – and all of these things cost real money.

And security?  Well that is where it gets difficult to know.  Prices rise even when incomes are fixed.  No one can predict it in either direction – the huge increases ahead in things like medical care or the huge decreases that the stock market is capable of – not to mention the value of our property.  How much treasure will make us sufficiently secure for the unknown future?  The answer always seems to be “more.”  Hence the fantasy of the sudden windfall.

Learning from RefugeesPalestinian_refugees.jpg Refugees image by johnnyrook1

But what if something happens and it all gets taken away?  What if, for example, a hurricane blew away all our assets?  What if a war came and we had to flee for our lives, becoming refugees? When we were working in Croatia, we came in contact with refugees, driven from their homes by the war over the break up of former Yugoslavia.  There were refugee camps near the school where we taught.  Some of them escaped with only the clothes they were wearing; everything else was left and was lost.

It was tragic to lose homes and possessions, family pictures and heirloom pieces.  And yet when you talk to refugees who have lost people – sons, fathers, husbands – or daughters, mothers, even grandmothers – they teach us a lesson about treasure; about what to treasure.   They would happily give up everything, sell everything and give away the proceeds if they could only get their treasured families back from the mass graves they lie in.

Warning the little flock

Jesus looked around at the Galilean peasants surrounding him, and compassionately called them his “little flock.” He tried to help them protect the treasure worth treasuring and to release them from what they would soon lose anyway, and to teach them how to tell the difference between the two.  We, today, badly need to hear the lesson he taught.
Jesus saw what was happening all around him – it was like Yugoslavia after the death of Tito and the fall of the Berlin wall.  Nationalism was on the rise; revolution was in the air; violence was already common. In Jesus’ day, the showdown with Rome could not be far away, and it would end disastrously.  Survivors, if there were any, would be homeless, treasure-less refugees.  Might as well liquidate physical assets and do some good before they all go up in smoke.

When would it happen?  Soon, but who knows?  Like a thief in the night or like a man coming home in the middle of the night after the banquet – the event was certain but the timing was variable – so the point is, be ready at any and every time.

The Treasure of the KingdomChristian-JesussFace-.jpg The Face of Jesus.  The most Beautiful face our human eyes will ever see. image by firecrackerss

The point of it all is this: learn the lesson of the refugee.  Learn what to treasure.  Whether by hurricane, or war, or simply the inevitable future that awaits us all, none of our treasure goes with us in the end.  If we have learned what is worth being treasured, we will end up as people of the Kingdom that the Father is so anxious to give to his little flock.

This is precisely the security we so desperately seek in the windfall daydream and what is promised in the Nigerian email scam.  Security, in the end, is knowing that there is a God we can call Father, who looks at us with loving, caring eyes, in whose hands we can find refuge.  Jesus is the face of Father-God; that is why he came: to show us a glimpse into compassionate embrace of God who longs to enfold his “little flock” under his protective wing.

When we find our security in knowing God as Loving Father, we treasure that security so far beyond our lawns and cruises, our homes and crystal, they utterly pale by comparison.  When we find our security in God the Loving Father, and can call him “Abba,” dear Father, as Jesus did, then our hearts are there, just as he said:

34 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The greatest treasure is the security we find in God the Father’s care.  When our hearts are there, the rest follows automatically.
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.

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