August 11, 2019

The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Traditional Service:

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:32-40

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.

Watchful Slaves

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 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. 37 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. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he[a] would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 12:39 Other ancient authorities add would have watched and



Sermon: “Moths and Thieves

“Don’t be afraid, little flock,” Jesus said. But, of course, we are afraid, afraid of all sorts of things. This clip from the British version of Fear Factor hits what is, for some, a trifecta of terror.

Clip

That stunt takes advantage of entomophobia, the fear of insects, ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, and arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. I suppose you could throw in claustrophobia, the fear of small places, for good measure.

Some fears are harder to pin down, but no less frightening for all of that. Gallup polling did a survey of American fears in April of this year. Here are the top ten.

Tied at number one are the availability and affordability of healthcare and federal spending and the budget deficit. Hunger and homelessness come in second, followed by crime and violence and the quality of the environment.

Drug use is number five, and the wealth and income gap in the United States number six, tied with the health of Social Security. Race relations are number seven, the economy number eight, the availability of guns number nine, and the possibility of future terrorist attacks in the US number ten.

What good does all our worrying do? Just last month, scientists published the results of the study that looked at that very question.

They surveyed people with generalized anxiety disorder, already plagued by uncontrollable worry, and asked them to keep track of what they were worrying about four times a day.

After that, those taking part in the study looked back at their list of worries every evening for the next thirty days to see if any of them came true.

How many do you think did? Ninety-one percent of those worries were false alarms. Of the remaining 9 percent of worries that did come true, the outcome was better than expected about a third of the time. A quarter of the participants saw none of their worries materialize.

If most of our worries are groundless, why bother? That’s what Jesus wanted to know, too.

Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26)

 

The trouble with our excuses for worrying is that none of them make any sense.

  • “I’m a born worrier.” No, you aren’t. Worriers aren’t born but made, picking up the habit early on from their parents or other important people in their lives.

 

  • “Just because what I worried about in the past didn’t happen, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.” Remember? Over 90 percent of what chronic worriers worry about is never likely to happen. If something you worried about didn’t happen in the past, there’s a good chance it won’t happen in the future, either.

 

  • “Worrying will keep terrible things from happening.” No, it won’t. Worrying never stopped anything from happening. Actions do that.

 

  • “I have to think through everything that might happen, so I won’t be unprepared.” Again, the answer is no. Worriers are great at continually asking themselves, “What if?” The thing is, the more possible outcomes you think up, the less likely any of them are ever to happen.

 

  • “If I worry about others, it shows I care about them.” No, are few things worse than knowing that someone is continually worrying about you. If you really care about someone, find a better way to show it than worrying about them.

 

  • “If I let other people know that what they do makes me worry, they’ll stop doing it.” No, they won’t. They’ll just get mad at you. That kind of worry is a kind of emotional blackmail that most people easily see through.

 

If all that’s true, why do the Gospels spend so much time talking about fear and worry? The answer is simple enough. Worry is an inescapable part of life.

As St. Makarios of fifth century Egypt put it, “I’m convinced that not even the apostles, although filled with the Holy Spirit, were therefore completely free from anxiety… Contrary to the stupid view expressed by some, the advent of grace doesn’t mean the immediate deliverance from anxiety.”

Grace might not free us from worry, but it can help us keep it in its place, if we have the faith and the courage to do as Jesus tells us come in today’s gospel lesson.

Don’t worry about your life, Jesus says. Instead of hoarding money, give it away. Instead of worrying about yourself, care for others.

After you’ve hedged every bet and calculated every contingency, enjoy the beauty of a morning bird song or the glory of the field of wildflowers.

Live like what you believe is true, Jesus challenges us. After you run yourself ragged like a godless pagan, find rest and renewal in the God who loves you.

Life has its share of either-or choices. Not all of them are necessarily profound. Coffee or tea? Pepsi or Coke? Chinese or Italian? Chocolate or vanilla? Cake or pie? Comedy or mystery? Crushed ice or cubed ice? Dark chocolate or white chocolate? Cats or dogs? Star Wars or Star Trek? Washing dishes or doing laundry? Saver or spender? Oreos or Chips Ahoy? Think before you talk, or talk before you think?

There is nothing funny about the either-or choice Jesus puts before us in today’s Scripture.

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. (Luke 12:33-34)

 

We can lay up treasure on earth or in heaven, but not in both. The choice is an either/or—either we get ahead or the Kingdom does, either earthly goods or heavenly treasures, either our own concerns or God’s concerns. Our heart and our lives follow those priorities.

What would we do, dare, or try if we believed failure didn’t matter? Not “didn’t matter” as in there are no consequences, but rather “didn’t matter” in the sense of “It’s not the end of the world.”

Abraham failed, sometimes spectacularly, as did Moses, David, and a passel of prophets and kings.

The followers of Jesus lived through setbacks and disappointments. They still do. Yet those first followers carried on, as should we.

They trusted that their future didn’t depend on their success or was made less by their failures, but was instead granted and made sure by God’s good pleasure and grace.

We’re born for community, you and I. We find who we really are as well as the meaning and purpose we long for when we lay our worries aside, trust in God’s promises, and give ourselve