Many, many years ago, when I was much younger, Mary and I took our youngest daughter and our granddaughter into a haunted house. Okay, it wasn’t a real haunted house. Somebody had converted an old house in town into an amusement park attraction. The girls were enthusiastic and they wanted to go through the house, which, like most of these attractions I find pretty hokey and not very scary. So, we purchased our tickets, entered through the front doors, which were wide open, and waited in a large windowless entry with the other people. Then it happened. The front doors slammed shut, as we were cast into total and complete darkness, surrounded by eerie sounds. I couldn’t help but smile, when I found myself with one kid wrapped around my leg, the other’s arms around my waist and Mary tightly clutching my hand.
“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid” (Joshua 11:6) prior to the conquest of the Promised Land. Fear not! Do not be overcome by fear. Do not be frightened. “Do not be afraid” (John 6:20) are often the first words spoken by God or by God’s angelic messengers when there is a meeting between the divine and the human world. “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed … for the battle is not yours but God’s (2 Chronicles 20:15). In our first reading, Abram is worried about who is going to inherit everything God has promised him and the first thing the Lord says to him is “fear not” (Genesis 15:1). These are the same words which would be spoken to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah and Elisha. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Mary, the mother of our Lord he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Luke 1:30).
Without a doubt “do not fear”, are intended to be words of comfort and assurance. We are told to not fear—because—it is God who is in charge and in control. God cares for each of us in the same way as he lovingly cares for the sparrow. “Not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6). “Fear not, little flock (says Jesus), for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). If God desires to give us the kingdom—what does God want from us? Nothing. All God is asking of us, from us, is to place our trust in the invisible God whom we can’t see or touch. It all comes down to “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). When we put our faith and hope in what is not seen, but instead in what has been promised by God—that when we have nothing to fear.
But, let’s be realistic—we are still fearful, anxious and we continue to worry. Doubt creeps in and we begin to be afraid. Most people don’t realize that doubt is healthy because it motivates us towards a stronger and deeper faith, as we learn to trust in the assurance of God’s promises. But, like the incident in the haunted house, we forget the truth and we skip over what we know and jump right into fear and anxiety. We often do the same thing with the Word of God. Instead of dwelling on his promises, which I believe by faith, we quickly forget the truth and skip over those things we can’t see and attempt to grab hold of those things that we can see and touch. I hear Christ speaking to me through his word saying to me “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) and I forget what he has promised and I get anxious and fearful about the thief who is going to steal my treasure here on earth. Jesus is trying to comfort us by teaching us that we first need to learn how to relax, to accept life in his care, and finally to put our faith and trust in the Father’s loving care for his children.
Instead, what we hear is about selling our possessions, about thieves breaking in, about being dressed for action, and “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life” (Luke 12:25)? These statements are more disturbing than comforting. It's kind of like those times when we sing spiritual songs that contrast with each other. We might sign “Have no fear little flock” after which we invite God to “take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.”
Let’s get back to the gospel. Right after Jesus says “Fear not, little flock” (Luke 12:32) he commands us to “sell your possessions” (Luke 12:33). Just last week, in the parable of the rich fool, we heard Jesus’ warning us about the one “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) as Jesus now drives his point home by directing us to “provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail ... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).
Well, that’s not really too difficult for us to envision and maybe it is something that we know in our own hearts that we can do. Giving more, okay, but selling all of our possessions and following Jesus—most would agree that it would be way too much, way too difficult for us to actually do. And really, we are just not ready to give up those things that we consider as being important to us. And so, as any good Bible scholars we skip over this section and move to the next part. Maybe, just maybe, we can not be afraid as we attempt to do what Jesus says next in this lesson, as he warns us to be dressed for action and have your lamps lit, to be alert for the unexpected return of the master or keep vigil and lookout for the thief who comes in the night.
Although this is very good advice, it’s also very disturbing for the modern homeowner. At one point, we thought that we might be able to prevent the destruction of our church property if we could find enough church volunteers willing to spend the night monitoring the property, staying awake through the night, watching the church property to prevent vandalism. Most of us have a hard time staying awake after a busy long day of work and chores, much less staying up through the night. Most of us simply want to relax at the end of the day and nobody wants to be told to be ready and alert. But, isn’t that what Jesus is asking of us? And, when the weather is nice – really, who wants to stay home and watch their possessions, ready to catch the thief who breaks into their house. And like our church, which has an alarm system, electronic monitors don’t prevent people from camping out on our front lawn or misusing our property.
Once everything is said and done, there isn’t much left in this morning’s gospel after we skip over everything that we find too disturbing or troubling to our modern way of living. Give away your possessions. Watch and be ready. And really, it wasn’t all that long ago, that we heard that Jesus had “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) and now, while Jesus is journeying on the road which leads towards his suffering and death, he lectures us with a gutsy discourse on discipleship concluding with the words “For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also” (Luke 12:34). Jesus is encouraging his listeners to recognize the true value of God’s Kingdom in their lives so that their hearts might be “rich towards God” (Luke 12:21).
One man who truly understood the meaning of discipleship was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In 1933, after Adolf Hitler came to power, Bonhoeffer abandoned his academic career in theology and denounced a political system which corrupted and misled a nation and made the Führer its idol and its god. After six months of church struggles, he left Berlin for London, where he ministered to two congregations. In 1935, Bonhoeffer, now one of the leaders of the Confessional Church of Germany, which opposed to the Nazi movement which also had the support of the German church, returned to Germany and to his people. Bonhoeffer could have avoided the conflict and the war by remaining in London or the USA. Instead, he chose to return to Germany. In a letter to his friends in America he wrote, “I have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share in the trials of this time with my people.” He was able to combine the activities of the Confessional Church with the activities of the political underground and the secret seminary. He was arrested in April 1943, and even in prison he continued to share his faith and minister to his fellow prisoners. He was killed in Flossenburg on April 9, 1945 — a few days before it was liberated by the Allies.
One of Bonhoeffer’s most meaningful writings is entitled The Cost of Discipleship. His book has been described as “a compelling statement on the demands of sacrifice and ethical consistency from a man whose life and thought were excellent articulations of a new type of leadership inspired by the Gospel, and filled with the spirit of Christian humanism and a creative sense of civic duty”. Bonhoeffer was unknown until near the end of the 20th century. He is considered one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, for he illuminates the relationship between us and the teachings of Jesus, while Martin Luther is considered one of the most influential reformers of Western Christianity. While Luther reintroduced the Christian church to God’s grace as a free gift from God, “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8), Bonhoeffer introduces the church to grace in action in the Christian who believes Christ’s promise and Paul’s words using the terms cheap grace and costly grace. Luther believed that a Christian was not saved by good works, but rather that good works ought to always be the result of a life touched by God’s saving grace. Gratitude expresses itself through action and through right behaviour.
Bonhoeffer saw our reaction to God’s grace as one of two extremes. Cheap grace, writes Bonhoeffer, is the grace we bestow on ourselves - i.e., “grace without discipleship.” Bonhoeffer could have remained safely in America during the war and simply prayed for his people and family living in Germany. Costly grace, on the other hand, is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must know. . . It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”
The Letter to the Hebrews defines that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Our confidence is not in land, or wealth or possessions. Abram trusted in God’s promises and through this faith, he was considered righteous, right with God. Abram and Sarai never got to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. When God promised them descendants more numerous than the stars in heaven, they were too old to even have one child of their own. But they trusted in God’s promise and a nation of God’s chosen people came from them — who trusted in a God they could neither see nor touch.
The faith we so quickly profess as our own—is first of all a gift from God. I cannot know of God without faith. The faith God gives allows me to believe in God. Not only can’t we believe or know God, unless God first reveals the divine self to us, we cannot believe that we have received God’s grace—except by faith. You and I can’t even know Christ, unless he is first revealed to us through the Holy Spirit which Luther says “makes me holy and keeps me in the one true faith”. Faith is at the centre of our entire life in God along with the sharing of our faith.
It may come as a surprise to you – but every Christian has a faith story to share. Some are more dramatic, while others are not. Recently, Mary and I have witnessed a story of faith and answered prayer, that brought two broken and estranged families together – because of a pet rabbit. When we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, he will grow the godly faith that is in us – as lives are changed. One of the great tasks of the community of the saints is to help each other get in touch with our faith stories, and help us learn how to share our story with others — describing the wondrous ways our lives have been changed and transformed by God’s activity. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
But before you can begin to share your faith story with others, you need to ask yourselves, how has God been active in my life? How has the invisible God been active in your spiritual formation and how is the active presence of living in-Christ changing your physical life-situation. Sadly, most Christians are afraid to share their faith. Our faith stories are a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. Surprisingly, people are afraid to share their faith, while they willingly share everything else—their stories of conquest and success, their possessions and ancestry. While having difficulty sharing our treasures that are stored up for us in heaven, the community of believers offers us a safe place to try out sharing our story.
A man who had committed a crime was sent to the king to receive his punishment. The king told him that he had a choice of one of two punishments. He could be hung by a rope or he could take what’s behind the big, dark, scary, mysterious iron door. The criminal quickly decided on the rope. As the noose was being slipped around his neck, he turned to the king and asked: “Out of curiosity, what’s behind the door?” The king laughed and said: “You know, it’s funny, I offer everyone the same two choices, and nearly everyone picks the rope.” “So then,” asked the criminal, “What’s behind the door? The king paused and then answered: “Freedom, but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope.”
You have heard the words of our king, to set our hearts on eternal things, to be dressed and ready, be not afraid, but prepared—for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour. Therefore, “fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Copyright © 2022 St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops
We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.