By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 11, 2019
Luke 12:32–40 (ESV)
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
How many of us live in fear? It is almost impossible to live in our current era and not have fear crouching at our doorsteps. The news media markets fear with nearly every report it does not matter what political slant you watch or listen to, fear oozes no matter what. People prey on our fears, they use our fears to sell products to us. I have a fear of being caught on the road in a storm so I carry with me at all times blankets, stuff to light a fire, trash bags for trash or to use for other emergencies, and jumper cables. I even have a power converter in case I need to charge a computer or phone that cannot plug into my car. I also carry with me everyday a backpack that has spare batteries for my hearing aid, a power cable from every type of device I own, along with a power adapter, a first aid kit, and enough books to keep me entertain for weeks. You might say that is just good planning and you might be right but the reason I first started carrying everything was not out of the mindset of being prepared, but the fear that I might be trapped.
Fear is probably the second best marketing gimmick, we know what the first one is and I do not have to tell you that, but fear is right behind. Fear sells because it is packaged in a way that makes you feel like you are being responsible. I remember nineteen years ago everyone I knew was buying emergency supplies. They were filling totes with canned goods, dried meats, bottled water and pretty much anything else you could think of. Why, because someone wrote a book that played on our fears. Many of you probably remember it too. Someone said that our computers were not capable of recognizing the year 2000 and when the calendar switched to this new century, every digital record would be lost because as far as it was concerned it was the year 1900. This would cause a massive failure in every system from our medical records to the power grid. Our cars would not run, our banks would fail, planes would fall out of the sky and we would have to resort to using horse drawn sources of power. We were sold fear.
There is nothing wrong with being prepared. It is good to have supplies ready in case we have a storm. It is good to have cash on hand for those times your credit and debit cards do not work. It is good to fill your tank with fuel before the warning light turns on. But when we let fear take over we no longer think clearly. We listen to the news and we form ideas in our head and react without thinking everything through. We make decisions based on our emotions in a moment and not the wisdom we gained through experience. When we live our lives in fear we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated and controlled, we allow our ignorance to rule our lives and we stop thinking rationally.
This past week, I have spoken to many people about fear. Every day as I work I am met by people that see someone they find strange and I have to walk them to their vehicle. They are afraid of being a victim, and their fear is so great they cannot walk a few yards from the building to their car. Recent events in the news has just increased fear. And I listen to words of fear being spoken constantly from all sides. This fear is driving people to purchase supplies they do not need, and causing others to stay home and stop doing the things they love. Very few people have actually looked beyond their own fears. And the worst thing about it all is that fear is what started the entire avalanche of fear.
There is a fine line between letting wisdom rule in our lives and letting fear drive us. And Jesus tells us Fear not. Today’s passage begins with those very words. Fear not. What do those words mean to you?
The word we translate as fear, is one that can be used in many ways from causing you to flee to terror. It can also be used in a religious reverence. Jesus tells us not to fear. We look at those words in this era of history and we almost want to laugh. How can we not fear? We can list off thousands of things to fear from the flu to terrorism, yet in all of this Jesus says do not fear. Do not allow all of that to drive you. Do not let it control your life. Easy for Jesus to say he did not live in our neighborhood.
Think for a moment about Jesus’s time. There is a reason Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, not because we needed to hear that it is important to help injured people on the roadside. He told the story because there were bandits along the road. He told that story in that way because it was likely that that very thing could happen. First century Judea was filled with terrorists, they called themselves patriots, but they were bandits willing to use force and fear to subjugate the population around them. And they preyed on that fear, they used it to force people to choose a side. Either you support them or you are a roman sympathizer. There was no middle ground, no moderates. There was no debate to methods or theory, simply a statement of support or not. Fear. And they had every right to fear, because the Romans were not exactly the most gentle rulers either. It was not uncommon for them to prove a point by making an example of someone who just happened to be in an area they were at. Simon assisted Jesus with the cross not because he was strong, but because he did not want to join Jesus on the cross. We fear and our fears are often unjustified. It is alright to be cautious, it is even good to be prepared, but it is wrong to live our lives being driven by fear.
Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock.” I find this phrase humorous. I said last week if you do not see humor in scripture, you just are not reading it. Fear not little flock. Jesus is calling them all sheep, but not just sheep, little sheep that cannot survive on their own. He is being endearing, because who does not like little sheep, but he is also being a little harsh. He is saying this because this passage is coming from the same sermon that we spoke of last week. He is challenging the religious leaders, he says they are so caught up in their systems of interpretation that they measure every possible source of income and are sure to tithe even a tenth of mint. I explained that this is a simple herb that is basically a weed that has a few redeeming qualities. But still a weed. He got after the religious leaders for this and then he challenged the younger brother of a family because he was using that same thought process to encourage Jesus to support his cause in regard to inheritance. Following this challenge he looks around a the crowd and teach about anxiety. He says do not be anxious about anything. God provides for the birds, God clothes the flowers of the field. Our worry and our fears do nothing but waste time.
Fear not, little flock. Jesus often refers to humanity as sheep. There are many reasons for this. Sheep were one of the first domesticated animals in human history. They are one of the most useful of animals too. They provide both wool for clothing and meat for the table. A flock of sheep was a sign of wealth because you would not be in need. But there is a downside of sheep. They are some of the stupidest animals. The require constant supervision. They will get themselves lost by eating. They can get so transfixed on the grass before them that they will take a bite and take a step until they no long are with the flock. They also have lost most of their wild instincts of protection. Most animals have some sense of defense but sheep only know run. A threat presents itself and they all run sometimes they will follow the sheep in front of them and sometimes they will just run on their own. A shepherd must protect the sheep and keep them together or they will become lost. The other annoying thing about sheep is that they have a thing about water. It freaks them out. If the water moves they will run away. Sheep are like the perpetual icon of living in fear and being lead by the desires of the moment.
This is why the twenty-third Psalm is so important:
Psalm 23 (ESV)
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
The shepherd in this psalm makes sure they have plenty to eat, to such a degree that they are full and they lay down in their food. He takes them to the still waters so they can drink their fill without getting afraid. He keeps them on the path leading them even when bodies want them to run out of fear. They are safe and protected between the rod and staff.
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Perfect love cast out fear. Fear causes us to withdraw, love causes us to reach out. Those that are not bound by fear will live a life of joy. Willing to build relationships and to engage and encourage a community. This is what God wants to give us. A kingdom is more than a nation but influence. When Jesus speaks of kingdom he is not speaking of political entities but the scope of influence and a way of life. The kingdom of God is not one that is on earth because it is beyond earth, but it begins right were we are. It is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom.
It is God’s pleasure to take away our fears so we can live free. Imagine how that might look. Again, since we are a little flock remember the words of David in his psalm. We fear about what we will eat, yet he makes us lay down in green pastures. We fear evil, yet when we walk in the valley of death with Christ we will not fear evil, because Christ overcame the threat that valley held over us. He protects us with his rod and staff, he heals us with his oil. And his mercy give us a dwelling place, a kingdom, a community.
But still we fear. It is one thing to know God wants to provide in our minds but our hearts still fear. We still worry. I am not exempt from this. I lay awake at night worrying about many things. Usually I turn those worries into prayers but I am still often in dis ease. Jesus does not leave us alone even here.
Sell your possessions he says. And immediately our hearts are going back into a state of fear. If I sell everything what will I do, where will I live, how will I survive. Calm down. Jesus is telling us fear not. Sell your possessions, not sell all your possessions. Jesus is telling everyone that will listen to work. Continue to do what you do, continue to buy and sell. Continue to build and repair. Keep working. But change your attitude. Fear is self centered, and love is others centered. The world is self centered, the kingdom of God is others centered. Sell your possessions and give to the needy.
Jesus is telling us how to see the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He shows us this throughout his life. He made it his custom to worship in the synagogues. He withdrew often to pray. And he ministered to the sick and taught. Jesus had a lifestyle of worship, prayer and ministry. Jesus used the gifts he had to serve those around him. Jesus worked. He worked hard. But his work was not focused only on his own needs. He did everything to build the community. He made it his custom to worship with everyone, not because he needed to attend a meeting for worship, but because we need encouragement. We need the community to pray with us, to remind us that there is more to life than our troubles, we need each other to redirect our attention to God. Jesus honors this and made it his custom to encourage worship together. But corporate worship is not enough. We also need personal spiritual discipline and prayer. What we bring to worship reflects what we do in our daily lives. If worship is dry and boring, it is not the church’s fault but our own, we have nothing to offer others so it becomes something dead to us. And instead of encouragement worship reinforces our fears. What we do on our own as we withdraw to isolated places to pray revives our spirit so we can worship fully. And both of these should direct our attention out to others.
Jesus left the time he spent praying and he walked down the hillside seeing crowds of people waiting for him, and he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Animals driven by fear and the hungers of the body. Each of us can look at our world today and we see this all around us. Fear and hunger of some sort. Hunger for attention as we post selfies on social media. Hungry for knowledge as we dive into our studies. Hungry for food. And fear…oh the fear. If we go out to Walmart we can be shot. If we go to a concert what will happen? If we drive on the interstate highway someone will crash into us. Hunger and fear we are sheep. Jesus says work and earn money but instead of letting fear rule how you use it build your community. Invest what you have to encourage others. Minister to their needs. If what you have is time give your time. If what you have is a tool of trade then give your money to use to build the kingdom. Use all you have not to be controlled by fear but let God direct it to build his kingdom here.
There is a reason Jesus says to work and give to those in need. If we do not give, if all our attention is focused on ourselves how can we serve those around us. Since I am a bi vocational pastor, I have several interesting conversations. Many times I am called on to speak for all the entire church even the expressions of faith that I myself do not adhere too, Because of these conversations I have studied a great deal and I have found that I respect why some of the traditions of other faith traditions. Like why the Catholic church encourages their priests not to marry. I definitely do not agree because I love my wife and am proud to be a father. But there are limits that family places on our ability to serve God. If a church needs a pastor I am not always free to go serve that church, because I have to make sure my family has what they need. I cannot move as easily because my son has school to attend. But an unmarried pastor can go at a moment’s notice. Another tradition that is important is one that both Quakers and many Anabaptist churches embrace, simplicity. The reason it is important is similar to the catholic priest being unmarried, a simple lifestyle allows us to serve quickly. If we train ourselves to live on less we have more to offer others. If my house is not filled with a truckload of possessions I can move fairly quickly. If I am disciplined in my spending habits I can invest the profits of my labor into areas that will benefit the community at large. I can give to schools. I can assist with hospital bills, I can even provide the means so others can be released to serve God more fully.
These ideas are what Jesus is talking about. Fear not, God whats us to live in the kingdom today. Sell our possessions and give to the needy, be ready to act quickly so we can answer Christ’s call at any moment. These things can take on many forms. Are we ready to act when we hear the news from Rwanda that pastors must have an education before the government will allow them to serve? Can we send funds to help them get that education? Can we quickly respond to the ministry needs in Lawrence or Topeka where new ministry opportunities are emerging? Can we respond quickly in our own community. Can we provide assistance to those among us that may not have a grasp of our language? Can we assist the students among us with their studies so that they can be released to serve God in whatever way they are called? Can we respond to our local schools when their educators do not have the funds to buy books for the children they teach? Can we respond to assist those whose home were lost to fire or a flood? Are we loving God with everything we have or are we instead being driven by fears?
I said that this week has been filled with many discussions about fear. In each of those discussions I encouraged those people to embrace the love of God and to seek wisdom and knowledge. Because when we have knowledge of the things we fear, the fear no longer controls us. I encouraged those I spoke to focus on what they can do instead of what they cannot do, because again if we are afraid of what we cannot give our children that fear holds us back. I spoke to people who were afraid that they would not be financially able to accomplish the goals they had set for themselves and I encouraged them to pursue their goals and asked how I could help, directing their attention away from where they lack and back on something more important where God has provided. Fear not little flock its God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom, so let us live in it today by following Christ loving God in our worship. Embracing the Holy Spirit in our daily prayers and study, and living the love and lifestyle Christ shows us with those around us. We have all we need to do what God is calling us to do already available to us, but are we too afraid to see it.