Sunday, August 8, 2010
Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (August 8, 2010)
“Fear Not, Little Flock” (Luke 12:32-40)
We live in a fearful world. That comes as no surprise to you. Just watch the television news or read the headlines in the newspaper. You’ll find something that will make you afraid of what’s going on in your town…maybe even in your own neighborhood.
Into this world of fear come the words of Jesus: “Fear not, little flock.” These words are not just for those to whom he first said them. They are for his precious little flock here at Messiah. God the Father has promised to take care of you … and he does, no matter what your circumstances.
Fear not, little flock, because it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. A king hands his kingdom over to his son, the firstborn prince. When you and I were baptized into Christ, the Son of God, you and I were adopted as God’s sons. We were made to be heirs of God’s heavenly kingdom. If you are an heir of the King of the Universe, what more could you want?
Unfortunately, we do want more. We are not satisfied with what we have been given. We seek to accumulate more and more, to surround ourselves with things that preoccupy our minds and insulate ourselves from our fearful world. But the more we have, the more fear that brings because we worry about keeping and protecting the things we have.
Jesus encourages us to get rid of our earthly possessions. “Sell your possessions and give to the needy,” he says. Now, of course, we need certain possessions with which to live and work and provide for our families…our homes, our clothing, our means of transportation. But Jesus is reminding us that if we cling too tightly to our possessions, that may leave us careless or unprepared for the day we die, or for the day when Jesus returns. They leave us careless or unprepared because we have become so wrapped up in earthly matters that we neglect heavenly matters. The cares of this world draw us away from God and his Word, and when death or the Last Day arrive, we may be the one of whom Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 7:21)
Your Father has given you the kingdom, so don’t treat this blessing lightly. Instead of storing up treasures here on earth, store up treasures in heaven. How? Recall last week’s reading from Colossians, where we heard “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:2) Our heavenly treasure is Christ and his gifts which bring us and keep us in Christ’s kingdom … his Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Cling tightly to these treasures. Guard them with your life, for your eternal life is guarded by them. Through these means God works to keep you in the faith.
Jesus also brings up something else in our text of which people are afraid. People may be afraid when they think about the Final Judgment. But Jesus’ comforting words apply here, too. Fear not, little flock, the coming Judgment. Jesus tells two parables which tell Christians to be ready for him when he returns. In the first parable, the master returns from a banquet and is pleased when he finds his servants waiting for him. In the second, the unexpected home invasion by a thief is compared to the unexpected return of Christ.
The theme of Christ’s Second Coming is usually associated with the end of the Church Year and the beginning of the Church Year in Advent. To hear this message this time of year seems a little out of place. The long season after Pentecost usually deals with themes about growing in Christ. That’s why we use the green paraments this time of year, reminding us of growth, like plants that are growing and flourishing.
But maybe it’s not so out of place. The lengthy season after Pentecost between Easter and Advent could be a reminder of the waiting we do until Christ returns. It’s easy to become complacent. We always need a reminder to watch and keep ourselves ready.
We need a reminder that we don’t need to be afraid when Christ returns. Because you are a member of God’s little flock through the gift of Holy Baptism and the gift of faith, you can trust that the Good Shepherd who died for you will remember you on that Last Day as one of his little lambs.
It may seem at times as though Christ is a long time in coming. It may seem at times as though God may have forgotten you. Nevertheless, God keeps his promise to be faithful. We heard in our other readings today how he was faithful to Abraham, who lived by faith and not by sight. Abraham “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but [saw] them and greeted them from afar.” And because Abraham believed the Lord’s promises to him, he was considered righteous in God’s sight.
Likewise, you and I live by faith and not by sight. We have not received the fullness of God’s heavenly kingdom yet. We see it and welcome it from afar, knowing that God is faithful to his promises to us. He has covered our sins now with the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Since that is the case, we can be assured that he will certainly bring us into his eternal kingdom when we die or if we are still living when Christ returns.
In response to God’s faithfulness, Jesus calls us to be ready for service and keep our lamps burning as we await his return. Be ready and willing to serve in any way the Lord calls you. God has already placed you where you are and called you to serve him in your vocations, whether that be as a father, a mother, a faithful employee, an honest employer, a public servant or an involved Christian citizen.
Perhaps God is calling you to serve further in other ways, too, whether you are young or old. It can be a frightful thing, attempting to serve God in ways you never have before. But with the Spirit’s help, you can overcome those fears. Maybe God is calling you to volunteer as a Sunday School teacher or helper. Maybe God is calling you to serve in some capacity on our Church Council. Maybe God is calling you to help with the upkeep or our church building and property, for the benefit of the worship, education, and fellowship opportunities of our congregation. Maybe God is calling you to consider going into some type of full-time church work, a pastor, a deaconess, a Lutheran school teacher, whatever the case may be.
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” Keep your lamps of faith burning brightly by fueling the fire with God’s Word. God works through his Word when it is read and preached and studied, and your faith is ignited. The light that burns also helps to illumine the dark things in your life of which you must repent and turn away from so that they don’t hinder your service.
I read that at the zoo in Ft. Worth, Texas, there is a building where the tropical birds are kept. The hallway where the people walk is dark. All along each side of the hallway is a long case that looks like a tropical rain forest. It has a miniature waterfall, a pool, trees, and all sorts of plants. Among the trees and rocky ledges the small, brightly colored birds fly. As people watch this, they eventually become aware that there is actually no barrier between them the birds … no glass, no netting, nothing. They could reach in and touch them if they so chose. Why don’t the birds fly out? A sign above the display explains. The birds are afraid of the darkness, and when it gets dark, they go to sleep. They love the light and will not deliberately fly from the light into the darkness.
As Christians redeemed by Christ and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we love to stay in the light. We remain in the light of God’s Word so that our old sinful nature will not cause us to “fly into the darkness.” Then, the Holy Spirit also empowers us to let our light shine in the sight of others “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Finally, fear not, little flock, because the Lord is the one who serves the servants. Jesus came once to this earth in all humility and served us. Jesus told his disciples, “I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27) When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he first washed the disciples’ feet as an example for us to serve one another. His service took its greatest form when he served and gave his life for us, as he said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28)
Jesus comes today and serves you in his Holy Supper. When you kneel at the communion rail, you are kneeling at the Lord’s Table which he himself has prepared. When you open your mouth to receive the bread and the wine, you are receiving the very body and blood of Jesus who serves them to you through the hands of your pastor. When you have faith in the words “Given and shed for you,” the gifts you receive at the Lord’s Table seal his forgiveness personally to you, and Jesus strengthens your faith so you may trust him and face those fearful situations that come your way.
Jesus will return at an unknown hour, but we don’t need to be afraid of his judgment. He is already present among us now and makes us members of his “little flock” through Word and Sacrament, and we are forgiven of all our sins. We partake of Word and Sacrament to be made fearless in a fearful world, to remain ready and faithful, and to be empowered to serve one another with the love of Christ.