Luke 12.32-40 (NRSV)
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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.
‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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. 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
Two Christians were talking at the back of church. One said,
“I really want to ask God a question. I want to ask God, why He allows all this poverty and suffering in the world today.”
The other said, “Well, have you prayed, and asked Him why he allows it?”
“I’m too scared,” the first replied, “I worry that he’ll ask me the same question.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to live in a fair and just world for everyone: a world where there is peace and love. In a word: I want the kingdom of God to come on earth, as it is in heaven. But I have to ask myself, “Do I want it enough?”
So I am grateful for those words of Christ that we heard in our Gospel reading,
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”
I need to hear those words because I am afraid! I am afraid that when I look honestly at my life, I treasure my comfort too much. If my heart is where my treasure is, I worry my heart is glued to my sofa at home escaping into films. I worry my heart is secure resting in the knowledge that I have money in the bank which would ensure I would stay comfortable even if my house burnt down (at least, I’d be OK for a while).
As Sylvia preached most eloquently last week, I worry I am the rich man who builds himself a big barn and sits back and congratulates himself on being so secure. Caring only a distant second for the poor and their discomfort.
My brothers and sisters, our security must not rest solely in our money, or in our family to take care of us. And we must not treasure our desire for comfort over our desire for the kingdom of God.
Money, possessions, family and comfort are all good gifts from God. I personally am hugely grateful to Him for all these things that he has provided me with. But I know that my faith requires something from me, because of who God is and what his character is like.
God in Christ asks us ‘’’to sell our possessions and give alms’’’. He teaches us that there is a better city, a heavenly one, which we have been promised. However tempted we might be to stay put, to say,
“Well, the kingdom of God might be nice, but actually I’m rather comfortable here at home. As things are. Let’s put down anchor here.”
But if we do, we’ll miss out on the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was a poor, homeless refugee and chose to spend most of his time with the poor, the outcast and those who were distinctly uncomfortable. If we want to follow this Jesus, to live with him in his kingdom, we need to be prepared to go where he went.
I’m not saying we are all called to give everything we own away and become homeless like Jesus was. As we were reminded last week, Mary and Martha lived in a house. And in the book of Acts, we learn of Christians who opened their homes and provided generous hospitality to the apostles, and the poor, and were never criticized for not giving everything away. We each have our own path to follow.
I don’t want my sermon today to make anyone feel guilty about their comfort or wealth. Rather, I want to inspire us to dream dreams, and imagine visions of the coming Kingdom of God (that are) so beautiful that we refuse to lay anchor here in our material comfort. Because where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.
There is an inspiring account of St. Lawrence, a Deacon in Rome who was eventually martyred by Emperor Valerian. He was commanded to gather up the church’s treasures to hand them over to the Roman authorities. This he did, but rather than gather up the silver and gold, he gathered up the poor of the city whom St. Lawrence had come to love. He said, “these are the treasures of the church”.
We here in Louth have been gifted by God beautiful churches like this one here. We have been given a beautiful town, beautiful houses and surrounding countryside. So let us thank God for these things. Yet our real treasure is not in the bricks and mortar of these places, or even in the flowers of the field.
Rather, our real treasure – where our hearts are called to be – is with the poor. The smelly, the lonely, the ugly and the beautiful. We are called by Christ to love these, and by doing so, we are loving him. By serving them, we are serving him. By sharing what we have and not claiming it as our exclusive private property, we will begin to allow God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is already in heaven.
My prayer is that God would save me from making my money, my family, or my need for comfort into an idol. That way, I can have two free hands to grasp the promise God offers us – the promise of a coming Kingdom, a kingdom where everyone has a seat at the banquet table, and no one is left out in the cold. Let us put our faith in that promise, and hold very lightly to the material blessings we have.
To end, I want to paraphrase a quote from St. Basil, that great Church Father, when he preached on the passages we’ve been looking at from Luke’s Gospel these last two weeks. It echoes the book of James and the Old Testament prophets like Amos. It presents me with a challenge that really troubles me, and although I’m not sure what to do with it, I feel I must share that challenge with you this morning:
“You with a second coat in your wardrobe, it does not belong to you. You have stolen it. from the poor man. who is shivering. in the cold.”
This statement troubles me because I believe it might be true (although I welcome disagreement over coffee after the service). And I worry because I have a second coat.
What worries me more is St. Basil is not a lone voice but John the Baptist calls us to the same radical giving: He said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none and whoever has food must do likewise”. Why? Because our property isn’t really ours. We are all just servants in the house. Waiting for the Master of the House to return.
NB: Opening story taken from Shane Claireborne’s book “The Irresistible Revolution”. Also see https://bekkos.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/st-basil-on-stealing-from-the-poor/