Sermon for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, August 11, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Genesis 15:1-16+Psalm 33:12-22+Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16+Luke 12:32-40

A few weeks ago in a children’s sermon, I talked about the fruit of the Spirit that Paul wrote about in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy. peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). As I explained then, these are not things you can strive for. They are evidence of the Spirit’s work in you as you live a life of faith. As I recall, I mentioned something about patience being one of those fruits that hadn’t really taken root in me, and it comes out as annoyance, even to something as innocuous as the lectionary and how it was compiled. Today is one of those days when my annoyance was the first thing I had to wrestle with before I even got to these texts.

Why am I annoyed, you ask? Well, I have said to you before, and will undoubtedly say to you many times again, that you simply can’t read scripture without paying attention to what comes before and what comes after the part that you are reading. If you take passages out of context, you can commit all kinds of interpretive malpractice, which is something that an awful lot of people do when they pull out clobber passages about women or gays or prosperity or whatever.

So, this week, I was annoyed because a plump section of Luke was left out between where we were last week with the rich fool and where we are this week with getting ourselves ready. Our reading last week ended with these words: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God’ (Luke 12:20-21).

And then comes

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And 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? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (12:22-31)

So, it makes a lot more sense then to hear, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32). Last week was all about fear – fear of not getting an inheritance, fear about how to protect what you have – and then Jesus is all like, “don’t worry; be happy,” which is really kind of funny when you consider that they are still on the road to Jerusalem where he will meet his death.

So what are we to make of all of this business about getting ready? It almost sounds like a threat, not knowing at what hour the master or the owner was coming home so you gotta be ready or it won’t go well for you.

I don’t think that’s actually what Jesus is talking about, though. It isn’t that we are to try to be constantly vigilant so that we won’t be found wanting whenever the end-times come. No, it’s about how we are to live as followers of Jesus. When he says that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be, also” (12:34), he’s not even telling them to give it to the poor or to this cause or that. No! Generosity is what it is to follow Jesus. Being ready to respond when Jesus calls, that is what it means to follow Jesus, and if we are weighed down with a bunch of things that we are busy trying to protect, even building bigger barns to do it, then we are not able to respond to the invitation in front of us.

The reading from Hebrews that preceded our gospel has an insistent repetition of the words, “by faith.” “By faith, Abraham obeyed…”(11:8). “By faith, he stayed” (11:9); “by faith, he received” (11:10); by faith, by faith, by faith. The matriarchs and patriarchs of the Hebrew scriptures did not know where God was leading them, yet they followed anyway. They listened for God’s voice, and they followed.

We followers of Jesus may have no idea where our road to Jerusalem is really leading us, but Jesus is telling us to be ready to follow.

The very next thing that Luke writes after the part we heard today is Peter asking, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” (12:41), like maybe he’s thinking that if it’s for everyone else, maybe it doesn’t apply to him and the other eleven. This is for all of us – followers of Jesus and all the rest who are just thinking about it. We do not live for ourselves alone.

If there is anything that the events of this world are telling us now is that we are all connected. If you have a child getting ready for a first day of school, you cannot possibly kiss them and send them off without thinking of those moms and dads in Mississippi who did the same and yet were not there  to pick them up at the end of the day because they had been swept up in an ICE raid.

If you have a teenage son, your heart must break at the thought that, five years ago this past Friday, 18-year-old Mike Brown’s bleeding body was allowed to bake on hot Ferguson, Missouri, pavement for hours on an August afternoon.

There is no peace, no contentment, no real joy for any of us if that same peace and contentment and joy doesn’t belong to everybody.

That’s what it means to follow Jesus.

That’s what it means to know where your treasure is.

That’s what it means to be ready. And are you…ready?

ASEPSermon for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, August 11, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas