July 4th, 2013

Luke 12:32-40

Sometimes the gospel is a mystery. Sometimes Scripture is difficult to understand. The words of Jesus in Luke 12 fit the category of difficult. Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms” (v. 33). Jesus prefaces this sentence with something else. He says, “Do not be afraid, . . . for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v. 32).

In my culture there is more talk about saving than about giving. There is emphasis on retirement plans and making sure that enough is stored up to guarantee the standard of living we have come to believe is our birthright. How does a preacher find a sermon in these words?

Perhaps the key is the command of Jesus to not be afraid. In truth, a lot of us are afraid. In fact, fear may be the dominant sense of our world. Burglar alarms and personal weapons combined with healthy diets and sensible planning for retirement have not stopped the dread of anxiety that most of us deal with every day of our lives in this society.

When I was young and something frightened me, it was comforting to hear my parents say, “Don’t be afraid.” The authority of their adulthood, their bigness, took away my fear with only their word. If they said, “Don’t be afraid,” that was enough. They had the situation in hand. Everything would be all right. There was nothing else to do. Fear melted with the warmth of that gentle word of assurance, “Don’t be afraid.”

But we are not little anymore. Who speaks this word for us in an adult world? Is Jesus able to speak to adult fears that come in the middle of the night and cause us to toss and turn sleepless in our beds? Is Jesus able to speak to us when our dreams march by like defeated soldiers? Can Jesus say something to us when it is three o’clock in the morning?

Well, maybe the answer is in Jesus’ words after all. “Sell your possessions,” he says. Why? To become poor? No. To become free. So much of the ministry of Jesus was about helping people become free. He still does this today.

I think of the day Jesus was confronted with the surprising sight of a man being lowered through a roof so he could receive Jesus’ blessing. We are told that the man was paralyzed, and it must have been a severe condition because he had to be carried on a stretcher by his friends. We may think of that man and believe there is a great amount of difference between him and us. But are we not paralyzed too? Are our hands free, able to extend in gestures of help and love to anyone, anywhere? Are our legs unbent, able to walk into any hellhole of human misery in an act of reconciliation? Are our tongues free to announce to any who hear that God loves all his children, not stiffened with the grip of envy and gossip? Don’t be afraid. Jesus wants you to be free!

Freedom. I think of Jesus standing in front of his friend Lazarus’s tomb and calling, “Come out!” (John 11:43). I can almost hear the collective gasp of the people witnessing this gravebound corpse shuffling from the darkness of his tomb toward the light of the rest of his life. Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go” (v. 44). Don’t be afraid. Jesus wants you to be free!

Freedom. I think of that miserable little fellow named Zacchaeus, up a tree and all alone and Jesus saying, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5), and Zacchaeus hurrying home to a supper that included the food of his redemption. Don’t be afraid. Jesus wants you to be free!

Freedom. I think of Jesus speaking in the lives of his contemporary brothers and sisters, asking questions that at first can seem so threatening: “Are you happy?” “Do you like what you’re doing?” “Is there meaning in your life?” “What would you do if you could do anything?” I was in seminary with two men who were brave enough to let those questions into their souls. One was a Harvard-educated lawyer. The other was a research chemist with a big oil company who had earned a doctorate from an Ivy League school. They walked away from wealth and power and prestige to serve rural churches in Kansas. Both of them said the issue wasn’t about giving up possessions, it was about removing fear. Once they were free of their need to build up fortunes on earth and stay in control of everything, they began to live happy lives.

Don’t be afraid. Jesus wants you to be free!

Our sanctuary was being renovated and was closed for a time. The contractor put a sign on the door that read “Danger.” Perhaps we should have left the sign up. Let the world know that to follow Jesus is dangerous and exhilarating; confusing yet clarifying; scary yet thrilling; quiet yet bold.

Don’t be afraid! Be free to live spontaneously before the mystery of God. Be free to live a life that lasts beyond death. Be free to live in this world unafraid. Joy to the world! We are free!

comments powered by Disqus