We Can't Handle the Truth
"The Truth? You can't handle the truth," is a line by Jack Nicholson in a film a few years ago. When I say it of us, however, I don't mean it in the sense he did that the truth is too tough for us. I mean in the sense of this story. After Sunday School a mother asks her boy what he learned today. He replies that he learned about Moses crossing the Red Sea. She wants details. So he goes on to describe how Moses built this huge bridge. The mother ask knowingly, "Is that what really happened?" The boy answers, "No, but if I told you what really happened, you would never believe me!" The truth of this text is just too wonderful for us. And do you how come I know this? Because our treasure is in the wrong place and because we're not eagerly expecting the return of Christ.
That's the truth, isn't it? Jesus plainly says, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourself that will not wear out, a treasure that will not be exhausted." Name for me one time you sold anything in order to give money to the poor? How many of us have far more than we can use, yet we give to the poor only what is left over after we use what we want. Like the country song says, "We [complain] about a dollar when there are those without a dime."
No, we don't sell anything and give to the poor, and neither are we looking for Christ to return. We don't have our noses pressed to the window, all dressed, ready to go with lamps burning expecting Christ at any minute. No, we're waiting for the next vacation, the next holiday, to graduate from school, to get a raise. We're not like people waiting for their Lord, but like people looking the wrong way. We''re looking toward the things of this life, and occasionally, glancing back towards the things of the next life.
If you agree with this assessment that we haven't sold our possessions and given to the poor and that we aren't eagerly waiting for our Lord, then you'll have to admit our treasure is in the wrong place. Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be." This can be turned around. To find out where your treasure is ask yourself where is my heart? I think my heart is on money, things, this life, this world. How about you?
And you know what that means? My treasure, the thing that really matters in my life, what is really important to me is accessible to the thief and the moth because it is all down here. While I'm standing there focused on the things of this life, behind my back the thief is breaking in to steal my heart's desire, and the moth is busy chewing holes in my precious belongings.
It's true; our treasure is in the wrong place; it's in Lotto jackpots and new things, in dance lessons for the girls and sports for the boys. We're not eagerly expecting a Lord who will put an abrupt end to all that we consider precious. And now that I'm convicted by this preaching of the Law, I think the truth is that I need to reinvest in heavenly things and to start standing guard faithfully. This would be a tough truth but not a wonderful one.
But this is what we all naturally think the truth of this text is. We need to dump our stock in earthly things in order to gain heavenly dividends. We think we should sell our new cars, sell our new boats, and give the proceeds to the poor. We'll start giving more cash to the beggars and bigger checks to charity. We'll knit our purses in heaven out of the dollars we spend here! And we'll start eagerly waiting for the Lord. We'll dress like people who expect to be taken to heaven rather than like people who expect to win fashion shows here on earth. We'll shine our lamps on the path that leads to eternal life rather than on the one that leads to the lifestyle we want. We will try our best to keep ourselves watchful and awake through all the hours of our life even those when our eyelids are heavy and our heads are groggy. You know this is exactly what drove men and women into the destitute lives of monks and nuns. They suffered in this life to gain the next.
Turn on channel 26. What I have just said is how this text will be preached. The truth of this text to them is you must do a better job of serving eternal things with your possessions and of waiting for the Lord to return. But you already know what will happen if you try. You will fail even as you have failed. No sooner will you resolve to use your money in light of eternity than you will find yourself saving for a vacation, a car, a home, a retirement. No sooner will you resolve to really watch for your Lord than you will find yourself daydreaming about something in this life or lulled to sleep to by the delay of the next life.
We can't handle the truth of this text. The Law, our own consciences, and many false teachers have made us unable to hear the sweet gospel message here. Gospel? Yes! Look how the text begins. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been well-pleased to give you the Kingdom." The truth is as Luther sang it, "The kingdom ours remaineth." The truth is that your Lord is not waiting for you to sell your possessions, give to the poor, light your lamps, or stand watch before He gives you the Kingdom. Nope, He says, "It's my pleasure to GIVE it to you." Actually, Jesus says the Father HAS BEEN WELL-PLEASED to give it to you. The past tense indicates that from a point in eternity, from a point before you were born, before you sinned, before you believed, before your repented, the Father said, "It just tickles Me to give him, to give her the Kingdom." The startling truth that you can't handle because you are so beat down by the Law is that heaven is NOT something the little flock of God has to worry about getting.
Haven't you ever been pleased to give something to someone? You just couldn't wait till they got it. You wanted them to open that Christmas present early; you wanted to celebrate their birthday a day ahead. The last thing you wanted was them to be fretting about getting the present or trying to earn it. You were happy to give it. You would say in such a case, "You don't need to be afraid you're not going to get this present. I'm overjoyed to give you it."
But this truth is so foreign to us who have our sins carved in our hearts with a sharp, pointed knife. It just cannot be that the Father is sitting in heaven joyfully rubbing His hands together saying, "I just can't wait; I just can't wait for them to get the kingdom." But friends this is the truth of Scripture, and this truth is at the very heart of God. Can't you hear it in the Introit? "You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing," says the Psalmist. The Father is not some tightfisted miser who only begrudgingly lets go of His treasures. No, He opens His hands and dumps His blessings. "Taste and see that the Lord is good," we read. There is no sourness, bitterness, or badness in the Lord. When you eat His body and drink His blood, do you taste moldered flesh or congealed blood or healthy bread and sweet wine? Is your baptismal waters salty or sweet? Is the Absolution that forgives your sins harsh or harmonious to your ears?
Friends, yours is a God who satisfies desires not inflames them, who delivers you FROM fears not INTO them, who saves the poor man not tells him to impoverish himself, and who encamps around your house to guard it not to put you in fear of thieves and moths devouring it. This is the wonderful, wonderful truth of this text that you just can't handle.
Perhaps the Collect for the day will help because it more fully explains what I'm talking about. There we admit that God is "always MORE ready to hear than we to pray and always ready to GIVE MORE than we desire or deserve." You know what this means? Your heavenly Father sits in heaven on pins and needles saying, "O golly gee I hope he asks Me for something to today! O boy! I hope there is something I can do for her today!" He sits in heaven willing to give far more than you desire. Do you get that? You all have desires in your hearts that are so big that you dare not whisper them to a soul. Well as St. Paul says, God wants to do far more than you ask or even think.
Of course, it's the second part of that sentence that you really need to hear. Your heavenly Father is very well-pleased to give you more than you deserve. This truth is so wonderful that it pains ears that are tender from the hard pounding of the Law. But the truth is that our worthiness has never been enough. We have never sold enough, gave enough, watched enough or worked enough for God to do a single thing for us. But He has always been ready to do more for us, to give more to us, than we deserve. It never was a question of what we deserved in the first place.
No, we should have been looking at Christ. Through His merits and mediation all things are ours. Through His perfect life and innocent death on the cross our timid consciences are forgiven for all that the Law has made us afraid of, and we are given the good things that we are not worthy to ask for. In fact, we are given the whole cotton- picken Kingdom of God, aren't we? Through Jesus blood and merit we aren't just given a Baltic Avenue, or an Indiana Avenue, or even Boardwalk and Park Place, we're given the whole heavenly Monopoly game!
This is the amazing truth that we sinners find so hard to handle, but what about the part that plainly speaks about selling your possessions and keeping watch? These things do enter the picture but only after the Gospel truth has planted you freely and unshakably in the Kingdom of God. Only once you see the Father in Christ giggling with delight asking, "And what can I do for you today," may you turn and look at the rest of the passage. Then you'll see how it all fits together.
Friend, if I have a eternal kingdom given to me, what concern of mine is a temporal, passing one? What I have or don't have here has no bearing on me if I have all the things of God eternally. If someone gave you a home overlooking Lake Austin lock stock and barrel with all the privileges forever, what would you do with the one you have now? Go on think it through. How would you treat the current possessions that you now have no more need of? Who would end up with them? Probably someone worse off than you. You who had been given such a wonderful home would rejoice to give yours to someone less blessed than you. Grace begets grace.
What about waiting for my Lord? Let me get this straight. My Father is pleased as Punch to GIVE ME the kingdom for Christ's sake. Christ has freely, willingly, and joyfully purchased this kingdom for me with His perfect life and innocent death. How can I not be joyfully waiting for Him? But maybe your much different than I am. Maybe when you were a kid and your dad was coming home from someplace laden with gifts for you, maybe you didn't press your nose to the window, turn on the lights when it got dark, and beg to stay up till he came? Waiting for a Lord laden with gifts is not a burden but a joy.
This is the proper way to look at this text: Start with what Jesus says first, "Don't be afraid for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." If He starts by telling you that you don't have to be afraid, you can be sure that the very next words out of His mouth are not at all meant to make you afraid. And if He starts by telling you that the Father is giving you the kingdom, you can be sure the next thing He says cannot be about how you have to earn or deserve it. And friends, He doesn't even want you to worry about handling this wonderful Gospel truth; He wants you to let the truth handle you! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XII (8-26-01) Luke 12: 32-40