Why Shouldn't This Little Flock Be Afraid?
8/22/04Times New RomanArial
O to be able to live your life without fear. When you're young you're afraid of only a couple of things: the monster under your bed, the thing in your closet, the mean looking dog. All of these can be dismissed by a word from mom or dad. As you age, there are so many more things to be afraid of. You know so much more about disease, death, crime, and consequences. Then you have kids and after that grandkids, and the worries seem to multiply exponentially. So why shouldn't this little flock be afraid?
Is it because our treasure is in heaven? We don't have to be afraid of the here or now or earthly might be's and tomorrows because our treasure is safe in heaven. We don't have to be afraid of all that plagues this life because our life is secure in heaven. People do try to find freedom from their fears this way. And there is freedom here IF. If you sell your possessions and give to the poor; if your treasure really is in heaven and not at all on earth, you don't need to be afraid. That's what the law promises.
So how you doing? Are you able to turn to your setting aside of earthly possessions to relieve your fears connected to earthly life? The devil whispers, "You need money to live," so you give money away. Your flesh worries about how your investments are doing, and you smile because your treasure is in heaven not Wall Street. Your medical tests say your body is sick and dying, but how can that make someone like you afraid who firmly believes you have a house made by God eternal in the heavens?
You don't have to be afraid little flock IF your treasure is in heaven. Neither do you have to fear IF you're always ready for Jesus to return. Yes, that's what the law clearly says. "If you're dressed ready for service, if your Lord finds you ready, then you don't have to be afraid of tomorrow being the last day or your last day." Those of you who've been on guard duty when your life really depended on it know what a burden it is when the law says, "If you're always ready, you don't have to be afraid." You'll be ready alright but your nerves will be frazzled. You'll be ready but you'll be really afraid too because your life depends on your being absolutely ready.
Yet that is how some of you read your Bible and live your life. You take the commands of Jesus as your Gospel. You believe you're capable of doing what the law not only commands but demands. The law not only commands you sell your possessions, it demands you do so with no hard feelings, regrets, or fears. The law doesn't just command you to be ready, it demands you be always ready no catnaps, lapses, or daydreams. Those of you who take the law as the gospel are in for a rude awakening. On the last day when the world ends or your last day when your life ends by sudden heart attack or long disease, the law will show you that a less than perfect selling of your possessions only stored up wrath for you, and that your imperfect readiness for Jesus means Jesus has surprised you like a thief in the night.
Repent of being anything but accused by the law; repent of thinking that you only lacked the right instructions to go to heaven; repent of thinking your problem is you do this or that thing wrong rather than that you are in a constant state of sinfulness where every move you make, every breath you take is wrong and deserves God's judgement. Repent of not hearing what this text plainly says. The reason this little flock doesn't have to be afraid is "BECAUSE your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."
Now just think about that for a minute. The kingdom of God says Paul in Romans 14 is "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." This is what the heavenly Father has been pleased to give you. Tell me; if you have something you just can't wait to give a person, should that person be worried or afraid you won't give it? Wouldn't it just kill you if your child who knew you had a bike to give them for Christmas fretted that they weren't really going to get it? The Father is literally "well pleased" to give you the kingdom.
How on earth can you be afraid you won't go to heaven if Jesus here tells you the Father "has been"(past tense) pleased to give you heaven? How on earth can you be afraid of the cancer, accident, tragedy, or death that might be lurking around the next corner if Jesus here promises that His Father wants to give you the whole enchilada? Do you really think that cancer, accident, tragedy, or death can take back what Jesus says the Father has already given? Don't we Lutherans regularly, joyfully and powerfully sing, "And take they our life,/ Goods, fame, child, and wife,/ Let these all be gone,/ They yet have nothing won;/ The kingdom ours remaineth?" So list your fears, recite them from the absurd to the sublime. Then hear your Savior say, "Don't continue to be afraid of these because it has been your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
How do you know you have the kingdom? Well, how does one know where a kingdom is? Where the king is there is the kingdom. The King of heaven has been given to us in the person of God the Son. First, He was given so He could win the kingdom for us. The kingdom of heaven does not belong to sinners. They are excluded. So God sent forth His Son made like us, so He could live under the law that showed all of us to be sinners. Jesus lived a perfect life under the law, never once was He shown to be a sinner. But there's more. Sins had to be paid for; sinners had to be punished. So God made His perfect Son to be sin and then punished our sins on Him. All of God's wrath against sinners and sins was poured on Jesus. In Jesus the laws are kept, sins are paid for, so sinners are forgiven in Him and they can be given the kingdom in His name.
Why shouldn't you be afraid? Because the Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom by giving you His Son. It's a truism to say where your treasure is, there your heart will be. But if you start sifting through your life with the question, "Where is my treasure?" you can only despair if you're honest. Once you despair over that question, ask instead, "Whom does Jesus treasure?" Not Himself because He gave up His life for you. He kept the law and paid what you owed for not keeping it. Therefore, your heart can be in heaven because the Father is well pleased for the sake of His Son to give you heaven. When you stroll through heaven as if it's yours, when you count heaven being yours more surely than you count on anything else in this life being yours, you're not being foolish but accurate. Because the Son treasures you He wants you to have what He deserves, and because the Father treasures the Son He is well pleased to give you the heaven His Son has deserved for you.
Shouldn't one who has been guaranteed heaven wait with joy for his or her Lord to return from heaven? Whether He comes for us all with the blast of the last trumpet or just for me in the night, on the road or in the hospital, I'm waiting for My Lord who says He's coming from a wedding banquet. Didn't you ever wait for your parents to come home from a party? Weren't they most likely to come home in a good mood? Our Lord comes for us from a party where there is feasting and rejoicing, so I'm sure when I see Him He's going to tell me about good, exciting things. Who isn't ready for their Lord to come for them from a party especially when He promises to take you back to it!
In fact, isn't this Meal we celebrate every week a practice for our Lord's return? Doesn't Paul say that, "As often as you eat and drink the Lord's Body and Blood you do proclaim His sacrificial death for sinners till He comes?" Look at our text. Jesus says that when He comes for us, "He will dress Himself to serve, have us recline at table, and wait on us." Each Sunday our Lord dresses His Body in Bread and His Blood in Wine, has us come to His table, and waits on us with more forgiveness, more life, and more salvation than any of us can get our head, heart, or hands around. Communion has always been referred to as a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the kingdom of God. So note how He comes to us here: familiar, condescending, patient, free. This meal is a pledge and token that when He comes for us in the end, He'll come in a such a manner as this.
Don't be afraid little flock because the Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom for the sake of Jesus. King Jesus will come for you to bring you into His kingdom forever. You don't have to be afraid because you're not waiting for a thief but a Savior. He comes not to take but to give. He comes repeatedly to you now in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion not sneakily but visibly, not to frighten you but to assure you that all things are ready for you to meet Him. Thieves come to break in, to steal, Jesus comes to break you out of this fallen world and to give and give and give.
You see that's really the problem. We timid sinners just won't believe that God wants to give to us more than we want to get, that God wants to give us forgiveness, life and salvation more than we want to get them, that God wants to deliver us from our fears more than we want to be delivered. But didn't you hear that in the ancient Collect? "Almighty and everlasting God, always more ready to hear than we to pray and always ready to give more than we desire or deserve..."
Do you know how come we can pray this? Because it cost God the holy, innocent blood and life of His Son to hear and answer our prayers. We know if a person is dying to give us something, we're going to get it. How much more so the Father who had His Son die so He could give us all things. The person with the greatest expense has the greatest motivation. God wants you to enjoy here and now what He paid so dearly to give you: a fearless life in His kingdom waiting eagerly and joyfully for your King and Savior to return for you. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XII (8-22-04); Luke 12: 32-40