"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:31-31)
The modern Western world is built on anxiety. You see it on the faces of people hurrying to work. You see it even more as they travel home, tired but without having solved life’s problems. The faces are weary, puzzled, living with the unanswerable question as to what it all means. This world thrives on people setting higher and higher goals for themselves, and each other, so that they can worry all day and all year about whether they will reach them. If they do, they will set new ones. If they don’t, they will feel they have failed. Was this really how we were supposed to live?
Jesus’ warnings indicate that much of the world at least, for much of human history, has faced the same problem. The difference, though, is the level at which anxiety strikes. Many of Jesus’ hearers only just had enough to live on, and there was always the prospect that one day they would not have even that. Most of them would have one spare garment, but no more. As with many in today’s non-Western world, one disaster – the family breadwinner being sick or injured, for example – could mean instant destitution. And it was to people like that, not to people worried about affording a new 4 by 4 and foreign holidays, that Jesus gave his clear and striking commands about not worrying over food and clothing. I could not help thinking, while writing this, about a woman I saw on a TV programme sitting by the roadside outside a village in the Darfur region. “Do not Worry… “. I know the situation out there is so complex it beggars belief but in this day and age she should not have to worry – her needs should be met. (Just like that). The current economic crisis, we all know, should never have happened, it should never have got this far but as usual greed and grasping – must have the latest this and that – I know it is more complex than that. The problem is that it’s not just the must have’s that will bear the blunt of this, the have not’s will become worse off as people re-think their priorities and ‘giving’ because things are more expensive. I personally believe it is a challenge to us to continue to ‘give’ as usual, if not more, so that the have not’s and charities are not ground into the ground. After all God has provided and He will continue to provide, but do we trust him to do so?
We now know that anxiety itself can be a killer, stress and worry can cause disease, or contribute to it – producing the enchanting prospect of people worrying about worrying, a downward spiral that perhaps only a good sense of humour can break. As with so much of his teachings, what Jesus says here goes to the heart of the way we are. To inhale a bracing lungful of his good sense is health-giving at every level, but his warnings and commands go deeper as well, down to the roots of the problem he faced in confronting his contemporaries with the message of God’s kingdom. This wasn’t just good advice on how to live a happy, carefree life. This was a challenge to the very centre of his world and to the very centre of our world today and the centre of our world tomorrow.
The kingdom of God is, at its heart, about God’s sovereignty sweeping the world with love and power, so that human beings, each made in God’s image and each one loved dearly, may relax in the knowledge that God is in control. Reflecting on the birds and the flowers isn’t meant to encourage a kind of romantic nature-mysticism, but to stimulate serious understanding: God the creator loves to give good gifts, love to give us the kingdom – love that is, to bring his sovereign care and rescue right to our own doors. At the heart of the appeal is the difference that Israel should have recognised, between ‘the nations of the world’ and those who call God ‘Father’ – that is, between Gentile nations and Israel herself. If the gods you worship are distant and removed, or are simply nature-gods without personhood of their own, then of course you will be worried. If our God is the father who calls us his child, what is to stop us from trusting him? He has provided and will continue to provide.
The final appeal, in this passage which is repeated at various stages in Luke gospel, is not necessarily for all followers of Jesus to get rid of all their possessions. Luke himself, in Acts, describes Christian communities in which most members lived in their own houses with their own goods around them, and there is no suggestion that they are second-class or rebellious members of God’s people. Jesus is returning to the sharing of inheritance with which the passage began, and is showing us the opposite attitude to the grasping and greed which he saw there.
When he speaks of ‘treasure in heaven’, here and elsewhere, this does not mean treasure that you will only possess after death. ‘Heaven’ is God’s created reality, which as the Lord’s Prayer suggests will one day bring ‘earth’ to his way of thinking. What matters is that the kingdom of God is bringing the values and priorities of God himself to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world. Those who welcome Jesus and his kingdom-message must learn to abandon greed and anxiety and live by His values and priorities. In other words trust him – He has provided down the ages, He is providing now and He will provide for the future.
Today here at St. Michael’s we have our Harvest Celebrations where we give thanks to God for his great goodness, love, mercy and provision. It is right to do this. However, I believe we also need to take stock of what we have – write an inventory list – it might take some time – it might not – then ask ourselves do we really need this – it is just clutter – is it in the way of our life with God – do we need to get rid of it – sell it, give it away to someone who will benefit from it more than we do, or give it back?! If we sell items – who do we give the money too – send it to where God is showing us. What is in our life’s that is hindering God from moving in our lives? This listing is not just about our possessions, our work, hobbies etc – it is also about what’s in and on our hearts – do we have any unforgiveness, hurts, graspings, resentments, hatredness etc. Then when we have taken stock, we can truly say this prayer:-
‘Thank You Father that you care so much for us that you give us chances to take stock and de-clutter our lives. That you give us second/third/fourth chances. We have lived much of our lives in ignorance of the wealth and peace of your Kingdom. We have sometimes lived as if there is no Tomorrow. We have worried and fretted and feared. We have doubted your promises and not trusted you. Please forgive us and increase our peripheral vision that we might see and live in your Kingdom now, and in the age to come. In Jesus' name and in his power, we pray’. Amen.
1. Jesus gives five reasons in 12:22-30 why we shouldn't worry and strive over the material needs of life, food, clothing, shelter, and the like. What are they? (Read very carefully and then list the reasons).
2. God's care over sparrows is mentioned in 12:6-8. Ravens are mentioned in 12:24. What is similar about these statements? How does the raven differ from the sparrow, from a Jewish viewpoint?
Jesus refers to our focus on material possessions in three negative ways. The first is "worry." What are the other two”:
worry (12:22, 24, 25) ________ (12:28b) ________ (12:32)
3. In what sense is this sin?
4. What is the significance to you that the Father has given you the Kingdom (12:32-32). How does it make you feel? What does it consist of? How is it effective in this life? How is it effective in the life to come?
5. Why should you sell possessions and give to the poor (12:32). What sense does that make?
6. Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? (12:34) How can you know?