‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
"A Diagnosis... and a Prescription"
Rev. Ryan Slifka
“Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus says. “For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Uh oh. Every time Jesus says something like “do not be afraid,” or “fear not” to his disciples, he’s said something to scare them, or he’s going to say something that will scare them. Something that makes their anxiety levels go through the roof. “Sell your possessions,” Jesus says, “and give alms.” Jesus says “do not be afraid,” “fear not,” because he gets the sense that the idea of selling everything they have and giving all the money away is a scary one. He gets that commands like this one will inspire fear.
When I hear words like this, though, I tend not to go to fear first. Instead I tend to go to just how impractical it would be for someone like me to do this. I’ve got to house, clothe and feed my family. I have to maintain my savings just in case something bad happens. I have to pay my mortgage so I can retire and live rent free one day. If I did something like this it wouldn’t just be impractical. It’d be completely irresponsible. It’d be crazy. It’d be downright stupid.
And maybe there’s lots of truth to this. But maybe it isn’t the full picture. But perhaps Jesus says “do not be afraid” because he knows that it’s deeper than impracticality.
“Where your treasure is,” Jesus says, “your heart will be also.” Billy Graham once said something like “if you want to know which God a man worships, look at his chequebook.” And there’s something to that. We give our money to what we think is most important. Often, we show our commitments and love for things by devoting our resources to them, financial or otherwise. We hope our money follows the lead of our hearts.
But Jesus here is saying that it’s more likely to be the other way around. Because the heart in the Bible isn’t just where our feelings come from. It’s more like the decision making center. Our possessions and where we put our money actually holds sway over our decisions. When I think about this passage I think about what it’s like to maintain a home. We can spend endless hours and countless dollars on maintaining them. Our days and our budgets become devoted to them. We exhaust ourselves trying to maintain things. This can be especially obvious to those of us whose bodies can no longer keep up with their demands. We trust they’ll make us happy. But pretty soon, we aren’t living in our houses, we’re living for them.
And those of us who have lived or continue to live and struggle with addiction will know something about this, too. Alcohol, drugs, or otherwise. At first, we may put our treasure towards something because it helps us cope. Or it soothes a problem. It gives our hearts a sense of relief. But soon enough we find the tables have turned. Pretty soon the treasure we invest drags our heart along with it. Pretty soon we’re making decisions that hurt us and the ones we love to serve our addictions. And pretty soon our whole lives are becoming organized them. To the exclusion, and destruction of everything else.
When it comes down to it, our money problem is isn’t just a money problem. It’s a heart problem. It’s not because money and possessions are inherently bad or evil. But make no mistake. They are powerful. We may think we’re in control. But it can so easily be the other way around. They can shape who we are. And dictate the direction of our lives. It’s a soul problem. It’s a heart problem. One that affects us all.
This is the danger when it comes to money and possessions. This is why Jesus says “do not be afraid.” We are afraid, anxious of losing the things we have, not just because it’s impractical. But because our hearts, our money, and our stuff can become so inter-twined. So often our treasure no longer follows the lead of our hearts. But our hearts, our decisions, our lives, follow the lead of our treasure. Where our treasure is, Jesus says, you can bet our hearts are in hot pursuit. Or at least heading off in that direction. It’s a heart problem.
One fascinating thing I’ve found about the Good News According to Luke, the book of the Bible that our reading today comes from. It’s how its author, the person we call Luke (who is also the presumed author of the Book of Acts) has often been called “Luke the Healer.” There is actually an order of Christians devoted to the ministry of healing called the Order of St. Luke, which some of us here have been involved with. Luke the healer. It’s because in Luke Jesus himself is figured as the great physician. And in Luke, God’s work of healing, mending, wholeness and restoration of human lives is emphasized so much. God’s kingdom—God in charge, the world set right in perfect peace, perfect mercy, perfect justice—is first and foremost the healing work of individual lives. And the whole of creation.
In our text for this morning, Jesus, the great physician of our souls, offers us a diagnosis. This is the diagnosis. Jesus offers diagnoses our heart problem. That our hearts are not set where they are supposed to be. They are set towards earthly goods that do not last, and will never satisfy, yes. But Jesus he also offers a treatment. When Jesus says to sell what we have, and give alms, to sell what we have and give it away. He’s giving a prescription for fullness of life. Jesus prescribes giving, he prescribes a deep generosity, as the treatment for what ails our hearts and our souls.
I’ll be honest, too. This treatment has some pretty profound side-effects.
The first side effect of this treatment is this: first, it re-sets our hearts. “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out,” Jesus says. “An unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where we put our treasure in so many wrong places, Jesus says that in giving it away, we are actually ultimately tucking our hearts in to heaven. We try to get at this every Sunday when we take up the offering. We refer to sacrificial giving, offering as a discipline. Because we give not just because the church needs money. But we believe that God can change us, we can grow spiritually through our giving. In practicing generosity, the Spirit opens the door to the healing of our hearts to be more like the heart of Jesus. More compassionate, more selfless, more generous, until it becomes second nature. Rather than having our hearts constantly chasing after empty promises, our hearts are pointed in right direction. They become aimed towards the divine. Towards God’s kingdom. Towards wholeness, and fullness of life. And the rest of our life follows suit. And can be remade in the image of Christ.
That’s the first side- effect of Jesus’ prescription, his treatment for what ails our hearts. And the second is this: that in practicing generosity, we are opening ourselves up to God’s kingdom. Remember how, after Jesus said “do not be afraid, little flock,” he said that “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In emptying our hands, our homes, and our lives of our excess, they become open to God’s grace. We are able to experience heaven, the fullness of life here and now. I know that several of us here have made big moves recently, downsizing from larger homes we’ve been in for a long time. And being forced to literally sell and give away possessions. No doubt it was painful. And you might still be grieving over all of your stuff and the attached memories. But I know one of you also said just how freeing it’s been. Like a heavy weight lifted off your shoulders. This is like what Jesus is getting at. In giving what we have away, obstacles that get between us and full life with God are being removed. The blockage in our heart can be cleared, and the Holy Spirit may course through our veins unimpeded. Carrying new life to every inch of our soul. In giving we experience the true freedom of life with God.
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that we have a heart problem. That our hearts are held captive by those things that don’t satisfy. Those things that don’t bring us life. We know the diagnosis. But we also know that the God we meet in Jesus Christ has come to bring us life. Has come to us to mend our hearts, and heal all creation. He has prescribed for us a rigorous regimen of compassion, mercy, and deep generosity. One that works its way from inside of us, outward, by the Spirit. This may be a hard pill to swallow at first. But as we open ourselves to this gift of Christ, we find wholeness for our souls. Our hearts are set in the right direction, towards our destiny of becoming fully human like Christ. And our hearts are opened to experiencing the deepest, profoundest joy. Found in life with God.
“Do not be afraid, little flock. For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” May it be so. In Jesus’ name. Amen.