The question of the morning is, "Who are you going to listen to?" There are plenty of voices out there screaming scarcity, crying out about all that we used to have that we don't have any more. And then there is Jesus' voice, reminding us that God has always blessed us, and will always bless us. And there is Jesus' voice issuing the invitation to faith -- "Don't be afraid."
Do Not Be Afraid
Pr. Charles R. Lane
Consecration Sunday -- First, Fremont, NE
October 12, 2008
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.
I want to begin by telling you a story. It is the story is told of a man who lived some years ago. This man was an art collector. He had one son, whom he raised alone. The son, like so many sons, went off to college. Tragically, the son was killed in a horrible accident, and in many ways, the father's heart was broken.
Sometime later a young man showed up at the art collector's door and introduced himself by saying that he was a friend of his son in college. He spoke of how well-liked and respected his son was. Finally, the young man said, "I'm an art major, and I have painted a portrait of your son. I know it isn't very good, but I want you to have it."
The art collector looked at the painting and began to cry. He said, "Oh, no. It is perfect. You have captured his eyes perfectly." The painting was hung proudly along with the other priceless works of art.
Many years later the art collector was quite old, and decided to sell his collection. Dealers from around the country gathered for the auction. The collector stood before them and said, "The first painting to be auctioned is this portrait." The dealers began to grumble. They had come for the masterpieces, not for this amateurish portrait. No one bid.
Finally, one voice was raised from the back of the room. "I bid $100.00." It was the man's gardener, who had watched his son grow up. The collector said, "I have a bid of $100.00, are there any other bids." There were none, so he said, "Sold, for $100.00." And then to the amazement of everyone, the collector said, "And now, this auction is over." The grumbling changed to open complaining. The collector said, "This auction is over, because the one who has the Son gets it all."
The one who has the Son, gets it all. That is my story and yours. It is the story of our faith. We are loved by a God who has blessed us beyond belief. Our God provides for us the things of this world. Everything you have in this life is from the hand of our loving God. Our God provides for us the things of eternal life, the gift of the Son, and all that goes with having the Son. The gift of forgiveness, the gift of baptism into the family, these are ours. God's generosity toward you has overwhelmed you.
This is the starting point for anything and everything that you have to say about your entire life -- it has been our Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom, in the fullness of all that the word kingdom means.
In our gospel for this morning, Jesus also says, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Don't be afraid - that's been a little tougher the past few weeks, hasn't it. It is like the stock market has been on a roller coaster ride, the only problem being that we reached the top of the highest hill about a year ago. There have been some ups and downs since then, but the ride has been mostly downhill. Over the past two weeks, we have been in that last free-fall of a downhill that causes even veteran riders to scream at the top of their lungs.
"Do not be afraid, little flock." Most people I have talked to are afraid because they aren't at all sure why this has happened, they are pretty sure that there are some people to blame, but they don't know who, and they are absolutely sure that they can't do anything to fix the problem. There is plenty of fear to go around, and in the face of that fear Jesus says, "Don't be afraid."
This is the setting for today, Consecration Sunday at First Lutheran Church. The question of the morning is, "Who are you going to listen to?" There are plenty of voices out there screaming scarcity, crying out about all that we used to have that we don't have any more. And then there is Jesus' voice, reminding us that God has always blessed us, and will always bless us. And there is Jesus' voice issuing the invitation to faith -- "Don't be afraid."
This invitation takes us to the next sentence in our gospel -- "Sell your possessions, and give alms." Our Father has not so richly blessed us so that we might cling to those blessings, accumulating them to ourselves, as if God will never bless us again. Our Father has so richly blessed us that we might use those blessings for others. The call is to be a blessing every bit as generously as we have been blessed.
The temptation, of course, is to forget that. The temptation, especially in these days, is to harbor the blessings, to keep them to ourselves and for ourselves. And that temptation can be strong.
I saw this acted out last spring, in the most unlikely place. I was leading a congregation's capital appeal. The children had been collecting coins during the program, and were bringing their coins forward for their part of the offering. There was a little girl, probably about five years old, who came forward with a container of coins in one hand, and a ten dollar bill in the other. I have no idea where the ten dollar bill came from, but as she approached the pail into which she was supposed to place her offering, she quickly poured the coins in, and then she froze. She held the ten dollar bill over the pail, but it appeared to be glued to her fingers. Other children passed by, pouring their coins into the pail, and she stood like a statue. Finally, after what seemed like the longest time, the ten dollar bill fluttered from her fingers, and she headed back to mom and dad.
All I could think of as I watched her was -- she is just like all the rest of us. It can be difficult to part with the blessings, especially lots of the blessings, and for that little girl, ten dollars was a lot of blessings.
In just a few minutes, you are going to be in the same situation as that five year old girl. You are going to be asked to indicate on a commitment card what you will give to First Lutheran Church in 2009. Let's be honest, there is temptation at work here. The temptation is to let society's fear out-shout God's generosity. The temptation is to hang on to as much of your money as you can. But the call of our Lord is to share more of the blessings than you might dare. The call of our Lord is to be every bit as generous as God has been with you.
I want to close by telling you why Jesus wants this. Actually Jesus tells us, at the end of our gospel when he says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." In these words Jesus makes an incredible promise -- that what you do with those blessings, what you do with your treasure, has the ability to lead your heart. When you put your treasure into the work of our Lord, that will lead your heart to your Lord. It is that simple, and that vital.
Jesus wants your heart -- and so he calls on you to share generously of the blessings that God has so generously showered upon you. Jesus wants your heart. He wants your faith in him to grow. And so he calls on you to give generously to his work through your congregation -- even now, even today. In fact, with all that is going on around us, maybe I should say, "Especially now, especially today."
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." "Don't be afraid, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Amen.
The Rev. Charles R. Lane is Director for Stewardship Key Leader, a program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.