Reading Luke 12: 32-40
Chapter 12 of Luke is a series of sayings and parables that Luke has put together. Some are only in Luke, some are also in Matthew believed to be from a common source called from Q (from the German word Quelle meaning source). Some have been taken from Mark’s writings. No part of today’s Gospel reading, is also in Mark., Matthew records the first part, about God’s Kingdom and possessions in the Sermon on the Mount. Near the start of Jesus ministry. Then he puts the second part about readiness later in his gospel in the sections on the end times.
I find Luke’s juxtaposition of the two halves of today’s Gospel very interesting and somewhat confusing. First Jesus is telling us that God wants to give us the kingdom. The very Kingdom that earlier in his ministry Jesus has told us has come near and that he instructs us to pray for on Earth. Then right after, he warns us to be prepared for the return of the Master at some unknown future time. So why did Luke put them together? That’s one of the things we’ll look at this morning.
The Gift of God’s Kingdom
We should probably begin by looking at the preceding verses, which talk about how God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. Then Jesus speaks of God clothing and feeding us. He then says “And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. … your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” That leads right in to the passage we heard this morning, which starts with some of the most comforting words of the Gospel. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That which we are to strive for, God wants to give us.
Think about that for a moment. Isn’t it amazing? God, for no other reason than it simply pleases God – delights God – for this reason alone – God gives us the Kingdom. We may not deserve it, but God is giving it to us anyway.
What is The Kingdom of God?
So what is this Kingdom God wants to give us? Well, Jesus tries in many ways to describe it to us. A hidden treasure, yeast, a net, a man sowing good seed, a mustard seed, a pearl, a banquet feast … each of these is a metaphor, a picture, to describe the Kingdom. None therefore portrays the whole, which is indescribable but can only be experienced.. But nowhere does Jesus he equate the Kingdom with a future heaven remote from us where we go when we die. On the contrary, he said it’s here and within us.
Why call it the Kingdom of Heaven?
So why does traditional Christianity so often refer to the Kingdom as being where we go when we die? Matthew refers to the Kingdom of Heaven rather than the Kingdom of God. Matthew’s gospel is the most Jewish of the four gospels. Probably he was following the Jewish practice of not writing or saying God’s name, so he used a synonym. Also Matthew was the most frequently read Gospel in churches for many centuries and people believed in a three tiered universe with places for body (on earth) and Soul (in heaven). This may be why so many Christians equate the Kingdom with some place or state, called heaven, we go to when we die. But Jesus is very clear. The Kingdom of God is here on earth, not just some “pie in the sky when we die by and by” place.
The Kingdom now – or be ready for it later?
Then why, then did Luke follow these consoling words about God giving us the Kingdom with Jesus’ parable about the slaves waiting for their Master? I have, as you possibly have, heard sermons and read bible study books which equate the coming of the Master in this parable with the second coming of Christ to establish God’s Kingdom. Please be clear that what I’m saying now is what I believe. You may not agree and that’s OK. We all have our interpretations of Scripture and none of us has a monopoly on understanding God.
With all Science has discovered about the Universe, I don’t see how Jesus can come again “on clouds descending” as the hymn says, and I don’t expect a second coming to be a future event and the end of the world. The second coming, for me, is any time I meet Christ in another person or, possibly, although we cannot know for sure, when I die. We must be ready to welcome Christ for he is coming at an unexpected hour. And when we are ready for God, God is even more ready to welcome us into the Kingdom where he will serve the meal to us himself. God’s kingdom here on earth is more a way of life that we live into than a place we live in.
Sell your possessions
With this understanding, being ready for Jesus’ coming is less about any actual time and place and more about how and when Jesus’ comes to us. In other words, sitting around, waiting for instructions, is not going to cut it. Which brings me to the part of today’s Gospel reading that links God giving us the Kingdom with us being ready. “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.”
Without pausing, Jesus turns his comforting words into a command that still brings us up short. Sell your goods and give away the proceeds. Really? Recently, we heard Jesus telling his disciples, the story of the farmer who, keeping all of his huge harvest for himself, completely obliterated God from his life. Wealth per se is acceptable, but abusing it is not. Jesus didn’t call him a sinner for having wealth, but a fool for what he intended to do with it.
Going to the bank
Without banks, in the first century a person’s possessions (sheep, grain, etc) represented his riches. “Sell your possessions” could today be translated as “take money from your Bank or investment account”. Jesus is not suggesting an ascetic lifestyle (he didn’t say sell all your possessions), but rather a sharing of everything we have. We must be clear where we place our priorities in this day and age. Our culture defines us by what we can accumulate. It’s easy to become so possessed by our possessions and so driven by our own wants and needs that we are distracted from seeking God’s kingdom. Jesus is inviting us to find share in that kingdom by sharing with God in the pleasure of giving. And we do that by sharing not only our wealth, but every part of our lives –often referred to by the 3 T’s: Time, Treasure and Talent. In this way we become co-creator’s of God’s Kingdom here in Earth.
The kind of life of which Jesus speaks is choosing to live more simply, choosing to intentionally have less stuff, and choosing to stop amassing more stuff. It’s not a hard concept to understand. It is a hard concept for “over-stuffed” people to practice. But it is the Gospel. It is good news. We can discover our sense of well-being in a just sharing of material possessions and of ourselves (the time and talent portion of us). But where to start?
Start with needs versus wants. How much do we need to ensure we can support ourselves in retirement? I’m retired, and each year the number of years I am planning for goes down so I can free up some of the savings, sometimes to spend on needed things, like repairs to my car or condo (or even the Sabbath time of a vacation) or to give away. But I don’t need more jewellery, or a newer, fancier car, etc.
Buying and owning
Think about what we buy. Certainly we need food and clothes. Who makes the clothes? Who grows the food? Are the people in the supply chain fairly compensated? Am I prepared to pay a little more for fair trade coffee or for clothes not made in sweat shops? Can I use my spending to give a message to suppliers not to exploit others or the environment?
Then consider what we own. All that stuff! What do we need and what is just gathering dust, probably “in case I need it one day”? Women who have fled from domestic violence (only one example) and taken refuge in shelters would be delighted with my unused set of dishes when they leave to start a new life. Building up treasure is by giving, not by possessing lots of stuff.
Sharing time and talent
What about time and talent? We live at a time when some people have too much work – and some have too much leisure. Either way it is harder and harder to keep a healthy balance. I’m know I don’t need to talk to you about volunteering your excess time; it brings for more joy to you and others than another hour in front of the TV or Netflix. Enjoy painting? Maybe a senior’s home would welcome someone to lead an art session with their residents. Good with Children? Is the an over stressed young mother who’s welcome an hour to go shopping while you sit with her children? Do you have a spare hour? Call or visit someone who can’t get out any more and might be lonely. Need I go on?
Our wants and other’s needs
We need to find a balance between needs and wants, whether of time or possessions. Today’s society does not make this easy. We have a strong cultural philosophy about getting, but struggle in our theology of seeking and giving. It’s easier to be so possessed by our possessions and so driven by our own wants and needs that we are distracted from seeking God’s kingdom.
Seeking the Kingdom of God and the unfailing treasure in heaven compels us to see the needs of other and share our time treasure and talent to alleviate that need. Are we, as individuals and as a church, ready to help others in need? Will we work towards a just distribution of the Earth’s resources (and our own part of them) so that we can be a part of God’s dream and co-creator’s of God’s Kingdom here “on earth as in heaven”?