Thursday, August 4, 2016

People Get Ready

Luke 12: 32-40
I’d like to start this morning in a different way. I’m going to try to play a song for you this morning, a song that many of you may recognize from many many years ago. (Play part of People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield, sung by Seal)
Youtube video here.
People get ready
There' a train a-coming
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don't need no ticket
You just thank the Lord
People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers
From coast to coast
Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There's room for all
Among the loved the most
There ain't no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just
To save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there's no hiding place
From the Kingdom's Throne
So people get ready
For the train a-coming
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board!
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
You don't need no ticket
You just thank, you just thank the Lord
Yeah Ooh
Yeah Ooh
I'm getting ready
I'm getting ready
This time I'm ready
This time I'm ready
Written by Curtis Mayfield • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
So why would I start with this song? Other than the fact that I like it, a lot! I think that Curtis Mayfield would have seen a lot of his song in this passage from Luke. Preparedness, hopefulness, freedom, but there I go, getting ahead of myself again.
This passage in Luke sounds very familiar to us, and it should! It’s counterpart in Matthew is found in the Sermon on the Mount, that treasured and much preached on passage. But, unlike Matthew Luke’s version is a bit more, well, in your face. This particular passage comes after a description of God caring for us so much that he knows the numbers of hairs on our head and, for some of us, it is an ever dwindling number.
Jesus says that God cares for the lilies of the valley clothing them in beauty even when they have done nothing but bloom where planted. If God loves these things so much, how much more does God care for you? Then Jesus begins this passage, a call to not fear, to prioritize and to seek vocation.
These are the same messages we hear throughout most of the Season after Pentecost, these calls to turn, look at the world in a different way, and then live lives worthy of the calling that we have received. This passage is no different. But it does have a unique way of coming to that conclusion.
Throughout scripture when we hear the words “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid” they are followed by marvelous, life altering occasions.
Joshua hears such words from God before going into battle, as do Gideon and Jahaziel. The Psalms are full of God’s admonitions to not fear, even though the earth should change and the mountains shake. The prophets Isaiah and Joel often record the voice of the Lord saying “Fear not, for I am with you.” The angel of the Lord says these same words to Mary as she learns she is to have the Christ child. Jesus says these words to Jarius before he heals Jarius’ dead daughter.
Fear not we are told. And why? Because it is the Father’s great joy to give you (plural) the kingdom of God. There really is no better news than that! We, like the disciples are called to love without fear. Called to live into the reality of the Kingdom here and now. God’s faithfulness extends to the entirety of creation. There is room for all.
Fear and the realm of God are opposites. When we live in a spirit of fear, a spirit of scarcity, we are shut off from participating in the Kingdom. When we are given freedom in Christ, this freedom extends beyond a loosening of the bonds of sin. We become freed from anxiety regarding our relationship with God, and we become freed to truly live the kingdom in the here and now.
Too often we let other people stir up our fears and distract us from the freedom of God’s love. They use fear as a strategy as a means to motivate us to certain actions. We only have to turn on the TV or read a newspaper or news site to watch this method of fear as incentive. There won’t be enough of some particular item, and out of a fear of scarcity, that item disappears from store shelves. We have to be afraid of our neighbors so alarm systems sales skyrocket and front porches on new houses shrink to only fit one to two people at a time.
We are freed from scarcity so that we can be generous with others, with our time, with our forgiveness, with our resources. If it is God’s joy to give you the kingdom, it is God’s joy for that kingdom to be shared.
My Mom frequently said “You can’t scare someone out of hell, you have to love them into heaven.” Fear is a powerful motivator, but love is stronger. And if we are ready to not fear, to live into the kingdom, then we must prepare for it and celebrate when we see it breaking out.
Jesus tells the disciples to sell all they have and give it to the poor. Too often we like to respond as Peter does in verse 41 “Do you mean us Lord?” I don’t have enough to make ends meet as it is, how can I do without? There are some who say this is to be taken literally, that if we really feel called to be a disciple of Christ then what we must do is unburden ourselves from our excess so that we can fully rely on God. Then there are others who say that Jesus isn’t speaking of the ascetic life, but rather of a strategic appropriation of ones goods.
I have to tell you, I’m not sure which is right, or if it is somewhere in between. I don’t think that by being poor we are automatically more holy. I don’t think that by having some means we are doomed to hell. But I do think that our money and where it goes is a good barometer for our spiritual lives. And apparently Jesus did as well.
In verse 34 Jesus says “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Too often we switch these words around to say where your heart is there will you keep treasure, but that’s not what it says. Jesus is telling the disciples, all disciples past and present, that we buy into what we’ve given our money to. Think about that. If your money is invested in various companies held in the stock market, then chances are you will pay attention to those companies and how they are doing. You will be invested in their well being, because your money is directly tied into their success.
 If you give money to an institution of higher learning, you will be more invested in that school. You will pay attention to their media presence, perhaps even their sports teams. You will care more about that school than other schools. Because your money is there, your heart is connected.
While this may sound discouraging, really it is good news. It lets us know that we have some control over where our hearts are, where they focus. If we give our money to the poor our hearts will be more focused on the poor. We will be more aware of their needs, the injustices, the policies that affect their livelihood.
And this sell all your possessions thing, well it tells us that God cares about more than just our 10% tithe. Our entire household budgets are a theological statement. How we spend our money, why we spend our money and with whom we spend our money- all of these things show where our heart resides.
What is our motivation for giving to others? If we know we have treasures in heaven, if we trust that the Kingdom of God will and does provide, then the need to hoard earthly treasure disappears. Our hearts will go where our treasures are, by this we can craft our own futures. Futures without fear, lived in freedom and generosity. We will live lives like those of the servants mentioned in verse 35-38.
We are not to fear, and to be prepared. When I hear these two phrases together I tend to go all doom and gloom. My mind floats to the “Left behind” series of books that encourages us to stockpile for the end is near. I somehow don’t believe that is the kind of ready Jesus is asking us to keep. Why? Because he’s told us not to be afraid.
This kind of waiting is an excitement, and anticipation, not worry of judgement or punishment. This readiness is being prepared, anticipating the return of a loved one, and that kind of readiness is not a burden at all. Being ready means doing what we were told to do, living each day as if the Master was with us, so that when the master returns he will find things ready, and in good order. This kind of readiness is living out our vocations, our callings to be followers of Christ. TO do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
This does not imply that in order to pay for our freedom we must be doing good deeds and piling up stars in our crowns. Saying “we don’t have to do anything” to earn God’s love is a far cry from saying “we shouldn’t do anything” in response to God’s love. This is the challenge of the Gospel, of the good news. We are to remember that we are called to love people, and use things, not the other way around.
Are we ready to help others in need? Are we willing to put our money and goods where our hearts should be? What might your life, my life, the life of this congregation look if we change our practices in order to fund the acts of justice, mercy, kindness and love Jesus calls us toward?
So people get ready
For the train a-coming
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board!
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
You don't need no ticket
You just thank, you just thank the Lord

            May we all thank the Lord by living life as his servants, prepared to join in the kingdom celebration!

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