Updated: Aug 16, 2019
In preparation for today’s sermon, I found myself falling back upon an old television favorite of mine for inspiration. Perhaps you may have heard of the show The Office. In looking for some words of wisdom, I found a line by the always awkward and blissfully unaware Michael Scott, played by Steve Carrell, that seems somewhat appropriate today. “Would I rather be feared or loved?” he asks to the camera. “Easy,” he answers. “Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
“Do not be afraid.”
That is a phrase we hear throughout the scriptures. When the angel announced to Mary she was to be the mother of our Lord, the angel said to the Our Lady, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). When the Lord came to Abram in a vision, he said to Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield” (Genesis 15:1). The prophet Isaiah records the Lord saying to his servant Israel, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10).
Fear, one might say, is the opposite of trust. All loving relationships thrive when built on a deep sense of trust. When you take marriage vows, for instance, you say to your spouse, “I trust you to be my husband or my wife, from this day forward for better or for worse until we are parted by death” (cf. BCP, p. 427). Trust advances relationships between lovers, friends, churches, economies.
When trust is lacking, fear increases. Trust in your heavenly Father, Jesus says to us today. Do not be afraid. Today, Jesus teaches his disciples to live without fear and embrace the Kingdom of God that has been given to us as his own children.
The Gospel translation doesn’t clearly tell us when the kingdom is coming. The English translation of Luke’s Gospel today doesn’t give the same impression as it does in the original Greek. A more literal translation of Jesus instruction might go: “Do not fear, little flock, for your Father took delight to give you the Kingdom.” God, Jesus says, has already gifted us the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is here, now, dwelling among us.
That’s what the Gospel says, but how are we to understand that when we look at the violent, broken world we are in, how is this God’s kingdom?
When a single father picks up an extra shift at work in order to pay for the dance lessons his daughter enjoys: The Kingdom of God has arrived.
When an already busy women picking up coffee at a Starbucks pays extra, telling the barista, “If someone should come in and want a cup of coffee but have no money, use this extra money I’m giving you,”: The Kingdom of God has arrived.
When a church group spends part of their summer at the border to protest the treatment of immigrant: The Kingdom of God has arrived.
When an exhausted parent talks to their daughter about problems she is having at school or with her friends: The Kingdom of God has arrived.
Our response to God’s Kingdom is an outpouring of our trust, our love, our acceptance of so mighty a gift. Jesus’ command of “Sell your possessions, and give alms” isn’t so much a command for a particular course of action, but is an invitation to share with others what has so freely been given by God.
Last week, Jesus warned us of the danger of storing up treasures on earth rather than treasures in heaven. Today, we are called to renew our trust in the One who made us, who knows our very thoughts and the secrets of our hearts, whose love is all-sufficing.
Like Abraham in today’s first reading and as the author of Hebrews exhorts us, we trust. Even in the middle of life’s uncertainty, when all seems stacked against us, when troubles pile up, and when we’ve reached what we think is the end of our rope, we are given the assurance God’s purpose is being worked out.
Today, our challenge as Christians is to live into the Kingdom of God, which is a Kingdom of Love, a Kingdom of Humility, a Kingdom of Trust. How can we live into that Kingdom? How can we learn to trust the Lord more in our lives?
As Christians, there are two things we can do to, as Christ might say, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” so that God finds us alert and ready to live as his sons and daughters.
Number one: Believe God is always with us.
The saints are excellent examples of men and women who have sought the Lord’s help in times of trial. One story of Saint Rose of Lima--who was the first canonized saint born in the New World--relates how she, like her mother, grew up afraid of the dark. One evening after dark, having been away from her home for too long, Rose’s mother and father went looking for her. Rose though to herself, “How is this? My mother, who is as timid as I, feels safe in the company of her husband. And am I afraid, accompanied by my Spouse--God--who, without ever leaving me, is continually at my side and in my heart?” From then on, St. Rose no longer feared the dark, even though she was still in the dark. She realized God goes with us wherever we go. Whether we are in the light or in the dark, God is always before us.
Number two: Pray without ceasing.
Our Book of Common Prayer provides a way for all of us to live our historic, catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles. We have in our possession a way to truly live out St. Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). The Prayerbook has forms for Morning, Midday, Evening, and Night Prayer as well as a variety of beautiful, time-tested, scripturally grounded prayers suitable for all of life’s occasions.
Even in moments not accounted for in the Book of Common Prayer: when we are taking a walk after dinner with our spouse, when we relax in the park on a Sunday afternoon, when we tend the backyard garden, in those moments, we are in the presence of the Holy. In those times, let us entrust those daily moments of love outpoured back to him who has so graciously granted them to us.
Believe God is always with us and pray without ceasing: two actions we can take with us today and practice throughout this week.
Two actions we can model and pass on to our children to nurture them in their spiritual development.
Two actions that will let people know that we have placed God squarely in the center of our lives.
Christ calls us today to seek first the Kingdom of God already given to us. Are we able today to take the proverbial leap of faith? To radically trust in the Providence of God? To listen to where the Lord may be calling us and beckoning us come?
Let us strive for the saintliness God desires for us all.
Let us strive for the saintliness God has destined for us since the creation of the world.
Long ago, St. Francis wrote to his brothers extolling them to remember that wherever they go: God goes with them.
He wrote: “The Lord’s sheep followed Him in tribulation and persecution, in shame and hunger, in weakness and temptation. For these things they received eternal life from the Lord” (Francis: The Saint, p. 131).
May we be found by the Lord alert and ready to live forever in heaven in his kingdom of everlasting love.
Proper 14 | Year C
First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6
Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
Holy Family Episcopal Church, Half Moon Bay, CA
Good Shepard Episcopal Church, Belmont, CA
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.