The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
“What We Have Today is Enough”
August 11, 2019
Sermon Text: Luke 12:22-34
There is the old truth about what happens when you give some food to a stray dog on your front porch. Once you give the dog some food, even just one time, it will return again and again and again looking for more.
That little parable is oft-repeated for two different reasons. The first reason is to give you some advice about thinking very carefully before you feel sorry for the stray dog on your front porch and give it some food. The second reason is that it illustrates something about human nature.
The things that you love in this world are not usually things that you encountered once and suddenly felt drawn to. They are usually things that you have been taught to love, or things that you have taught yourself to love by experiencing them again and again. Like a stray dog, you look for good things that you have fed yourself once and then desired again and again.
Imagine, for example, a typical person from the United States and a typical person from Europe talking to each other about football. The typical American will talk about how great the NFL is, because he’s grown up with it and experienced it on a regular basis and it’s part of our culture and everyone he knows talks about it and it feels normal and right to him based upon experience and so he has grown to love it. The typical European will talk about how soccer is the only real sport in the entire world for exactly the same reasons. Whatever you are fed or feed yourself on a regular basis will be normal to you, it will occupy your thoughts, and you will automatically return to it again and again like a stray dog going back to that front porch looking to the old and trusted source of good things.
Jesus, of course, knows this about human nature and he uses this truth to teach us something about being discipled and being disciplined as a child of God. He tells us to set our hearts upon our real treasure – the eternal treasure that we have in Him. We have a choice. We can discipline ourselves to love the treasures of this world which are passing away by constantly thinking about them and worrying about them and hoarding them and counting them and coveting them and by occupying our minds with them all the time. Or we can discipline ourselves to love the treasures of the world to come by constantly thinking about them and rejoicing in them and giving thanks for them and telling others how they can have them. Our hearts will not automatically make the right choice in what to love. Our hearts are evil. Our hearts are computers that we program to love either one thing or the other as our minds choose to pay more attention to one thing or the other. We have a choice. We make that choice each day. And the results of that choice are shown in what our hearts are set upon.
Backing up for just one moment, we note at the beginning of the lesson that Jesus tells us not to worry about the affairs of this life. One of the core messages of the Gospel is, do not worry and do not be afraid. But that’s easier said than done, now isn’t it? When was the last time that something happened that had you really upset – you found out about some potential disaster that was just looming on the horizon and you knew that unless this and this and this worked out just right something important to you was going to fall apart and there was nothing that you could do about it except wait and see what happens. And someone knew you were upset and told you, “Don’t worry about it.”
How did that work out? Did someone telling you not to worry about it make anything better? That never makes anything better. It’s like telling someone not to get upset. If they are upset, those words are not going to help. And if they are not upset, those words are going to get them upset. Just telling someone “Don’t worry about it” is like telling someone to stop being defensive. It’s not going to produce anything good.
That’s why Jesus goes much further than just saying, “Don’t worry about it.” He gives us the ammunition to stop worrying about everything. This goes to one of the core differences between our earthly treasures of goods and money and our eternal treasures of Jesus and the eternal life that He gives us. What Jesus gave you in your Baptism and what He sustains in you though Word and Sacrament can never be taken away from you, not even by the devil himself. There are two great truths in Scripture that, when combined, take all worry and fear out of our hearts and souls. The first is that God is Almighty; no one can even dream of standing against Him. The second is that you are in the palm of His hand and He loves you and cares for you in ways that you cannot even comprehend. It may be that our earthly fathers love us and would do anything for us. But our earthly fathers are mortals and they are limited in how much they can care for us. There are things that can hurt us that are outside of the control of our earthly fathers. But it is a different story with our heavenly Father. He says that He loves us and will always protect us and provide for us and there are no limits to His power and ability to do so. And so we never need worry about the possibility of losing or having someone else steal the eternal treasures that He has given to us. You do not worry about what cannot be lost or taken away from you.
But it is a different story with our earthly treasures. You can have treasures a hundredfold times what you need, you can have eight different types of insurance on them, you can lock them away in the strongest safe in the world, you can entrust them to people who would never betray you, but, still, let’s be honest, no one knows what’s going to happen in the future and it’s always possible to imagine some scenario in which all of your treasures turn to dust. And most of us don’t have great treasures. We have little treasures that we just get by on and if something should happen – a lost job, a sickness with lots of medical bills, a bank failure or an identity theft – we could be wiped out. Nothing to pay the mortgage with, nothing to pay the bills with, maybe even nothing to buy food with. We worry about something when it is outside of our control, when it could be lost or stolen despite our very best efforts and best decisions and safeguards, and so much of what goes on with our earthly treasures is far beyond our control. And so we worry about it. It is natural.
Or we do not worry about it. Not because someone just tells us, “Don’t worry about it,” but because Jesus has disciplined us into being His people who just don’t think about that stuff too much. Yes, we pay attention to our earthly treasures. We pay our bills and we make it to work and we do our best to wisely choose safe investments with a little return and we take out insurance on worthwhile items and we shop wisely. But when all of that necessary earthly work is done, we turn our attention to the things that we are disciplining our hearts to love above all else – our eternal treasures in Jesus.
You see, all of our faith for the future is based upon Jesus and His love for us. He loves us so much that, while we were yet His enemies, lost in our sin, He chose to become one of us and to suffer and die as one of us for us, so that we could be forgiven. And He rose again on the third day so that He can love us forever and provide us with all that we need. His great love for us and His great sacrifice for us overthrows our hearts and compels us to love a God Who is so holy and beautiful, righteous and just, faithful and true, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love towards all that He has created. We do not worship Christ for His power, though that would be the right thing to do. We worship Christ for His goodness and mercy and love. And because that goodness and mercy and love will never, ever change, we know that He is always taking care of us.
And Christ calls us to set our eyes and our hearts on treasures that we do not and cannot see right now. Though we have not seen Him, we love Him, and we know that long after the struggles and pains and tears of this life are over, we will be with Him forever. Our minds can make a choice to set our hearts upon this truth by making the choice to come to church, to study the Word, to pray, and to take the time to discuss these things with one another as we encourage one another. We don’t spend enough time choosing to do these things. I know that you know what I’m talking about when I say that there are a lot of things we encounter out there that have a discouraging effect on us. Pay attention to the news and you will hear that this and that cause cancer, if you go swimming you’ll probably get some flesh-eating infection of some kind, if you don’t go swimming you’ll probably be a victim of a shooting, and even if that doesn’t happen North Korea or Iran is going to nuke us. Social Security won’t be there when you retire, someone will take all of your savings through identity theft, the stock market is going to crash, and five years from now there will be no jobs for anyone besides robots. Climate change is either going to bake us or put us all under water and Vladimir Putin is going to run the world. It is all fear, fear, and worry, and it’s the only thing really being sold to us day after day after day.
And then, when we talk to each other, how often do we just express our fears and worries and helplessness and compound the situation for each other? Our minds too often choose to focus upon what we are trying to hold onto in this world, and so our hearts are focused on what we have no control over, and so we are lost in fear and worry.
There has to be another way.
Christ calls us to use our minds to make choices to focus our hearts on the treasures that can never be taken away from us. Come to church. Read the Word. Pray the truths of the Word. And encourage one another by reminding each other of what is eternal, safe in God’s hands, won for us and kept safe for us by Christ Himself.
One time years ago I was part of an evangelism outreach down in the museum campus in Chicago. We were just going out in teams, handing out tracts, trying to engage people in conversation. One of the groups that was with us had their van broken into and some of the people had their valuables stolen. The group returned to the van and was upset about what they found and they were in the process of trying to figure out who had lost what when one of their team spoke up and said, “Well, they didn’t steal anything that affects our salvation.”
I know, I know, it sounds so cliché. But that’s a big part of the problem with the times that we live in that something like that does sound cliché to our worldly ears. The world may have a lot of fun mocking those cliché’s, but let us repeat those cliché’s to one another in all circumstances. Let our minds make the choice often every day to study the Word and pray the Word and speak the Word to one another. We don’t spend enough time doing things like just picking up the phone and calling each other and saying simple things like, “You know what? The most important thing about today is that God has been very good to me today. He gave me another day of life. By the miracle of His Holy Spirit, I still believe in Him today. I have a roof over my head and I have food on my plate. And I’m one day closer to death than I was yesterday, which means that, thank God, I am one day closer to seeing Him face to face, which is something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long, long time. Once again, our Lord has made sure that I have everything I need today.”
How many of our conversations go like that? We don’t need a pastor in the pulpit saying these things as much as we need to be saying these things to one another whenever we see each other. Christ is always caring for us in all things. We have everything that we need today. Let your minds make the choice to focus your hearts on that, and worry will disappear. God is good, and He has made sure that we have everything that we need today.
And that goes for our church, too. Right now we are in transition and there are a lot of questions about the future. Nobody right this moment has the answers about what our church is going to look like in three months and six months and three years. But Christ is doing two things for us. Number one, He is leading us through a process in which all will be revealed in His good time, all for the good of the church for which He suffered and died. And number two, He is providing us with everything that we need today. Here you are for one another. And here is the Sacrament for us all, given today, for today, for you. Christ loves us and He is caring for us. Set your minds on that, and your hearts will follow and fear and worry will be crushed. Thanks to Him, we have everything that we need today. Amen.
“What We Have Today is Enough,” 8/11/19, Rev. Richard J Bellas