Gospel: Luke 12:32-40 [Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fear. Fear is often seen as the greatest motivator if you want to get something done. Coupling fear with guilt might work even better.
Church people have a bit of a reputation for using fear tactics in order to produce obedience. Some promise that you’ll go to hell if you disobey, especially if you disobey on specific important things. Johann Tetzel famously horrified people 500 years ago with promises of a fiery purgatory they would be destined to experience if they failed to purchase an indulgence to protect themselves. He even offered indulgences to release already-dead relatives from such suffering, for the right price. Through the years, atrocities have been committed by church leaders instilling fear into their victims. Even well-meaning church people use fear in order to “encourage” us to obey particularly The Ten Commandments. Billy Joel had a hit response to counter the good behavior of a certain church person in a song from 1977 that we hear still today, trying to convince her and us that only the good die young. Of course, that song uses fear in the much same way, just on the other side.
Today’s politics plays right into our fears. Last Sunday, we were reeling from the news of the shooting in El Paso, in which the shooter surrendered, apparently believing himself justified in his actions—and then the shooting in Dayton, in which the shooter received a swift execution in order that his rampage be stopped with the fewest additional fatalities. They tell us that politically, the two shooters were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Where do we find safety? How do we create safe spaces?
Jesus tells us that owners of houses do not allow break-ins when they know a thief is coming! But how do we prevent those break-ins? We usually don’t know when they’re coming. Alarm systems might tell us when they’re happening, but by then we’re often too far away to intervene… I read an article last week of another shooter who had been planning to shoot up a hotel area so he could die when the police came by to stop him—but he called his grandmother first, and she was able to convince him to take another route, leaving his weapons behind so she could drive him to a mental health intervention. She was able to prevent that one because he let her know what was coming, and he was willing to be diverted.
But most of the time we don’t know, or there is nothing we can do to change the direction of one who is determined to create chaos.
Our building is located within blocks of a housing facility which is used often by people who have been convicted of certain offenses when they are released from prison. So we often have notices on our bulletin board notifying us of someone moving into the neighborhood who has that history. A few weeks ago someone complained about this kind of release back into society, right here in Superior. It’s a scary thing, to feel vulnerable—to any kind of attack.
If we knew all the dangers, we would do what we can to prevent them—but we can’t know them all. So what do we do? Do we hunker down inside our houses and never go shopping again? Do we avoid the nighttime celebrations with friends at the pubs? Do we homeschool all our children to keep them away from places where terrorists might aim their weapons? Do we live in fear because we cannot know what horrible things might happen in our future?
There is another option. Before Jesus tells us about treasures and preparedness and thieves, he says this: Do not be afraid, … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Do not be afraid.
His name is Ruben Martinez. He is 11 years old, and lives in El Paso, Texas, and an article I read last week explained that he was taking the tragedy that happened at Walmart in his community very hard. His mother said, “I explained to him that we could not live in fear and that people in our community are caring and loving.” While this 11-year-old child worked through what had happened with his mother at his side, he developed what he calls the El Paso Challenge.
I’m not sure how easy—or even if it’s possible—to read what is projected on the wall, so I’ll read what Ruben proposes.
Purpose: To honor the people who got killed in our city.
How: I’ll challenge each person in El Paso to do 20 good deeds for each other.
Examples: Mow someone’s lawn. Visit a nursing home. Pay for someone’s lunch or dinner. Donate to families in need. Write someone a letter and tell them how great they are. Hold the door for everyone. Comfort someone when they are sad or stressed. Take flowers to someone in the hospital. Leave a dollar on the vending machine for the next person. And any other random act of kindness.
How to convince everyone to join the El Paso Challenge: Hold up posters. Put out flyers. Send it to Facebook.
This will show the world that people from El Paso, TX are kind and care for each other.
After the challenge was first developed, two more of those injured died, so the challenge officially asks now for 22 good deeds in honor of those killed, but that’s beside the point. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” and Ruben’s challenge proposes something positive in a community ravaged by fear.
How do we respond to fear? It’s not so easy to make ourselves not afraid.
That’s where the treasure comes in. What do we treasure? Can what we treasure be stolen? Do we treasure the building in which we worship? What then if a cataclysmic storm would level it to the ground? Do we treasure our position in society or our political power? What if that position or power is threatened by revelations of something sordid in our past? Do we die in shame or pledge to live differently going forward? Do we treasure our cars, our houses, our bank accounts? All these can be stolen. Even people can be stolen by murder, accident, or disease. What is there that cannot be stolen or destroyed?
A line in the hymn we will soon sing says “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”
What really matters is God’s love, for you, and for all people. You can share that love, and you can do it without being “preachy” about whether you think they deserve that love. Not one of us deserves God’s love, but God loves us anyway. Do not be afraid, because God’s love cannot be stolen from us. People might try to withhold God’s love, promising hell and destruction, promoting fear. Rather than responding in fear, let’s try responding in love. Let’s learn from people like Ruben and his mother, and share God’s love by doing kind things for others. Do not fear. Instead, you can love in the name of Jesus.