August 8, 2010
“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Luke 12:40
According to a recent article in Reader’s Digest, “an estimated 19 million Americans ages 19-54 (more than 13 percent of the population) experience debilitating bouts of anxiety,” making it the most common psychiatric condition in the U.S. Other sources cite figures as high as 40 million Americans, or 18.1 percent of the population, suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorders.
About 19.2 million adults in the U.S. cite some type of specific fear or phobia. According to one Gallup poll, the top 10 fears are:
1. Snakes – 51%
2. Speaking in public — 40%
3. Heights – 36%
4. Being closed in a small space – 34%
5. Spiders and insects – 27%
6. Needles and getting shots – 21%
7. Mice – 20%
8. Flying on a plane – 18%
9. Dogs – 11%
9. Thunder and lightning – 11%
9. Crowds – 11%
10. Going to the doctor – 9%
Fear can be paralyzing, robbing one from living life fully, from experiencing each present moment. Remember the story of Chicken Little and her panic about the sky falling?
In this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus is telling his followers to leave fear behind, that God desires good things for them. The message is still timely, as every age has its fears. We are no exception today–from terrorism to the economy to global warming to the spread of disease. We humans can always find something about which to be fearful and anxious.
So how do we combat the fears that hold us captive and prevent us from living the life God intends? Do we ignore or rationalize Jesus’ admonition to sell what we possess and give generously? How do those of us who lead congregations, who preach, who teach, who provide music, art, and hospitality inspire communities of faith to leave fear behind and follow Jesus boldly into mission and ministry?
First of all, this is a stewardship text. That point is clear. To my way of thinking, however, everything we say and do as Christians is a stewardship issue, so to reduce this text to dollars and cents doesn’t do Jesus’ teaching justice.
There’s more going on here. Robert Tannehill, in the Abingdon New Testament Commentary on Luke, points out the emphasis on “selling” possessions implies property and not pocket change. All followers of Jesus are asked to step up to the plate and assume the risk of following the Master (209-210). While some people have left everything to follow Jesus, others remain at home. Those who remain comfortably at home are charged with giving generously and investing fully in the community of faith. As Tannehill notes, “They, too, will need to learn the lesson of the ravens and the lilies” (209); no one is exempt from discipleship.
Again, there is no scriptural admonition against making money or having possessions. The issues in question here are focus and generosity. When God is the focus of one’s life, then possessions do not get in the way. We need not fear being robbed of our worldly goods or worry about their destruction because we do not worship our “stuff,” and we are willing to share what God has so graciously given. We recognize that everything comes from God, belongs to God, and our right use of possessions honors God.
Instead of focusing on verses 33-34 and focusing on monetary stewardship, why not lift up the idea of being fearless and ready–both individually and corporately? Shine a little gospel light in the face of the real and imagined fears of those with whom you walk. Point out the hopeful nature of this text and prepare to send disciples/stewards back into the world refreshed through worship, renewed through the good news, and fed at Christ’s table.
Too many congregations are bound by fear as memberships decline, the standard ways of “doing church” are challenged, and budgets shrink. God’s people need to be reminded that being ready for the return of the Lord is not just an eschatological daydream but rather a very real and present reality as Christ comes to us in the face of the suffering, the marginalized, and the neighbor near and far. We have work to do and any roadblocks of worry must be removed.
Finally the image of the master returning to serve at the table is a poignant reminder of how Christ comes to us in bread and wine, strengthening us for the journey. We know a lot about the nature of Jesus, but we also need to be reminded that we do not “know” the mind of God. Expect to be surprised, prepare to be challenged, be ready for action.
Yes, this is a stewardship text that challenges each one of us in a very personal way to put aside the fears, the worries, and the “stuff” that distracts us. Forget about the sky falling, the world ending, and the latest conspiracy theory the media is touting. Instead, dress for discipleship success and be ready to be a part of God’s amazing plan. Do not be afraid; God has your back. Ready, set, go!