Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 – Yahweh condemns Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins: injustice and oppression to the orphan and widow.
Genesis 15:1-6 – The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 – The Lord calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people.
Psalm 33:12-22 – Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God. By faith Abraham obeyed. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old.
Luke 12:32-40 – Have no fear. Sell your possessions. Give alms. Be prepared like the householder and thief. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah…
10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
One of the options for the first reading is Isaiah 1. Here Isaiah rails on Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah says, “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”
After giving them a thorough chewing out for being sinful and rebellious, he clarifies himself:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Isaiah says Israel’s religion is flawed if they can ignore the oppressed, the widow and alien.
Genesis 15:1-6: Reckoned as Righteous
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Abram’s righteousness comes apart from the law, which will not come until Moses, hundreds of years later. Abraham’s righteousness comes through faith: trusting God’s promises. Faith is not believing the Bible, creeds or doctrines. It is not intellectual assent to a proposition. It is trusting God.
Luke 12:32-40 – Where is Your Treasure?
How are we preachers inviting people to care for their souls on this side of the grave? How are we helping them prepare for that day when they claim their baptismal promise? How are we helping them live in the time between now and then?
This Sunday our gospel reading picks up where last Sunday’s reading (The Parable of the Rich Fool) left off (12:32). Here is the text:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be 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. 37 Blessed 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. 38 If 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. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The stewardship issue is still on the front burner. In the gospels, Jesus depicts God as an absentee landlord who is on a journey. We are stewards taking care of the ranch while the landlord is away. When he returns, what will he find? What might he expect from his stewards while he is on holiday? How should we conduct ourselves, prepare ourselves, for the landowner to show up?
One cannot miss the overtones of the delayed Parousia. Luke’s community may be expecting judgment day to come any time now. The apostle Paul believed that Christ would come in his lifetime. These stories encourage the faithful to remain vigilant.
Last week’s message was clear. Don’t be consumed by greed. Your life is more than stuff. You can’t take it with you. The bad news is you can’t take it with you. The good news is you won’t be needing it.
This week we are told that God wants to give us the kingdom. In Working Preacher, Erick J. Thompson, Senior Pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Fargo, North Dakota points out that this text is about vocation, not justification. You are justified. Now, how shall we then live? Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do?
The text begins with a promise, and then is followed by the command. “Have no fear little flock, for it is your father‘s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God gives the kingdom, freely. We cannot create it. We can however, participate in it.
So, do not get caught up in materialism. Don’t spend your life, time and energy collecting things, stuff. Instead, spend your life, time and energy investing in heavenly treasures. This will no need doubt need to be broken down for the congregation. What could “heavenly treasures” possibly mean? I like to contrast the material with the spiritual. Spiritual things are those intangibles that matter most in life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on (Galatians 5:22).
Be like those waiting for the bride groom to return, waiting for Christ to return: alert, awake, attentive, hopeful, and focused on things that really matter.
- Not do I have enough cars, but do I have enough compassion?
- Not do I have enough toys, but do I have enough tolerance?
- Not do I have enough property, but do I have enough peace of mind?
- Not do I have enough junk, but do I have enough Jesus, justice, joy, jubilee?
Thompson also points out that Luke is not calling us to asceticism, but simplicity – a simplicity that keeps us focused on what is important in life. One of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes is, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Keep the main thing the main thing.
It may be a good time to emphasize that the kingdom of God is not depicted in the gospels as a place you go after death: “Pie in the sky when you die…” The kingdom of God is something that God gives us. Freely. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for God’s kingdom to come to us, not the other way around. Jarring people out of an old metaphysical paradigm might help them hear Jesus’ words freshly, for the first time.
This free gift of God’s kingdom can be tied back to the first lesson (Genesis 15:1-6) in which Abraham believes God, and God counts that faith as righteousness. God’s grace is a free gift, apprehended through faith. The Hebrews text also touches on Abraham, and says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
So if the kingdom is a free gift, given by God’s good pleasure, rather than earned, how then shall we live in this interim time? Well, offload your stuff. Travel lightly. Sell your stuff and give the money to the poor. Less is more. Practice generosity as a way of life. Instead of accumulating earthly treasures, accumulate spiritual treasures, treasures in heaven, that no one can steal. Collect the intangible things that make life worthwhile: purses that won’t rot and that cannot be stolen.
Brian Stoffrefen points out the importance of the word “possessions” (ta hyparchonta) in Luke/Acts:
- Luke 8:3 – women provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their resources.
- Luke 11:21 – When an armed, strong man, guards his castle, his property is safe.
- Luke 12:15 – Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
- Luke 12:33 – Sell 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.
- Luke 12:44 – Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
- Luke 14:33 – So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
- Luke 16:1 – Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.
- Luke 19:8 – Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
- Acts 4:32 – Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
The author of Luke/Acts cannot imagine any following of Christ that does not care for the poor and involve some sort of constant divestment from possessions.
Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paieia series, professor at Truett Theological Seminary) offers us much food for thought. “Generosity is the best antidote for greed…” When Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Parsons suggests he seems to be saying, “follow the trail of the use of money and it will lead to the heart.” There is plenty to work with here for the homilist. Wave a checkbook in the air, and say, “Here is the book that reveals our true priorities.”
At the end, our text pivots to the “be prepared” speech. Be ready to roll. Gird your loins. Mikeal Parsons invites us to imagine one in a long robe, gathering up the fabric to the waist in order to run. Don’t get caught with your pants down. Are you prepared for the householder to return? Is your soul ready? Will the poor give you a good letter of recommendation?
What will the master do when he returns? Here comes the surprise in this part of the reading: When the master returns, he will have the slaves sit down and… he will serve them. He will serve them. Classic Jesus.
“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27). As usual, Jesus turns a common image on its end. Jesus hints that he himself is the householder who is returning, and serving.
And here’s the rest of the surprise for his listeners, the master is already here, secretly in the form of Jesus, watching, serving. There is grace in this passage.
So if Jesus came to serve, what should be the church’s posture be as we await the master? What should be the attitude of those who follow Christ? When you return to your routine tomorrow, regardless of the hierarchy where you work or study, what will be your attitude? What will be your attitude toward your possessions? What will be your attitude toward those with less? What will be your attitude toward those lower on the totem pole, coworkers or underclassmen?
Here is the good news. It is God’s great pleasure to give you the kingdom, beloved of God. Christ will return, and he will be the one who serves. So rejoice! Have no fear. Live as if Christ is coming back tonight. Give freely, and care for those in need.
Here are some ways you might connect the gospel to people’s lives and to the liturgy:
- Invite someone to offer a temple talk or sermon about a time they were shown gracious generosity, and the effect it had on them.
- Sing “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” or its adaptation from Setting 10 as the Hymn of Praise.
- Offer the children something they can share. Bread? Fruit? Help them see that they are given gifts freely, and there is plenty to share.
- Some congregations have taken the above children’s lesson to the congregation by giving each worshipper a $20 bill as they walked in, asking them during the sermon to use it to bless those in need this week. There’s something addicting about being given something to give away. It’s fun. Ask people to report back what they did during the week. Collect and share the stories.
- Give people an opportunity to respond to a message about God’s generosity and ours. Hold a special offering for people in need. Tell the story. Make a difference. Give people an opportunity to be generous and feel the joy.
- Use Thanksgiving at Table X (ELW, p. 69), which mentions Abraham and Sarah receiving the gift of a child.