< August 07, 2016 >

Commentary on Luke 12:32-40

 

While recently watching Grantchester, a murder mystery set in 1950s England with an Anglican priest as the main character, I was struck by the simplicity of life at that time: no internet, no cell phone, little television, and very few possessions.

What a contrast to my own life which is full of cell phones beeping at me, browsing the internet, and more books than I can read in my lifetime. The characters were able to focus their time and efforts on pursuits that furthered relationships and their vocations. This simplicity was extremely appealing to me and reminded me of the beginning of the Luke text for this Sunday: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We live in a world where there are so many things clamoring for our attention that it is easy to lose our focus. In this text from Luke, Jesus is calling us to prioritize activities that give eternal life. Such a call to center (or re-center) our lives on God, might seem extremely difficult in our world, but is essential for our lives as Christians. If we don’t, as Jesus goes on to suggest, we will be caught unprepared!

Analysis of text

This selection from Luke has three distinct parts to it. First, we have the ending of a saying of Jesus regarding money that began in Luke 12:22. Notable here is the encouragement to not be afraid and store up treasures in heaven, rather than on earth. Commentators note that Luke is not suggesting an ascetic lifestyle, but rather a strategic appropriation of one’s possessions.

The next two sections remind me of Advent texts. They are concerned with preparation and our role in spreading the good news. They create anxiety and anticipation for the coming of Christ. While Jesus is speaking these texts, they clearly point to the return of Christ. There are two quick notes to observe.

First, this text is about vocation, not justification. These texts do not point to a simple quid pro quo of “be prepared and you will be saved.” Instead, the idea here is to be ready so that when God calls you to action, you seize the opportunity and spread the good news. Being alert and being ready are like potential energy, ready to be turned into kinetic energy when prompted. The energy produced here is gospel centered: healing, justice, love, grace, peace, etc.

Second, those who are ready for the return of the master will be served by God. This theme contradicts our usual notion that we are to serve God. Instead, God will be serving you! As noted above, this is not a works-righteousness system. Rather, it is more of a promise of what will happen when one has begun to re-center life around God; the good news of Christ will serve you in your life so that you are not afraid.

Preaching themes

It is important to note how this text begins, Jesus promises that God has given everything so that we do not need to be afraid. He reinforces this by talking about how God will serve us later in the text. The reminders for me are around the gift of life and creation, the gift of eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and the gift of Christ’s body and blood in Communion (with even a connection to potential foot washing on Maundy Thursday). The theme is clear, we have been abundantly gifted by our God who loves us and desires good for us, and echoes God’s covenant with Abraham from Genesis 15.

Another theme for preaching is where we place our priorities in this day and age. I have often encouraged my congregation to take an “electronics Sabbath”: a day or part of a day where no electronics are on or utilized. The whole idea of Sabbath can be important here, helping us to rest from how we normally live our lives so that we understand better where our treasures really are. What do our priorities say about us and what our values are?

I think it might be easy to avoid the last parts of the text; who wants to preach Advent in Pentecost? But, I think that the focus on vocation is the center of Pentecost. This theme might not only apply to individuals, but to churches as well. Are we, as individuals and as a church, ready to help others in need? Have we considered the issues of peace and justice that our society is wrestling with so that we can be a part of God’s solution? These and other questions might arise from considering this theme, and might help to plant seeds for the future.

There is certainly room to combine all three themes and the connections to the other texts for the day. Starting with how we are covenanted with by God, we can ask the questions about prioritization, preparation, and vocation. We could then end with a reminder that God’s good pleasure for us is peace, and that all of God’s “treasures” have been given to us so that we do not need to be afraid.