Set Free to Build the Kingdom – a sermon

You can listen to it here, or read on.

Generally speaking, I like things that are done simply.  I’m not a fan of clutter.  For example, I love our new Saint Paul’s logo.  It is very simple, just a black and white cross, but it carries a lot of underlying value.  The cross is based on the Celtic crosses that make up the decorations throughout the 1928 chapel: hanging in the reredos, providing support in the altar rail, and even built into the altar that Chuck Kelly built us a few years back.  It ties us to our history, both to the old chapel at Saint Paul’s and further back to the role of the Celts in the development of Christianity in England.  In its current form on the cover of your bulletin, it is striking, clear, and my favorite, clean.  My affinity for simplicity meant that I was overjoyed this week as I prepared to preach and found a description of the Church year that had only two parts!  Usually, the Church year is broken down into six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the interminable season after Pentecost; but this was just two!  Oh I was so thrilled!  My Biblical Scholar crush on David Lose grows and grows!

“The first half of the lectionary year – from Advent to Ascension – is typically called the ‘Season of Christ’ and attempts to answer the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’  The second half of the year – from Pentecost to Christ the King Sunday – is named [the] ‘Season of the Church’ and addresses the follow-up question, ‘And what does it mean to follow Jesus?’”[1]  I find this really helpful as a preacher because it gives me a first question to ask as I study a new text each week.  Here, as we approach the middle of our twenty-six week long “Season of the Church” it is helpful to approach our Gospel lesson by asking the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” “What are the hallmarks of discipleship?”

First, it means that we should have no fear.  “Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus says to his disciples, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  “Do not be afraid,” is a common refrain in Scripture used as the prelude to an announcement of the wonderful works of God.  In Luke’s gospel, “Do not be afraid” gets used at six, very important, times. An Angel of the Lord says it to Zechariah announcing that the aged and barren Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist (1:13).  The Angel Gabriel says it to the Virgin Mary announcing the she would give birth to Jesus (1:30).  An Angel of the Lord says it to the shepherds tending their flocks by night announcing the “good news of great joy for all people” that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem (2:10). Jesus says it to Simon [Peter] as he called him to leave his nets and become a fisher of people (5:10).  Later, Jesus says it to the crowd of thousands as he exhorted them to not be ashamed to confess his name (12:7).  Finally, Jesus urges his disciples to “not be afraid” in our current passage because God desires to give them the kingdom (12:32).  This is the starting place for the rest of what we heard this week and the rest of what we will hear over the next fourteen weeks, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure – it is God’s ‘intention, plan, and delight’ – to give you the kingdom.”[2]  God desires nothing more than to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and he wants you to be a part of it.  This lack of fear should set us free, should give us faith and confidence, to follow through on the rest of Jesus’ advice.

The second hallmark of discipleship in today’s lesson is almsgiving.  “Sell your possessions, and give alms,” Jesus says.  Having been set free from fear and assured of the promises of the Father, our first job as disciples of Jesus is to be generous.  The generosity that Jesus calls for in this passage isn’t the kind of generosity that is good for the Church as Jesus doesn’t say, “sell your possessions and give your money to an institution.”  Instead, Jesus calls his disciples and calls us to take care of the poor and needy.  We are set free from a theology of scarcity and empowered to be generous in serving those in need.

The third hallmark of discipleship is the right placement of our treasure.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Obviously, this is not unrelated to giving alms to the poor, but I believe that when Jesus uses the word “treasure” he means a whole lot more than money.  We give worth to all sorts of things: prestige, position, and power are given high value in society.  Often, we gauge our value on the success of our children.  Maybe your treasure is the right house in the right neighborhood with the right car parked in the driveway.  For some, their treasure is simply getting to heaven when they die.  Jesus sets us free from all falsely placed treasures and helps us to see that the only true treasure is the Kingdom of God, that gift that the Father so enjoys to lavish upon us.  With the kingdom as our treasure, then our hearts will surely be fixed upon the ways in which we can help bring it to earth by preaching “Good News to the poor,” and proclaiming “That captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”[3]  We have been set free to build the kingdom.

Finally, the fourth hallmark of discipleship in this passage is to be prepared for his return.  “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” Jesus tells his disciples.  This version of Jesus’ second coming isn’t one based in fear of being left behind or anxiety over the great tribulation to come.  Instead, Jesus calls on us to be set free from fear and to look with “eager expectation” to the fullness of God’s “consummation of history.”[4]  Sure, not even Jesus knows when it will all be over, but the key isn’t to “look busy” because he might show up at any moment, but to live lives of the Kingdom at all times and in all places because that is what disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ do.  When he comes, the reward will be great for those who are found doing the work of the Father.  Our motivation isn’t fear of the lake of fire, but joy in the wonderful work of the Kingdom of God.  We have been set free to look with hope to the future fulfillment of God’s good and perfect plan.

What are the hallmarks of discipleship?  Have no fear.  Take care of the poor.  Secure your treasure in the kingdom.  And be prepared.  We do all these things in response to the promise that is given to us in Christ Jesus: “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.”  It is an honor and a privilege to be called to share in the promises and dream of God, and he has set you free to be a disciple.  Go and build the Kingdom.  Amen.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Luke 4:18-19 (para)


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