9th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

1After 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.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But 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.” 5He 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.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Psalm: Psalm 33:12-22

12Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord!
  Happy the people chosen to be God’s heritage!
13The Lord looks down from heaven,
  and sees all humankind.
14God sits firmly enthroned and watches
  all who dwell on the earth.
15God fashions all their hearts
  and observes all their deeds. 
16A king is not saved by the size of the army,
  nor are warriors rescued by their great strength.
17The horse gives vain hope for victory;
  despite its great strength it cannot save.
18Truly, your eye is upon those who fear you, O Lord,
  upon those who wait for your steadfast love,
19to deliver their lives from death,
  and to keep them alive in |time of famine. 
20Our innermost being waits for you, O Lord,
  our helper and our shield.
21Surely, our heart rejoices in you,
  for in your holy name we put our trust.
22Let your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
  even as we place our hope in you. 

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

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.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON   Here is a new Aesop’s Fable.  You fishermen may not agree with it but it helps with our text today, I hope.

The Fisherman & the Little Fish

A poor Fisherman, who lived on the fish he caught, had bad luck one day and caught nothing but a very small fry. The Fisherman was about to put it in his basket when the little Fish said:  “Please spare me, Mr. Fisherman! I am so small it is not worth while to carry me home. When I am bigger, I shall make you a much better meal.”

But the Fisherman quickly put the fish into his basket.  “How foolish I should be,” he said, “to throw you back. However small you may be, you are better than nothing at all.”

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Last Sunday we pondered Jesus’ parable of “The Rich Fool” given in response to the plea from a person asking Jesus to create a just division of the family’s inheritance.  Jesus tells of a rich fool who had such a bumper crop that he was going to build bigger barns.  Perhaps in line with today’s fable, we would say the fisherman who had such a haul of fish, he decided to buy a bigger boat!  Today the fisherman is at the other end of life. The fisherman had only a tiny catch.  Jesus continues to teach the crowd.  In the verses between last week and this, Jesus encourages the people not to worry about the injustices of life, about the size of our barns or the size of the fish we catch but Jesus points our eyes to the birds.  God gave them no barns but they thrive. Flowers are so fragile and they thrive.  We are reminded that God knows our needs. “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you.”  It sounds good but the bills come in the mail tomorrow, grocery prices climb, and we will listen to the news tonight.  In the face of reality, how do we keep from worrying?  Our text for today speaks into this tension.

God’s Game Plan

         32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Our text opens today with a statement of the goal.  God is leading us, guiding us, giving us a kingdom!  Jesus opens by saying, “Do not be afraid!”  My heart always pays attention when I read those words “Do not be afraid,” because I am a fearling.  Whether I am writing a sermon, cooking a meal, or trying to be artistic, I can always hear that little voice telling me, it won’t be good enough.  My deaconess friend said that her family use to sit with a map and with eyes closed put their finger on some spot and find a road that seemed to lead to nowhere.  They packed their camper to go and see what was at the end of the road!  Unthinkable for my family.  A pastor friend agreed and shared how in his youth, he and his friend got in a car and drove trying not to cross any major highways, just to see where they would end up.  Heading out with no destination feels overwhelming and very scary for me.  Maybe you are adventuresome but for those today who struggle with fear, Jesus is saying, “Don’t be afraid!”  God has a plan and we are going to be given a kingdom.  Like the man who met Jesus when he came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, I pray, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Generosity

         So how is that faith lived in reality?  “Declutter” is the word I am hearing for my generation that is approaching retirement and the move to downsize.  I love the book, Repacking Your Bags by David Shapiro and Richard Leiden, professors of aging at the University of Minnesota.  They encourage us to take time periodically to inventory what we are carrying in the suitcases, briefcases, overnight bags, and knapsacks of our life.  We need different tools for different phases of life and knowing the task we are facing allows us to get rid of unnecessary luggage that burdens us, slows us down and then we can better enjoy the phase we are in.  A little ole lady acting like a teenager is foolish.  Jesus is giving us very similar advice.  We are headed to a kingdom with God.  The skills that prepare us for God’s kingdom are not the skills we use to navigate our life now.  We need to be developing new skills.

         Jesus focuses on generosity and sharing of worldly wealth.  We do not need all the possessions that fill our houses and garages.  We can hold our worldly goods in open hands, ready to share, because we know this world is not our home.  We can share with the poor, with the church, and with those in need.  We know this philosophy for we often will sacrifice so our children can go to college or we might take a second job to make ends meet.  We work to bless those we love but how often does our perspective include “the other”?  I have been so impressed with the generosity poured out on the fleeing Ukrainians not just in sending money and goods but also in opening borders and schools and homes.  The news is testifying to the community spirit of compassion in Kentucky in the face of floods right now.  Bethany Gardens and the Day Care are other examples.  Trouble has a way of challenging us and making us dig deeper into ourselves for the sake of others.  The foolish farmer wanted to build bigger barns for himself.  Jesus, as always, is counter-intuitive and says to share.  The fisherman did not distain the little fish because it was not a huge, picture snapping big guy.  He accepted what God gave him and was prepared to make a meal.

         Generosity is a direct indicator of our eternal wealth and of our earthly values.  Eternal wealth has no moths.  The wealth is not tucked away in some drawer for a rainy day as we do not have that fear.  In a heavenly perspective there are no rainy days.

Be Prepared to Act

         Remember that Girl Scout or Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”?  Jesus says, ““Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”  I understand that to be a reminder that actions, the deeds we do, are as important as our theological expertise and having all our theories right about baptism or faith experiences.  We spend so much wasteful energy critiquing others.

         I feel compelled to speak into those of us who are entering that phase of life when our ability to act seems to be diminishing.  Of course sharing wealth is one way but it is also true that prayers are important and a smile costs nothing.  I would challenge us to think of five people we would like to encourage this week.  Try to pick someone that perhaps is a growing edge for you.  The lady who helps by cleaning my house once a month, helped me make the bed and lift that heavy mattress.  I was so appreciative.  I believe that it was on a news broadcast this week that they were reporting the impact of gratitude.  They concluded that even if we cannot solve a problem, just being there to encourage means a lot to people.  If God has us alive, God has a purpose for us and we are important.

         Jesus says to be dressed for action.  Kindness may be something we have to work at, like getting dressed.  It does not always come naturally to turn the other cheek or to do a good deed.  Let’s experiment.  Turn to your neighbor and say, “Thank you for …”  or some other compliment.

Who serves whom?

         Jesus gives an example.  The servant waits to serve the master when the master comes home, whatever the hour and whatever the master’s attitude.  That servant has to be generous and have a kind attitude no matter how tired the servant is.  The master could be returning from an exhausting day at work, at war, or from a journey.  The servant’s attitude is not dependent on the master’s attitude.  We most often understand life as tit for tat.  You be nice to me and I be nice to you.  You smile at me and I smile back.  Jesus is challenging us to take the lead position and set the positive atmosphere regardless of the other’s attitude.  This feels very familiar but again I would challenge us to look, not at how we treat friends but how we treat the irritating guy who cuts us off in traffic or slows us down at the grocery story.  It is also true that I can be nice to stranger but I may be more snarky with my loved one.  The knife seems to cut both ways.

         Now the reversal!  An attitude of gratitude impacts the other and the master now serves the servants.  God’s heart is touched by our attitudes, our alertness, our desire to serve and God is so pleased to see us responding to him so well that he blesses us.  Now that is a very revolutionary picture of God!  We think of God as a severe judge, bringing justice. Perhaps for the unbeliever it will be so, but for those of us seeking to do the best with the resources we have, the picture of an appreciative master is a beautiful picture.

         Let’s take a moment and think of the titles and pictures we have of Jesus in our mind.  We like the Good Shepherd holding his sheep.  We like Jesus welcoming the children.  My parents had the picture of Jesus standing behind the young guy at the helm of a boat in a storm.  Perhaps God is that pillar of fire leading Israel or the cloud of smoke surrounding Moses’ tent.  Jesus washing the disciples feet at the last supper and the Garden of Gethsemane are familiar also.  This story pictures God as delighted and anxious to respond to our attitude of gratitude.  Nice!

Be diligent

Jesus closes by warning us to not only be generous and grateful with whatever we have, not only to be alert and helpful in all we do, but also to be diligent.  We do not know when Christ will return. We do not need to fear because, as Jesus reminds us today, God’s plan is to give us a kingdom, to give us life abundant.  He delights in our service.

         Returning to our foolish farmer and our hungry fisherman, it is so easy to focus on the blessing of the moment and loose sight of the big picture. The events and people in our lives may look like small “frys,” little fish, no big thing to make a fuss about but it is while dealing in generosity and integrity, being active as we are able that the Master may return.  Many will choose to wait till the fish gets bigger, till the “right” opportunity comes along but Jesus again encourages us to faithfully focus on serving the Lord now in all situations we find ourselves in.  Lord, give us the strength to be generous, to be alert to opportunities to serve you, and guard us from all fear!

The people of God said, “AMEN!”

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