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Sunday August 9, 1998 ~ Tenth Sunday After Pentecost ~ Luke 12:32-40


God Wants to Give You Something

Focus Text: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." 12:32


A few days ago, I picked up the phone and a man I didn't know said, "You will be happy to know Mr. ______ (Jewell) that you have won an absolutely free trip to Hawaii for one! I'll bet you weren't expecting great news like this -- were you?"

Fortunately I was current on my "beware of telemarketers bearing free gifts" information, and was very much on guard. All I had to do to receive my trip, the enthusiastic fellow on the other end of the phone informed me, was to provide a charge card for the airport fees, taxes and the person I wanted to take with me. The free trip, it turns out, was based on my taking a paying passenger with me. And... the cost for the paying passenger would not be determined until the price of the regular coach fare and hotel room was available at the time of departure. This kind of "free" I don't need -- do you? Chances are your mail box is full of "free" offers you don't take very seriously .. am I right?

On the other hand there are the gifts that lift your spirits the second you hear about them. Can you remember waiting for "Santa's" gifts? Or how about the times you received flowers from your fiancée? (Remember the flowers?) And then there's the package from your mom when you were away at college. Take a moment to reflect. Besides your children or other people in your life... what comes to mind as the most special gift you ever received?

When the most significant people in your life bring gifts, it is a really good day.

I. God Has A Gift For You

In other words, the "Giver" of the gift is almost as important as the gift itself ! So -- imagine that you were to receive this message from an eminently reliable source, "God wants to give you something!" Wouldn't that be exciting? The Lord of the universe... the One who hung the stars in space and set the galaxies rushing off into emptiness wants to give you a gift. That's a pretty amazing thought. And the fact is an eminently reliable source does have this message for you. The source is Jesus who put it this way, "...it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

// A brief aside is in order here here. What exactly is this "kingdom" God takes delight in giving? If you were to share this "good news" with a friend by saying something like, "Joe, God would take great pleasure in giving you the kingdom!" Do you suppose your friend Joe would get all happy and excited or look for the nearest exit?

In an increasingly "unchurched" world where religious language doesn't make sense to most folks, you would have to translate Jesus' words in a way that your friends could understand. Chances are you would like to hear a bit more on this gift of the kingdom yourself.

First of all, the fact that God wants to give good gifts to us would come as good news to many people who grew up with an idea of God as an stern, angry judge who takes pleasure in punishing people for wrongs done. Our scripture lessons do, in fact point to a God who holds us accountable and desires responsible and right living. But, this is also a God who takes great delight in giving good gifts to all who are willing to receive them.

Secondly, the "kingdom" God wants to give is not mysterious at all. It means, "God wants to give you a life of goodness, peace and joy." ** [see note on v.32 below] //

Here is Jesus' statement in simplicity. "Do not be afraid of what life can do to you -- God wants to give you a life that is characterized by goodness, peace and joy." It is true that Jesus was pointing his followers to that kingdom life which is beyond this life, but is is also true (and sometimes overlooked) that "kingdom living" is for here and now. We pray for this kingdom every time we pray, "Thy kingdom come."

II. Are You Able To Receive The Gift?

The scripture lesson opens up with Jesus saying, "...it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." It ends with the words, "You also must be ready..."

A few months ago, the New York Times told the story of "Reggie" [not his real name] who achieved a lifelong dream of obtaining a college degree at the age of 52. He recalled the poverty of his family during his high school days and told of the hopeless feeling he had knowing that most of his friends were going away to college, but neither he nor his family had the resources for a college education. Expecting no educational opportunity, he spent less and less of his time on academics. By the time his high school graduation came, he lacked the necessary credits to graduate. He had begun to spend his time and energy on a direction that would eventually lead to prison.

Then it happened. One of Reggie's casual friends in high school happened to be the son of a wealthy businessman. This man, without knowing what had begun to happen to Reggie, offered to pay Reggie's tuition to college -- for four years! But Reggie wasn't prepared to receive the gift. He would spend the next two and a half decades in and out of jail, bemoaning his lot in life. "Then one day, sitting in prison," Reggie said, "I thought about how different my life would have been if I had only been ready to receive that man's gift!" He made the decision to "be ready" for whatever gifts might ever come his way. Now at age 52, Reggie is ready.

"God," Jesus says, "Has a wonderful gift to give to you." The only hitch is, we must be ready to receive it.

III. Readiness

If we are going to receive this gift of God, we will have to be ready. Jesus gives two criteria for readiness. That is to say, if we are to have this life of goodness, peace and joy, there are two components that make up our "readiness": In the words of Jesus, (1) "Sell your possessions..." [v. 33] and (2) "Be dressed for action..." [v.35]

(1) "Sell your possessions..." ( Or... get free from stuff! )

Jesus does not say sell "all" your possessions or demand poverty on all his followers. He does, however, point them to the true source of real wealth so that they can be free for the wealth that God can give. They will need to be free from "stuff" in order to know the inner gift of peace which is spiritually based. The follower of Jesus must be free from his or her worldly possessions. Possessions are gifts from God to be used for the purposes of God -- including sharing what we have with those who have not.

One way to do an assessment of our readiness for receiving the gift of the "kingdom" is to know within that we can have our possessions so long as they do not have us. Or again, our attitude is one of wanting what we have instead of having what we want. To "make purses for ourselves that do not wear out" means to value and invest in the spiritual and to cherish the values of God. The more we invest in the spiritual and divest in the material the more "ready" we are to receive the perfect gifts of God -- namely peace and joy.

Have you ever stopped to consider the relationship between peace and possessions? How much peace do your possessions bring? Or can you think of some ways that your possessions have done exactly the opposite. Not only do possessions sometimes not bring peace, they can bring turmoil and conflict.

While this may not rival the dilemma Bill Gates must have in trying to figure out what to do with his personal 45 billion dollars worth of Microsoft, I do have an illustration of how possessions can be a negative thing.

[ Ed. you can replace the following with your own possession faux pas -- or you can simply say, "A colleague of mine tells this story...] A number of years ago, I found myself "hungering and thirsting" after a pair of Arctic Cat snowmobiles. They were a few years old, but they were within my meager price range and I could envision myself speeding across the snow covered hills of Central Wisconsin on these beauties. I got myself what I considered to be a great deal on those snowmobiles and they were mine! I can not tell you how great it felt to pull these machines out of the dealer's parking lot on a brand new snowmobile trailer. And... they "darn near killed me!" On the coldest winter mornings, they would not start without at least 100 "pulls" per machine. Not only did this take the joy out of owning snowmobiles, I developed an honest-to-goodness abhorrence for the things. My kids loved them. "Dad, would you please start the snowmobile for me?"

The long and short of this story is that one of the greatest days of my life was the day I finally "dumped" those snowmobiles! There was great peace and a sense of freedom in getting rid of a couple of possessions. Honest now... do you have any possessions that you would dearly love to dump?

(2) "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit..." ( Or... Live with one eye ......focused on God! )

Jesus shifts abruptly to another theme. We need to be ready. Reggie needed to be ready for a gift he was not ready to receive -- and he missed out. You and I need to be ready to receive the gifts God wants to give us.

A brief example. Remember the song which included the words, "You've got to stop and smell the roses?" When is the last time you took the time to go out on a clear night and look into the absolute wonder of a star lit night? Have you noticed lately the innocence of a young child's face?

Face it people! We are so caught up in the daily grind that we miss out on way too much of God's good gifts. For those of us who have lost a mother or a father... what would you give to have 30 uninterrupted minutes to sit with your mom or dad over a cup of coffee -- talking over anything that came to your mind?

Do you begin to see what Jesus was talking about? Live with one eye focused on God -- on the spiritual quality of life that gets lost when we neglect it. What is true of the physical realm is true of the spiritual -- "Use it or lose it!" We are, therefore, enjoined by today's scripture to live with "watchfulness". Keep that lamp burning... keep your vision open to the presence of God. Because... God wants to give you something!

[Apply It]

1. Within the quietness of your own soul, ask yourself the question... "Do I own my possessions, or do they own me?" There will be no easy "yes" or "no" to this question. It will be a matter of degree. Perhaps the easiest way to approach the issue is... am I comfortable or uncomfortable with this question?

2. How good are you at stopping to smell the roses? How are you at "seeing" God? The way to receive the gifts of God is to be open to those gifts. Think toward living with one eye focused on God!


Notes on The Text

The pericope from Luke in our lectionary selection is somewhat awkward. The great majority of commentators include verses 32-34 with Jesus' discourse on worry. Verse 35 begins a discussion of how disciples need to "be prepared" for the coming of the "Son of Man" and is devoted to eschatology.

Yet, a good case can be made for the present grouping (vv.32-40) in that the good gift God wants to give, namely "the kingdom", requires a certain "readiness". Indeed all of the texts for the day speak to God's willingness to give gifts, (Isa.1:19 - "...you shall eat the good of the land..."; Psalm 50:23 - "...I will show the salvation of God..."; Hebrews 11:16 - "...he has prepared a city for them.")

v.32 The themes of the "Fatherhood of God" and the "Kingdom" ("basilea") are at the heart of Jesus' revelatory teachings. The relationship of the disciples to God is one of intimacy and the gift of God is life in the kingdom where God reigns.

What is this gift of the "kingdom"? Consider Romans 14:17 "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." The kingdom of God is wherever God is in charge -- and where God is in charge, righteousness, peace and joy are the norm.

v.34 "Where your treasure is" ... (also Matt. 6:21) All three synoptics relate this principle of discipleship to: selling possessions, following Jesus and having treasure in heaven... The context is the story of the rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus. Jesus says, "You can't have it both ways!" (Matt.19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22)

v.35 Verse 35 introduces a section that continues through verse 48. The focus is on "watching" for the return of the Lord. "You must be ready" in V.40 has an emphasis which is reminiscent of the Olivet Discourse in Matt. and Mk. The text clearly has an eschatalogical intent -- yet the intent of our message for today attempts to bring a degree of "watchfulness" to daily living not present in much of mainline Christianity.

v.40 The last, "you must be ready" calls to mind Matt. 24:42-44 in the Olivet Discourse where the figure of a thief is also used. Jesus directs his disciples to live in anticipation of his sudden return.


Alternate Sermon Ideas

Toxic Worship: The Kind God Hates! - Isaiah 1:1; 10-20

The text from Isaiah can be combined with the Psalm to bring a very powerful meditation on toxic worship. When the practices of God's people do not line up with the precepts of God, then the ritual of God's people is repugnant to God!

The Divine I's
+ "I have had enough..." (v.11)
+ "I do not delight..." (v.11)
+ "I can not endure..." (v.13)
+ "I am weary..." (v.14)
+ "I will hide my eyes..." (v.15)
+ "I will not listen..." (v.15)

The Divine Intent (Four verbs - v.17)
+ "Learn to do good..."
+ "Seek justice..."
+ "Rescue the oppressed..."
+ "Defend the orphan..."
+ "Plead" for the widow..."

Verse 14 should cast a chill on any honest soul... "My soul hates your holy days!" The key point here is that our profession and our practice must line up. The outer expression of our religion must be rooted in our inner relationship with God -- or it is without validity. Toxic worship is worship without willingness to engage the "Divine Intent" for our lives.

A friend who spent the whole of his life (from seminary to the day of his death) in a marginal church, in a marginal neighborhood in Chicago (because he said God called him to stay) said, "You can not worship with your back to the poor." On the last day I laid eyes on him when I was leaving Chicago for ministry in a church in Wisconsin, he said to me, "Don't forget the poor."


Prayers and Readings

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 50)

L: O Lord, our Lord, You call the day into being,
P: You are the joy and the beauty of each new day!
L: We offer to You the deep thanksgiving of our hearts,
P: We praise Your Holy Name for the gift of Your salvation!

A Prayer of Dedication

As we bring these gifts to You O Lord, we ask for strength to bring the gift of our obedience to Your Holy will. As our father Abraham was blessed with the gift of faith, so may we walk in faith through all the days of our living. With those who have walked before us, we pray that You would bless us with courage for the journey of faith, which leads to the home You have prepared for us. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

We confess, O Lord of all who live, that we have come so very short of all that You intend for our lives. Turn our lives, we pray, to the work You have given to us. May we come to know the true joy of bringing hope, joy and love to the dispossessed of our world. Turn our hearts from self to service, and give us strength to work for life and liberty for all Your children. Amen.