Sermon for August 7, 2022

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 12:32-40

Certain phrases from the scriptures tend to ring out with clarity and poignancy depending on the changes and chances of life and where we happen to find ourselves on any given occasion. Today such a ringing phrase may well be, “Do not be afraid, little flock,” which are Jesus’ words to his disciples recorded by Luke in today’s gospel reading.

“Do not be afraid, little flock.” Yes, we do know fear. Times of transition and tumult tend to provoke anxieties. This is my last Sunday with you as pastor. Beginning today you as a congregation embark on a new chapter in your life together. I commence a journey to a new call in Phoenix. All of this with plenty of fear-inducing unknowns.

But there’s more. Who knows what’s going to happen with the next twists and turns of the pandemic and inflation and the war in Ukraine and tensions with China and national politics at home and drought and floods and fires and other extremes that seem to be part of the new normal of climate change? Any one of these crises can make for sleepless nights. And yet the list of that which provokes fear goes on and on.

These are troubled times to be sure. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid. This exhortation joins a great heavenly chorus offered by other divine messengers to fear not. Recalling moments in the beginning of Luke’s gospel, an angel of the Lord tells Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:13) And then the angel Gabriel announces to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31) And so the story in Luke goes.

In these biblical passages, the reason for us not to be afraid is always connected to a promise from God. Each announcement has as a focal point on a conjunction, the word “for,” which serves as a fulcrum tipping into the next phrase of promise, in the case of today’s word from Jesus, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give the dominion [of God] to you.”

Jesus in Luke promises his followers the very dominion of God as the reason for us not to fear. This is good news that serves to relieve our fears.

We see a similar promise made in today’s first reading when the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram, [for] I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
After contesting this promise that he and his wife had not been given their hoped-for heir, the Lord showed Abram the countless stars and offered this further promise: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…. So shall your descendants be.”

According to the account in Genesis, “Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” That is to say, Abram trusted the divine word of promise, and the Lord considered or regarded this trusting response as righteousness, being in right relationship, good standing, with God.

This is another phrase from the scriptures that has echoed importantly in Lutheran history and rings out with divine truth in our ears. “And the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” became part of the scriptural inspiration for the centrality of the teaching of justification by faith, that our trust in God’s gracious promises unites us to God’s mercy and love and forgiveness and blessing which we simply but profoundly await with confidence and receive with gratitude.

This reality also inspired the author of the letter to the Hebrews who expounds on the nature of faith evidenced in the history of the Jewish people. The author of this letter suggests that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith, trust in the trustworthiness of God, is what propels us into an unknown future without fear, or at least less fear….

The phrase “by faith” is used repeatedly in the passage that is today’s second reading.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance… not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time… living in tents…. By faith [Abraham] received the power of procreation, even though he was too old…” (Hebrews 11:8-11)

The phrase “by faith” becomes a kind of mantra that describes the nature of the pilgrimage journeys of God’s chosen and faithful people, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, and on until our present day.

So it is that by faith we also venture on, like the people of old, not knowing exactly what will confront us.

In fact, we as individuals may not reach the promised destinations, as the author to the letter to the Hebrews concludes after listing the examples of faithfulness of the greats of the Hebrew tradition: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” But their heirs did receive the fulfillment of the promises from the God who is faithful and keeps the holy word.
Thus, let us claim and reclaim what is and has been so central to our Lutheran understanding of the gospel, the good news: Sola fide. Faith alone. Faith, not fear.
Let this also be our mantra going forward, even as we part ways.

By faith, you and I now commence journeys apart from each other.

By faith, you enter into the process to call your next pastor.

By faith, I venture Westward to make a new home closer to my son and to take on a new call.

By faith, we endure the craziness of these times in nation and world doing what we can to proclaim in word and deed a different way of God’s justice, mercy, and commonwealth.

By faith, we sell our possessions and give alms, as instructed by Jesus in Luke’s gospel for today, to assist those in need, ravaged by all manner of calamities around us.

Likewise, inspired by Jesus in Luke, by faith, we are dressed for action with lamps lit, ever watchful for the coming of the promised coming one.

And still more, by faith, we make purses that do not wear out, ever focused on the heavenly unfailing treasure which we are called to enjoy even now in this age.

For the dominion of God has in fact been given to us in the inheritance which is the church and its ministries, we who are the body of Christ. Here in this place we are given the very dominion of God, where Jesus is Lord. Christ himself is that dominion. We are given the gift of this dominion, this lordship, when Christ is made known to us in the proclamation of the word, in the waters of baptism, and the breaking of the bread, in the announcement of forgiveness, in the mutual conversation and consolation that occurs among us in community .

Indeed, Christ our master, as in the story from today’s gospel, returns to us week after week and invites us to sit down to eat, and Christ himself serves us with the gift of his very self, such that the dominion of God is so close to us that we can taste it.

Thus, in Christ, and as heirs of Christ’s dominion, by faith and in faith, we have confidence to bid each other adieu and then to continue on our ways by faith to do the work that God continues to entrust to us.

I am moved to conclude with these additional Christ-focused and encouraging words from the author to the letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

May these words ever inspire us, reassure us, encourage us, move us, and propel us into God’s promised future in Christ. Thanks be to God. And thank you. Amen.

 

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