Sermon Luke 12: 32- 40 A sermon for Joy in Enough – Good News for the “anxious middle”
It is often said that the gospel has a bias to the poor but reading Luke 12:32-40 alongside Luke 12:13-21 what I detect is good news for the anxious middle. Those who have something to sell but are worried about the value of what they have to sell, those who fear that their income will not guarantee their security or that their purses or pensions plans will grow old and develop holes through which their status and security will disappear.
But absolutely central to the message of St Luke’s gospel is a very simple word: don’t be afraid. Most of us are scared out of our wits most of the time just like the shepherds in the Christmas story so like them we need to hear the word of God’s messenger –don’t be afraid. Fear may be a perfectly natural response when one thinks of all the bad things that keep happening but the God in whom we believe is a God of love and perfect love casts out fear. So fear not, trust in God and as Mother Julian of Norwich reminds us all will be well for contrary to appearances God remains in charge. So Jesus says to us; his little flock, fear not.
At the moment a great deal of attention is being paid in the public prints and the national conversation to the issue of inequality-the rise of the 1% and the decline of the life chances, wages and employment opportunities of everyone else. Once this was a left wing cause mainly of interest to academics but now it has entered the main steam and Presidents and Prime Ministers are moving the issue up the agenda. Remedies are being proposed: capital taxes, curbs on excessive executive pay and adjustments to monetary policy to prevent the inflation of asset prices. The choice will be yours through the ballot box after a long debate which is beginning now. Enjoy the debate, exercise your judgment and cast your votes. The choice is yours.
But what about the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Has this nothing to contribute to the matter? On the contrary it has a great deal to contribute. Consider this: the extraordinary levels of executive pay are driven by people’s anxiety about status. I must have more than him or her so that my worth is recognised. I must have a better house, a newer phone or a more exotic holiday in order to show my friends that I am a worthy person who is getting on in life. I am full of fear that I might fall behind and cease to be regarded as worthy of respect. All this contributes to rising levels of discontent, inequality and unhappiness. And what is the contribution of the gospel of the gospel to this; remember the words of Jesus: Fear not little flock. Perfect love casts out fear. Fear not I am the first and the last and the living one. I died and behold I am alive for ever more.
Well that’s all very easy to say especially from pulpits but let’s go deeper for a moment utilising the videos of Alain de Botton who has written a book on Status Anxiety. Most of his videos which you can access on You Tube are both wise and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the sequence where he visits a nudist tennis club for the elderly to watch a game of mixed doubles. They are dealing with the status anxiety that is concerned with dress by not wearing any clothes at all.
Another sequence shows a Church social taking place on the lawn of a vicarage somewhere-everyone present is fully clothed. De Botton turns to the camera and explains confidentially to the viewer that these people are Christians as if he’s describing some lost tribe from the Amazon rain forest. They are not bothered about status anxiety and are free from snobbery because they are followers of Jesus who came down to the lowest level in human society in order to practice perfect love and raise everyone to the level of the God of love. Here everyone is a brother or sister. It doesn’t look like a revolutionary gathering but that’s exactly what it is.
De Botton then quotes St Augustine who in his book City of God contrasted the values of Rome which worshipped power and wealth- a wealth achieved by the oppression of slaves with the values of the City of God-which upholds selfless love and kindness to all after the pattern of Jesus. Augustine wrote his enormous book to reassure Christians who were unsettled by the fall of Rome to the Goths. They had assumed, quite wrongly, that the providence of God and the maintenance of the Empire were identical. A similar book could be written to-day called the Economy of God. However it should be shorter than Augustine’s prototype.
WE must learn to trust God: trusting that Jesus is not some kind of crazy and that what our culture tells us about who is really secure is a mistake. The gospel invites us to embrace God’s way and live generously trusting that we can enter into a family of brothers and sisters in Christ who know who they are and what they are about and will express their ties to you and meet your needs in love and kindness and basic social solidarity. Trust giving birth to trust and generosity to generosity. Frankly this is not rocket science-this is how Christian brothers and sisters have lived together in the past.
But this is in no sense a message for the complacent or the careless for the overarching theme of the gospel passage is one of readiness.
“You must be ready”, Jesus says, for the son of man is coming at an unexpected hour. He’s coming from a party, a marriage feast, so if he’s delayed that’s a good sign. It must have been a good party! What’s more when he comes he isn’t going to moan and complain about neglected domestic work; on the contrary he’s bringing the party home to the servants. He will have them sit down to eat and he will come and serve them! Amazing! We, who aspire to be servants of the lord will be served, treated as guests of honour. Our God is a loving and generous God and he longs for us to embrace the way of generosity too. Such is the nature of God’s economy! This is the kind of readiness that Jesus has in mind- a readiness based on generosity and an accumulation of treasure in heaven where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
Today’s gospel is an invitation to live as if the way of Jesus is true and really does cast out fear. We read it alongside the story of Abraham. Abraham had faith in the generosity and goodness of God-that’s the key point about him. How strong is our faith in the goodness of God? Well our diaries and bank statements give us a clue.
Could we truly live trusting in God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom and are we really ready to respond positively to God’s invitation when it comes for come it most certainly will.
If we could respond even in some small way or other then we would begin to bear witness in our own lives that perfect love does indeed cast out fear. Amen.