The Kingdom Gift
Birthdays and Christmases use to be amazing. I loved them and couldn’t wait for them. Eventually, as I got older, I found where my parents stashed my presents. One year I decided I would break the cardinal rule and I peeked. I saw I was going to get a sleeping bag and I was excited. Being in Boy Scouts and always heading out on backpacking trips, the blue mummy bag I was about to receive was awesome. The only thing was I had to now wait to receive that awesomeness. Plus, I had to convince my parents I was truly surprised by the gift although I already knew I was getting it. Now my request list for birthdays and Christmas are so short gifts aren’t really a surprise any more either. When I only pass out five options of what people can get me, it’s really not surprising when I get one of those five gifts. It is almost like I peeked at my presents.
I don’t know if I am the only one but it seems that as I get older it is harder and harder to be surprised by gifts. Maybe it is that as we get older we have a hard time receiving. It is hard because we feel self-reliant and if we really want something we just go out and get it. To be given something we truly desire, deep down in our soul desire, becomes few and far between. Instead we become emotionless about the whole thing and those big gift days, Christmas and birthdays, just keep rolling by.
In today’s passage it starts off by telling us that God is going to give us a gift. In the 12th chapter of Luke, Jesus is doing a ton of teaching. He is talking to thousands of people and then he turns to his disciples for a little one on one time. Our passage starts off today saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock.” He has his little flock of 12 disciples around him and he addresses them by a familiar phrase that is used in the Bible when big things are about to happen. Luke loves this phrase and it is used, in one context or another, seven times before we get to this eighth time. “Do not be afraid,” was used three times around the birth of Christ. The angels told Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds in the fields that Christmas night. Peter heard this when he was called to follow Jesus. Jairus heard it when Jesus was resurrected his daughter and in this chapter alone the disciples are told three times, not to be afraid.
This phrased is used so often because the people of God have to remember who God is. Or as Richard Carlson puts it, “In these instances, fear is a human response impeding one’s perception of God’s will and ways at work in their lives.” In these moments the people hearing the news or lessons they are about to learn are scared to death about the change this has in their lives. Mary is about to be impregnated with the Son of God, I don’t blame her for being scared. Jairus is about to hear that his dead daughter is really alive, scary. Peter is being invited to walk away from everything he knew and follow a stranger on the beach as his disciple. All these instances are life altering, anxiety laden moments in life and God has to remind them, “Do not be afraid.”
What the disciples have to fear in this passage is the gift Jesus is about to inform them they are about will receive. He tells them “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Now that doesn’t sound scary but you have to look at it in the context of everything else Jesus has been teaching and saying in the 12th chapter. Here Jesus is laying out God’s ultimates in this world. Verse 1-3 and 8-12 deal with what will ultimately be revealed in time and that the Holy Spirit will ultimately teach the disciples what to say and do when things get really tough in the future. Verses 4-7 teach us who is ultimately in control. God knows how many hairs are on our head and that we have more value to God than the sparrows. 13-21 tells us that riches should not be our ultimate goal in life and 22-30 remind us that we should not be worried and have anxiety about the ultimate outcome, because God is in control. And then the two verses before the verses today, 30 and 31, tell us that we should ultimately strive for God’s kingdom and that it will be given to us.
With all this talk of ultimates Jesus then turns his eyes to the disciples once again and tells them that “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is scary stuff. Not in the ‘boo’ kind of way but in the “holy cow that is a ton of responsibility” kind of way. There are gifts that are tons of responsibility and sometimes we do not want to accept them because of what that means for us.
For example, another minister and I were talking about a situation that recently happened to him. A woman called him up for a counseling session. He was familiar with this woman because he had done her pre-material counseling sessions with her and her now husband. As she woman unraveled the story for him he was in shock and he confessed it took all he could do to not have his jaw hit the floor. It seems on a recent vacation to Las Vegas with a girlfriend not everything that happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas. She had a one night stand with a gentleman there and now is pregnant. She doesn’t know whether the baby is her husbands or this stranger she had a drunken affair with. This is the first grandchild on both sides of the family and they are all extremely excited about this baby coming into the world. The minister offered grace, forgiveness and a listening ear.
In my opinion, if this marriage is going to survive the wife will have to tell the husband. If she rolls the dice and waits to see what the child looks like to tell him, that will not end well at all. Yet what will her life look like after she tells him and how will her husband and her family be crushed and disappointed. What about the husband. What should he do? Love the child no matter what? Divorce the love of his life and kick her to the curb to raise the child on her own? The responsibility that is present in this type of situation needs to hear from God, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.”
If God is offering to the disciples his kingdom, don’t you think they are thinking about what all that means. We have to stretch a little to wrap our heads around this though. We have too much of a Greek idea of what heaven, or God’s kingdom, and earth are like. We have this picture that God’s kingdom is up there and we are down here, that they are separate and apart from one another. Yet as N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, puts it, this is completely wrong and we do not have the same worldview as the Jewish people did when Jesus spoke these words. Wright says, “The entire biblical worldview, from Genesis to Revelation, is predicated on the assumption that heaven and earth are the overlapping and interlocking spheres of God’s good creation.” This means that Jesus saw the kingdom of God and earth as overlapping and a gift the good Father is pleased to bestow on his followers. We are advocates and bringers of this kingdom into this world and this is an immense responsibility. So much so that we have to hear the first part of this verse, “do not be afraid.”
What if we are willing to accept this gift? What if we are ready to open our hands and graciously accept the responsibility and glory that comes with accepting a gift like the kingdom? What do we need to do? Jesus doesn’t even take a breath when he answers this, we need to sell our possession and gift alms. It doesn’t say we need to sell everything but we need to sell our possessions in order to help others. Alms were a way to help those in the community that didn’t have any other means, the orphans, the widows, the travelers. Because God will take care of us we shouldn’t worry, we are reminded of this right before we get to these verses, so we can keep only what we need and give away the rest. Go back to a Manna style of living, where we only keep what we need and a time when hoarding rotted people and communities.
But not only that we have to also be ready, we have to be, as verse 35 tells us, “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.” There is no time in our walk with God that we should not be on the lookout for the master’s return. We should be always ready to be the hands and heart of God to our community. We have to build the kingdom of God here on earth, just as we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The only way this is going to happen is if we are always ready to offer up God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. We have to “be dressed and ready for service.”
All through our lives we will have opportunities to accept the gift of the kingdom of God. We do so in the faces of the poor, the lost, the lame, and the least of these. There isn’t an age when this ends either. It isn’t like we get to 65 and we can retire from Jesus. God doesn’t look at our schedules and say, well you have 3 kids, a career, 4 extra circular activities, you have enough on your plate you don’t need to do my work. No! No matter how old we get, no matter how busy we feel, we are called to be ready in our service to others and to God. When we are we store up great treasures in heaven and that is where our hearts will be too.
The good news is we don’t have to do this on our own. The kingdom work of God is always done in tandem. God is with us and the table we come to today is a reminder of that. It is a place where we receive what we need, like the lilies of the field, to grow and flourish in our callings in life. It is the place we come to receive comfort and grace for when we feel we are lost and overwhelmed with life. It is here that we can taste the heavenly kingdom on our tongues and get what we need to go out and do the kingdom building work of God. Let us turn our hearts now to the kingdom gift before us, and let us not be afraid…