Monday, August 8, 2022

Consider the raven. . .

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14C, preached on Sunday, August 7, 2022.

Jesus had just told the parable of the rich man who filled his barns and then died before he could enjoy his abundance.  We would call it a tragedy.  Like those who retire and then die before they could spend their IRAs or all the money paid into Social Security.  It was shocking for Jesus to say.  But those words were directed to the great crowd.  Even though the Gospel for today begins with an “And,” the words are directed more narrowly to His apostles.  It is the same theme but now pointed toward His inner circle.  “Therefore, I tell you not to be anxious about this things of life; for life is more than food and the body more than clothing.”  You might think Jesus would give His disciples a break but He is even more pointed to them.  It might seem like Jesus is preaching to the choir.  Or is He?

Could Jesus be addressing the very core and center of our identity?  How do you see yourself and how do you see God?  Note how Jesus begins.  Consider the ravens.  Well, lets do that.  To the Jew the raven was the most detestable of birds.  It was the bird Noah sent forth first from the ark – large, black, carnivorous and voracious, it was a scavenger who preyed on death.   According to Leviticus the raven was unfit for consumption, detestable, an abomination among birds.  Think of the vultures we see feasting upon road kill. What a shocking place to start talking about your value to God or how you value His care! That’s Jesus’ example.

The eyes of all look to You, O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing, says the Psalmist.  God feeds the creatures we care nothing of and even these detestable birds who do nothing to provide for themselves.  These birds have no barns or fields.  And if God feeds them and cares for their needs, what about you?  Are you not more valuable to God than these?  What about Elijah who is cared for by detestable ravens who brought him bread and meat at God’s command?

“O men of little faith!”  Who me?  I’m in Church on Sunday – surely the Lord is not talking about me?  The truth is that He is talking about you and about me.  We act so much like the world in stewing and fretting over things that we know are but a passing thing and that God will provide.  We worry ourselves silly about things that we readily admit are not eternal.  We are fearful before things that can do nothing to us except steal our lives in anxiety and depression.  Where IS our treasure?  Where are our hearts?

The Father has chosen to give us the Kingdom – the Kingdom that cost Jesus His life in suffering and His death upon the cross.  But God has given us this gift with out cost.  It is free to us though it cost Jesus everything.  How does that affect who we are and how we live?  Again, it is not simply what Jesus did, but what our Lord continues to do – daily and richly forgiving us our sins, providing us with all the needs of this body and life, and delivering to us everlasting life.

In case the disciples could not answer or we did not know how to respond, Jesus tells us the answer.  If God is caring for you, the same God who gave You His only Son, then you have been set free from the prison of worry and the jail of despair.  Sell your possessions!  Give alms to those in need!  Rejoice in the moneybags that do not wear out, that hold a heavenly treasure that will never fail you, that moth and rust cannot destroy and no thief can break in and steal.  If your treasure is there, you have everything and if you have everything but do not have the treasure of God’s grace in Christ, then you have nothing at all.

So how do you see yourself?  Are you like the rest of the world, competing for the scarce things of life and fighting for necessities of life?  Or are you a child of God who has been given all things in Christ Jesus and are still being kept and nurtured with mercies new every morning?  The world likes to judge Christians by their behavior and enjoys pointing out that Christians are not without sin.  But is not the real mark of Christian faith that we are not attached to or driven by the things of this world but live with such confidence in our eternal future that today we are free?  To the disciples Jesus does not say “You above all people should be without sin.”  No, but Jesus does say, “You of all people should not anxious about your life or the things you need for the Lord who cares for least will care for you.”

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Where your heart is, there is your treasure.  It works both ways.  What we value most in life will that which guides and governs our daily lives and how we live our daily lives is a reflection of what we value most in life.  For the Christian, there should not be a disconnect between the way we live Monday through Saturday and the way we live on Sunday morning.  Keep seeking and focusing on the Kingdom of God and God will care for you with all things needful now.  In other words, if God who has not spared His only Son to be your Savior, will He not care for you in the daily needs of this life?  Christians are not to stand out from the world as the holy aloof from sinners but they are to stand out as a people are not consumed by this life.
God knows your needs.  He is not blind to the realities of this daily life and to that which we need for this body and for every day.  He gives to the unclean raven and the momentary flower of the grass all the attention they need.  He will continue to care for YOU.  This pervades everything in Christian life.  Think here of the dismissal in communion.  The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you BODY and soul to life everlasting.  That is why we depart in peace.  God is not merely concerned for your spiritual well being but the whole of our lives – including food for the body, clothing we wear, the shelter of our homes, the families in which we live, and all things.  If heaven is secure, today will be too.

Now to be sure, Jesus is not preaching some kind of prosperity gospel here that guarantees we will have everything we want.  But He is promising that our lives and our needs are neither hidden to Him nor indifferent to Him.  There are plenty of Christians who live in poverty.  Our Lord is not promising us the fulfillment of our dreams but rather telling not to be consumed by the material things of this life. Possessions, experiences, happiness, money, and security are all mammon of a people whose trust is in this life and in themselves and in their things rather than God.  Seek that treasure which cannot be taken from you and trust the Lord to know your needs and to provide for them.

How is it that we have a God who moves heaven and earth to save us and then squander our days in anxiety, fear, and worry?  God does not live in our imagination but amid the realities of this life – all our needs of body and soul.  He has not saved us for eternity only to ignore us in our daily needs.  The God whom we know in Jesus is the God who has made and preserves all things and who has worked all things for our eternal good in Christ Jesus, forgiving our sins and forging a path through death to everlasting life.  So, it really comes down to this.  Do we believe Him?  If we do, then let us rest our anxious and troubled hearts and minds in His grace knowing that the God who has given us the kingdom will gives us all things needful for this life.  And knowing this, let us be free to be generous to those in need, generous in the support of this Gospel here in this church and in mission throughout the world, not because there is a need but because God is gracious.  In the holy name of Jesus, Amen.

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