This is the sermon I preached this last weekend at Trinity. I try and focus on one Bible passage when I preach, but this time I couldn’t help myself. They flowed really well (at least in my head), and I trust that you can chew on two big theological concepts in one sermon. We’ll see… enjoy!
Hi! my name is Allison Siburg. I’ve been on staff at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, MN since January, and my official title is “Ministry Associate & Church Collaboration Developer” – which basically means that I get to teach and serve in a lot of different ways with Lifelong Learning and On Purpose ministries – I love hearing people’s stories about meaning and vocation, and times when they learned about themselves and God.
I grew up in the Seattle area in Washington, so I’m still kind of new to Minnesota, as my husband Timothy and I graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul in 2012 with our Master of Arts degrees for non-ordained ministry leadership.
And Timothy’s mom and dad and brother are here today, feel free to welcome them. All 6 of us on the Siburg side just ended a mini-van trip to Disney World and back, so I hope they don’t recall stories of how I’m not a morning person, even in Disney World.
So as we turn toward the assigned reading from a set, a lectionary, that a lot of Lutherans read from, the assigned gospel reading for this Sunday comes from the book of Luke, in chapter 12. Jesus’ popularity has caught a lot of traction at this point. Like, the first verse of chapter 12 starts with “Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on each other…”
Luke writes that various people are shouting questions and requests at Jesus – like as Luke writes someone asks, “Teacher [Jesus], tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” and other questions that all seem to evolve around the questioner – What should I do about my half of my family’s money –what should I do about this or that in my life? All these questions of – what should I do about me, me, me?
And to each person Jesus answers in a similar way that seems to cover all of the questions – “DO NOT WORRY.”
Jesus says – “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… [Jesus goes on to say] You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Luke 12:32-34, 40).
This isn’t a parable or a story, but Jesus’ short answer to a growing crowd. If you listen especially to this last sentence, it’s as if he’s leaning down to us and whispering in our ear “JUST WAIT!”
Just wait – Jesus says, for my Kingdom is coming, and God’s happy about this – as Luke tells us “it’s God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.” As Christians we celebrate the Kingdom of God and live in this hope that just as Jesus rose from the grave/tomb, he will again come to redeem all, heal all, and save all.
3. The Great Cartwheel
Now this idea of “the Kingdom of God” is kind of foreign language to us, at least it is to me. When do we hear about kingdoms in the news? So – what is the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom of God as I see it is when God breaks into the world and our reality to bring about a new creation – we see it talked about all over the gospels in different ways. We see glimpses of this in our world – when the corrupt are pointed out and justice is served, when a homeless person is not only fed but is given a chance & a job and finds a self-sustaining situation; when a woman is paid equal to men doing the same job, when a child adopted in a forever home. This is when the Kingdom of God happens and breaks into our reality.
In the gospels, especially in Luke, the Kingdom of God is identified as “when the high are brought low and the low are brought high.” Paul talks about how “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1st Cor. 1:27) We see the Kingdom happening in Mary as she celebrates that Jesus will be her child, saying “You [God] have cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplifted the humble of heart. You have filled the hungry with wondrous things and left the wealthy no part.” (1986 Holden Evening Prayer Marty Haugen interpretation of Luke 1:46-55).
It is at Christ’s second arrival that we are promised that all will be fed, all will be fulfilled, healed and liberated for service in God’s Kingdom. Even those of us who might think we have it all, we’ll discover that we might have lots of things and savings, but we still needed healing, we needed redemption. We might find that we were rich in money or belongings, but we were poor in spirit.
4. Stranger Danger
When I was a sophomore in high school I got to travel outside of the US for the first time.
It was a mission trip when I was 16 through my home church Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. We helped with a local Vacation Bible School a constructing a fence around a school in Barahona, in partnership with an American non-profit.
On one of the mornings we did the construction work, a friend, Chance, and I had to get more supplies up the road for our concrete mixing. And when I say “up the road” I mean, up the clay, bright orange dusty path that weaved up the hill-side in between shacks that looked like they were about to fall apart. As we were walking back we got stuck in the rain. From Seattle, I know rain as mist, drizzle, showers. This was not rain. This was sudden, torrential downpour.
A man and a woman emerged from the nearest home on the road. They motioned for us to come and find shelter in their home. At first we were like no, no, no thank you, we’ll run back to the school. But they insisted, in Spanish, which, Chance and I did not speak a word of (well, I knew “Número seis, por favor”). We ran and stood barely out of the rain under the edge of a wavy foil-roof. So we stood outside and they kept motioning us to come inside. My “stranger danger” senses went up- but honestly, what else could we have done? These American 3,000 miles away from home stumbling down the road and get caught in a flash flood – these people were saints, but at the time I was shaking, not from the rain but from the nerves.
They finally convinced us to come inside. Their home was one room. The kitchen, living room and bedroom were separated by long veil-sheets hung from the ceiling. They had us sit in white plastic lawn chairs, and in Spanish they talked to us and motioned toward a framed picture of a young man.
To this day I have no idea what they were saying, but I can tell you this – they were proud of their home and their family. They were quick to invite us into their home and show us that it’s not expensive furniture or a huge marble staircase that make a home beautiful – it’s the pride and love that you fill it with.
5. Letting it Sink In
And reflecting on this in the 10 years since – it’s really starting to sink in, that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, what kind of health benefits you have (if you’re lucky enough to have them) or how big your retirement portfolio is – what matters is how you use what you have –whether it’s a lot or a little- to make this world a more peaceful and a more loving place. In my abundance – growing up in a middle-to-high class family, mostly Caucasian with heterosexual parents – my family paid my way to go on this tropical trip and bring Jesus and bring love to these poor, destitute people in the Dominican Republic (who have “so little”). But these Dominicans did not need me or anyone to bring God and love to them – they brought God’s love to me.
See this is what the Kingdom of God is all about – God brings about a new creation and a new order, in which our preconceived ideas about power, about what is most desirable gets turned upside down. God breaks into our world as neighbor serves neighbor, friend serves friend, stranger serves stranger – and it’s something that as people of the resurrected Jesus, we live in hope that we are participating in God’s larger love, redemption and liberation for all.
We see glimpses of this love in the “now” – like when that couple taught me tons about what it means to serve & love and be proud of your family & your home. The Kingdom of God is ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ – meaning that these glimpses happen, but we also live in the hope that Christ will come again to reconcile and heal and love all in the most unconditional way that we have ever seen.
I mean, talk about the world’s, or the Western world’s order of individualism, and instant gratification – this humble and hospitable couple in the Dominican Republic, by our culture’s standards (no running water and no electricity), have nothing. But Anne Frank once wrote “No-one became poor by giving.” Those are the glimpses of God working in the world – in a way that we are so unprepared for. And yet God continues to show up.
The Kingdom of God is most fully known to us through the person of Jesus, and Jesus gave us the ultimate example of the flip-flop – Christ, the awaited messiah, the king, came in the form of a tiny, weak, vulnerable baby.
We expected a big, tough, masculine king? God gave us a small, tiny baby you could hold in your arms.
We expected Jesus to save us all by a sweeping gesture of glory and strength and power? God liberated us from sin and death by suffering with Jesus on the cross as the kings of the world publically tortured and killed him by crucifixion.
The Romans expected Jesus, the man, to remain dead (like most people)? God raised Christ to new life to walk among us, and forever be present to us and through us in baptism and communion.
We can trust that God’s Kingdom will come because God’s promises hold up, like no other promise we can make.
6. The Stars
One more story – In Genesis, Abram (before he was Abraham), laments to God that he still has no children and therefore no heir to his name.
You know Abram? “Father Abraham, had many sons (and daughters!), many sons had father Abraham…”
God says, “Look toward heaven and count the stars. If you are able to.” Then God says to Abram, “so shall your descendants be’” (Genesis 15:5).
Have you ever tried to count the stars? I have. I didn’t get very far. And I imagine you didn’t get very far if you’ve tried before.
If you haven’t tried, you totally should though, because here’s the point: God is in the business of helping us realize that no matter how hard we try and put limits on God and count the number of times God has shown up in the world, God’s love and God’s promises never end. It’s the same with the Kingdom of God – God’s continual love and justice and healing that breaks into the world – it doesn’t stop.
Where we want to put a period, God puts a comma. The Kingdom of God is now and not yet – and we live in the hope that Christ will come again to redeem all and save all through God’s unrelenting and unconditional love – through our acts of service, but perhaps most importantly, in our neighbor’s acts of service, where we are loved and transformed in ways we never knew possible.
Remember how Jesus says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms”?
Jesus is not saying “do this or else” – He’s telling us that the Kingdom is now & it is not yet; and it looks like selling your possessions and giving alms. It looks like pointing out injustices in the world, and keeping those in power accountable. It looks like serving your neighbor where you are in your neighborhood. It looks like going on a mission trip with the intent of transforming others with God’s love, when in fact you end up being transformed by Jesus’ radical love through the poorest in the region – through their love, not yours.
The thousands of people following Jesus in chapter 12 in Luke are so afraid of losing money, of losing family and are so concerned about getting what they think they deserve.
But Jesus again and again tells them and tells us today – Just wait; my Kingdom lifts up the lowly and brings down the mighty, and the stars in the sky only begin to tell the story of how things are going to change.