By Dr. Randy L. Hyde
Let’s be honest about the passage of scripture we read a moment ago from Luke’s gospel. It is obvious that Luke has taken various sayings of Jesus and put them together… especially in this area of his gospel. But then again, he’s not alone in this. Matthew does it as well. It was a common practice in that time when it came to this kind of writing.
For example, many, if not most, biblical scholars think that Jesus didn’t really preach a “Sermon on the Mount,” as Matthew records it. Instead, Matthew took different sayings from different sermons, put them all together, and then set it up as if it were one sermon. If so, again to be honest, Matthew seems to be somewhat better at it than Luke.
And since we’ve tried to be honest twice, let’s go for a hat trick and make it three times. The passage we read from Luke’s twelfth chapter doesn’t seem to flow together very well. It’s kind of choppy, in fact, perhaps because Luke did take material from different places and times and put them together. But then again, it could also be because Jesus is dealing with a tough subject. And the clue to it all may just be found in the first verse we read.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells his followers. “Do not be afraid.” Afraid of what? Well, consider their situation.
Jesus’ disciples have given up everything to follow the Nazarene… their professions, their families, everything. Jesus talks all the time about the kingdom of heaven, encourages them not to lay up treasures for themselves on earth, but to live each day in preparation for the coming of God’s kingdom.
But, they can’t help but be concerned with daily survival. Yes, Jesus may have fed the multitudes, but it will be only a few hours before they are hungry again. It is human nature – and they are very human – to think about such things as the next meal, where they will stay, how they will get by.
Evidently, Jesus picks up on on their concern. And what does he say in response? “Do not be afraid. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Yes, but will the kingdom give you your next meal? Is there any security in the kingdom?
If I were to come up to you and ask you what is your greatest fear, what would you say? The chances are, it would have something to do with your concern about the future.
Some of you might be distressed about your mortgage. There are a record number of foreclosures going on these days, according to the business media. That’s because, during the housing boom, people were moving on up in terms of what they could afford… and evidently not afford. A lot of them based their newfound affluence on such things as adjustable rate mortgages. And now, now that the economy is a bit more unstable, the interest rates keep rising, people can’t afford the payments anymore, and they can’t unload their houses. So, they are losing them.
Some of you might be concerned about your health. You’re not getting any younger, that’s for sure. You watch your parents deal with what can be the debilitating effects of aging, and you see in their faces your own future. And that can be a terrifying thought. You don’t want to leave your children with the same legacy, but what can you do? You can worry, that’s what. You can be fearful.
Some of you might be worried about whether you’ll have enough financial resources once you retire. Or, you’re already retired, and you wonder if you’ll have enough to continue living, especially with the way the market is behaving. You want to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible, but you’re just not sure if that’s going to be possible. So, you’re fearful.
Go ahead, add to the list. There are all kinds of things that make us afraid. Do Jesus’ words seem empty to you at this point? When he says, “Do not be afraid, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” are you tempted to respond by saying something like, “Yeah right, but that won’t pay the bills or take care of what is facing me down the road ahead”?
How do you respond to Jesus when it comes to the way you live? You want to be a person of faith, but you know in your heart of hearts that your faith is intermingled with a heavy dose of anxiety, not to mention downright fear. What are you going to do?
What happens when it appears that Jesus not only doesn’t help you, but he makes it worse? After all, everywhere you turn, Jesus is confronting you about how you invest your time, your money, your energies… all the resources at your disposal. You feel like a well that’s being gradually drained dry, and you don’t know if you can take it anymore.
And since we’ve already made an attempt to be honest – three times, no less! – let’s do it at least once more. Jesus adds to our misery by telling us we ought to be more light on our feet. We ought to live with less, sell our possessions, and give away our money. “Make purses for yourselves,” he says, “that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven (there he goes talking about heaven again), where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” And then he throws in the clincher, designed to make you feel real good and guilty. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Now there, doesn’t that make you feel better? Well, no. No, it doesn’t. In fact, it makes you feel worse.
Jesus – or maybe Luke (remember, we are trying to be honest) – puts all this in the context of a wedding. I find that strange, because my experience, both personally and as a pastor, is that weddings are some of the most expensive propositions on earth. Still, Jesus takes an illustration from a wedding.
You’re like a servant, he says, waiting for your master to return from a wedding banquet. The blessed servants are those who are prepared when he returns. Why, they might even find the master serving them rather than the other way around. “Be dressed for action,” Jesus says, “and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet.”
Jesus is telling his disciples to be light on their feet.
Have you ever been so anxious to get somewhere that you slept with your clothes on? For most of us, if we’ve ever done it at all, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?
When she was a teenager, our daughter Emily was constantly on the go. The minute she came in from school the phone would ring, she would head for her room and we wouldn’t see her again for hours. All that time she would be on the phone with her friends. I mean, from the very moment she hit the door. It was absolutely uncanny.
When she was home, our phone never rang because we had call-waiting. Otherwise, I would never have known anyone called me. She was given explicit instructions: if someone calls in while you’re on the phone, don’t ignore it. It might be important, an emergency even. I’d like to have a nickel for every time she would find me and say, “Dad, telephone call.” She was my receptionist.
And let me tell you, her phone activity was not idle teenage palaver. She was planning her calendar, plotting her next move, making sure the social agenda was set. There were many times when we wanted to do something as a family and would invite her to come along. “Sorry,” she would tell us, “I’ve got plans.” And she really did! She always had plans. She was so busy she slept on top of her bed, and often in her clothes. She wanted to be ready to go.
But I don’t think her behavior had anything to do with this lesson from Luke’s gospel.
Nevertheless, if we understand what Jesus is saying, that might be a pretty good illustration for the way he wants us to live… on top of the bed with our clothes on. Could it be that Jesus is talking about an attitude, a mindset, a way of life that finds his followers ready to move at a moment’s notice, to be at his beck and call, to be light on their feet? Ah, now we might be getting somewhere.
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To explore that for a moment, let me ask some questions that might require you to search your mind and heart. Would you still be a follower of Jesus if there were no promise of heaven? Would you still come to church if this life yielded nothing in the end but a grave? You would probably say that’s not the point, that we have been promised those things. And you would be right, of course.
But are you a follower of Jesus solely because of what you believe you will get out of it when you leave this earthly life and travel to the place beyond the grave? These kinds of questions do cause us to consider why we follow Christ, do they not?
Well, have you ever thought about following Jesus for his sake and not your own? I am becoming more and more convinced that the dimmer our vision is of the kingdom of God, and the more mundane our idea of heaven, the more we try to get out of our faith and the less we give to it. And the less we give to our faith, the more entrenched we become to this world. And the more entrenched we become here, the more spiritually bloated and sluggish we find ourselves. One day, the time will come when we are claimed by Christ. Will we be ready when he comes?
There was a musical group in the 60’s, my formative years when I listened to a lot more music than I do now. They were called the Impressions. Some of you may remember them. The lead singer was Curtis Mayfield. One of their hits found him singing…
People get ready
there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
you just get on board.
All you need is faith
to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord.
The grammar might be suspect, but still, there’s a lot of gospel in that song.
And, as long as I’m being nostalgic… A renegade Episcopalian priest named Malcolm Boyd published a book of prayers in 1965 entitled, Are You Running With Me, Jesus? Just to let you know that my formative years weren’t spent just listening to music, I also read stuff like this. “It’s morning, Jesus,” he says. “It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again.”
∙ I’ve got to move fast… get into the bathroom, wash up,
grab a bite to eat, and run some more.
I just don’t feel like it, Lord. What I really want to do is
to get back into bed, pull up the covers, and sleep.
All I seem to want today is the big sleep,
and here I’ve got to run all over again.
Where am I running? You know these things
I can’t understand. It’s not that I need to have you tell me.
What counts most is just that somebody knows,
and it’s you.
That helps a lot.
So I’ll follow along, okay?
But lead, Lord.
Now I’ve got to run.
Are you running with me, Jesus?1
To run with Jesus you don’t need no baggage, no ticket, to get on board. Just be ready, have your traveling clothes on, and he will call. Just be ready, so you can be light on your feet. It’s the only way to run with Jesus. It’s the only way.
Help us, O Lord, to be light on our feet… not for our sakes, but for yours, and the kingdom’s. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
1Malcolm Boyd, Are You Running With Me, Jesus? (Avon Books: New York, 1965), p. 19.
Copyright 2007, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.