Be Not Afraid! Be Very Not Afraid!

My sermon for last Sunday,
the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost,
( the eleventh Sunday after Trinity ):

Jesus said to his disciples, "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. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

( Luke 12:32-40 )

Our reading today from the "Gospel of Luke," is about judgement. Jesus Christ's judgement of our lives when he returns to the world to herald in the kingdom of God. It is about the criteria that Jesus will use when he judges us.

By the way a lot of Christians have gone on, and still go on, about what people should be allowed to do and what they should not be allowed to do, about what God likes and what God hates, about who are real Christians and who are revisionist antichrists, you would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Jesus, during his ministry on earth, gave us a long list of clearly defined dos and don'ts concerning how we should live our lives or, rather, how other people should live their lives. But I have read the Gospels, not just books about the Gospels, quite a few times and as far as I can work out, during his ministry on earth, Jesus preached just two messages.

Message one - God is near to us and loves us.

Message two - sell everything you don’t actually need and give the money to the poor.

The early believers believed this. Many of the early Christians died for the first message, and most of them put the second message into practice. In the "Book of the Acts of the Apostles" we are told that those who didn’t, came to a sticky end, although I would take that with a pinch of salt. It was probably a parable of the Church emphasising how seriously the concept of owning all things in common was taken. Poverty for the sake of others, was a central foundation of Christ’s teaching and was, most definitely, the practice of the early Church.

We just cannot hide from the fact that Christ’s message was that radical. It is about a complete change of life for those who decide to follow Christ’s teachings. And it is not just about giving away our money. What Christ demands from us is a radical change of emphasis in our lives, a radical change in the way we live our lives.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find this very frightening because I know that if a thief, to use Christ's own metaphor, was to come and burgle my house tonight, that thief would find all the doors and windows wide open and be greeted by a big sign saying "Come on in and help yourself!"

It's not that I don't know what I should do and, intellectually,  I do want to do it. But I keep putting it off. I keep putting off making the commitment to the Gospel that I know I should make. I am half-hearted about my commitment to Christ's teaching. At best, I am a part time Christian, a bit of Jekyll and Hyde, and,  knowing my luck Jesus is going to return as I am shouting at a fellow motorist who has just cut me up rather than when I am putting loose change into a beggar's cap.

The bad news for me and, let's be honest, for most Christians, is that Christianity is not an occupation for part timers. The love that God has for us, what God has done for us, "demands our souls, our lives, our all." It demands commitment, full time commitment. Are we prepared to commit ourselves to God's great project? Are we prepared to stop chasing after the baubles and bling of this world so that we can prepare ourselves to receive the eternal treasures of the kingdom of God?

We should not be afraid. At least, we should not be too afraid. Christ's teaching about the self-sacrifice that the kingdom life demands of us, a level of righteousness that most of us will never achieve, is tempered by his first, and far more important teaching, that God is near to us and that God loves us. Christ will, therefore, be a merciful judge who we know will do everything he possibly can to secure for us our freedom. However, although the grace of God is infinite, it is not, according to Jesus Christ, unconditional. At the very least we have to want to receive God's grace and this desire must be reflected in the way we try to live our lives. God will not be fooled by fools. If they think he can be then those fools are only fooling themselves.

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