Pentecost IX 2019

(Proper 14)

St. Luke 12:22-40

Our Savior Lutheran Church

Raleigh, NC

The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt. We’re familiar with Christ’s miracles, which we confess in creed, adore in song, and invoke in prayer. In our recitation of the Nicene Creed, we breeze through the ho-hummery of His virgin conception and birth, His death for us men and our salvation, and His resurrection from the dead. But Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel amaze and impress, and not necessarily in the most uplifting way.  He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing” (vv. 22-23). There’s no miracle to be found here, but yet there is something very remarkable. What’s remarkable is how flippant Jesus can be about life and maintaining its quality.  Jesus would appear to be saying, if we heard Him right, that the bare necessities of life are no big deal. “Consider the lilies,” Jesus says (v. 27), later eloquently paraphrased by George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou. Neither Clooney nor Jesus appreciates “hopeless negativism.” In other words, lighten up! Because there’s more to life than what you eat and what you wear.

Now to be completely honest with you, that doesn’t seem to be true. It doesn’t seem that life is much more than what you eat and what you put on. What I mean is that if you don’t have the necessities, what’s the point? How would you enjoy life without health and nourishment, without shelter? To me that would seem to be vanity, as I’ve heard somewhere before.

It’s easy to say there’s more to life than food and clothing if you don’t lack these things yourself. These words are spoken like a person who, with a good-natured slap on your back, tells you not to worry about these issues, while he himself is in the prime of life and living comfortably. It’s also easy if you’re not a worrier by nature to tell someone who is a worrier that she shouldn’t worry. If you want to tick her off even further, just tell her to trust in God. That always goes over well.

Undoubtedly Jesus rubbed His hearers the wrong way too, especially when He added, “Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind” (v. 29). You’ve heard of “first world problems,” right? Well, food and drink are a notch below that: they’re Gentile problems, not the problems of true Israelites seeking the Kingdom. Your Father knows what you need, so don’t worry about it. Don’t seek those things!

You see what I mean about Jesus being flippant? His attitude might elicit some indignation in you, as you might gather it does in me. What would Jesus know about suffering want anyway? …After a moment’s reflection, we have to begrudgingly admit that Jesus knows a fair bit. Jesus is He who said, “Don’t worry about what you will wear,” and then He Himself was stripped naked in preparation for His crucifixion. He is the One who said, “Don’t worry about what you will drink,” and on the cross He cried out, “I thirst!” (John 19:28). These words are spoken by the Son of Man, who had nowhere to lay His head (Lk 9:58) until His head was laid upon the slab of His tomb. Jesus of all people truly sought the Kingdom of His Father, knowing that all these necessary things would be added to Him. He won pretty big in the end, not just new resurrected life and a Kingdom for Himself, but for all those who share in His suffering and death through faith. So we have to admit that Jesus would know about God’s provision.

But what will God’s provision for us look like? In the first place, it can’t be separated from what God has provided for us through Jesus’ cross. Judging simply by outward appearances, it certainly didn’t look like divine provision when Jesus died lonely and broken. The only way you would be able to see what God was doing is to see it through the eyes of faith. A faith that could trust that the death of God’s Son is the greatest victory, full atonement for sin, and the coming of the Kingdom is a faith that can trust Jesus when He says not to worry about your life. God’s provision is recognized only by faith, just as His gift of salvation is. That faith is itself God’s provision. In Christ, we have all that we need. So if you ask, “What will we put on?” Jesus answers that question by clothing you with His righteousness, forgiveness, and life at this font. If you ask, “What we will eat? What will we drink?” Jesus answers those questions by ushering you forward to the Supper of His body and blood, which will sustain you much, much longer than any other food ever can.  

Now I see the difficulty. It’s hard to believe that God gives us better and more than we need in this life, even if we can’t see it. Ultimately He gives us eternal life in His Kingdom, so just hold out until the end. It seems that Jesus and His Church are trying to pull one over on us. This is why Marx called religion the “opium of the masses.” Jesus’ claims once again appear too good to be true, pipe dreams that keep you in your place, content with your lot in life.

What Jesus says is tough to believe. In fact, it’s just as tough to believe that a Master returning from a long journey would come home to serve His servants. But that’s Jesus’ parable that follows His words here (v. 37). It’s hard to believe that the Lord Himself comes to us that He might serve us, and yet that’s how it is, according to Jesus.

A Lord who would do things that way—who would serve His own servants—must see things much differently than you and I. The way He operates often appears incredibly underwhelming, as we well know.  His Kingdom is inaugurated in the death of His Son. A splash of water and you’re regenerated, forgiven, and made immortal. A bit of bread and a sip of wine, but really it’s the most satisfying Feast, that nourishes you to life everlasting.

Now if the way Jesus sees things is how they really are, then He must be right when He says not to seek after temporal things, because they’ll be added to you in His own way. Of course, it is risky to take that chance with Jesus, to make investments in His heavenly bank rather than in earthly storehouses. Yet His Kingdom is the only one that will last. Seeking that Kingdom, regardless of the dangers and tribulations, can only be the greatest adventure. Embarking on an adventure like that, with the Lord who serves us, who adds all these things to our lives—that is truly amazing.

People might find you flippant too, but just remember that you have the Lord of all on your side. He’ll bear you, worries, misgivings, and all, right up to this rail and into His Kingdom. Here He’ll tell you, “Don’t worry about it,” by giving you peace surpassing all understanding that guards our hearts and minds in Him forever. Amen.