Investing in God’s Kingdom
Sermon Preached at the Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA
by the Rev. Tom Pumphrey, August 11, 2019
Proper 17, Year C, Luke 12:32-40, Hebrews 11:1-16
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible…
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old– and Sarah herself was barren– because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Luke 12:32-40 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.”
These days, the economy is up, and it’s keeping us busy. We’re investing our time and energy into our jobs, investing our earnings into our homes and families, investing our savings in our 401(k), and investing our dreams in visions of our future. We strive toward a vision of stability and prosperity, without the challenges we face today. In many ways, we struggle in our effort to achieve this vision of our future.
What if we invested all that time and energy, all those resources of saving and planning and spending into God’s vision for us? What if, instead of our own dreams, we dreamed God’s dream for us? What would be different? How would investing in God’s vision for us change our lives today?
One point of reference for us is to look at God’s people in the past, to see those who devoted themselves to God and a life that embraced God’s desires for them. These are heroes of the faith, so we look to them for inspiration for how to follow. In fact, we have a Sunday School group for adults who are studying the “Heroes of the Bible.”
Today’s reading from Hebrews begins a similar study of the heroes of the Bible. We hear about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The writer will go on to describe Joseph and Moses and Samson and David and Samuel, and the prophets, all who by faith pursued God’s vision. Starting with Abraham and his son and grandson, we hear about a family who left their homeland to wander in a new land, living in tents rather than putting down roots. They took family, wealth, livestock, servants and literally their homes with them on a journey to answer God’s call. As Hebrews describes them, “they confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth…” for they desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly” country. Even though they lived as nomads, they sought the city that God prepared for them. And they invested all of their family and resources and lives in order to pursue that city.
Jesus said, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Jesus calls us to invest in God’s vision for us—the vision of the kingdom of God. He calls us away from investing in the world’s vision of who we should be, and he calls us toward living life as if Jesus has already returned and reigns as king. As N.T. Wright puts it, ‘God’s future is breaking into the present,’ and we can invest in that reality today.
Today’s Gospel reading comes in the middle of Jesus’ sermon. Jesus has just been telling his disciples not to worry about their life, about food or clothing. He tells them to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and how God cares for them. So seek first the Kingdom of God, he says, and all these things will be given to you as well. Then he continues with the words that we heard this morning: “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….for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus, like the writer of Hebrews, wants his disciples—wants us—to live in the truth that God is the king. Rather than adopt the priorities and ways of this world, rather than pursue the values of money and power of this world, live trusting in God’s care. Follow God’s ways, invest in God’s future. You will enjoy the rewards of that future not only on the day when it arrives in its fullness, but you will enjoy the blessings of that heavenly city now, in this world. They won’t be the world’s ideas of what is best, but they will be the blessings that endure.
This is a big concept for us as Christians, we hear about it frequently in the New Testament—living in the truth of God’s victory, even though we await its fulfillment. Part of the reason that Jesus and others call us to this kind of approach to living is that it is hard! Jesus is speaking to peasants—peasants who indeed worry a lot about how they will get food and clothing. They were oppressed by the Roman Empire—the greatest power of the world as far as they knew. They were oppressed by Herod’s corrupt rule on behalf of Rome. How could they live as if God were king?
Jesus’ listeners weren’t the only ones challenged by this question. The writer of Hebrews addresses people who are weary and discouraged by persecution and the powers of this world. So in this section, he begins to review all these heroes of God’s people. He repeats again and again how they lived their lives by faith. By faith Abraham set out on his journey, by faith Isaac and Jacob believed in the promise, by faith Moses, by faith Samuel, by faith David, by faith the prophets. All by faith lived as strangers and foreigners, desiring a new world prepared by God. The writer of Hebrews calls us to have faith—we who have seen God break into this world to begin that great work in Jesus. We are called by faith to pursue that same heavenly city in our lives in this world, knowing that we are strangers to this world, travelers whose home is elsewhere.
I don’t mean to say “don’t care about earthly life, just wait for heaven when you die.” I mean that we should live in this world, but not by its standards. Instead, we are to live by God’s standards, by the culture of our homeland—the culture of the Kingdom of God.
So how do we live that way? How do we invest our treasure in God’s homeland? How to we live that out in our lives today? One crucial step is to acknowledge the difference between the world as it is and the world as God dreams it to be. We have become comfortable with feeling at home in our culture. And yet, more and more, our culture is increasingly post-Christian. Of course, human society has always struggled to live as God calls us to live. The first Christians saw that clearly, living in the Roman Empire who persecuted them. After the fall of Rome, the Barbarians ruled, and though they eventually called themselves Christian, their lives and culture were shaped more by barbarism than by Christ. Christians later faced the corruption of the church, and even the reformers themselves were caught by their own radicalism into bloody wars. Recent centuries brought a creeping secularism that is increasingly hostile to God’s rule. So what does it look like to invest our resources, our lives into the rule of God?
What would it look like for you to live, as the saying goes, in the world, but not of the world? What would change if you daily invested energy into imagining how to think and act as God thinks and in cooperation with God’s desires? What can you do to value generosity over amassing wealth? To value caring over riches? To value self-sacrifice over self-interest? To value submission to God vs. following your heart?
We sometimes say that times have changed; these days you have to live like this, or talk like that, or change how you live and work to adapt to the world around us. But isn’t that a bit Orwellian? What if we spoke the truth as God has revealed it? What if we lived our lives around God’s priorities? What would be different? We often think of a hope for heaven, when everything changes. But what if we lived as if those changes had already happened? As if God is already king? How would that change today?
Jesus said “don’t be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God gives us the opportunity to live into his vision where we are. If we embrace God’s kingdom, God’s rule, we learn to receive God’s grace, God’s love for us. We begin to see God’s love for others—a generous love to a broken world. The more we live in God’s presence, the more we learn how to share that love with others. We learn how to stand for God’s truth in the face of the world’s confusion. We learn how to show a world increasingly isolated and disconnected the power of relationship with God and with each other in Christ. Like foreigners, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, ambassadors of his grace to the world. We can live today in the light of God’s promises, and watch as God’s future breaks into the present.
This is not just a pep talk for good Christian morals, though I hope that is part of it. This is an invitation for you to invest your lives and energy into praying and discerning what God’s vision is for you and your family and this community—a vision shaped by God’s priorities and God’s calls. What does God call you to do? Where is God calling you to go? How is God calling you to live? What steps can you take to move in that direction, to embrace God’s presence in more and more of your life today?
God’s good pleasure is to give us this kingdom—to empower us to live blessed by God’s grace and blessing others with God’s grace. God gives us his kingdom and invites us to invest our lives in its future. How will you follow?
To those students of eschatology (the study and theology of end times): you may wonder if my position is like that of some modernists who think that the Kingdom of Heaven is built on earth by human hands, and that Jesus’ warnings and the visions of Revelation are metaphors for the struggle of a merely human endeavor. That is not my position at all. I believe that there will come a day when Jesus will return, the dead will rise and God will make all things new. And before that time, things are likely to get pretty bad for God’s people.
But God also calls us to live into the reality of Jesus victory already won for us on the cross and in the resurrection. The last day will bring the fulfilment of that victory, but we can live into that victory today. Dissidents behind the Soviet bloc iron curtain lived free and spoke the truth, and slowly, Communism met its demise. Likewise, we can live lives of Christian integrity, confident in God’s truth and God’s victory. The world won’t like it, but we will find more and more of God’s blessings when we do. And yes, the world will be blessed as we do so.