Now don’t be alarmed.
When someone says that, is your first reaction to be at least slightly alarmed?
Do you brace yourself for what’s coming next?
Perhaps that’s exactly what Jesus wants you to do.
Whether he looks in the eyes of his little flock and sees fear or boredom, whether he
needs them to calm down or wake up, Jesus gets their attention the way God does
hundreds of times in Scripture.
Do not be afraid.
The stated reason this time is that it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, which was not on the list.
My father once delighted in getting me a beautiful, expensive train set for Christmas.
Problem was, I wasn’t interested in trains, and I knew I would break it if I tried to
operate it, so I never actually played with it.
Is that how we receive the gift of God’s kingdom?
I’m afraid I’ll mess it up so I’ll avoid it.
Or it doesn’t line up with my interests: I told Santa in the last ten verses that I’m into
food and clothing and nice stuff, and Jesus dismissed that and changed the subject back to this kingdom thing.
And now he doubles down in an alarming way.
Sell your possessions, and give alms.
Liquidate all the assets and then give the money away.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If you have no stuff, your heart is free.
If your wealth goes to others, so will your heart.
Many of us like to get this backwards, telling ourselves that our heart directs our money.
Our heart follows our money.
Which is why we pass the offering plate.
It is not because the church needs to pay the bills.
I’ll say that again, because now the finance committee is alarmed.
We do not give offerings because the church needs the money.
That is a terrible, horrible, short-sighted, please don’t ever do it reason to give.
Let the church close and the pastor starve; God has other ways of gracing the world God loves.
Offering is part of worship because it is redirecting your heart.
It is inviting you to place your treasure where you want your heart to go.
It is leading your heart home to God, the One who lets go of everything—or to use
another translation of the verb, forgives—in order to bless and embrace us and lead us to joy beyond anything we can see or imagine.
Eighty years ago, C.S. Lewis preached:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering
nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds
our desires, not too strong, but too weak.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when
infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud
pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday
at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased.
God can and does show up at any time with an invitation to infinite joy.
So be dressed for action and have your lamps lit, Jesus says.
He is invoking the memory of the exodus: the foundational story of God leading people
from mud pies to milk and honey in the land of promise, which Jews know is not
just a once upon a time from long ago but also the pattern of God’s behavior.
God leads people to new life, usually through unreadiness, resistance, and difficulty.
God wants to move Jesus’ little flock from fear and worry to freedom and joy, but
we look at the journey…we see far more clearly how much gets left behind than we do what lies ahead…and of course we get scared and drag our feet.
Do we really want this kingdom God wants to give us?
When we pray thy kingdom come, do we mean it?
Why does Jesus keep harping on it except that we keep resisting it because we cannot
comprehend it, control it, or begin to fathom what it would be like?
The next vignette confirms this.
When the master returns and finds ready slaves, he serves them.
That just doesn’t happen.
While your mental clutch is burning from that violent gear shift, Jesus keeps talking, and now the master is a burglar.
Maybe that explains what’s happening at the offering.