The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Luke 12:32-40

Back in the 1920s, a very popular stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s vampire novel Dracula toured England. At the end of each performance the actor-manager came back on stage to talk briefly with the audience. He hoped, he said, that the play wouldn’t give them bad dreams that night. So when they got home, when the lights had been turned out and they started to worry about things that might be hiding behind the curtains or peeking through a window, he advised them to “just pull [the covers over your heads] and remember that after all — ‘There are such things!’”

In spite of the current popularity of the vampire theme in films, television and books, you don’t have to be afraid of getting bitten by one. There are vampire bats in the tropics and people with pathological behaviors who wish they were vampires, but there aren’t really any Dracula-like vampires who have lived for centuries, sleeping in their coffins by day and feasting on flesh by night (though I have known a couple of bishops that I’ve wondered about). The monsters that populate the old horror movies – or the more attractive and sensual men and women who are found in today’s vampire genre – don’t get out into the real world in which we live.

But that is small comfort in the real world. Because there are such things as terrorists trying to blow people up, religious conflict, melting glaciers and icecaps, a divisive political climate and other threats. With all of that to deal with, a few vampires would hardly be noticed. There are some very frightening things alive in our world. They can attack you right out in broad daylight and they won’t be scared off by garlic or a crucifix, wooden stakes or holy water.

And yet, Jesus’ words of comfort are meant as much for us today as they were for his followers – the sheep – of his own day: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Jesus originally said that to a people and a world whose problems differed from ours in detail but were just as threatening as ours. And it would be easy to think of these words of Jesus as the kind of soothing reassurance that parents may give frightened children at bedtime. “There are no vampires, or monsters. There is no boogieman hiding under the bed or in the closet. The shadows on the wall won’t hurt you. I’m right there in the living room. You’re safe.”

But there are “such things,” and there were going to be such things for Jesus’ disciples: ridicule, the fear of arrest, of prison, even execution. Probably the fear of, “Are we following the right guy?” Certainly the fear of “What’s next for us?”

What was going to happen to Jesus was a sign of what followers of Jesus might expect. They could get caught up in the economic and political turmoil of a hostile world. If they proclaimed and lived the message of Jesus, they shouldn’t be surprised at all if there really were people out to get them.

Then, too, we shouldn’t think that all the dangers (and demons) are outside us. If we get in the habit of thinking of ourselves as a “little flock,” – as a special selected few – we can, if we’re not careful, develop the kind of mentality that is found in members of a cult. It’s the few righteous “us” against the “evil old world.” And our own sin and self-righteousness can be as big a problem as anything that the rest of the world can throw at us. The sins of the world are something to contend with, but our own sins – our internal struggles and desires for the ways and things of the world – can be just dangerous, just as frightening, just as deadly.

Jesus isn’t trying to tell the disciples that there are not such things. But in spite of all that, he says, “Do not be afraid. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God’s purpose and God’s promise to his people cannot be defeated or stopped by persecution, poverty or conflict, or even by our own weakness or unfaithfulness.

It is God’s desire – God’s pleasure – to give us the kingdom. We need only accept it by giving up the fear that sin can defeat us. When we can do that, then God’s kingdom will come, in its fullness: God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Then, doubt will turn to hope; sadness will turn to joy; dark to light; disappointment to blessing; fear to courage, and confidence, and generosity.

When we believe God’s promise of forgiveness and acceptance and abundance for Jesus’ sake, when we put our trust in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, we are reconciled with God and his kingdom is a reality for us. And in that reality, in that kingdom, we can determine our priorities and direct our lives – and if the reign of God determines our priorities, then we can begin to understand Jesus’ words in our text this morning and, in fact, over the past few weeks about giving generously and about your heart being where your treasure is; about selling possessions and giving alms and storing up treasures in heaven. It isn’t that possessions or wealth are in themselves evil. Far from it — everything God has created is good. We wouldn’t be worshiping in this beautiful cathedral if it weren’t for the generosity of our predecessors. We wouldn’t be about to begin a new building project if it weren’t for the generosity of so many of you, giving from your treasure. But we are not to hoard up wealth or just use it for our own pleasure or security. Instead, these gifts of God are to be used for the purposes of the kingdom. (Which isn’t the same as saying “Give all your money away”!) Jesus doesn’t tell us to give our money away as if it were something that somehow defiles us. Instead, we are to “give alms” — to share with those in need, to support the church, to be generous with what we have. It’s as if the past few weeks our gospel lessons have been building to make this point especially: “Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Do not allow money to be the source of the fear that won’t allow you the pleasure and abundance of the kingdom. The fear that causes us not to be as generous as we can be; the fear that we might need more; the fear that we might not have enough; the fear that makes us hold on to what we have and lose out on what we could gain: the abundance of the kingdom; the pleasure of our Father in heaven.

Our earthly possessions are threatened, Jesus says, not by sharing and generosity but by hoarding, by holding on to, so that thieves and the natural processes of decay can come and take them away. To borrow the theme from last week’s sermon, “The one who dies with the most toys — still dies.” It makes little sense to put those things first. They are temporary treasures. Our primary concern is instead to be about the state of our relationship with God, which is eternal. That “treasure” is not some store of material wealth. It does not consist of “credits” that we can use to stay in God’s good graces, but just the opposite. It is the gift of faith that God gives us freely, and the love and hope that flow from it. And we have this treasure – we have this pleasure – when we overcome our fear and choose to live in the abundant kingdom of God.

“It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God has already determined to make the followers of Jesus honored citizens of that kingdom, so “Do not be afraid.” Instead, let the knowledge that you are one of God’s people give you courage and freedom to act as God’s children, God’s ministers, to further that kingdom.

Jesus’ assurance that God has already chosen us should inspire, encourage and empower us to act without fear and with the knowledge and peace that God wants to bless us. Of course, we should pray about the decisions and choices we make, think them through as clearly as possible and, when possible, seek guidance from trustworthy people. We want to act in ways that will indeed further the coming of God’s kingdom. But when all is said and done, we can trust God’s care for us, and we can act in the knowledge that our relationship with God is secure.

The idea that salvation comes as God’s gift and is received by grace through faith is, you see, not just an abstract doctrine. When we understand its implications, it is a tremendously liberating message. In spite of the fact that “there are such things,” we are saved, not just from the things that go bump in the night – the things of our imaginations – but we are freed from all fears about what may happen, and free to act as God’s people, God’s children, God’s own flock, and to accept the good pleasure of God’s own kingdom.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.