Our texts for today are a treasure trove of beautiful sayings that help us define who we are and what our faith means to us. One of my favorites is from our gospel text, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” As Erick Thompson, senior pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New Prague, Minnesota explains, “We live in a world where there are so many things clamoring for our attention that it is easy to lose our focus. In this text from Luke, Jesus is calling us to prioritize activities that give eternal life. Such a call to center (or re-center) our lives on God, might seem extremely difficult in our world, but is essential for our lives as Christians. If we don’t, as Jesus goes on to suggest, we will be caught unprepared.”
We often equate treasure with money or possessions. Last week we learned in our gospel reading that Jesus advised us how we should effectively share our treasure. He never said we should not have what we need to live, but it is the excess that we have to learn how to use wisely. Otherwise we will end up like the rich man, who built bigger barns to store all of his treasure and ended up dying. Instead of making good use of the crops and other valuables he had accumulated, he tried to store them up so he would get pleasure from having them. His treasure turned out to be a fleeting moment in time. If he had shared his bounty of crops and other valuables – which Pastor Thompson calls a “strategic appropriation of one’s possessions” – he could have left a legacy of generosity and kindness; instead he died surrounded by all his stuff.
After offering advice about treasure, Jesus speaks about being prepared. This part of the reading sounds as though we are in Advent. Being ready for the coming of Christ is the main theme of Advent, but it is appropriate for all seasons of the Christian life. Sometimes the exhortation to be prepared creates anxiety. But Pastor Thompson offers a wonderful explanation in his commentary this week in the online resource, Working Preacher. He insists that this text is about vocation, not justification. It is not a simple declaration of “be prepared and you will be saved,” which could lead to a certain amount of anxiety. He says that the “idea here is to be ready so that when God calls [us] to action, [we] seize the opportunity and spread the good news.” And here is the part that I think is a brilliant explanation of that call to be prepared, “Being alert and being ready are like potential energy, ready to be turned into kinetic energy when prompted. The energy produced here is gospel centered: healing, justice, love, grace, peace, etc.”
Then Thompson goes on to explain what will happen when we are prepared. It turns out that we will be served by God. That is comforting, because we spend a lot of time thinking about how we should serve God, how we should direct that kinetic, gospel centered energy Thompson speaks of. As Lutherans we reject any notion of works righteousness – that is, we do good works, or serve God, in order to be saved. We believe we are justified by grace through faith – first we are saved by the pure grace of God and then our response is to do good works. That is the promise of what will happen when we re-center life around God – the good news of Christ will serve us in our lives so that we are not afraid.
Our first lesson offers an example of that beautiful promise from God. Abram – who was later called Abraham – has no children, no one to whom he can leave his worldly possessions. In the ancient world, one’s status was determined by their family and tribe. Although today it is common for people who marry to want to have a family, they are not considered to be a disgrace if for some reason they do not have children. In Abram’s time, it was considered essential to have an heir, particularly a male, and if a couple was childless it was normally blamed on the wife. Women were ashamed to be barren, even though the inability to have a child with their husband might not even be their fault.
Abram, even though he was not perfect, he made mistakes, was a man who was faithful to God. He did not serve God with the expectation that God would save him; he had faith in God and so God saved him. God promised him that his descendants would number more than the stars in the sky, and Abram believed God, even though he and his wife Sarah were both beyond their childbearing years. The author of our second lesson from Hebrews puts it rather bluntly – God gave Abraham and Sarah the power to have a child, even though, as he puts it, Abraham was as “good as dead” because God knew that they were faithful. Throughout his life Abraham obeyed God, trusting that God would keep the promises made to him.
And so we come to that other beautiful saying from our second lesson, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…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.” Even though at times it may be challenging, at times we may doubt or feel afraid, we are assured that everything is based on our willingness to trust in God. That is what we call faith. We have to accept a certain amount of mystery – as the Christmas preface states –“You have opened the eyes of faith to a new and radiant vision of your glory, that beholding the God made visible we may be drawn to the love the God whom we cannot see.” If we can trust in God’s promises, even though we may experience disappointments in life, ultimately we will not be disappointed by God.
We should not oversimplify, but often we make faith more complicated than it really is. Where is our true treasure? It is where our hearts are. Not in possessions or power or status, but rooted in the love of God, of family, of loved ones, of all the creatures of God’s beautiful creation. We don’t have what could be considered scientific proof of the object of our faith, but we have the promises handed down through the generations, from ancient times through today. From our patriarchs and matriarchs in the faith like Abraham and Sarah, through those who, centuries later, were willing to risk their lives to tell the story of the good news of Jesus Christ. There are role models for faith to be found in every generation. They are countless, like the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. Our “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” As our ancestors before us, we are not perfect and we never will be. But together we will have the courage to trust in God’s promises. Amen.