Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
“Do not be afraid Abram.” “Do not be afraid little flock.” These words from our gospel and first reading are perhaps the most often repeated message God ever speaks to human beings. ‘Do not be afraid’ the angels say to Zechariah, to Mary, and to the shepherds. Do not be afraid, will echo again from the empty tomb. It does not mean don’t ever be afraid. As in real Christians know no fear, but rather, do not continue to be afraid. Our fears are vanquished in God’s embrace. Our fears are replaced by faith. With the trusting faith of a little child that instinctively reaches for the hand of a trusted adult to lead them across the street, faith in God’s perfect love casts out fear.
Abraham and Sarah took God by the hand and crossed a hostile dessert. They went with God into an uncertain future, they lived the promise and served God’s mission when every worldly indication told them not to. Yahweh reckoned it to them as righteousness. Faith gives us the courage and calm we need to face into change big and small. Faith gives us the wind at our backs to go and serve and be disciples.
Today is one of those days our community faces so many changes and calls to serve that we must wrap our faith around ourselves like a blanket. Today we give thanks and pray for the future of ECT youth group confident God will provide. Today we give thanks and release the call of a good and faithful servant, pastor Emily. Today we give thanks for the outpouring of the Spirit in Holy Baptism and pray for Erin and Rodrigo in their Christian vocation as parents. Today we send two among us, Sue Rothmeyer and Libby Trost in mission and service at the ELCA churchwide Assembly that begins tomorrow in Ohio. Today we say goodbye and Godspeed to Sophia Serger-Pera who, after four years, is moving back to Omaha this week to begin the next chapter of her life.
Pastor Emily began on May 1st, 2011. She accepted the job despite being paid just four hours per week for work among three Lutheran congregations. She was in her last year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston and already felt a calling to ministry among city kids. In the years that followed there would be a stint at a church in Northbrook and work at North Shore Baptist in Edgewater. Finally, when she was ordained at Edgewater Presbyterian on October 26, 2013, Pastor Emily became our pastor, with the blessing of the Bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod and Chicago Presbytery. Because Lutherans and Presbyterians are in full communion, we can exchange clergy. Pastor Emily, who was raised Presbyterian, attended a Methodist seminary, and was called to serve in three Lutheran congregations. Her position was increased to half-time that year (2013), and eventually to three-quarter time. She has organized countless events, retreats, and service projects. She has traveled to school activities and bought lots of ice cream for 1-1 meetings. She led our youth to three Churchwide Gatherings (2012 New Orleans; 2015 Detroit; 2018 Houston) and was ready for a fourth in 2021 Minneapolis. (We know what happened to that one.) Pastor Emily is generous with her time, generous with her heart, and generous with her resources.
Pastor Emily answered God’s call and stepped out on faith. The Holy Spirit transformed her love and dedication to youth to bless the entire neighborhood of Edgewater, the wider church family, and especially, our three communities of faith. ECT is not just a youth group. It is a Beloved Community of warmth, welcome, mercy, justice, and discipleship. Thanks be to God.
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Here, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is speaking in the plural. How does this shift our understanding of this famous verse? When “your treasure” points to a plurality of persons discovering together their common treasure in Christ Jesus. When we become re-centered in faith then “your heart” can point beyond the narrow confines of your individual self to the oneness we share of many hearts together in one desire to serve God. Fear is replaced by hope and hope leads to action.
Notice how our identities shift and pinball around in Jesus’ teaching today. We are frightened sheep, and we are heirs of a kingdom. We are keepers of treasure, and we are slaves. We are owners of a house, and accomplices in a great robbery. Do we have a part to play in the Son of Man’s stealing back of creation. Sounds scary and exciting!
Indeed, there is a thief who steals and destroys—and there is a Thief who saves. God is a burglar who comes to steal our false priorities and overturn our unjust structures.” When he breaks into our house, we will never be the same. (Alyce McKenzie, “Mise en Place: Reflections on Luke 12:32-40,” Patheos, August 1, 2013.)
Jesus, with the wisdom of a patient shepherd, diagnoses the key factor for telling the one thief from the other: fear (verse 32). We cannot live by fear. We can only die by it. Fear divides us. Fear locks our treasure away—from others and from ourselves. Fear is the root of injustice. Fear is the end of all hope. Jesus tells his little flock how fear can be overcome and how its prison walls can be broken open. “Sell your possessions,” Jesus said, and “give alms” (verse 33). Give your life to God. Take Christ Jesus by the hand. Let Jesus walk you into the uncertain future to be confident our lives will be filled with grace and blessing. When was the last time we have sold anything of genuine value and given it away? When is the last time we lived unafraid, slaves to a God who serves rather than to an empire that destroys? (McKenzie)
“The Son of Man is like a burglar in a deeper way than just his unannounced arrival time. He returns to steal our false priorities and overturn our unjust structures. He returns to toss our complacency and lack of urgency. We will never be the same again….” (McKenzie)
In his last sermon, delivered March 31, 1968, the night before he was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee, you may remember Martin Luther King, Jr. famously declared ‘I have been to the Mountaintop. I have looked over into the Promised Land.’ King said, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence…. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.”
Take my hand. Walk in faith. Go for treasure that lasts forever. Jesus doesn’t require we cut out or cut off our desires, but through faith, the Spirit re-center our desires on the vision of God. Do it now. There’s not a minute to lose. There is real urgency in Jesus’ plea guiding us into the way of peace, and out of yet another hellish experience of human violence just around the corner. Today, with the advent of so many ways leading to Mass Destruction, the need to follow in faith to a better future is even more urgent. So, we do not fear change. So, we embrace our mission, trusting God to lead us and guide us.