Misguided theology and other myths of faith

August 11, 2019 (The 9th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 1:1, 10–20

Psalm 50:1–8, 22–23

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32–40

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 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. 37 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. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “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. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12:32-40, NRSV)

Let us pray: God of Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Jesus, you invite us to contemplate heavenly things and urge us to trust in you. May your coming among us find our doors open, our tables set, and all of us ready to greet you. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

As a young boy I never imagined that I would be a preacher, I was extremely shy and couldn’t fathom standing up in front of people and speaking. Much less speaking about personal things like faith, beliefs and sharing my inner struggles. So, as you might imagine it has been a journey over the last forty plus years for me.

One very negative experience that was a signpost along the way comes to mind as I read this scripture passage for today.

It was summertime. I was 10 or 11 years old and I was with my friends in the woods across the street from my house and we were building a tree house. When a van from Pinecrest Baptist Church drove past. They must have seen us boys and girls playing in the woods. So, they stopped.  Three men got out of the van and walked towards the treehouse.

They asked us to come down because they wanted to talk to us.  We climbed out of the treehouse and stood near them. They began to ask us our names, where we went to church and if we knew Jesus.

We respond and then one of them said, “if you died tonight do you know that you will go to heaven? If you are not absolutely sure than you might burn in hell for eternity.”

That was a turning point in my faith development, obviously, I did not know it at the time because I was scared to death but overtime those men from Pinecrest Baptist church helped to define my theology and ultimately my understanding of God.

These men were comparing God to a cosmic bully who was judging every move we made and waiting to catch us in a sin. They were in the truest sense trying to scare the hell out of us. Using fear to frighten us into converting to their band of faith.

“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”[1]

It maybe that I was a product of the bible belt and the heavy influence of the Southern Baptist Church but texts like this were often used to scare people into faith in God.  I often heard preachers misuse this verse, and others like it, to frighten people into following Jesus, or else.  The implication was that Jesus was our friend and he would protect us from the angry and vengeful God who was on the warpath watch for us to sin and say, “Aha! Caught you! Now you’re gonna get it!”  Of course, overtime memory fades and that may not be exactly what the preachers said, but that’s what my younger self heard.

Many years of years of seminary, reformed theological education and even some therapy later, I now know that this is not what Jesus was talking about.[2] The issue is not judgement but rather readiness to receive the kingdom of God into our lives.  Remember the start of our Gospel reading begins with the overlooked and often ignored statement from Jesus, “be not afraid, little flock, for it is the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”[3]  We do not have to be afraid when the kingdom comes; it is a good thing.  It is not something we earn, there is no test, no way to fail or come up short.   The kingdom is a gift, a promise — not a prize; it is a thrill, not a threat; it is a thing of joy — not a fear-filled destiny of doom.[4]

This promise of Jesus changes everything.  It’s one thing for someone to demand things of you, like your shareholders, your boss, your parent, your teacher, your coach, etc. It’s a totally different thing when that person wants only what is best for you or who wants you do to your best.  You know that ultimately, they want the best for you.  What Jesus is saying is that God wants what is best for us.  It is not fear and worry and anxiety about the future and eternal life.  God wants to reassure us of God’s kingdom.  And God’s kingdom is based on trust and generosity and love and faith.

In scripture Jesus spends most of his time focused on two things; money and the kingdom of God.  He usually talked about one when talking about the other.  In his preaching and teaching money and the kingdom of God are intimately intertwined.

  • The kingdom of God is like – a man who had two sons and the younger came to him and demanded half of the inheritance.
  • The kingdom of God is like – a vineyard owner who pays everyone the same, no matter how much or how little they had worked.
  • The kingdom of God is like – a master who gives his servants varying amounts of money and then judges them on how they have managed it.

Or another way he said it is from today’s reading, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  What Jesus is trying to say is that our treasure is not in all these things that we worry about, what we are afraid of, that keep us up at night.  Our treasure is in the kingdom of God. 

If our treasure is in the Kingdom of God, then it changes our mindset, it shifts our focus.  Kingdom living changes the way we prioritize our lives, it changes the way we treat out neighbors, it changes the way we spend our money, it changes the things we care about and how we live. 

What Jesus is lifting up in this passage is faith – faith that frees us to be generous; faith that enables us to leave anxiety behind; faith that creates confidence about a future secured by God.  Instead of fear, he offers faith. 

There is a quirky movie that came out almost a decade ago called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel about a group of seven British retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored Marigold Hotel.  When they arrive, they find that the Hotel is not new, nor is it the resort that the website promised.  The Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to change these seven people in unexpected ways.

Each of them is overwhelmed by the unfamiliar environment, it is too hot, the rooms are dirty and run-down, the food is much too spicy for their bland English palates and each of them begins to doubt their future.  The enthusiastic new manager tries to adjust their attitudes and change their minds.  He encourages them to give the hotel, the city of Mumbai and the food, time to change their attitude by his famous quote, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”

It is kind of like that with Faith. Everything is not alright, so it is not the end, but Jesus has already promised, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”   So yes, we do need to be ready, to have our lamps lit and expect God to arrive at any moment.  But not with fear and foreboding, rather with trust and faith that God is still working.  God is not finished yet.  God will make all things right in the end. 

Let us pray:

[1] Luke 12:39-40, NRSV.

[2] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, Lectionary blog: The kingdom is a promise.

[3] Luke 12:32, NRSV

[4] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, Lectionary blog: The kingdom is a promise.