Don’t Be Afraid (throw the hymnal)

The tragic events of last weekend were never far from my mind this week.

I was delighted to receive this lovely pashmina from one of our Women of the ELCA—which I was easily able to fashion into an orange stole.

Orange in the church, “… a plea and a penance and a proclamation: that … we people of faith… have something to say to the violence of death and destruction. That we have seen, and noticed, and that we are not unchanged, unturned, unmoved, we who are alive.”[1]

One place my mind went this week was to Charleston, South Carolina in June, 2015. To Pittsburgh in October of 2018. To Christchurch, New Zealand just this past March.  Places that now remind us that even as we gather in our houses of worship, our sanctuaries, we are not immune to the violence perpetrated by dangerous people with guns.

I remembered how, particularly after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, congregational leaders began to talk about how we might protect ourselves when we come together to worship or study or serve. I remember some congregations organizing presentations by the local police.  Conversations about “security teams,” even whether someone should always be carrying a firearm when we’re gathered. About keeping our doors locked tight once everyone is inside worshiping. Maybe you had some of these conversations.

While these conversations were happening, I was serving at little St. Peter in small town Trenton. We noted the conversations, acknowledging that even we weren’t immune to the risk of someone coming and shooting.   And then I read the best piece of advice for worshipers.

Each of us has at hand a heavy object with fairly sharp corners.  Even the most determined shooter might be thrown off guard if 10 or 100 substantial cranberry-colored hymnals came flying at him.  At St. Peter, there’s one man who almost always sits in the balcony, right at the rail. He makes a video recording of the service.  We just agreed that he’d have a stack of hymnals next to him, and if he saw me quickly duck down behind the altar, he’d start pitching them.

Thanks be to God, we never had to use that self-defense system while I was at St. Peter, and I pray that they, nor us, nor any congregation ever will. But that’s how we at St. Peter decided to “be ready.”

In today’s reading, Luke gives us a lot of advice about being ready. We’re supposed to consider our material possessions—if we have too many, they’ll be lost or destroyed, so why not sell what we have and give the proceeds to the poor.  Luke’s Jesus suggests that having fewer material possessions helps us keep our heart ready for God.

Then we’re advised to be dressed and keep our lamps lit, watching for the boss to come in during the middle of the night.    If we can manage to be ready when he gets in from the wedding party—at whatever time that might be, he’ll serve us a middle-of-the-night feast.

And that strange one: “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.”

Well, of course he wouldn’t.

But we stand reminded to be on guard against that stealthy thief.

Our dear friend and gospel-writer Luke apparently did not study with my homiletics professor. The Rev. Dr. Hank Langknecht at Trinity Lutheran Seminary would have advised him that one solid example will do; more muddies the water, confuses the listener. Luke, do some editing; choose the BEST of these examples from Jesus.

But we have 3 examples, and hearing them, there’s no question that we’re to be ready.

But what’s not entirely clear, is for what we’re to prepare.

Luke’s watching-for-the-thief example notwithstanding, I think there’s something more than keeping our eyes trained on the door, hymnals at the ready.

Because, we have to go back to the very first verse that I read. Don’t be afraid, … because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. (Luk 12:32 CEB)

Don’t be afraid.

How easy it would be to let fear rule in our lives.

Not just random shootings, but there are things of which to be afraid everywhere we turn.

Loss of a job; disease or injury; since we’re sending folks back to school today, we might think of students who fear the report card or the teacher conference.

But God says don’t be afraid…because God wants to give us the kingdom.

There’s a rabbit hole for us:   what does giving us the kingdom mean?

I think we can avoid the rabbit hole if we go back to those servants waiting in the night, fully dressed and with lamps lit.  That boss who will come in and be so delighted that they waited up that he’ll head straight to the kitchen, tie on an apron, and whip up a big pot of macaroni and cheese—and bring it to them at the table–along with a nice assortment of beverages and maybe a big fruit salad.

That’s a meal that’s worth waiting for and now you know my idea of the perfect meal…and I think this is a great way to flesh out that brief verse: “don’t be afraid, …because your father delights in giving you the kingdom.”

We’re pretty good at this kingdom meal thing here at Trinity.

Thursday nights our kitchen fills with people who have their aprons tied on and are ready to cook and serve.    And Trinity Hall fills with the kind of people we might expect to be waiting on us if we went out to eat at Frisch’s. I’ve heard those folks sometimes come in early…waiting, ready.  Because they know they’re going to be fed.  And they know they’re in a church, and that the people serving them are church folks. And that we’ll pray for them if they ask. Actually, we’ll pray for them whether or not they ask.

We can’t protect them from all the dangers in their lives, no more than we can protect ourselves from all the things that make us afraid.

But on Thursday nights, when they walk through our doors, we show them God’s love, God’s kingdom.

We give them a meal to feed their bodies.

We visit with them and treat them with respect to feed their psyches.

And we pour God’s love on them to feed their souls.

Be ready for the kingdom of God—God wants to give it to you.

There’s a wonderful piece of wisdom that I first heard from a colleague—pastor Alice Connor.  Its attributed to John Lennon and recently made popular by the 2011 movie “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

“Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”

I’m not sure that previous sources were using this phrase to talk about God, but it sure works.

Don’t be afraid—in the end, God will see to it that everything’s alright. Watch for it.



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