T HE GOSPEL READING (Luke 12:32–40) for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost is often a challenge to today’s readers and hearers of the Gospel. Sell all of your possessions … be dressed for action … have your lamps lit … be ready for you don’t know when the Son of Man is coming… .
Yes, this apocalyptic warning might be difficult to understand. It may even be downright frightening to readers and believers today.
I have been fascinated by “end times” thinking for as long as I have been in ministry. Over the years I have watched so many people try to read their tea leaves or search for a secret code in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
Yet, as I sit at the feet of Rabbi Jesus today, I hear a different message. Before he talked about giving everything away or being prepared for the return of the Son of Man, Jesus said these words:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
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THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO (on Aug. 1, 1987), I began serving as a pastor after seminary graduation and passing the ordination examinations for the Presbyterian Church (USA). After three years in the parish I went on active duty with the U.S. Air Force as a chaplain. Following my retirement, I went back into the church where I have served churches in Florida, Colorado, and Georgia.
Now I am serving as an interim or transitional minister at Swift Presbyterian Church. What is unique about this call in Alabama is that I am walking with a congregation through the threshold time as you seek to understand who you are and who God is calling you to be right now.
Some would say that this is a scary time for Swift — or, to be honest, for any church at this time. The COVID pandemic (which is still ongoing) has turned the church on its ear. The church is in uncharted waters today as it seeks to discover who it is and what it has to offer to people today.
Some might say that these times are indeed scary and apocalyptic in nature. This is where the advice that Jesus gave to his followers makes sense to me. Fear not, little flock! But Lord, how can we not be afraid with all of the upheaval and changes that we are experiencing today? Well, as Ecclesiastes 1:9 says:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. (Bold emphasis is mine.)
The world (and the church) has experienced times of uncertainty and fear throughout the ages. I believe that what is important is how we live in these times … how we serve the Lord and love our neighbors in these times.
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THE SECOND READING from this Sunday’s lectionary which I am focusing on is Hebrews 11:1 which has been a favorite verse of mine and which has provided much comfort in times of uncertainty. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (New Revised Standard version).
What the writer of Hebrews is telling me is that I need to have faith, even when as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said:
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
The church today is on the cusp of a new birth. It is on a threshold both of birthing and choosing how to continue the work of love, justice, mercy, and peace which Jesus continues to call it to do.
So much has changed in the 35 years that I have been in ministry. Yet the words of Jesus offer me comfort and guidance as I seek to walk with the Swift Church congregation through this time.
Fear not, little flock… .
— Michael Moore