Fear is in the air.
Everywhere you look – social media, your favorite news website, or even the street corner – fear is in the air. Fear that the economy will fall back into recession. Fear that you’ll lose your job. Fear that the person you ask out on a date will say no. Fear that your spouse will turn you in you for a younger model. Fear about the current state of the political discourse in this country. Fear that you can’t pay next month’s bills. Fear that you won’t finish an important project at work by the deadline. Fear that God isn’t here beside you as you struggle through this life. Fear that you will die alone and unloved.
Fear is in the air.
Our Gospel passage from Luke begins with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Do not be afraid.” This isn’t the first time that we heard these words in the gospel of Luke. This is the same message given to Zechariah when the angel told him his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with Jesus’s cousin John the Baptist. It’s the same thing the angel said to Mary at the Annunciation when she was told she was pregnant with God’s son. It’s the same thing that Jesus proclaims to Saint Peter before he tells him that he will be a fisher of men.
“Do not be afraid.”
In all instances of this phrase in Luke, “Do not be afraid” comes before the announcement of a significant, life-changing event. In this case, Jesus says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is no small matter and is just as daunting of a message as the angel telling Mary that she is pregnant with God’s son.
Out of his own delight, God gives us the kingdom. The word kingdom is not easy for us to relate to. The last time we had a king in this country, we rejected his authority and declared our independence! The kingdom of God refers to an inbreaking of God’s love, peace, freedom and justice into the world.
These inbreakings of God’s kingdom in this world happen in what is often referred to as “thin places.” Thin places are moments in which time itself seems to stand still and the divide between this world and the next is very thin indeed. In these thin places, God’s love becomes tangible to us and we get a brief glimpse of heaven itself. The sacraments are thin places, and particularly the Holy Eucharist, where we are transported in time to the hill upon which Jesus died and we are fed the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. In these thin places, heaven kisses earth.
But thin places are not only to be found in the sacraments. They are also found in the face of the homeless person you see on the street corner. In the cries of the sick person you are nursing and taking care of. And in subtle, everyday things like hugging a child or hearing those repetitive words “I love you” from a family member.
These thin places are all around us, and ever difficult to detect. How do we predispose ourselves to be aware of them? Through consistent prayer, Bible study, silence, contemplation, selflessly serving others, and regular reception of the sacraments of the Church. Without making the time and effort to engage in these sometimes-arduous spiritual disciplines, we aren’t able to put aside our fear and be aware of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom around us.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, for God is giving you his kingdom of love, peace, freedom and justice.” It is in this context that Jesus tells his disciples to sell their possessions and give alms and make purses for themselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. When we graciously accept God’s loving kindness towards us, when we are intentionally aware of the Holy Spirit working in our everyday lives, when we are sensitive to detecting the thin places that we encounter throughout our lives, it is then that we are led to share that love and compassion with others.
I’ll always remember one of the questions I was asked at one of the many Committee meetings during my ordination process. “When you envision yourself as a priest, what scares you the most?” My immediate response was, “Being around people who are dying and their families. I not only don’t know what to say or do, but I can’t imagine what I would have to contribute to people in such pain and grief.” Less than a year later, in my second semester at seminary, I got word that my co-worker’s 17-year-old son had died. His name was Noah, and I’d known him because his mom had asked me to spend a little time with him as he was struggling coming out in high school, and to boot, he was afflicted with mental illness at a pretty severe level. Noah died because he hung himself from a tree. I was terribly sad when I heard the news, but when his mom called and asked if I’d do the funeral, I had an overwhelming sense of fear wash over me. I called my bishop and told him I’d been asked to do this huge funeral for this young kid who died tragically, and he said to me, “Charles, the Church doesn’t normally asked folks at your stage of the process to do this kind of work, but it sounds like there’s an opportunity here for the Holy Spirit to work through you to help a whole lot of people. God’s been preparing you for this moment, and will give you everything you need to get through it. How will you respond?”
With God’s help, I said yes.
Less than two years later, the 21-year-old son of one of the owners of the bank died of an accidental drug overdose. His dad called me and asked me to do the funeral. And to this day, I think some of the most important parts of my ministry here at St. Mary’s have been walking alongside those who are dying, and then ministering to their family and friends upon their death.
I tell you about my greatest fear coming into the priesthood not to encourage you to face your fears head on, or to assure you that things always get better, or to tell you to always say yes when asked to do something you’re scared to do. I tell you this story because God didn’t ask me to help these people out of the blue. In a sense, I’d been preparing for these moments for my whole life. My imperfect attempts to consistently pray, to study the Bible, to listen to God’s voice…my constant reception of the sacraments of the church, sometimes because I felt so unworthy…God used all of that to make me sensitive to these particular thin places, and to have the courage to overcome my fear and say yes. Inevitably when I do, the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the moments that ensue ushers in God’s love, peace, and freedom where it is desperately needed.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells us, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms! Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit! Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour!” This call to be ready is both about Christ’s coming in our lives today and about his second coming at the last day. The certainty of Christ’s coming is not a cause for panic, but a cause for watchful anticipation for blessing. This call to be ready isn’t a cause to be overly critical of our own sins and failings, but rather to be ready to receive blessings like we could never imagine. To be watchful and ready for thin places in this world, to be watchful and ready for the unimaginable and overwhelming grandeur of being in God’s kingdom in all of its glory in eternity. This call is to be ready for the foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we receive communion in a moment, and to be ready for the heavenly banquet itself in eternity with God.
Friends, do not be afraid! For God, out of his own delight, gives you his kingdom of love, peace, freedom and justice. Be watchful for the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the thin places. And be ready for the coming of Christ, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and at the last day.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 335.
 Ibid 338.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13
August 4, 2019
Luke 12:13-21, Colossians 3:1-11
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Our gospel lesson begins with someone coming to Jesus with an estate law question: the man asks him to tell his brother (probably his older brother) to divide the family inheritance with him.
This sort of childhood squabble continues even in our day. In one of the earliest funerals I did after being ordained, I asked the daughter of the deceased, “Will your step-brothers and sisters be coming to the service?” “No,” she responded. “They got all the money when their dad died, and we haven’t been able to stand being in the same room with them ever since. We really don’t want them here.”
In this case, the younger brother gets upset because the law and tradition of the day said that the elder brother receives the bulk of the inheritance. The younger brother comes to Jesus, asking him to solve his problem. “Nope,” Jesus responds. No. Can. Do. The younger brother thinks his request is all about fairness. “It’s only fair that I get half,” the younger brother thinks. But Jesus sets him straight. His request isn’t about fairness. It’s actually about greed.
Those two verses shape the parable that Jesus then tells. A rich man’s land produces abundantly…so much so that he doesn’t have room to store all of his excess crops. So he does something practical: he build larger barns in which to store them. But here’s where the rub comes in. The rich man then says, “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Now that I’ve saved up and feel secure for my future, I can truly be happy.
God’s response couldn’t have been more high-direct. “You fool!” he said. “Tonight you die! And all these things you’ve stored up…whose will they be?” “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” And then the parable ends. No happy ending like the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the parable of the Prodigal Son.
What does it mean to be “rich towards God?” Does it mean, “You can’t take it with you, so be generous with your assets – especially to the Church?” (wink, wink) Does it mean that you and I shouldn’t plan for retirement, or save for a rainy day?
There’s a difference between proper planning and greediness. I think Jesus’s message for us in this parable is this: you have to balance concern for the future with the call to give glory to God by caring for your neighbor – for the poor, the marginalized, and all those in need. This balancing act is hard work, and requires a lot of discernment.
I am not sure if everyone has this problem, but I have a very rich fantasy life. I like to think about the day when I will hopefully no longer have to worry about paying bills, and dealing with constant repairs of an old home. I like to think about what life would be like if I won the lottery.
Jesus’s response to this rich man – “You fool! Tonight you’ll die! So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God” – this response, as jarring as it is, reminds me that I need to stop being distracted by such fantasies. Frankly, the rich man in this story had become so concerned for himself and his comfort that he had forgotten that God had created the land that produced the excess crop. He’d forgotten that really, all the excess crop belonged to God and he was just the temporary steward of them. And he’d forgotten that happiness and contentedness is not found in the abundance of wealth or possessions.
Paul said in our epistle lesson, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
It is only when we surrender our fantasies, whether they be about wealth or financial security or sexual happiness – it is only when we name these distractions for what they are – idols – and lay them at the feet of our Lord that we can truly set our minds on things that are above. It is only then that we can begin to see what contentedness looks like.
What does it mean to be “rich with God?” It means acknowledging who we are – sinners in need of a Savior – and acknowledging who God is – the creator and author of all from whom all good things come. Being rich with God means acknowledging our fantasy life for what it is, and not allowing it to become a distraction as we seek to follow Christ with all that we have and all that we are. Being rich with God means balancing the need to plan for our future with the need to give away our money and possessions to support the poor, the marginalized, and the needy. Being rich with God means knowing in the deepest parts of who we are that money and financial security and possessions will not make us happy. Jesus is telling us in this parable that we find our happiness in setting our minds on things that are above. On Jesus Christ.
Despite not being worthy to gather up the crumbs under God’s table, God’s unconditional mercy and love towards us makes us worthy to come into his presence with a quiet confidence that “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” It is from this deep sense of knowing who we are and whose we are that we should approach our money and wealth and whatever it is that captivates our fantasy life. In knowing who we are – that we are buried with Christ in his death, and raised with him in newness of life – we are able to begin to see money and possessions for what they really are – gifts from God over which we’ve been given temporary stewardship. Yes, God provides our daily bread – everything we need – but we’ve been entrusted with the gifts we’ve been given to return some to God and to care for those in need.
Friends, let us set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For we have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life is revealed, then we too will be revealed with him in glory. Amen.
 This concept is from the Theological perspective for this text in David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).
 Colossians 3:1-11.
 Julian of Norwich.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!