Below is the link to today’s Service of the Word and a copy of the sermon delivered by Bishop Jason Zinko of the Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod.
Rev. Jason Zinko
Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod Bishop
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 12th chapter:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand 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. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
This is the Gospel of our Lord!
Let me start by thanking you for inviting me into your worship life this morning. I do appreciate this opportunity, and Bishop Susan’s invitation to take part in the Summer Sermon Series again this year. I am joining you from Winnipeg, Treaty 1 – the traditional territories of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, and Dakota Peoples, and the homeland of the Metis Nation. I am grateful for their stewardship of this land and their hospitality which allows us to live, work and serve God the Creator here.
I have a few people in my life who I would describe as… anxious. It’s not that they are always on edge. They don’t look frazzled all the time and they don’t get spooked by loud noises or anything like that. But in some circumstances, their anxiety just rises and rises until it has a negative effect on their ability to cope. And it can impact the people around them.
I find that sometimes, when I’m around these people in my life, my anxiety goes up too. It’s almost as if anxiety makes me anxious. So instead of being a calming presence, I add fuel to the fire. Instead of being a person that can help others cope with anxiety and make things manageable, I sometimes add another layer of anxiety where it is definitely not needed. And, needless to say, that is not always the most helpful way of calming or reassuring people.
Parts of today’s reading remind of that.
Between last week’s reading and this week, we missed an important teaching from Jesus. We missed the section where he tells his followers and the crowds not to worry. He told them not to worry about their lives, what they will eat, or what they will wear. By comparison, he asked them to consider the lilies, and how valuable something as perishable as lilies are in God’s eyes. Maybe that sounds familiar to you.
Our reading today follows on the heels of that. And, to be fair, the first sentence of today’s reading follows very much on that same theme.
But then things fall off the rails a bit. Sell everything we own and give away the proceeds; be on guard at all times; watch out for people breaking in to your house; always be alert!
It’s not just today’s reading either. In this whole section of Luke’s Gospel, the part about not worrying is sandwiched between a series of stories of being called an evil generation, warnings against hypocrisy, threats of beatings and rejection, divided families, and repenting… or else.
Sorry, Jesus. I know you said don’t worry, but all that other stuff is making me worry even more.
It doesn’t help that we are already in a heightened state of anxiety about many things. How can we not be? Events and actions in our communities and the world around us causes our anxiety to rise and rise.
Each day we hear news and updates about the war in Ukraine. Not to mention other wars that are ongoing in many parts of the world. We hear about the 100 million people around the world who have been displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. How can we not be anxious about the state of the word?
We hear about wildfires in BC and other regions – evidence of climate change that many decision-makers can’t agree about how to address. We wonder about how changes in policy might affect our livelihoods and how we can care for environment and family at the same time. How can we not worry?
As we approach the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Aug 9, we think about the ongoing social and economic issues facing our Indigenous brothers and sisters after generations of racism, abuse, and neglect. We think about how other communities are marginalized – people of colour, people who identify with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, those living with physical or mental disabilities. We wonder about how our communities can include all people, and how that will mean that we need to change. How can we not worry?
Coming off of two + years of uncertainty about employment, we are faced with record-setting inflation and rising housing prices that we haven’t seen in decades. We’re unsure if we have to uproot and move homes, or if we can afford rent and food at the same time. We don’t know how long this will last or what other changes might come as a result. How can we not worry?
And every time we listen to world leaders and government party spokespeople, we hear more extremism; more volatility; more inflexibility; more grandstanding and self-interested decisions; more people claiming to speak for everyone when they do not. We wonder why our leaders seem unable to work together for the benefit of all, rather than for their own agenda. We wonder if or when there will be an end. So how can we not worry?
Well… Jesus’ response through most of today’s Gospel reading is not an explanation of why we shouldn’t worry. Instead, it is a call to action. He asks us to be alert and to do something. But it’s really important for us to understand that that call to action is based on a fundamental promise from God. No matter what might be going on around us – no matter what threats or challenges may cause us to worry – God’s desire and pleasure is to give us the kingdom. (I use the word kingdom here because it is the word used in the reading. Feel free to substitute with ‘realm’, ‘territory’, ‘reign’, or other word appropriate to your context) Before anything we do, we first hear the promise that God gathers us and gifts us something that can help ease our worry.
We need to remember that in Luke’s Gospel, the kingdom of God is not a far-off destination or something we only encounter after death. The kingdom is the constant, small but powerful ways that God breaks into this world to show us glimpses of God’s intention for all of creation. It is how we see God’s work of creation continuing to unfold and overcoming the sin that distorts and attempts to ruin what God has made.
So Jesus says don’t worry. Yes, there will be threats. And yes, we will be asked to live out our faith in action. But those actions are a response to, and are rooted in God giving us the kingdom just as a loving parent finds joy in giving good gifts to their children. We inherit this gift in our baptism as we are named and claimed by God. We are given this gift when God made a covenant with us in the water and the word. And when we go to live out our part – “to proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace” – we know that God has already promised to be part of that work with us. We are reminded that Jesus is the shepherd of this “little flock” that God has gifted and promised with the kingdom.
So let’s do that. Let’s work for justice and peace knowing that God allows us and invites us to do so. Be leaders in your congregations and ministries who reach out to the people who have been excluded from our communities. Knowing that God has generously given us gifts, let’s let go of some of our own things that keep us from doing ministry in the places where God is leading us.
Let the Spirit of God speak to us and through us into the world. Let it change us and move us so that we are ready and able to serve the people and communities that God has placed in our path.
Because we won’t lose anything by doing that.
We won’t lose anything by doing that – because God has promised us the kingdom already, and no one will ever take that away.