Little Flock, Fear Not
Special Note: This sermon in Japanese first appeared on this site four years ago, August 3, 1997 and is found re-translated into English 010805. I have completely re-worked the new translation without even looking at this one. I am leaving this older version on the web to show how the Lord has allowed me to progress and grow in Japanese. The first line, "what I have read to you today," has been deleted from both 2001 versions.
1. What I read to you today is a very well known message from the Lord which is also recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. This narrative in which "Don't worry" is repeatedly given might leave an unforgettable impression on most anyone's heart. In a certain sense "worrying" is a common condition that has to do with people everywhere, and I think everyone wishes "I want to live worry-free." Further, even though we may think that we are familiar with this scripture, we must read it with deep attentiveness. The reason I am saying this is because it is so easy to overlook the important points delimited in this particular passage. We ought not to take this passage in the way some read it bound as a stale recommendation urging, "Let's set our hearts on not worrying." Certainly the Lord did not speak these words for that purpose. With that, as we carefully read this passage of the Gospel of Luke, we notice that this is an "ongoing story." After the Lord says, "There- fore, I say to you," he gives this story. It links to the previous story. In order to understand today's biblical passage I think we first need to squeeze hold of what's written in the previous section.
Beware Of All Kinds Of Covetousness
2. Please look from verses thirteen on. "One person from the crowd said, 'Teacher, please speak to my brother about dividing up the inheritance with me.' Jesus said to him, 'Who has appointed me as your judge or mediator?' He said to all present, 'Be wary of all sorts of covetousness, and beware. As for having possessions in excess, beware because a person's life cannot be based on property or fortune,'" (vv. 13-15).
3. What "the one person from the crowd" did here appears as something odd in our eyes, but in society back then it was not an uncommon practice. Back then religious instructors filled the role of arbitrator in civil cases of local social groups. Because of this, this person had nothing to do but simply depend on the person of Jesus for what one [normally] depended on any other rabbi for. If we go further, there are already provisions in the law concerning succession to inheritance. When we see this man making his appeal, it is probably because he had been defrauded by his brother for his portion of the inheritance which was legally guaranteed to him. Because of this, I think if we look at it from a social perspective what this person is doing is probably not something wrong or unreasonable. However, the Lord refuses to act as an arbitrator in this case. But that 's not all. With this event as a springboard he adds, "Beware of covetousness in its different forms." If we think about it some, this is strange. Even if it was an inappropriately placed request, how could this man's assertion of his natural right be "covetousness?"
4. Well, if that's the case, I notice that here the Lordis not speaking with reference to plain "covetousness" to anyone in particular, and the phrases "all sorts of covetousnesses" and "be careful, beware" are interrelated. The Lord is making an issue of the roots of covetousness which frequently escape our notice because we hide them in the natural course of daily situations. In order to clarify this point, what he gave is the parable which comes next. The Lord takes up a somewhat extreme example. But let's not focus directly on the extremity he made. Rather we need to look right at the universal problem within each and every person.
5. Please look from verse sixteen on. A certain rich householder had a bumper crop. In a sense it was natural for this person to rebuild his storehouses. However, on the night he was thinking all this he lost his life. This person is called "you fool, o fool." Could it be because both the bumper crop and the surplus have become useless to him? No, that's not why. The problem is seen in his words. The special tone of a rich word that is used here is regrettably lost in the New Interconfessional Version (the Shinkyodo Translation). If I could translate it by restoring that word, here is what he is saying, "What will I do? There's no place to put my abundant harvest." So, as he ponders this matter he speaks in this manner. "Here's what I'll do. I'll tear down my storehouses, build bigger ones, and gather into them my grains and my properties; I say, o my life (o my soul). I said, 'Well from this point on you've got a pile of years to live out still. Just take it easy, have fun eating and drinking.'" Let's see. The problem is in the word "my" which is repeated tediously at length. God calls such a person "a fool." So after he takes up the words "to my life, the text says "Tonight, your life is taken from you. Those things you prepared, whose things will they be now?"
6. The words "o my soul" form an expression that appears frequently in the Old Testament. But his situation has a different meaning even though he is using a traditional expression. He uses the word as though his property and even his very life were owned by him. God calls such a person "a foolish person." Why? Because they are not his things. This profound fact becomes obvious when that which is being called "my life" is taken out in one night. So, the same thing inasmuch will be in our experiences. That which we thought was our possessions are taken out in one night. Life itself is something that can be taken out. It is never under our control. We must look at the profound fact that God is the owner of everything. We have got to know that what is ours, not just property, but whether ability, or time, or life in this world, is something permitted by God.
7. You could say on the other hand that covetousness is whenever you don't recognize the ownership of God. Covetousness is whenever we live claiming that God's stuff is "my stuff." These types of people are described as "although piling up riches for himself, he is a person who is not getting rich before God." If one looks at it from the point of view of this world, it is not an unreasonable thing. So, we don't notice it. Therefore, the Lord has said beware of that kind of covetousness.
8. In continuing with this, the story about the command "Don't worry" comes next. Here a new question is raised. What does covetousness have to do with worrying? Many people are wrapped up in worry and anxiety. Yet, anxious and worrisome persons do not think about whether "I am covetous." People who are stressed do not think about personal requests and wishes any more than necessary. If that's so, then according to the phrase "therefore, I say to you" in verse twenty-two, as the Lord makes a connection between the conditions of covetousness and worrying, we see an important message is truly here. We need to carefully listen in to what he is aiming at.
9. Here the Lord says, "Don't worry." So, he tells about God who nurtures the ravens. In addition, he tells about God who dresses up the flowers of the field more than Solomon. The Lord is not talking about how to have worry-free hearts, but about the Heavenly Father. This is connected to the previous parable. The Lord previously spoke about the God who takes away life. He showed in the previous passage that property and even life itself do not belong to any person. Every thing is God's. The Lord shows in this story this same fact as he narrates about the God who nurtures the ravens. He is showing it as he narrates about the God who dresses the flowers. When you go out to the field to view them, you understand this. Out there are ravens which live receiving their food from God. Although there is never a season when flowers work hard spinning yarn, there are flowers in the field that are dressed beautifully by God himself. The very figure of these flowers and other imagery proves to whom life and limb belong and who owns every thing that supports life and limb. So, the loving glances of the Father who is owner of all turn toward even ravens which get corrupted and flowers which fade by tomorrow. So, as something even more precious, God turns his eye toward the life and limb of a person. Jesus is speaking about this fact of reality.
10. And so, the root of the problem of covetousness is the same as the root of the problem of worrying. A person ends up forgetting that every thing comes from God. We forget that we are nurtured according to God's kindness. So we begin to claim arrogantly that what's around us is our own stuff. Before we even know it, we are repeating "mine, mine."
11. Here we must think carefully about where worrying comes from. People think that worrying comes from insufficiency and shortages. We have a shortage of something we need; we are going to be lacking something. Of course, each one of us will have different situations. In our personal contexts, we may not worry over food and clothing. However, at times our money runs short. Or there's not enough affection between husband and wife. Or not enough help and assistance. In those times and situations we think we have a problem. However, the truth is there is no problem whenever we lack something. That is not the problem, rather we have a problem whenever we are full. What are we filled with? We are full of the word "mine." Perhaps the root of worrying stems from whenever we say what am I missing and we are missing the recognition that every thing is God's; the root is whenever we are full of "I" and we are missing "God." Subsequently, the Lord says "you, persons of weak faith." What is strongly related to worrying is actually not the circumstances around a person but one's faith and relationship with God.
Your Father Is Giving You The Kingdom Of God
12. Since worrying doesn't come from insufficiency itself as we already saw, then just seeking fervently after what one has a shortage of does not result in a real solution. What should we do? First of all, there is one thing we ought to seek after. The Lord tells us. "Just seek after the kingdom of God. If you do that these things will be added to you," (verse thirty-one). The kingdom of God means God's control. There is no full solution whenever we magnify "my control." No solution comes when that which we are lacking or short of is placed under my control or according to my independence. That is not the way to go, but having God who is the full owner of every thing control things for us; there is a full solution whenever we live under God and in the midst of his control. Therefore, we ought to seek after God's governing over us as he know every need. So, we ought to earnestly seek after the fulfilling of God's control and we ought to seek after our living perfectly under God.
13. So, we shouldn't overlook the message spoken to "the disciples." What he said is written in verse twenty-two. Even the disciples, who followed the Lord, were men who could not keep from worrying about daily food and clothing. Again, what Luke has recorded here as a message for these disciples he heard in the midst of the Lord's words as a message for the church in the period of time none other than Luke's. In a time of persecution, the flock was small and entirely powerless before the authorities of this world. But even with respect to that persecuted and powerless flock, the Lord said, "seek God's kingdom." What they had to seek was living perfectly under God whether in this world, the world to come, or under God's control. The Lord is giving us a great promise. "O little flock, don't be afraid. Your Father is gladly giving you the kingdom of God."
14. We ourselves must hear this message as if directed to us. We shouldn't forget who we are [as people] who pray continuously "May your kingdom come" in "the Lord's Prayer" which is offered up in weekly services. "The church needs funds; the church needs capable leaders; the church needs lots of laborers and co-workers." That's what we say, don't we? "For me the need is having the strength to be able to serve, or having the time, youthfulness, health, or understanding what's around me." That's how we talk, don't we? The Heavenly Father knows what we truly need. Didn't the Lord Jesus say precisely that? Besides that, he says, "Just seek the kingdom of God." And furthermore, he says, "Little flock, don't be afraid. Your Father gladly gives you the kingdom of God."
15. After that the message comes saying, "Sell off your possessions and give them to charity," (verse thirty-three). We need to understand this verse from the flow of the story so far. It's neither a simple recommendation of charity, nor is it a call to abandon all economic activity. What he is talking about here is the concrete posture of a person spiritually seeking the kingdom of God. Persons under covetousness or worry forget that the owner of every thing is God, and they live as though their life is "mine." What is being urged here is the complete reversal of all of that. Every thing is God's, under God's control, and ought to be used just as God wills.
16. Of course, as for these messages spoken to the disciples, they probably weren't very much able to "sell off and give to charity." I think in the early period of the church there were some people like Barnabas who could sell a field, but overall there were mostly poor people. It was probably also a time of persecution. But no matter what period of time it might be, even if one was poor, there has been a call to use what one has as the things of God, and there have been people who answered that call. Of course, there will be all kinds of differences in what one offered up to God. The call of the same Lord is being made to us. Therefore, as people living spiritually seeking after the kingdom of God, I want [us] to think carefully about what this subject means on a concrete level.