O Little Flock, Fear Not
Special Note: This sermon in Japanese first appeared on this site four years ago, August 3, 1997 and is found translated into English 970803. I have completely re-worked the translation without even looking at the first one. I am leaving the older version on the web to show how the Lord has allowed me to progress and grow in Japanese. The first line does not contain the phrase "that we read this week" as did the 97 version.
1. In [Luke] chapter twelve, verses twenty-two and following, we have a well known word from the Lord, which is also recorded in The Gospel Of Matthew. This narrative, where it tells us over and again not to worry, leaves an unforgettable impression on anyone's heart. I say that because in a certain sense "worrying" is state of mind that relates basically to everyone universally and everybody "wants to live without worrying." But, because of the fact that it is a passage that is so well known, we must read it all the more carefully. Because in saying that, we put a limit on the passage and it is really easy to overlook its importance. By reading it like that, this passage might end up being taken as a stale message of exhortation no more than a "Let's have hearts that don't worry." Indeed, the Lord has not spoken this message in such a way. So, when we read this passage from The Gospel Of Luke with care, we notice that this is what you might call "a sequel, part two." The Lord starts this speech event by saying, "Therefore, I say [to you]." [The word "therefore"] makes it a continuation from the previous story. In order to understand today's passage of scripture, I think we first need to get a good hold on what is written before it.
Beware Of All Kinds Of Coveting
2. Please look at verses thirteen and following. "A man from the crowd said, 'Teacher, please tell my brother to divide his inheritance with me too.' Jesus said to him, 'Who appointed me to be your judge and mediator?' Then, he said to all of them, 'Be watchful and wary of all manner of coveting. Because even when a person has so much he has too much, his life is unable to do anything through properties,'" (verses thirteen through fifteen).
3. What "the man from the crowd" did here seems odd in our eyes, but it wasn't unusual at all in society back then, because it happened often enough when a religious teacher would fulfill the role of a mediator in a local community. Thus, he was no more than seeking from Jesus what he would have been seeking for from some other rabbi. Furthermore, there were strict rules in the law regarding the inheritance of property. When we see this man making his appeal it was probably because he was being cheated by his brother for the portion of the inheritance to which he was guaranteed by law. So, I don't think what he was doing, if seen from the social perspective, was wrong or unjust. Yet, the Lord refuses to be a mediator in this. And that's not all, using this event for a springboard, he preaches, "Beware of all kinds of coveting." When you think about it, what he said is strange. Even if it wasn't exactly the right time for his appeal, how could his claiming for his due rights be "coveting?"
4. Thus, then, we notice that the Lord is not preaching about a covetousness that is obvious to just everybody. His talking about "all kinds of coveting" and "be watchful and wary" has to do with [something that is hard to see]. The Lord is taking issue with the root of covetousness which we don't often notice, which hides within our daily expected situations. In order to make it plain, he gave this parable after it. The Lord brought out a somewhat extreme example. But, we shouldn't focus on its extremeness. Instead, we must look at the universal issue within it, which lies within everyone.
5. Please look at verse sixteen. A certain rich man's house had an abundant harvest. In a certain sense, his rebuilding his barns was the right thing to do. But, one evening as he was thinking this, he lost his life. He was called, "o fool." Was it because his great harvest and piles of stuff were for nothing? That wasn't really the reason. The problem is revealed in his words. Unfortunately, in the New Interconfessional Translation [of the Japanese], we don't see into the special features of the rich man's words that were spoken in this text. If I might amplify the translation it would be that he said, "What'll I do? There's no room to store away my crops." As he ponders it over he says, "Here's what I'll do. Tear down my barns, build bigger ones, and store my grain and my property in them, and say to my life (soul), 'Well, I've got enough accumulation piled up that I will go on living for years on ahead. Rest, enjoy yourself in eating and drinking.'" The problem lies in his words "my" or "I," which is overdone. God calls him a "fool" for the way [he is talking]. Then taking up the words which he had said "to my life," [God] says, "This night your life will be taken. As for the things that you watched over, whose are they?"
6. The words "o my soul" is an expression that commonly occurs in the Old Testament. But, his case has a different nuance even though he uses traditional wording. He is treating his property and worse even his own life as [if he were] the very owner of them. God calls a man like that a "fool." Because he doesn't belong to himself. The grave truth becomes clear when he who calls to "my life" is taken up in one night. And many times the same thing has been found in our experiences. We who have been thinking we are our own owners will be taken up in one night. Even our very lives will be taken up in one night. It is not under our control at all. We must see in this the grave truth that the owner of every thing is God. We must know that whatever is under us, not limiting it to property, but also ability or time or even our life in this passing world, is no more than what has been entrusted to us by God.
7. In contrast, when we don't have that mindset we are coveting. There is covetousness whenever we live claiming that what is God's is "ours." This type of person is called "a person who is not rich before God, even though he has amassed a fortune for himself." When seen from the world's perspective, [such a person] isn't wrong at all; that's why, he or she doesn't notice it. Therefore, the Lord said to beware of such coveting.
8. In continuation after that comes the message of "Don't worry." Here a new question comes up. What ever connection could there be between coveting and worrying? Many people hold on to their troubles and worries. Most of them are not thinking that I am covetous. A troubled person doesn't think I have more requests and wishes than necessary. Thus, we see that there is a very important message there in the phrase in verse twenty-two of "Therefore, I say [to you]" where the Lord makes a connection with the conditions of covetousness and the conditions of worrying. We must listen hard to what he meant with this.
9. The Lord says here "Don't worry" and he speaks in regard to God [as the one] who provides for the ravens. Furthermore, he tells of God [as the one] who dresses up the flowers of the field more than Solomon [ever was]. The Lord is not telling us how to have untroubled hearts, but about God the Father. It is connected to the previous parable. Previously the Lord told about God as the one who takes away life. He showed through that that property or even one's life itself does not belong to the person himself. Everything is God's. The Lord is showing the same thing in this story by speaking of God as the one who provides for the ravens. He shows it by speaking of God as the one who dresses up the flowers. You should understand by going out to the field and looking. That's where the birds are who live off the food received from God. There is where the flowers of the field are, even though they do not work or spin yarn themselves, flowers are still dressed beautifully by God. These examples plainly show forth to whom life and limb belong and who is the owner of all that supports that life and limb. And to get a glimpse of the benevolent mercies of the Father, who is the owner of it all, we are directed towards the obvious: loathsome birds and withering stems. Then we are to turn our eyes on human life and limb as a precious [gift]. This is the truth, which the Lord is giving [us here].
10. But, the root to the problem in coveting is the same root in worrying. People forget that all things come from God. They forget that they are provided for through the goodness and love of God. They begin to claim things in arrogance and pride as if everything around them was their own. Without even noticing it, they are always saying, "mine, mine."
11. At this point we should give some careful thinking to where worrying come from. People think worrying comes from shortages or doing without. There is a shortage on what we need, we're missing certain necessities. Of course, each one of us has different situations. The people we're familiar with around here most likely aren't worrying over food or something to wear. But, at times we're short on cash. We're short on time. We're short on ability. Affection between husband and wife runs low. We don't have enough help. We think that's where our problems are. But, our problems do not lie in the fact that we might be having a shortage on something. That's not where the problem is, rather it lies in what fills us. What fills us? The word "I, my, mine" fills us. Or put the other way asking what are we missing, we are missing the awareness that everything belongs to God and the root of our worrying is in that we are filled with "me, myself and I" and are lacking "God." Therefore, the Lord says to them "you weak in faith." It is our relationship to God and our faith and not conditions around us that deep down affect worrying.
Your Father Will Give You The Kingdom Of God
12. Thus, since worrying does not come from shortages and doing without, no matter how hard we look for what we're short on it won't solve the problem. What should we do then? First there is something we should be looking for. The Lord says, "Only look for the kingdom of God. If you do, these things will be given to you in addition," (verse thirty-one). The kingdom of God means the rule of God. The true solution to our problems does not lie in enlarging "my control." Solutions don't come when the things I'm lacking and in short supply of are placed under my control or things go as I would have them. Not hardly, rather, there are true solutions to our problems when God the true owner of all things rules and we live as God's under his control. Therefore, we should look for God to reign over us as he knows our every need. And we ought to earnestly seek that the rule of God be perfected, and we ought to seek that we might live completely as God's own possession.
13. And we should not overlook the fact that this is a message that he has spoken to "his disciples." That's the way it is written in verse twenty-two. Even the disciples who had followed the Lord were people who could not avoid worrying over daily food or clothes to wear. The reason Luke recorded right here the message to these disciples is that he heard in the words of the Lord a message for his own churches of his time. They had small congregations utterly powerless before the authority of the world and era of persecution. The Lord said to even those congregations to "Seek the kingdom of God." Whether in this world or the world to come, they were supposed to seek to live as completely God's possession as under his rule. And the Lord makes great promises to the flocks who seek for the kingdom of God. "O little flock, fear not. Your father will happily give you the kingdom of God."
14. We, too, must also listen to this message as one spoken for us. We must not forget that in "The Lord's Prayer" which we offer up in the services each week, we're always praying "Thy kingdom come." "What the church needs is finances, able leaders, lots of workers and co-laborers." Is that what we are saying? "What I need is the strength to serve, time, youth, health, and understanding for others around me." Is that what we mean? God the Father knows what we really need. Isn't Jesus saying that? More than that he is saying, "Only seek the kingdom of God." Then he also says, "Little flock, fear not. Your father will happily give you the kingdom of God."
15. Then after that, come the words of "Sell what you have and donate it away," (verse thirty-one). We need to understand this as well from the context of the previous discussion in the text. It isn't just an exhortation for charity. Neither does it mean we are to give up all economic activity. What the Bible is talking about here is a specific person seeking in prayer for the kingdom of God. Both coveting and worrying have been the places where we forget that the owner of all is God and they have been the place where we live even our very lives like it was "my own." That which he is exhorting here is for a total reversal of this. Everything is God's and is supposed to be used under God's rule and in His will.
16. Not only that but, since these were messages spoken to the disciples, probably not many of them could "sell [what they have] and donate it away." For, they say that in the primitive church most folks were poor, though there were some like Barnabbas who had sold their fields. It could be that the persecution period was still on. But, regardless of the times, there were some who poor though they be were called to use whatever they had as God's and they did indeed response to that call of God. Of course, the offerings they made would vary from person to person. The call of the same Lord to do that is also issued out to us. Therefore, we want to carefully consider the specifics of what living as a person who seeks the kingdom of God in prayer signifies.