Luke 12:22-37 (click to display NIV text)
July 28, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“For the pagan world runs after all these things (what you will eat and drink) and your father knows that you need them. But seek his Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus has been talking in this section of Luke about the goodness of God. He wants people to know about God’s love and his provision for them. He tells his disciples not to worry or be anxious, and not to live with a self-exalting sense of what to eat and what to wear. Joel Green points out that “Jesus can locate evidences of God’s generosity and care in the world all around him and so teaches an alternative approach to life.” This is where we might wonder about Jesus, or even disagree with him. Many people live with circumstances where they do not feel the provision of God. Darrell Bock writes, “Anxiety is a natural response to sensing events that are beyond our control. Worry casts doubt on God’s care.”
Again, Green writes, “What is so obvious to Jesus is obscure to many others, apart from faith in God and faith in God’s redemptive activity in Christ.” So today we come to the second part of the message on God’s goodness and provision: “Seek God’s Kingdom, and these things will be added to you as well.”
Kingdom seeking is an alternative way of life. It runs counter to the thinking of the world. If life is all about seeking things to eat and drink, then we live with worry and arrogance. If life is about seeking the Kingdom of God, then we live in the awareness of Christ’s redemptive purpose, and we live in service to the King.
I have been asking myself this week, “What does Jesus mean by seeking the Kingdom of God?” A few pictures have come to mind. On Monday I went with the group of students from Mexico to visit Pastor Luis Retamal at Grace Covenant Church in Chicago. Luis and his church are quite interested in the Cuernavaca church and want to be involved in helping them.
I asked Luis, “Who lives in this neighborhood around the church?” He began to tell me: the Cubans live to the north, the Puerto Ricans are to the west, the Ecuadorians are over here, the Mexicans are in this area, etc. And then he said, “You have to get out and walk the neighborhoods to find out who lives here. And then you have to find out what they need and how you can help them.”
So the first picture for me in seeking the Kingdom is that it is like walking the neighborhoods, exploring a territory to find out where God lives. You walk, and you look, and when you see God is working, and then you stop and join his work. The Kingdom of God is found in a neighborhood. You seek the Kingdom by spending time walking and observing.
The next picture comes from George Lindbeck, who is a Lutheran theologian. I took a class from him in seminary. He said one day that the Kingdom of God is like a large institution, and its greatest need is for people who are willing to serve in it as cooks and bottle washers and bureaucrats. I decided that day that I wanted to become a cook in the Kingdom of God. To seek the Kingdom is to get a job there, to have a role. So I decided to prepare the Word of God for the nourishment of the workers and guests of the Kingdom. When you understand your role, you become part of something larger than yourself. You come to understand that you do not have to do it all alone, and you do not have to be the leader. You have a role to play. You simply must remain at your station.
So I became a pastor and began the ministry in a church, and immediately my intention was challenged. There were so many interesting and challenging things to do during the week, meeting my expectations and everyone else’s, that by Saturday evening I realized I had not gotten around to preparing a sermon yet. It is not comfortable to be sitting in your office at 10 p.m. on Saturday night staring at a blank piece of paper.
An older Baptist pastor came to town and put on a workshop on preaching at the local Baptist church. He talked about setting aside Fridays to write sermons. He had an office above his garage in his house. There was no phone there. He would go there every Friday morning and spread out his books and his notes all over the floor, and he would pray and read and write for as long as it took, until the sermon was done. It is much like cooking or baking. You have to give it time. You have to stay at your station. I decided to be like that. Ever since then I have set aside Fridays to write, with notes spread out all over. It works. You find a role in the Kingdom. You hear a call and commit to it. You set aside time and do it.
So this matter of seeking the Kingdom of God begins with finding out where God is at work, and joining him there. It begins with observing and talking to people. You put yourself in particular places – you go to camp, you go on missions trips, you go on prayer retreats, you visit food pantries, you participate in Bible studies; you walk around and observe and you find who is in the Kingdom and what help they need.
You find part of what Jesus is doing that draws you, that calls you, and you do that. Jesus says “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” In that economy, people had very little money, but they did have possessions. So if they were going to get involved in something that had a price, they could not simply take some cash out of the bank. They had to sell something. Then they could give into whatever had drawn their interest.
A number of year ago, I started playing golf with a few friends. One morning a week we would sneak off and play nine holes. But I got to the point where I had to care a little bit more about golf if I was going to continue. To stay in the game I would have to buy some better clubs, I would have to practice, maybe take a few lessons, and give some attention to the game. I liked playing, but I ended up giving it up because I did not care enough about golf to continue. In the same way, you have to care enough about the will of God to invest in it and do it.
The point is that something draws your attention and interest in life. You pursue this interest and not that one. You continue this friendship and not that one. In some way you sell your possessions and give to something. What Jesus is saying is that in the Kingdom, you need to become rich towards God. Find a ministry that draws you and invest in that. Jesus says “Make some purses that don’t wear out.”
Jesus says to put your treasure where the will of God is, and your heart will soon follow. Treasure is money, it is what we possess. But it is more than that. As we live we store up treasure in our hearts. This comes from experience, wisdom, learning and practiced skill. We come to a place of realizing that the purpose of life is to give away our treasure to someone who can use it.
So I realize now that there are parts of being a pastor that I need to let go of. There are things I do that are part of my role that I am not particularly good at or fond of, and they are not my treasure. It is time to let go of those parts. But it is now time to find what use my limited treasure might be, and who might benefit from it, and then give it away.
Finally, Jesus says, “Be dressed ready for service, and keep your lamps burning.” Literally, “gird up your loins.” That meant that a man would tie up his robe before doing physical labor, so his feet would be free for action. Be free for action and keep the light burning. It is that freedom of movement, freedom from fear and a willingness to do what the Lord says, that defines seeking the Kingdom of God.
Seek the Kingdom of God. Keep your eyes open as you walk.
Be faithful at your station.
Give the treasure of your heart to the will of God.
Keep your feet free for action.