“Do not be afraid,” and I stopped right there. Sure, Jesus. Whatever. Maybe you haven’t watched the news lately, God, but there’s plenty to be afraid of. Where do we even start? If you’re voting one way, you’re afraid of Hillary, if you’re voting another, you’re afraid of Donald. Maybe you’re afraid of both. There’s wars, black unarmed Americans dying at a staggering rate, police officers being killed in the line of duty, the zika virus, dirty drinking water in Flint, terrorism in general, hate, xenophobia, and not to mention stories on the news every single night over what I should and should not be eating. There is plenty to fear.
In the time of fear, there is a tendency to hold on to what we know is true, to what we know is pure, to what we know is maybe even permanent. When someone is having an anxiety attack, there is a practice called grounding to help that person feel in control again. Remember that sometimes anxiety is just fear rearing its ugly head. So the practice is that you have the person look around and name 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste. The idea is that this might help someone feel in more control. When fear sets in, we want things that seem steadfast. And if we’re going to be honest, there is a lot of fear in our rhetoric these days.
I don’t know how many of you have seen this bumper sticker (“Jesus is coming. Look busy!”) but it always makes me laugh. The idea is that we should be prepared for Jesus’ return by not slacking off, by looking busy, by being busy. As if we aren’t busy we’re going to be doomed to a lifetime of eternal damnation. What if, instead of talking about Jesus’ return as dreadful and a time of judgement, we spoke of it as a time of anticipation, joy, and spoke of readiness in terms of being ready for blessings? And so, as we prepare to be ready, we are told “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Many preachers may use this text to guilt you into opening up your wallet. That’s not me. I want to take a different look at this verse today. What is it that you hold close to your heart? Most of us, if push came to shove, wouldn’t name the obvious material things. These are the things, that on the outside, look like nothing to someone else. But to us, they mean the world. For me, it’s my Grandmother’s bible, my grandfather’s bible (that he got at his own confirmation and carried through Korea), and a birthday card from my nannie that she signed in her own hand long after she could no longer see. And what you hold close to your heart says a lot about how you describe those possessions. My grandmother’s bible means so much to me because her notes are in it, she took it to Bible study every Sunday. It was the passages she underlined that got her through the death of my grandfather. When I see that Bible, I think of her strength. My grandfather’s Bible means so much to me because he hung onto it from confirmation, through a war, through adulthood. When you open it, you get the smell of must and mold, and I love it. When I see that Bible, I think of my grandfather’s gentleness and commitment to everything he did. That birthday card from my nannie means so much to me because she was at an age when she was having aids and family members do all of her writing for her: checks, letters, other correspondence, etc… She did this because at this time and until her death, she had lost the majority of her sight. But this birthday card she signed herself. I can picture her tracing the outline of the card and placing the pen carefully as she wrote “love, nannie.” This card reminds me of her perseverance in the face of challenges.
These possessions remind me more of my grandparents than anything else, it is a snapshot of all three of them. What is it then, Jesus asks us, that might be your treasure? What might it be that is a snapshot of the kingdom of God for you? What material possession could you point to that would be an outward sign of your faith? Something you received for your confirmation? That picture of Jesus that hung in Grandma’s house until she passed? The Bible that belonged to a trusted neighbor that taught you about faith and Jesus? “What is the one thing that if someone asked you about it, you would be able to give witness to your faith in God, your belief in the work of Jesus, your confidence in the presence of the Spirit?” (Karoline Lewis)
This thing, whatever it is, is a reminder of our own personal interpretation of the kingdom of God. It shapes the way we speak about God, about Jesus, the work of the Spirit, and the coming kingdom. And when it comes down to it, would you be able to put into words what your own personal spiritual vocabulary is? Because here’s the thing, when Jesus comes again (and he will come again) nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter how “good” you were, how many “holy” acts you think you’ve done, how much money you’ve put in the offering plate, not even how many cute little old ladies you helped to cross the street. What matters is this: what do you believe about God and can you articulate that?
The fear, of course, may not be that we can’t do it, but that we’ll get it wrong. We don’t want to articulate our faith because then that opens us up for criticism and critique. What if what I believe about Jesus and God isn’t the same as what my friends, spouse, family, or even pastor believes? What does that say about my faith? What if what I say is wrong? What if what I say isn’t really “Lutheran”? What if what I say is heretical? This is not a test over whether you know your catechism, whether you have memorized the ten commandments, or even if you know books of the bible. But what is it, what are the words that are on your heart, that express your faith? When I was getting ready to head to seminary, my home pastor, Pastor Ernie, said “if all else fails, remember this ‘Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.’” That carried me through many rough times in seminary.
In seminary we had to articulate our faith many many times. We had to state, out loud, what it is we believe about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And then, more than once, we were questioned about that faith. We were questioned, not because we were wrong, but because this is our faith, and the words we use are important. I don’t know about you, brothers and sisters, but I am finding that we are living in an age where words are getting to be more and more important. Every single word we say is weighed with great importance. So when Jesus comes again, the treasure of your faith is all you will have. So, what do you have?
Here is my current working statement of faith. I say current and working because I realize that as I grow older, gain more experiences, and interact with more people, all of those things shape my faith and the way I see God acting in the world. My statement of faith is simple, I think. I believe that God loves all of God’s people with no exception. I believe that God’s grace is for everyone (whether you want it or not) and that the promise and hope of the resurrection is for all people who believe. That’s it. We are called to be disciples; to be witnesses to God’s redeeming work in this world for all people. The way we talk about that matters. God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers. God expects us to be a witness. That’s it (again).
Our faith is a treasure in and of itself. Our heart is in that treasure. We normally talk about Christ coming during Advent, but the truth is we should be prepared at any time. We should be prepared to welcome the King who will expect not to be waited on, but expect, maybe even demand, to wait on us. The master is coming to serve the servants. The way you think about your faith and the way you articulate your faith will directly affect the way you speak of Christ’s return. It will either be (fear) “CHRIST IS COMING!!!” or (joy) “Christ is coming!!”