“Do Not Be Anxious: Faith Overcomes Fear” (Luke 12:22-34)
“Do not be anxious. Do not be worried. Fear not.” That’s what Jesus says to his disciples in our Gospel reading for today. He says we shouldn’t be so worried about our stuff, to not seek after more and more, like we’re obsessed about it. “Do not be anxious. Do not be worried. Fear not.” Well, OK, Jesus, I guess I’ll try. I’ll try not to be anxious. I’ll try not to be worried. I’ll try not to be afraid. And maybe I can do it. I mean, after all, I’ve got a nice place to live. I’ve got food in the fridge and the freezer and in the pantry. I’ve got clothes in the closet–well, actually, in two closets and in the dresser and some downstairs. I probably should go through those things one of these days. “Do not be anxious. Do not be worried. Fear not.” Yeah, I suppose I can manage that.
Well, we’ll see. But now suppose you didn’t have all those things we just mentioned. Suppose they all got taken away from you, just like that. Imagine you don’t have that nice place to live. You don’t have that food in the fridge–no, imagine you don’t even have a fridge or a freezer or a pantry. You don’t have clothes or a closet or any of your stuff anymore. They’re all gone. Just like that. Now how easy is it to not be anxious, to not be worried, to not be at least a little bit afraid?
You see, this is not just some imaginary scenario. No, this is real life. This really happened to one of our families just this past week. I’m sure most of you have heard about it by now. Ron and Doris and John suffered a house fire this past Tuesday. They lost pretty much everything they had. Just like that. All gone. Up in smoke. And on top of that, Doris almost lost her life. She had to be rescued from the blazing house, and she was in pretty bad shape. Now she’s lying in a hospital bed in St. Louis. For Ron and Doris and John, these words of Jesus take on a new depth of meaning: “Do not be anxious. Do not be worried. Fear not.”
And how about for you? Do you worry? Are you anxious? Are you obsessed? Are you constantly seeking after the things of this life, in order to make yourself more secure? To make yourself happy? And if you aren’t getting these things, not in the way you would like, what happens to your peace of mind? How do we take to heart these words of Jesus and apply them to our lives?
Now realize, Jesus isn’t even talking about extravagance here. He’s talking about the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter. Not Broadway plays and dinner at Delmonico’s. No, just the ordinary, mundane, everyday needs of keeping body and soul together. But he says not to seek after them like the people of this world do. If you do that, how are you any different?
For you see, we are called to be different. And it’s not by an act of our willpower, mustering up our resolve to keep a stiff upper lip and a Stoic self-determination. Nor is it by a Buddhist negation of desire. Indeed, this call to not worry, to not be anxious, is not based on anything in us. Instead, it’s based on who you know.
And who might that be? Answer: It’s your heavenly Father. That’s who Jesus points us to: our Father and his. This is the basis of our faith and trust and confidence, namely, that we know our heavenly Father, and that we know him through Christ. This is how we overcome our fears and worries and anxieties: by knowing who our Father is and how he takes care of us, and that we can be sure of this through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus points us to the provision and promises of God: God feeds the ravens. Are you not of more value than they? God clothes the lilies of the field. How much more will he clothe you? God cares about you more than he cares about birds or flowers. The people of this world are always seeking after the stuff of this life, and they’re worried about it. Not so with you. Why? Because your Father already knows that you need these things and he cares about you.
If you want something to seek after, how about this? Seek after God’s kingdom. Seek his kingdom, be diligent in pursuing that, and all these other things will be added to you. In other words, there is something much more important for you to be sure you have than even food and clothing, and that is God’s kingdom.
God’s kingdom consists in the righteousness, peace, and joy we have through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have that, all the food and clothing in the world won’t help you. You could have steak dinners and peach pie piled up to the year 2037, and it wouldn’t do you any good in the end. You could have Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein put their signatures on your pants and fill ten closets with their wares, and where would that get you, other than to the dry cleaners every other Wednesday? Not very far. That won’t get you into the kingdom, and if you aren’t wearing the right garments to the heavenly wedding feast, you’re going to get tossed out on your ear.
No, most of all, you need the kingdom. God’s kingdom of peace and joy and righteousness, which only comes to you through Christ, in the power of the Spirit. And the good news is, it’s yours! I mean, it’s free of charge. Gratis. All by grace.
You know, this weekend there’s tax-free shopping for clothes and other items in the stores in our area. But with God’s kingdom, it’s even better than that. There’s no charge at all, at any time, for things of unsurpassed value, and that’s the case every day of the year.
It’s free to us, but it’s not without cost. No, God’s kingdom was purchased for us at the highest price of all: with the holy precious blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. This was the blood Christ shed on the cross for us, in our place, to purchase our redemption. Jesus pulled us out of the blazing fires of hell, he rescued us poor sinners, and he did it by the sacrifice of his own sinless life. And God’s kingdom means eternal life in heaven with Christ, for God raised him from the dead, and now Jesus lives and reigns to all eternity. And we will live with him in his kingdom, in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
This then is why Jesus can say to us: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God gives us the kingdom. It’s a free gift. We don’t earn it. We can’t work our way into it. It’s a gift, given purely out of our Father’s good pleasure.
The gift of God’s kingdom comes to us by grace, and it comes to us through the means of grace, the gospel, in Word and Sacrament. And when the kingdom comes to us, it changes our perspective on life. When you know that God is your kind and loving heavenly Father, who promises to take care of you and provide for you; when you know that Jesus Christ is your Savior, who purchased the kingdom for you, and that you share in his righteousness and his resurrection; when you know that the Holy Spirit is confirming this faith in your heart and will keep you in the faith and will forgive you when you fall–well, this gives you a whole bunch of confidence about life and about your future. You know whose child you are. You know God is watching out for you. You know where you’re headed, that your eternal future is secure.
And this frees you up. Your anxiety is relieved. Your worry turns into prayer. Your fears give way to faith. Your trust in God and in his promises becomes greater than your seeking after stuff. You didn’t get this way by your own resolve and fearlessness. No, God worked this confidence in you by the power of his word. God’s word is greater than your worries, and that’s how faith overcomes fear.
Like I say, this faith frees you up. Not only do you not have to worry about yourself, you’re even freed up to help others. That’s what Jesus says. First he says, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And then in the next breath he says, “Give to the needy.” Once God has given you the kingdom, which is the greatest treasure of all, then you’re free to open up your moneybag and help some people in need. God will use us to be his instruments of mercy to others. It’s God doing the mercy, and he’s doing it through us, his people.
So now when there’s a family in need among us–and there is–we can be God’s instruments of blessing and mercy to help them out. In whatever ways we can help–with our money, with our time, with providing rides up and back to the hospital, with maybe cooking a meal, or who knows what else need may arise in the days to come. The point is, both for the family who has suffered the loss and for us who are helping them out, the words of Jesus are not just some cold command to buck up and pretend we’re not hurting. Rather, they are a call to trust in our Father to take care of us, even in times of loss and uncertainty and in the giving of ourselves.
The words of Jesus, the promises of God–these produce faith, the trust that animates our being. It is a faith that is greater than our fears, a faith that frees us up to live as dear children of our dear heavenly Father, a faith that then reflects his character of compassion and giving. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”