Pentecost 11

Luke 12:32-40

Marian Free

In the name of God, in whom is our only certainty. Amen.

“We, without a future,

Safe, defined, delivered

Now salute you God.

Knowing that nothing is safe,

Secure inviolable here.

Except you,

And even that eludes our minds at times.”[1] (A portion of a poem by Anna McKenzie in a book by Sheila Cassidy.)

Sheila Cassidy is an Australian doctor. She wanted to become a plastic surgeon but found the hours required impossible. Instead she went to Chile during the time of Salvador Allende. In 1975, she became a victim of the Pinochet regime. Her medical training meant that she was unable to refuse to help to anyone in need. One night she gave aid to an opponent of Pinochet who was being sought by police. Though she was not a formally a member of the opposition, her act of kindness led to her arrest, imprisonment and torture.

The poem is reproduced in one of her books, and while I know nothing of the author, it speaks to me of someone coming out of an experience as ghastly as Cassidy’s. Someone who has discovered that nothing in this life – status, profession, nationality, innocence – can completely protect one from the horrors of injustice, de-personalisation or torture. Nothing can protect one from terminal illness, natural disaster or acts of terror. The author of the poem has experienced the most dreadful trauma and has come out the other side realizing that the only thing on which she can truly depend is God.

Fortunately, in this nation we escape the worst traumas of human existence. War has barely touched our shores. Our country’s wealth and nature resources combined with our stable political system mean that victims of natural disaster can receive timely help. Our democratic government means that we can speak our minds without fear of reprisal. Our legal system ensures that we are innocent until proven guilty, that we cannot be arbitrarily imprisoned and that we must have a fair trial.

Most of us (thankfully) have no conception of what it might be like to live in constant fear of arrest and torture. Most of us have not been trapped for years in refugee camps – terrified to return home. Most of us have not been forced to watch our children die of starvation. Most of us have not known what it is like to wait for days for help to reach us after an earthquake or flood. Most of us have not known what it is to wake each day wondering if today will be the day you happen to be in the same place as a suicide bomber.

Most of us have been relatively protected from the worst that human existence has to offer, but that does not mean that we do not have real fears of our own. We have fears relative to our own situation. In this country we fear for our health, our finances and our children.  We fear what will happen if our partner dies or if we lose our job. The problem is that no matter how much we worry, no matter how much we do to try to protect ourselves, no matter how many vitamins we take, how much we exercise we do how much wealth we amass, we still remain vulnerable to trauma, disaster and ultimately to death.

In chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is pointing out these harsh realities to his disciples and encouraging them to trust in the only thing that matters – eternity. If we were to read the chapter in its entirety we would see that it is divided into sections dealing with fear (both false fear and salutary fear[2]) and security (both reliable and unreliable).

Looking ahead to a time when the disciples will face persecution, Jesus advises them that rather than being afraid of those who might be able to kill the body, they should be afraid spending eternity without God. This is followed by the assurance that God will be with them in even the most difficult situation – after all God sees the sparrow fall, and the disciples are more valuable than the sparrow.

Jesus continues with the parable of the rich fool – the farmer who thinks that his good crop will provide him with years of comfort. The farmer has forgotten that he does not have control over the length of his days. All his preparations for the future come to nothing, because at the very point at which he feels secure in his physical well-being, his life is brought to an end. Earthly wealth may temporarily allay fear, Jesus suggests, but it does not provide true and lasting security. In the long run possessions cannot keep you safe from harm or guarantee eternal life.

This salutary lesson is followed by a long section about the foolishness of worry. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” and so on. The rich farmer relied on his wealth instead of finding his true security in God – God whose attention to detail is such that he even clothes the lilies of the field.

Jesus caps off the argument by demonstrating how foolish and short sighted it is to live a life dominated by fear: “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That being the case, why would anyone worry about anything in this life?

God has already given us everything that we need – our future, our eternal future is absolutely secure. All that we have to do is to receive the gift which God so generously offers, is to place our trust in the eternal rather than the temporal, to understand that no amount of material security and, no amount of defensive or protective behaviour, can keep us completely safe from harm in this life. In this life, nothing is certain, nothing is secure, nothing is forever. For that reason, Jesus urges us to trust in God to give us strength, courage, fortitude and resignation in this life, and to place all our confidence in the life to come – a life which cannot be shaken by any force, cannot be limited by ill-health, misfortune or sorrow and cannot be taken from us. Confidence in the life to come brings security, peace and happiness in the present because we know that for eternity we with finally enjoy perfect security, perfect peace and perfect happiness.

Why would we place our trust in anything sure?

[1] a portion of a poem by Anna McKenzie, quoted in full in the Appendix to Good Friday People. Sheila Cassidy, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991.

[2] Byrne’s words. Byrne, Brendan The Hospitality of God:A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. Collegeville, Minnesota:St Paul’s Press, 2006:114.


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