I knock on the door before I walk into hospital rooms. Often when I knock, the people in the room look up with anticipation. Family members stand up. Sometimes they say, “Doctor.”
They have been waiting for news, sometimes for hours. As soon as they see someone older, not in a uniform, they assume that they are getting their news.
When someone says, “Doctor”, I say, “Not the kind you are looking for, I’m the chaplain.” When the looks of anticipation are so great that they seem close to panic, I quickly say, “I don’t know anything. I don’t have news. I’m one of the chaplains.”
Sometimes people look disappointed. Sometimes they look relieved and say, “I’m glad you are here.” Sometimes they go ahead and panic. If the chaplain has come, things must be awful.
Anticipation and its feeble cousin worry are familiar to families in those rooms and to us, and to the writers of the texts we read this morning. Their debilitating relatives neglect and despair are often sitting in the corner.
Jesus told the stories we read in Luke 12 to help us think through those responses.
“Do not be afraid” are words that we often read in the Bible. When angels appear, when Jesus appears, they say, “Do not be afraid.” It suggests that a typical response to the presence of God might be fear. But even more practically, when we are in the middle of uncertainty and darkness, awaiting a diagnosis or a doctor, aware of what could be happening and assuming that its bad, God’s presence arrives quietly and starts with the words that might help us listen to everything else.
“Do not be afraid.”
What Jesus says right before this is worth reading: “Seek God’s kingdom and all these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
What delightful and amazing and amusing words.
The people following Jesus are to pursue the kingdom. In the face of earthly kingdoms. In the face of opposition and death. In the face of insurmountable odds, we are to set ourselves to look for the ways that the values of the kingdom of God can be and are expanding around us.
And when we look at each other and our mirrors and say, “Us? In our fragileness and inadequacy, the kingdom here?”
“Little flock,” he says.
It’s a term of endearment. An affectionate acknowledgement that we don’t look like much.
The good shepherd looks at the sheep gathered in front of him, depending on his protection and his leadership and his guidance to water and food and safety, depending on his good will. He says, “Little flock” and some of them are reminded of the times he talks about a shepherd going looking for a lost sheep, a shepherd leading the flock to safety, the sheep knowing that voice, trusting that voice.
And Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
You don’t have to fight for it, or earn it. You don’t have to be tall enough for the ride to get into the kingdom. It has been given to you.
So what do we do?
If we’ve been given our standing in the kingdom, our place.
If we don’t have to worry about making God happy enough to love us, being strong enough to fight our way in, being amazing enough to earn our way in,
if we don’t have to worry about all that anymore, what do we do with the time we used to spend in worry and fear?
Do not be afraid. Live in love and anticipation, knowing that even though we will die, this life isn’t all there is.
The story Jesus tells is about being ready for the master to come back. That’s often been taught in our generation to mean, “Jesus could return anytime, so be ready.” I think about that a little differently now. A couple times a week, I am with people whose lives are ending. That’s a clear reminder that our conversation with God about how we spent our life, our living with awareness of the end, doesn’t simply wait for Jesus coming. Just as was true for Abraham and Noah, Abel and Isaac, that ending can happen long before the end of the story.
So what are we doing to be ready when God is ready?
Here’s the invitation we have for living our lives in love and anticipation:
Spend our time on what lasts.
Spend our attention on what lasts.
Spend our money on what lasts.
Spend our frustration on what lasts.
Sometimes I talk with people who have spent time sharing their resources while they are alive. Jesus talks about selling what you have and sharing what you have with the poor. That’s living in love and anticipation.
Sometimes I talk with people who have been busy sharing stories, making notes about their lives. That’s part of living in love and anticipation.
My friend Wes kept teaching Bible studies. He had done it for decades. He used to teach college students. Now he was teaching people in assisted living. But he was investing in what matters for the kingdom. Not because it makes God loves him more, but because it was a way to spend what he had on what would last. That’s living in love and anticipation.
Does this mean work all the time? No. Rest matters. It’s why God created sabbath. Living in love and anticipation means resting in belonging to the kingdom rather than worrying about working hard all the time.
So do not be afraid. Live in love and anticipation.