Something I have often wished for when reading the Bible is a
tone-of-voice-indicator. Do you
know what I mean? Something that
would tell me how the things Jesus said
sounded when he said them.
Because tone of voice can make all the difference.
Some people can say “I love you” in a way that makes you wonder if
they really do, while others can say “I hate you” in a way that lets you
know they mean just the opposite.
So when Jesus speaks in the Gospels it would be nice to know:
how did he say it, and
what did he mean?
Last Sunday we were on the road with Jesus when a man in the crowd said,
“Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
And Jesus said, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over
you?” (Luke 12:14). But
how did he say it?
Was he angry? Surprised?
Indifferent? You have to
look at the context for clues.
So, when he turns to the crowd in the very next verse and says, “Be on your
guard against all kinds of greed,” it’s a clue that Jesus thought the man
was greedy. But in the story he
tells next, about the rich fool, you begin to see that for Jesus greed is
not a matter of simply wanting more and more of everything, but a basic
insecurity that makes you think it’s entirely up to you to provide for your
needs, a nagging anxiety that won’t let your soul relax until you know you
have enough to live on.
And that’s why I think Jesus says what he says with great sympathy: “Take
care! Be on your guard against
all kinds of greed! For one’s
life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (12:15).
He’s not trying to scold the greedy; he’s trying to cure them of that
basic insecurity, trying to relieve them of that nagging anxiety.
And the next section of the Gospel gives it away.
In Luke 12:22-28 Jesus says,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or
about your body, what you will wear.
For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither
storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you
than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your
span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why
do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they
neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not
clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field,
which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more
will he clothe you—you of little faith!”
If I were publishing a Tone-of-Voice Bible—a TOVB—I might suggest that
this section should be read as if you were a mother who has just discovered
that her son is hoarding groceries under his bed because he is afraid that
he won’t have enough to eat. Can
you imagine what she would say, and how she would say it?
“Son! Why are you
hoarding groceries? You don’t
have to do that! As long as I am
your mother, as long as I am able to provide, you will always have enough to
eat!” Jesus might say that’s how
it is with your Heavenly Father.
As long as he is able to provide you will always have enough to eat.
And he will always be able to provide.
“So do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to
drink,” Jesus says, “and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the
world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you
need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given
to you as well” (12:29-31).
Do you hear how the word strive
is repeated in that passage? The
Greek word means something like “to seek in order to find, or to find out,
to seek after, to strive after, to crave or demand.”
It’s that thing we keep looking for, the thing that won’t let us rest
until we have it in our possession.
So Jesus says to his followers, “Listen, if it’s security you’re
looking for, if it’s the sure and certain knowledge that your most basic
needs in life will be met, that you will never have to starve or shiver in
the cold, then relax, you can stop striving for that.
You’ve got that. Your
Heavenly Father has got you in his care.
When the storms of life are raging you can sleep like a baby on its
mother’s breast. So, in our
Gospel reading for today, when Jesus says, “Have no fear, little flock!” the
Tone of Voice Bible might suggest: “This verse should be read as if the Good
Shepherd himself were reassuring his sheep that they had nothing to fear,
that he would always make them lie down in green pastures, always lead them
beside still waters, always restore their souls.”
Which means, of course, that they can give up all that anxious striving,
that they can turn their attention to something else, and what Jesus wants
them to turn it to is the Kingdom.
“Have no fear, little flock,” he says, “for it is your Father’s good
pleasure to give you the Kingdom!” (vs. 32).
And the way he says that last word is important.
The Tone of Voice Bible might suggest: “In the Gospels, the word
kingdom should be pronounced as if it were the best thing ever.
Say it like an eight-year-old girl would say
“It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the
kingdom,” Jesus says.
So, stop worrying about whether or not you will have enough.
In fact, do this if you have the nerve: take a radical leap of faith.
“Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves
that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes
near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will
be also” (12:33-34).
Let me pause long enough to say that selling your possessions and giving
the money away may not be the right approach for you, but what Jesus is
after is freedom.
I think he would say that if these things are keeping you from loving
God and neighbor, you need to get rid of them.
If striving for these things is keeping you from striving for the
kingdom, you need to throw them out.
You have been possessed by your possessions and you need to get
yourself free. Just load up the
truck, Chuck. Have a big sale,
Gail. There must be fifty ways
to leave your money.[i]
Francis of Assisi did it: in the year 1204 he gave up everything he
had so he could follow Christ.
He went around barefoot, dressed in a simple robe, embracing what he called
“Lady Poverty.” All these
centuries later we’re still talking about him.
What will they say about the man whose anxious striving leads him to
an early heart attack? Will they
put up a tombstone that reads: “Here lies a man who was so afraid he
wouldn’t have enough to live on that he killed himself trying to get more.”
“Don’t do that!” Jesus warns.
“Don’t be afraid that you won’t have enough.
Have no fear, little flock!
It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the
And with those words Jesus begins to turn our attention away from worldly
goods and toward the kingdom, in the hope that he will also turn our hearts
away from worldly goods and toward the kingdom.
Because he doesn’t only want us to acknowledge the kingdom; he wants
us to love it, to live for it, to make it our aim.
“Pile up your treasure there,” he says, “for where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.”
And that’s just a fact. We put
our money where our hearts are; we spend it on the things we love.
How much money have I spent on my children?
I don’t want to know, and I’m not finished yet.
But I love my children; I would do almost anything for them.
Some of you feel that way about the church, you feel that way about
this church. You’ve written it
into your wills, you give generously and faithfully.
But you can see the church: and I don’t only mean the building, I
mean the body of Christ that meets in this place.
And I can see my children: I can hear their voices and hug them
close. It’s not hard to love
something you can see and touch.
It’s hard to love this invisible kingdom Jesus keeps talking about.
How do I pile up treasure there?
I’m almost sure I’ve told you this story before but when
I came to First Baptist five ago I took the staff on retreat and wrote one
question on the flip chart: “Why are we here?”
I had to explain to them that I didn’t mean why are we here on
retreat; I meant why is this church here in the city of Richmond?
What is our mission? What
is our purpose? We spent an hour
talking about the church’s existing mission statement but eventually I
divided them up into four small groups and asked each group to choose a
Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
I handed out some of those Bibles that have the words of Jesus in
red, and asked each group to look through its Gospel for the clear commands
of Christ. They worked on it for
an hour and wrote down their results.
You know what they are:
the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
your neighbor as you love yourself.
one another as I have loved you.
make disciples of every nation.
them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
them to obey all that I have commanded you.
them that the Kingdom has come near.
your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
good news to the poor.
the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons
don’t be afraid
not be afraid.
At the end of the exercise I
put those sheets of paper up on the wall and asked, “Now, which one of these
should we do?” Well, they didn’t
think we should do any one of them; they thought we should do all of them.
But how do you sum up the clear commands of Christ in a single
I don’t think it was
pre-meditated, but as we sat there looking at those commands I had an
insight, and during the break that followed I wrote across the bottom of
those four sheets: “Is this what life in the Kingdom looks like?”
Is it that place where disciples love their enemies, wash one
another’s feet, preach good news to the poor, and visit the sick and
imprisoned? And shouldn’t the
mission of Jesus’ disciples have something to do with making that heavenly
vision an earthly reality?
Is that how you pile up
treasure in heaven? Do you do
the work of the kingdom? Do you
love your enemies, and wash one another’s feet, and preach good news to the
poor, and visit the sick and imprisoned?
Is this how you put your money where your heart is?
If so then this year-long, every-member mission trip we’ve been on,
this thing called KOH2RVA, has been gradually nudging us away from our love
for worldly goods, gradually nudging us toward the things God loves.
I know this, because I’ve seen people on this mission trip spend
money on things they wouldn’t have spent it on before.
The second grade Sunday school class held a bake sale and raised
money to buy someone who need them a new pair of shoes.
Some of our members took a group of immigrant kids to the Virginia
Museum of Fine Arts, and afterward to Sweet Frog frozen yogurt, where one of
them gladly paid the whole bill.
Joyce Clemmons asked if we could come up with some nice prizes to give to
the kids who came to the Spring Bash at the Anna Julia Cooper School and
someone handed her a check for a thousand dollars.
Little by little our hearts
are shifting from the things of the world to the things of the Kingdom.
Little by little we are laying up treasure.
And if we do it often enough, long enough, we will come to love the
Kingdom Jesus loves, won’t we?
Isn’t he the one who said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be
This is the word of the
Lord. Thanks be to God.
[i] Inspired by Paul
Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.”