This sermon was preached at the worship service during the 138th Annual Encampment of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War on Sunday, August 11, 2019 in Independence, Ohio.
I read the Gospel text this morning from a bible that was once owned by Arthur Buckminster Fuller. Chaplain Fuller was the chaplain for the 16th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He was honorably discharged from the Army on December 10, 1862, in Fredericksburg, Maryland. On December 11th, before he had a chance to leave camp to return to Massachusetts, he volunteered to help the 19th Massachusetts cross the Rappahannock River during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Rev. Fuller was shot and killed by a sharpshooter as he helped to row a boat across the river. This bible that he gave a gift to a nephew is one of my most prized possessions.
But there is another reason I mention Chaplain Fuller, and it fits in with the theme of the Gospel passage I read this morning.
What we heard this morning should entice us to place first things first. The things of God are to be given the utmost priority in the life of a Christian. We are all busy, or we pretend to be busy. We find time for the things we wish to find time for and for those things that we do not make a priority, well, they go on the back burner. But what we hear rather clearly this morning is that we cannot be distracted by those things that properly belong to God, if we keep balance in our lives, all will be well.
There are a couple of things going on in this passage, and I would like to spend just a few moments meditating on them this morning.
The first is the image of God’s good pleasure in giving away the treasure that does not fade or fail. We hear, “sell your possessions, and give alms.” In other words, do not worry, “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Do not worry about tomorrow. But what is being said here is not to sell everything, God does not want us to be destitute, but what is it what is holding you back from truly following him.
When Jesus spoke to the rich man who asked him what he had to do to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus told him to go and sell all he had. He told him this because Jesus knew it was his riches that was holding him back, but for us, it might be something different. It might be our ego. It might be our prejudices. It might be any number of things. We need to determine what that is and discard it.
The second image comes in the story of the master who returns to his household at night. The identity that Jesus gives to his disciples is the “little flock,” which reinforces the notion of the very care and protection that God provides. The underlying reason we are not to fear is that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom in the first place.
I am involved in a lot of disaster work. I am one of the coordinators for Disaster Spiritual Care in the Northeast for the American Red Cross. One of the most often asked questions after a disaster, be it a hurricane or house fire is, “where was God in whatever it was?” Although it is hard for people to hear my response is, God was, and is, right here. God was with you and will give you the strength to get through. It might not seem that way when you are going through it, but just like the footprints in the sand poem, sometimes there are two sets of footprints and other time, there is only one.
The third image is the image of always being prepared. We do not know the hour when God will come. We like to schedule everything in our lives, we are here, this morning at 7 am for worship, but God does not operate on our time God works on God’s time, and we do not know God time. Sure, many have said God is coming on such and such a day and time, but here we are, still here.
We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on our outward appearance, but how much do we spend on our spiritual life? Being ready means being spiritually fit, daily prayer, and Scripture reading is an excellent place to start. Seek out a good spiritual guide that can help you along the way. Ask God to help you as you walk the road.
Chaplain Fuller was not concerned about himself. He was in failing health when he resigned; in fact, it is what drove him to resign. He stayed the night preparing to leave in the morning, but when the call went out for assistance to help get the troops across the river, he did not hesitate. Putting himself at significant risk, he volunteered, and it cost him his life. He was not worried, he “sold all he had” his life and he helped another fulfill his mission.
We may never be asked to give what Chaplain Fuller gave, but we are all being asked to do something, what that something is is for you and God to figure out, well God has it figured out we have to get on the same page.
“Fear not little flock.” These are comforting words for me to hear, and I pray that is for you as well.