I was recently discussing a story in the news about some parents alleging defamation against Alex Jones, a bombastic, far right conspiracy theorist in the US, who for years ranted to his online followers, the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shootings were a hoax. He insisted the children weren’t killed, and the parents were ‘crisis actors’ in an elaborate ruse to force gun control. Now, the parents of a six-year-old boy killed in the massacre of 20 children and six adults, as a consequence of Jones’ behaviour and hate speech, have experienced endless abuse, hate mail and death threats. They are alleging defamation and seeking millions of dollars in damages. (1)
There is something deeply disturbing about this constant denial of goodness, generosity, love and factual evidence in our world today, a new version of a post truth world. When hatred and contempt for truth and the impact of such behaviour on other people’s lives become an irrelevance, while those watching or inflicting this pain enjoy the shaming and bullying of others who are despised, it is time to be clear about why we behave and think as we do.
When we are driven by fear, a desire for power and wealth, driven by concern for our own survival at all costs, we break the lives of others. I thought about this when I read the opening sentence of the Gospel text today (Luke 12:32-40), when Jesus said:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ Luke 12:30
What does that statement mean for so many people around the world, under pressure from so many quarters? Pressure from war, terrorism, violence and death, from the increasing impacts of climate change, from growing racial, gender and faith discrimination and threat of livelihoods and death – our fears are endless and anxiety is rising. Jesus speaks into the noise and hollowness of worldly promises and fears. He says: Do not be afraid, God has joyfully given you God’s kingdom.
In these difficult, contested, argumentative, threatening times, Jesus is ridiculously calling us to be joyful in spite of everything. He is telling us repeatedly: ‘Stop working to earn entry to the kingdom, you’ve already got it. Stop trying to achieve it, its already yours. Don’t try to work for gifts, if you do, they’re not gifts. The Lord has given you the Kingdom already! This is what God is doing, has done and will continue to do for each and everyone of us. Stop trying to get saved, you’re saved already!’ This is why Jesus’ call is to faith, to faith in God.
This faith is absolutely the opposite of anxiety. Without faith, we are inevitably going to be fearfully concerned with escalating risks, lack of security, the need to have power and control over others and our own lives, our circumstances, our families and our government and country. It never stops. We find ourselves believing there is always more needed to shore up the defenses we imagine we need. We make the walls so high, we can’t see or hear God calling any longer, the world has become too real and we no longer believe God.
The reality is, the minute we stop believing in a loving, joyful God, we focus on ourselves and become anxious and fearful.
Luke’s Jesus told the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) before he asked us about our own treasures. The rich fool hoarded up his wealth, building more and more storage, always planning a life of luxury after the next swallow of unrestrained greedy grabbing of wealth, called concupiscence, trying to swallow the whole world in one endlessly gorging mouthful. The rich man forgot his mortality. As Jesus told the listeners, God then said to the rich man:
You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? Luke 12:20
Jesus went on to remind his disciples to stop worrying and striving for stuff in this world, instead, he invited us to step into God’s kingdom which has already been given to us. We don’t need anything else or to be anyone else. We don’t have to earn it, fill in application forms, get a visa, succeed in a test, be judged as suitable. The kingdom is being given joyfully to us all by God. This is outrageously good news!
Jesus then points out the obvious, and its worth letting this sit in our minds, as we question what our diaries and bank accounts say about our priorities, Jesus said:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be. (Luke 12 34)
Our positive response to Jesus’ invitation into God’s kingdom inevitably changes our lives. We can’t help ourselves. Consequently, it makes it easier to understand what Jesus says next:
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. (Luke 12 33)
In giving the warnings, Jesus is not calling us to be afraid of God, warning us God is waiting to catch us out, rather Jesus is warning us about missing life. Jesus reminds us, life is here and now, don’t let life float you along without being aware of God’s love. Enjoy each moment, live in each moment. In Catherine of Sienna’s words, ‘It’s heaven all the way to heaven, and hell all the way to hell.’
God has given us everything to enjoy and we’re going to be judged on how much we enjoy it! To know how to enjoy God’s kingdom takes a lot of discipline and restraint. Pleasure and joy are not the same, God did not create us simply for pleasure, God created us for joy, which is all-embracing, deep, enduring, steady and simply has to be shared. To live in joy is the gift of the Spirit. We are invited to be people who once again are free to enjoy, healing lives and loving those with whom we share God’s world.
We need to be joyfully vigilant in God’s kingdom. Such joy acts against human fear and greed. Jesus assures us as we grow in goodness and joy we are protected from the threat of earthly thieves, while being vigilant in God’s kingdom, for God is liable to come suddenly like a thief in the night. While God’s goodness and love protect and care for us, and as we joyfully share this abundance with others, we need to be ready for whenever the Lord breaks in on us, like a thief and I hope, will find us busy about the goodness of the kingdom, and celebrating God’s presence with joy.
So where does Jesus’ teaching on joy and the unearned gift of God’s Kingdom for everyone, leave us with people like Alex Jones about whom I started this reflection?
Or what about those leaning towards authoritarian nationalistic leadership focused on control, power, exclusion and not on the inclusion of others, or those denying and doubting climate change and its dreadful impacts on our neighbours and God’s creation, or those discriminating and excluding others based on race, gender and poverty? Each of these examples grows our fear and anxiety. Each example is death dealing emotionally, physically and spiritually, unloving, filling us with hate and contempt.
I urge you all, put your burdens down, let God’s love fill your hearts and minds, live joyfully in God’s kingdom, and you will find your life is transformed as you let go your anxieties and grow in joy.
The Lord be with you.