Ravens and Lillies

Written for Flora and Fauna Sunday in the Season of Creation.

Originally given on 9/22/19 at Holy Family Lutheran Church.

Relevant Texts:

Job 39:1-8, 26-30
Psalm 104:14-23
1 Corinthians 1:10-23
Luke 12:22-31


Grace and peace are yours from the Triune God; the Creator, + the Lamb, and the Breath of Life. Amen. 

Thank you Holy Family for making me feel so welcomed and thank you for the privilege and responsibility of preaching today on Flora and Fauna Sunday in the Season of creation.


I wanted to thank Pastor Eric for taking it easy on me the first time I preach to y’all. He really set me up for success. The message for today is simple and straightforward: 


Don’t worry, be happy / In every life we have some trouble / When you worry you make it double / Don’t worry, be happy.” 


The Gospel according to Bobby McFerrin. 


How many times have we heard the Gospel message we read today interpreted in this way? We have been given this shallow theology – God takes care of nature and surely God will take care of us, so there is nothing to worry about. And if we do worry it’s because we don’t have enough faith. Verse 28. “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 God clothe you—you of little faith!” 


This sort of theology – don’t worry be happy – teaches a kind of quietism aimed at maintaining the status quo. It has been taught and preached to the poor and oppressed all throughout history to keep them from struggling towards something better. “Hey Fredrick and Harriet, don’t worry, slaves weren’t meant to be free.” “Hey Martin and Rosa, don’t worry, we are separate but equal.” “Hey Laquan and Michael, don’t worry, violence in the streets from the state and your peers is normal.”


Where is the Gospel message in that? 


It doesn’t sit right with me. There are many things I worry about, and is it all really coming out of a lack of belief? 


Is it for lack of faith that I worry about the racist way policing targets black and brown men and unfairly locks them up at much higher rates than men who look like me?

Is it for lack of faith that I worry about the fact that rising global temperatures intensify natural disasters, inevitably hurting people of color and the global south worst and first?


Is it for lack of faith that I worry because a sexist racist occupies the highest office in our country?


A reductionistic and dismissive “don’t worry” in the face of these real issues that hurt real people can’t be good news.

So what is Jesus trying to tell us?


Luke is one of my favorite Gospels. To understand today’s Gospel message, we have to understand what Luke’s Gospel is all about. A lot of Luke’s gospel is about money. The author of Luke is writing to Theophilus, a Roman friend of Luke’s who is interested in God. This person’s name literally means “Loved by God” or “One who loves God”. At the time, the Romans were the ruling class. They were a colonizing force that occupied the lands of people by over taxing them and over policing them. Luke’s Gospel is to the richest 1%, the billionaires, people with a lot of money, explaining to them how to be Christian. Unsurprisingly, many of the unique parables and stories in Luke are convicting stories about the dangers of amassing wealth. 


The parable that comes right before our Gospel reading today gives some necessary context in understanding Jesus’s “Don’t worry” message. The parable is called the Rich Fool. We read it in the lectionary only a few weeks ago. 


13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”


Jesus is speaking a warning against gaining massive wealth! He is speaking against hoarding money and resources. This rich man’s problem in Jesus’ parable is that his garage isn’t big enough to fit all of his cars in it. His closet isn’t big enough to hold all of his clothes. His refrigerator can’t hold all his food! He tears them down and builds bigger ones! But in the end, what did all of these big fancy things do for him or his community? Nothing! Did they extend his life? No.


We can understand the mentality of the rich man as if he were living today because guess what, it hasn’t changed. “I gotta get a better job, so I can work more, so I can earn more money, so I can have a bigger house to put a bigger TV in. Then I’ll be happy.”


How many have us have ever worried about things like that? I know I have. People tell me all the time, “You wanna be a pastor? There’s no money in that. How are you going to live?” You could just as easily replace pastor with teacher, or nurse, or firefighter. These messages get in my head and beat me down. I think to myself, “Maybe I should go a fancy corporate job. Maybe I won’t be able to help as many people, and maybe I won’t like it as much, but hey, I’ll be able to buy a new car or television and be happy.”


But Jesus tells us “abundant life is not found in the abundance of possessions.”


“It is the nations of the world that strive after all these things.” This is the wisdom of the world: amass wealth and possessions; they will make you happy and safe. 


Paul tells us that God, ““Will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater, the politician, capitalist, the lawyer and law makers, the oil companies, big pharmacy, NRA and weapons manufactures, who all choose profits over people and the environment of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”


“….abundant life is not found in the abundance of possessions.”


At this point you might be saying, what does this have to do with Flowers and Animals? Thank you for asking. 


The past few weeks we have seen how God’s wisdom shows up in common and unlikely places. God told Jeremiah to look at the potter. Pastor Eric taught about the depths of the Ocean and of the human condition last week. 


This week Jesus points to birds and plants for wisdom. He gives three examples of God’s wisdom revealed in nature. Jesus talks about ravens not reaping or sowing, not hoarding food in barns or storehouses linking it back to the parable of the Rich Fool. The birds don’t worry about how many crops they can grow, how much money they can make, how much stuff they can hoard, and yet they survive. 


Then Jesus reminds us that the lilies don’t toil. The word toil here is an interesting word choice, because it evokes extremely hard or incessant work. It’s counter to the wisdom of the world; the pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality, the idea that you just need to work more, work harder, earn more money, that you need to toil to be happy.  Lilies don’t grind for money and yet they are clothed by God in a way that is more beautiful than Solomon, the greatest and finest king in Israel’s history. 


Lastly Jesus says God clothes the grass. God cares for the grass so much that God wants for it to be clothed even though it is something so numerous and so impermanent. It stands to reason, then, that God wants us to be clothed as well.  


So how does that happen? 


Remember, Luke is writing to the wealthy and the Theophiluses – the “lovers of God”. So how does Jesus say we can attain this kingdom we strive for? After our section of reading from today it continues “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.”


Jesus says the kingdom, the heaven on Earth for which we strive, is a world in which wealth is distributed equitably. Earlier in Luke it says “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Because “abundant life is not found in the abundance of possessions.” We don’t gain favor in heaven by having more money. God cares for all the birds, and lillies, and every blade of grass.  None of them have storehouses or bank accounts or worldly wealth, “Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.” The wisdom of God is revealed to us in these plants and animals. Yet, when we worry about how to gain more wealth and possessions, we have fallen prey to the wisdom of the world. When we seek Jesus’ kingdom, we free ourselves from toil, we learn to share freely, and then all people’s needs can be met, all will be clothed and fed. Young men will not be imprisoned or killed. We will not greedily over-farm, over- mine, over-pollute nature in pursuit of wealth that is ultimately worthless. We will not worry or toil for the wisdom of the world. 


But until that kingdom comes, the kingdom which is revealed to us in nature, God lovers ARE concerned about injustices. They toil for justice for the sake of our neighbor, so that we all might be made free and live abundantly.



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