Isaiah 1: 10-20  Luke 12: 22-34


The Powerball fantasy is worn out. How many of us privately expect that we’re going to win, and then suffer in silence over how it wasn’t our lucky number again? Thursday night when I realized that it was too late for me to purchase a ticket, I inwardly sighed. Friday morning when I learned that 2 tickets of the three were sold in New Jersey – crazy as it seems – I knew that I’d blown my chance. I’d blown my chance at $448MM – enough to bail out my first church from it’s $4MM mortgage, enough to endow a chair at my seminary, enough to buy my dad a convertible, baby blue, vintage Thunderbird, enough to set up my brother with a carpentry studio and enough to set up my oldest foster son for life. Once all of my closest friends and family members worries were taken away, I’d have plenty to spare – even after tithing, of course. The Powerball has given some of the most worry-filled souls renewed courage to dream.

I realize that it’s a middle class privilege to walk away from the worries of their day and dream expansive dreams about the Powerball, not despairing when they don’t come true. It’s a privilege of comfort and a relatively worry-free life that affords us to wish for what might be when what is is more than enough.

I’ve been really tuned in to my privilege these days, including my privilege to make choices that are not available for so many others to make. I have a heightened sensitivity to how my position in life comes with certain advantages – most meaningfully to me today, the privilege of not really having to worry. I don’t have to worry whether my family will have something to eat. I don’t have to worry whether my family will have a place to sleep. I don’t have to worry whether my family will have something to wear. I don’t have to worry about whether Owen will be able to complete his education.

The same worry-free attitude could not be said of the community Luke was with when he wrote about the saving life of Jesus. Luke’s Jesus prioritized the least of these more than Matthew’s Jesus and Mark’s Jesus. He was with tax collectors and women, the least pious – as well as the Pharisees. He addressed the needs of the poor and oppressed, the sick and the suffering more than any other. Luke’s Jesus was the manifestation of compassion to the marginalized. He did not believe that the choice of whether or not to worry was not the marginalized’s dilemma. For Luke’s Jesus, there was no choice at all. They were then as they continue to be today a people with real basis for worry.

And so we might wonder why Luke would pick up on this story from Matthew and include it in his accounting of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because on the surface, the choice not to worry about anything at all can be a pretty middle and upper class choice to make. I’m pretty sure that Luke’s Jesus tells his disciples not to worry not because he had disregard for their temporal needs, especially. I’m pretty sure that it was because Luke sympathized with the marginalized that he lets this story become a launching point, really, for Jesus’s message to care for the least of these among us even today. Jesus’ emphasis upon God’s provision of the kingdom for all of humankind was grounded in the promise that God, who provides at the most elemental level, will provide in the most supreme one, too. All of this is God’s good pleasure to give us. There’s no big Greek asterisk here. Christ doesn’t put parameters or qualifications on God’s gift of the kingdom. This tells us that we can just stop worrying what tomorrow will ultimately bring…the allure of the Powerball notwithstanding.

You and I even have eternity taken care of – Inshallah. In Middle Eastern cultures, inshallah means God willing. All of life happens, inshallah. Recognizing inshallah recognizes our complete submission to God. Inshallah at the end of our stated wish or our worry indicates that we’re putting it into the hands of God. This parallels our Christian understanding of the providence of God that affirms God’s gracious involvement is at the center and fulcrum of every experience of our lives, each one of those experiences drawing us closer to God’s holy presence forever.

Many of us are cheaply dependent upon this truth. But inshallah is not a pathway for unaccountability. Recognizing that it’s all in God’s hands should not translate into an abject disregard of our personal responsibility to use our God given gifts toward the ends that God desires for us or for others. Especially as it relates to Luke’s account of Christ, this message should motivate our responsibility to help bring about the will of God especially for those who feel like they lack the position of privilege to do anything but worry about the tangible demands of the day. Affirming inshallah should affirm our complete engagement in the work of Jesus Christ to “confront the kingdoms of our world today”[1] and share God’s unfailing treasure of hope with the world. As Luke’s Jesus implies to his disciples, you and I are integral to God’s plan for the beloved kingdom unfolding in our very midst, as Christ depends upon each one of us to participate in the fulfillment of this promise on earth.

We know this because Luke’s account of this story that is also found embedded in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ sermon on the mount goes straight from the truth of God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom to three imperatives. SELL possessions, GIVE alms, and MAKE purses. Now, let’s be clear: these aren’t conditions Luke’s Jesus places upon God’s eternal promise. But they are expectations of action that we all will begin today and continue without ending out of our gratitude for God’s generous, unconditional, universal gift of the kingdom.

You probably know that the Muslim month of Ramadan just ended on Wednesday. Ramadan is a period of prayer and fasting, but it’s also a month of charitable giving. It’s a holy month of reflection on inshallah, which includes a reflection on our accountability to God with very tangible acts of generosity to meet the basic worries of the day. Coincidently, August is also a time when many of us are in a privileged position to choose to take vacations or at home breaks from the worries of our day. But it’s a middle class privilege to have the choice to leave it all behind and not to worry for even an hour. To abuse this privilege by absconding  the responsibility to serve the marginalized is to abuse the providence of God who so desperately needs our help today.

Because innocent people remain behind bars, worrying. Families in Malawi still lack sufficient drinking water, worrying. The elderly and infirmed sit alone near the entrances of nursing homes, worrying.

The kid in the projects who’s choosing between getting part time job and going to high school this fall worries. His mom who just wants him to have a better life than she was afforded worries. A bi-polar woman who lost per professional job this week because of an imbalance in her medications worries.  A prayerful father sits beside his daughter’s hospital bed while she is treated for gunshot wounds no one ever would’ve anticipated – worried. A young man who really can’t imagine his next day without drugs worries.

From each of these stories that can sound a lot like Job’s, life can be filled with worry. Imprisonment, joblessness, hunger and thirst, pending homelessness and illiteracy, drug addiction and alcoholism, poverty of every kind can quickly translate into life that feels out of control. Life out of control with no back-up plan but the Powerball can violate our sense of hope for our future and can leave one trending toward despair. Even for some of us with resources to spare, the choice of not to worry seems like a painfully remote privilege.

The desire of God -the good pleasure of God – is for everyone to stop her worrying – and embrace inshallah. The dream of God is for our total embrace in the willingness of God to extend the beloved kingdom of God here and into eternity. But this total embrace is not a cheap acceptance of God’s gift to the world. Our total embrace of this call from God is to conspire in the mission of God to be the face of God, the arms, legs, heart and head of Christ, in the world. We can’t leave the message of Jesus to the disciples in ancient Israel, just as we can’t leave this message to a Sunday morning worship experience. Brian McLaren – a local guy who’s become one of the foremost leaders in the progressive, evangelical church movement – says that this dream of God calls us to “rethink our (own) dreams and realize their incompleteness or even (their) destructiveness” when they are not in sync with the providence of God. “When people hear “kingdom of God,” he says, we don’t want them to think “the anachronistic, limited, ceremonial, and symbolic but practically ineffectual rule of God”!” [2]

August continues to be a time when good news happens in Washington. While a lot of folks take advantage of Congress’ break to take a vacation of their own, August is also the month when people who are committed to helping the least of these remain behind to get the real work done. Advocacy strategies are being written. Fundraising events are being planned. Brainstorming sessions for spreading tangible evidence of what God wills are happening all over Washington, like they’ve been happening all over the world through the previous month of Ramadan.

Those of us with the choices of the world at our disposal must not perpetuate the pervasive attitude that the present worries of the world will take care of themselves. We must take hold of Christ’s imperative to share “the liberating, barrier-breaking, domination-shattering, reconciling movement the kingdom of God was intended to be.”[3] May we take a lesson from our Muslim brothers and sisters who have feasted on inshallah and be emboldened by the eternal message of God to manifest the providence of God by our acts of compassion and generosity today. And until that day when all the worries of the day are extinguished in the kingdom, forever, may we remember to give God thanks and praise.  Thanks be to God.

[1] McLaren, Brian D., The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything. (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2006). p 132.

[2] McLaren, Brian D., The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything. (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2006). p 141.

[3] ibid