Last week I suggested a two-part series of sermons using Luke 12:13-21 and this text. If you did not preach on the Gospel last week, you will want to take a close look at those verses (and perhaps look back at my reflection on them). In both texts Jesus uses unlikely assistants to help us learn something about life and its relationship to possessions. Last week we learned from the rich fool. This week we learn from the birds.

First, we notice the change in audience. The audience in last week’s text presumably included both disciples and members of the crowd. In this week’s reading Luke explicitly narrows it to the Disciples (22). Jesus encourages them not to be anxious about such things as food and clothing. Not because they are not necessary, but because life does not consist of them anymore than life consists of the abundance of possessions (12:15). Luke uses several different terms to speak of “life” in this chapter - ζωὴ, ψυχῇ, and ἡλικίαν – but they all seem to refer in general to a wholistic human existence.[1]

To help Him make this point, Jesus points to the ravens. In a 1534 sermon on a similar text from Matthew (Matthew 6:24-34), Luther speaks from the perspective of the birds to instruct his sixteenth century hearers. Here is what he preached (with the birds’ words in bold):

“Thus, our dear Lord holds before us the example of the birds, as if to say, Birds do not have a care in the world; for they know they have an excellent kitchen chef and generous butler whose name is the heavenly Father. This is the reason they say, Not to worry! Haven’t you heard what kind of cuisine and cellar we have, namely, as wide as the world is wide? That’s the reason we fly wherever we wish, we find our find, and the table is well-prepared. The same heavenly Father wants gladly to be to your kitchen chef and butler, if you would only believe it or want to have him. He proves it by what he does; he gives you land, granary, cellar, and barns; he gives you abundance much more than he gives the birds. Why then won’t you trust in him? Do like the birds—learn to believe, sing, be happy, and let your heavenly Father do the caring for you. You are surely the unhappiest people when you worry and do not choose to trust in God. These are, indeed, comforting words and beautiful examples which ought to move us deep within.”[2]

After pointing to the birds, and then to the lilies, Jesus comes to His main point in verses 30-34. The reason for not worrying is twofold: He knows our need, and He gives the kingdom.

The Father knows our needs because he knows everything. This is a comforting thought, but only if He is gracious. Indeed, if the Father knows our need and does not give, then He is no better than the evil fathers He mentions in Luke 11:11-13. But He is gracious. It is His pleasure (v. 32) to give the Kingdom (τὴν βασιλείαν) to His disciples. That is the promise to proclaim from this text. The Kingdom is the reign of God in Christ which has no end. It is a gracious reign, characterized by forgiveness and mercy for those who are in need (verse 33 highlights the eternal nature of His reign that has already begun in His death and resurrection). This is His gift to all who believe, and He continues to give this gift as He creates faith through the words you proclaim.

In this context the previous lesson from the rich fool comes back into focus. Rather than storing up possessions for ourselves, the disciple of Jesus who has received the Kingdom of God is free to give generously to all who are in need. In this way our hearts would be where God’s heart is—with those who need Him and His gracious reign. The goal of this sermon, then, would be twofold. First, it would be to strengthen your hearer’s trust in God’s promise to give them the Kingdom. Second, it would be to loosen their grip on their possessions and participate in the giving mission of their Father and His Son.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 12:22-34.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 12:22-40.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 12:22-34.