Week of Sunday August 11 – Pentecost 12
Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell yourpossessions, 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
Let me read a couple of verses from Luke 17. It is Jesus who is speaking.
7 Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”
Now we are not going to go any further with these verses except to note that this is normal treatment for slaves. What else would you expect?
But in today's reading, the Master comes home and serves the slaves! We can guess that the slaves will be very disconcerted by this! Like Peter in the story in John, where Jesus washes the disciples' feet, they will say, "No Lord, you shouldn't wash my feet, and be serving me dinner! I should be washing yours, and serving you!"
When we think of the Master returning at an unexpected hour, we think of judgement, and often in a very negative sense. That's the tradition we inherit. But look at this master. He's coming back from the wedding feast... his wedding feast, probably.
This is a celebration; he's in the best good mood; he serves his slaves! The Master's coming is not to be feared! In fact, verse 32 says "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!"
It's true that if we read on in chapter 12 we find verses like this one:
I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
And then there're these verses
45But if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk,46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. 47That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.
People recognised there are consequences for those who know better, and yet still act up when the master is delayed.
But before all this is the key thing: It is the master's good pleasure; it is our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom! Do not fear his coming....
Why is there all this stuff about the master being delayed?
It's because he was delayed, and people were worried. In the very early church it is evident they expected Jesus back any day; in a matter of weeks even. But Luke is writing some fifty years after the death of Jesus; people are beginning to wonder if he's ever coming back.
Some folk are partying hard—having a teenage party while 'the olds' are away—he's not really coming; we may as well live it up. Well... if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves...46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know... and put him with the unfaithful.
It's not really the view of Jesus that we are comfortable with, but we get the idea!
OK says Luke's congregation. We get that he is still coming. We get that he loves us. We get that he will serve us. But maate!... it's getting late. What are we supposed to do in the meantime?
And this is Luke's answer:
33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
He's reminding them what Jesus has just said; we read it last week, " one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15) Greed for possessions is one of the worst things to distract us from the work of the kingdom. Greed leads us into the kind of partying that causes trouble!
Uniting Church scholar Bill Loader says about these verses that they are "liberating" and "honest.
There is no pretending here that we cease caring about ourselves. The passage even uses monetary metaphors to make the point. Go for wealth that will pay dividends. Go for purses that will not wear thin and lose your money. In other words, the sayings challenge people to act in their own best interests and within the framework of the gospel that means to merge inseparably together: love of self, love of others and love of God.
It's not about being stupid and giving everything away so that we starve. We are called to have faith; that is, we are called to show trust in God, by striking a balance between three "inseparable" things, " love of self, love of others and love of God."
In our time, still, perhaps more than ever, we need to get the 'love of self' thing right. Most of us have too much, more than we need, and it holds us back from the kingdom. It locks us out. We do not experience the joys of the kingdom that are here for us now, because we are too focussed on maintaining our super or increasing our salary, or buying the next model iPad.
Give alms; sell your possession for charity—charity means for the loving of others, not selling your stuff in a garage sale so you can buy something else—and you will find a treasure that is far greater than the latest iPad.
Now someone is going to say, "I see what you did there... You pretended to explain about why the Master is delayed, but you didn't say anything at all! When is he coming back?"
The answer is:
I don't know, and he already has come.
"Nobody knows the day or the hour." All my life as a Christian people have claimed to know... any day now! The one sure thing is that if anyone claims to know, they are wrong. Don't listen to them!
But Jesus already is back, too. I will send you another helper, another counsellor, another Paraclete he says in John. Another... he was the first. The second, the Spirit, is the same God as the Son. He is here now.
When we partake of the of the life of the church;
when we serve, and pay the cost of service;
when we are faithful by loving others, and being compassionate to them;
when we are faithful to God by doing what Jesus would do here, now, in our shoes;
In worship, at Eucharist, the Master comes and serves us. In the joyful, costly feast, where we feel the suffering of Christ;
where we remember our own suffering;
when we ponder all the pain of the world;
Those of us who have been alert and watchful, and have lived out the faith, and kept on living it out, find that Communion becomes more than sometimes dry bread and cheap grape juice. It moves us. It touches the depth of our being. Because the Master has come and is moving among us, bringing us bread and wine.
Life in the church a bit dead? Communion a bit meaningless? Well... 33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...
Don't do this just once. Make it your way of life, with time, money, goods, energy.
And fear not little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
I like to give people a copy of the sermon text because I never really follow the text; it's a 'suggestion' I begin from. I seek then to respond to the congregation, and am slowly getting people to ask questions and also to contribute themselves. A printed text lets people with hearing problems, or who have English as a second language, get some more idea of what was going on. And with a text, I can add a postscript that we don't have time for during the service. Here it is:
What about the Second Coming?
I said in my First Impressions this week
We cannot construct a faith where there is not some "coming" in mind; some fruition; some completion; some overthrowing of the present age.... But we must eschew the idea of a literal coming in the clouds... we know this kind of thing doesn't happen.
Alan wrote to me from the internet about this.
...I don't agree we have a hand in God's kingdom being established in this world. Nor do I agree that this world needs Christians to dispense their own flavor of social justice. But I don't think I should dismiss your view given that we are all under God's grace. Can you afford to be so definite about your view?
I think we have to allow God to work his 'magic' from the infinite possibilities that he alone has at his disposal. I hope the view held by you will further the kingdom of God even if I disagree with it. But I also hope that you'd leave a space in your heart for magical possibilities God so often surprises us with. ...
I don't mind if Jesus comes in the clouds. If he does, he does. I'll have some very hard questions, though; like, "Why did you take so long?" Why did you allow such terrible, unconscionable, unjustifiable suffering for so long if you are able to step in here like this and just take the place over and set it to rights?
You see, if God is really able to operate like that, just come in and put things to rights, it asks terrible questions about the morality of God that such immeasurable suffering has been allowed to happen. In fact, one might wonder if such a God is even worthy of worship—what a monster!
God's dying in Jesus on the cross is a different form of power altogether from this world busting invasion from the skies.
God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. (Bonhoeffer)
Bonhoeffer is being quoted by Richard Beck in an Exploration of John Caputo's book The Weakness of God. Beck continues
... As argued by theologians like Caputo in The Weakness of God the texts above and the interpretations I draw from them are all that is to be said about the power of God in the world. God's power is weakness. Straight up. There is no Big Power sitting behind the weakness of the cross backing it up with a reservoir of force. The weakness of God exhausts the meaning of what it means to say God is "powerful." As Caputo writes,
God is the source of good and its warrant. That is the stamp or the seal that God puts on creation; that is God's covenant with us. But God is not the power supply for everything that happens.
I look at the beginning and the end of the world, and some of its ultimate meanings, as things we can only guess about, and which the biblical writers could only guess about. In Jesus' time there was a way of thinking which had developed over the last couple of hundred years, that said all the suffering was worth it; well, would prove to be worth it, because the Messiah would come and restore Israel, and those faithful who had died would then be rewarded. It made sense of the terrible suffering of the people.
That's why people thought Jesus would kick out the Romans when he came. And when he didn't, and the Romans killed him, and yet people still sensed the God-presence he had brought them, they began to think, in line with the way Israel thought about the Messiah, that this meant he would come again to finish it all.
He didn't. He hasn't. And we now find that apocalyptic view Israel had has as many problems as it solves, including the one I raised about God's morality. And, of course, all the ones we have in our own minds about how God intervenes and interacts in the present.
None of which means that present scientism (note: not scientific) inspired views of the world do not have equally gaping holes in their understanding of the world.
The 'Second Coming' and the means of Creation are outlier events in our experience, in our ability to understand, and in our concerns for living. God calls our focus into the centre; the centre of life is about mercy, justice, peace and love. In the sheep and the goats, (Matthew 25) no one became either a sheep or a goat based on what the thought or believed about the end of the world. It all depended on whether they had welcomed the King by being merciful to the ones around them.
Let us go and do likewise. The world began without us, and without our guessing and musing about how. The end will come despite us, and in the way that it will come it will totally ignore even our best guesses. Our job is to be elsewhere: at work. In the sermon I spoke of the three inseparable things; "love of self, love of others and love of God."
Too much worry and certainty about end times and defining what will happen has them out of balance. It drifts into love of self because it must have answers, at the expense of loving neighbour and God.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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