The good pleasure of God
Gospel: Luke 12:32-48
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32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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.
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. 39“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.”
41Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”42And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 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 off, 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. 48But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
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Dear Elwyn, who you remember used to preach for us, was a twin. He grew up at Tailem Bend across the River from where my Mum was raised. She often used to tell us kids how dangerous the river was, and how many people had drowned. It was no place for ten year old boys on their own, but Elwyn and his brother skipped school one day, and went swimming in the river. Somehow, Elwyn's dad got to hear that the twins were in the river rather than in the school. Elwyn told me they looked up to see their father looking down on them from the top of the cliff. Elwyn said, "We ran for our lives!"
Elwyn's dad had concern for his sons. In an act of love, he left his work and came to their rescue in a situation which could have destroyed them, yet the sons could not see love or concern, but could only see punishment and retribution.
How terrible would it be to have the God of love come to us, and for us not to see love, but only see danger and terror?
There is a great promise in the gospel reading today: "it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom." It is said to a tiny church, a group of people so small that Luke has Jesus call them a small little flock. I know the English translation says "little flock," but already, the word used for the sheep is a diminutive. It's as if we were talking about Lachlan and calling him Lachy. Lachy is already a term of endearment, and Jesus adds to it by calling him "Little Lachy," and by calling us his "small little flock."
All the fullness of the completed creation, all the joy of a world of justice and community is offered to us. That’s what kingdom is. Injustice and exclusion and isolation will be removed. And in the little flock we can begin to experience moments of the fullness of that creation already. We can find a home, and a place to be.
It gets better. People imagined that Gods were like slave owners, and that they themselves were inconsequential slaves... always destined to be at the bottom of the heap... always liable to be beaten and abused... always to be regarded as not quite real people. Certainly not people who mattered to anyone.
But Jesus says that if we are "dressed for action," if we are alert, everything will change. He means that if we are living with everyone as our neighbour, if we are striving to live justly, and gently, and with love, something will happen. Our Master will come home from his wedding, and instead of requiring us to do all the work, he will serve us.
I wonder if there is a hint here of one of the images of the church which is that we... us... you and me... are the bride of Christ the bridegroom. I wonder if when he comes home we will find that it is we who are the bride he brings home, and upon whom he lavishes love and attention.
Except... what if we are not ready for him? What if we abuse those around us? What if we are not living as neighbour, not living justly, not loving?
Well, we know how it works in the real world. The slave owner, and the business manager, punishes the ones who have not been doing the right thing. In the story, they receive a severe beating, they are cut off from the community of love.
Is that how God is? Of course not. God is Love.
But what about us? If we have lived knowing what our "master wanted, but [have] not prepared [ourselves] or do[ne] what was wanted"— those are the words of Jesus— what will we see when our Father looks down on us? Will we still be able to see love, or will we be like Elwyn and his brother who saw their father looking down on them with love, and fled in terror?
I don't know how this will work. But I see enough folk in situations a bit like Elwyn's, and I have seen enough of my own reactions, to know that it is terribly easy not to be able to see love for what it is, and terribly easy to see love as something to be feared, or as something which is going to drag us down.
It says in Luke, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’
And Jesus says, "Do this, and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28)
Little flock, it is God's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Love one another, for love is of God. (1 John 4) And the living of love... will allow us to know God when God comes near to us, and we will be able to be loved. Amen.
Andrew Prior (2019)
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