The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 5, 2021
The good God, who loves us with all His might, longs to see our hearts at peace, with our minds tranquil and our spirits serene.
Jesus assured His followers that God would one great day send Him to earth a second time to make the kingdom of earth and of heaven one. Yet, Jesus was clear that not even He knew at what moment that would happen. All He could tell His followers was that He would return “at an unexpected hour”.
Uncertainty unsettles us, albeit some of us more than others. And, while some of us greatly enjoy a happy surprise, I think we all like having the biggest things nailed down and knowing something of a schedule.
We who trust Jesus know that He will return to set all things right; but we don’t know when He will.
The happy news is that, even if we don’t know when to be ready, we know how to be ready whenever that great day arrives. Since it could occur at any moment, we just stay on the job serving Jesus at every moment. We do that by doing what we know He always wants us to do: show His loving kindness, fight for justice and bear witness to His liberating grace. As we stay alert for opportunities to do such things, and do them whenever the chance arises, we stay ready for His return.
In today’s scripture here Jesus first compared how we rightly await His return to how good servants rightly await their master’s return from, say, a wedding. They keep “dressed for action”, with their “lamps lit” should he arrive at dark or at some other “unexpected hour”, so as to be prepared 24/7 to “open the door for him as soon as he comes” and attend to any and all his wishes.
The parable’s master symbolizes the Master of all creation. God makes the world of faithful service. God so appreciates steadfast dedication to serving Him that He turns the tables on His servants and serves them – as Jesus, the Son of God, demonstrated at the first Lord’s Supper when He tucked His gathered garments under His belt and served His disciples by washing their feet. Thus, when the master in the parable fastens his belt and serves his servants at table, his actions resemble God’s.
Back then, it was inconceivable that any master would do such a thing for “slaves”, let alone a God for mere mortals. Yet, that’s what the parable’s master does, and what the Son of God did!
The actions of the master in the parable depict how God wants to treat those who serve him. The parable’s master happily honors his servants’ commitment, one that motivated them to take no time off but to be constantly poised to jump into action without delay in order to do right by him. In gratitude for their unflagging concern to serve him well, he gives them what they devotedly meant to give him. And that is what God would delight in doing for us!
Jesus told another parable after telling this one about anticipating His coming again. If a homeowner knew at what hour a thief would try to break into his house, there’d be no real vulnerability and thus nothing about which to be anxious. But, since the homeowner has no clue as to when the attempt will be made, he must maintain an ever-vigilant watchfulness and preparedness; and, despite the uncertainty about when special effort would be called for, he has by his faithfulness enduring peace of mind and heart.
In the verses immediately before today’s scripture, Jesus was setting up His message about readiness for His return by urging His followers to strive first for God’s kingdom and trust God to take care of everything else. Thus, today’s scripture starts with Jesus’ saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven….For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is by following these commands that we can stay prepared and peaceful despite the uncertainty before us.
If we strive for God’s kingdom, we live by its values; and if we live by its values, we value worldly treasures like possessions less than most and make no more of the accumulation of such earthly riches than we should. More importantly, we act counter-culturally to such an extent that we “sell” such riches – that is, give them away in order to demonstrate God’s love clearly and compellingly to others. We thereby make for ourselves kingdom-style purses, the kind that holds the treasures of heaven, treasures that neither moth nor inflation can eat up and that no thief can steal.
To rightly await Christ’s coming again is to have our heart’s treasures in the right place. It is to invest who we are and what we have in the cause of generous compassion, winsome witness, fair-minded justice-doing, courageous caring about folks who might break our hearts in the end, and risk-taking sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom which knows no end and which bestows riches that make all other riches seem like chump change.
To live like that is to settle into the uncertainty before us, with peace in our hearts, even as we fiercely, fervently and devotedly stay on the job and ready ourselves for Jesus to come back to set all things right.