Bible Reading Luke 12:32-34
Last week, Jesus responded to a crowd member’s financial request by warning them about the dangers of greed and coveting what does not belong to us. He then turns to his disciples and encourages them against this feverish dependence on worldly goods by instead developing a true faith in the fatherly care of God. Hear again the conclusion of that section.
So don’t ever be afraid, dearest friends! Your loving Father joyously gives you his kingdom realm with all its promises! “So, now, go and sell what you have and give to those in need, making deposits in your account in heaven, an account that will never be taken from you. Your gifts will become a secure and unfailing treasure, deposited in heaven forever. Where you deposit your treasure, that is where your thoughts will turn to—and your heart will long to be there also.” (TPT)
Message Covenant Priorities Luke 12:32-46,48b
The priority of a person’s energy and interest is always with the things he or she values most. This is why over-prioritizing earthly riches gets in the way of trusting in God’s provision which prevents us from giving to those that God sends across our path to receive help. But when we have the proper attitude surrounding wealth, our spiritual life will grow, and God will provide our needs and give what is best for us -- treasures that cannot be stolen or otherwise fade way…
Today, Jesus elaborates on this proper attitude by telling us to live alert -- reminding us that God’s people are heavenly minded, while earthly things are temporary. He does this by beginning with what I’ll call the Tom Bodett story, a classic ad still going strong in which a hotel is always alert and prepared to give a “simple down-home hospitality” by promising to “leave the light on for ya.” Hear the words of this first section of Scripture:
Be prepared for action at a moment’s notice. Be like the servants who anticipate their master’s return from a wedding celebration. They are ready to unlock and open the door at a moment’s notice. What great joy is ahead for the awakened ones who are waiting for the Master’s return!... He himself will become their servant and wait on them at his table... Of course, if they knew ahead of time the hour of the master’s appearing, they would be alert, just as they would be ready if they knew ahead of time that a thief was coming to break into their house. So keep alert and ready at all times. For I can promise you that the Son of Man will surprise you and will appear when you don’t expect him. (Luke 12:35-37, 39-40 (TPT))
In this ancient language, it is not unusual to change metaphors rapidly. We start with a groom and end up with a burglar. The absence and unknown time of appearance of the master and groom or the burglar may tempt people to leave the light off for us, to not be diligently about their duties of service, or in defense against crime.
But here, both images are meant to motivate active readiness. In those days, weddings were a community event that could last a week or longer -- and no one knew exactly when the groom would ride into town -- so they were to be alert for his arrival, ready to do whatever service the groom desires, or even better -- being caught doing what they wanted you to do while they were gone.
That is what is going on in the projection -- the groom riding into town on his horse, and a servant diligently waiting, holding a lantern.
Likewise, we would all be prepared for a burglar if we knew if and when he was coming, right? Well, some of us might just be smart and leave (to be safe). That might be preparation in itself. But they didn’t have the kind of security we have, or could have, today. It isn’t a matter of setting alarms and locking doors and sealing windows, if they even had windows they could actually seal. Houses then were generally made of mud bricks - not a wall you’d have to cut through, it could be easily dug through or broken through. So securing the door, if there was an actual door, wasn’t enough to make the place secure. The only way to be secure is to always be ready.
Be ready for his coming
Jesus understood what was coming for his life -- and we, knowing “the rest of the story”, it is easy for us to read back into the story Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion (the thief who took away the world’s greatest treasure). But we also know his resurrection, ascension to heaven and promised coming return. And the Lord who went away will return for his marriage to the church, to his people. And we are to be alert and about his business until that happens. But none of this was on the horizon yet. Jesus disciples would not have had a clue about any of this yet. They would have understood this story -- not in its ultimate fulfillment; they would have understood it more in terms of present issues, issues that still apply to us today.
Be ready against temptation
From the wider context, Jesus was talking about being earthly focused versus heavenly minded - of being obsessed with wealth as our ultimate security versus trusting God to keep us secure.
Be ready for life crises
We understand the wealth that we chase (and especially if we do it unethically) can be here today and gone tomorrow (See James 1:9-11, 4:13-15, 5:1-4)) -- One crisis and [snap fingers] (it is all gone) and we need to be ready to be faithful in handling any crisis of life as a disciple of Christ would when problems come our way -- while we actively (not passively) we actively do what we know we are supposed to do, and as we are empowered to do, as we wait for Jesus to come (through the Spirit to communicate to our hearts) and show us the next steps on how to deal with what has come our way as an unexpected challenge.
Greatly rewarded, but be ready against ego
If we are faithful in his expectations and in service, the master will be so pleased that he will have the servants sit down at the table and he will serve them. In heavenly terms, the heavenly banquet. In human terms, that sounds unrealistic -- It’d be like us all going up to McDonald’s after church, hopping the counter and we sere the people who are hired to serve us. What’s going to happen? Why they might get a big heads -- they are going to think they are customers rather than servers. They may think they are more privileged than everyone else. Oh, they might give -- not out of love, but as a way to get -- as if it were a business investment rather than a relationship between God and his fiancée, the church, his people.
But then again we have to remember we are living in kingdom values in this story, and I can’t help but think of Jesus later kneeling at the feet of his friends and washing their feet like a common servant -- not because they had been so faithful - or were going to be so faithful to him - that clearly was not the case (think Maundy Thursday - Good Friday). It isn’t that they were so faithful that the tables were turned and Jesus now has to serve us -- No, he serves because God is full -- over full of grace for his beloved people, and he is calling us to do the same as the example he gave. Could it be … that this table waiting image is similar to the image of washing the feet? Giving us an example of what it means to serve, because we love, because we are saved.
To whom does it apply?
Peter asks a question, “Lord, … does this apply only to the twelve of us, or is it for everyone else as well?” (Luke 12:41 (TPT))
And Jesus, in his typical fashion, does not simply answer yes or no. He doesn’t answer, “just you twelve of you”, or “everyone”. Instead he uses a drawn-out hypothetical story to answer to whom it applies. This is what he says,
“A trustworthy and thoughtful manager who understands the ways of his master will be given a ministry of responsibility in his master’s house, serving others exactly what they need at just the right time. And when the master returns, he will find that his servant has served him well. I can promise you, he will be given a great reward and will be placed as an overseer of everything the master owns.
“But what if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master delays his coming, and who knows when he will return?’ Because of the delay, the servant elevates himself and mistreats those in his master’s household. Instead of caring for the ones he was appointed to serve, he abuses the other servants, both men and women. He throws drunken parties for his friends and gives himself over to every pleasure. Let me tell you what will happen to him. His master will suddenly return at a time that shocks him, and he will remove the abusive, selfish servant from his position of trust. He will be severely punished and assigned a portion with the unbelievers… For those who have received a greater revelation from their master are required a greater obedience. And those who have been entrusted with great responsibility will be held more responsible to their master.” (Luke 12:42b-46, 48b (TPT))
Two choices 1) Work faithfully
So. In this story, the owner assigns a servant to manage the household, freeing him to do other things. This gives this managing servant a great deal of freedom in how he conducts his master’s affairs and he does them according to the master’s training and oversight. In other words, he knows exactly what he is supposed to do as a managing servant of that household to accomplish his master’s wishes. At some point, the master goes on a business trip, but doesn’t tell the servant how long he is going to be gone. The servant has no idea when he’ll be back -- which leaves him a choice. He can continue to work faithfully with what he has been authorized and gifted to do -- and be caught unawares -- going about the business of his master as he was trained to do. That’s choice one.
Two choices 2) Work for self
Or, in the owner’s long absence -- he may begin to imagine that he is not only the caretaker in the owner’s absence, but to think he was actually the owner -- who can do whatever he wants, however he wants… just as he pleases. Like the McDonald’s that got turned around, here, he can get a big, privileged head and even think, ‘Jesus should be taking care of my feet and waiting tables for me -- and every other one of my whims too’. We don’t usually think it in those brash terms, do we? It is too obviously offensive -- but how often do we ask God for what we want compared to how often we ask what God wants of us?
In a sense, this story goes back to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Although God had not left, he walked with them in the garden -- but in the midst of that he had charged them with the responsibility to care for all of it, but they decided to do it their own way rather than God’s and messed it all up. That is why he is not only our Creator God, he is our Re-creating God.
Out of a selfish, swollen ego, this servant begins to think he is not accountable to anyone. He looks down on those surrounding him -- those he was entrusted to care for, those who actually did the grunt work that made him successful, and he began ordering them about according to his personal whims, mistreating them and eagerly trying (unethically) to grab even more power and more status through entertaining friends in inappropriate ways.
Work for self leads to (1) grouped with unfaithful (2) punishment
Jesus says, these people who are placed in areas of responsibility, who are taught and gifted and empowered to serve, but who doubt his promises and do wrong or fail to do right, will be grouped with the unfaithful. Probably not much of an issue for an egocentric, self-indulgent manager, unless he comes to his senses -- but it also includes punishment. And the more we are responsible for, the more for which we are held accountable; the more severe the punishment will be if we deliberately neglect God’s known expectations and calling on our life.
To whom does it apply? All of us… to varying levels
But for those who are faithful in what areas of responsibility they have -- whether it be small or large -- and all of us have some responsibility, right? We have children, grandchildren, fellow parishioners, friends, community members. We all have something that God wants us to share with someone -- a kind word, some sort of support, some sort of help. To not be a burden on others, would be one thing, even. To make God’s work lighter by offering ourselves to his cause -- to share his gracious love by our words and actions.
Rewarded with joy and increased responsibility
To those who diligently and devotedly serve as best they can as the Lord teaches and empowers them, these people will be rewarded with great joy, and more responsibility. Well that last doesn’t necessarily sound like a reward to me, and maybe to some others too -- because the more we have, the more we must be responsible and accountable.
Some may think, ‘Better to do less so we have less to be held accountable for. Over the years, I hear once in a while that some people who are teaching small groups say, “Don’t call me a teacher” and they cite James 3:1, which says: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (NIV) And so to not be judged more strictly, they say, “don’t call me a teacher, I’ll just teach the class.” Except they don’t use the word “teach”, they say they are just a “leader”.
Do they think they are going to fool by God by playing with semantics, by changing a word? I don’t think so. It doesn’t work that way. What he calls us to do he wants us to do. Not doing it, or relabeling it, does not make us not accountable. It makes us a failure in even the little things… And we know from the parable of the talents (If you don’t know those stories, look at Matthew 25:14ff or Luke 19:12ff) and we find that if we are not faithful with even the little we have, we lose even that little bit.
The good thing is that in God’s heavenly kingdom, we will not suffer from the Peter Principle. Are you familiar with the Peter Principle? The Peter Principle means you start with excellence doing this little job and so they promote you to this harder job, which you do not quite as excellently, but okay, and so they promote you to the next level which your not quite as good at, and they keep doing this until you reach a place where you are incompetent at everything. That’s the Peter principle. You are promoted upward and out of your area of expertise to where you are not functioning well. It is a satirical look at hierarchical organizations and the way they work -- or don’t work. But God knows just how much we can grow, just how much potential we have, he knows just what areas we should be working in. He knows just how much he can do through us. He doesn’t assign responsibilities to us that we cannot, with his help, fulfill. And he rewards us with a joy for all that he does enable us to do if we only keep our life in his hands. That is the secret. When we keep out life in his hands, he enables us to do everything we are called to do and we don’t have to worry about being accountable because is guiding us and empowering us every step of the way. Let’s pray.
Closing Prayer Lord, we recognize how important it is that we pursue your will. Guide us and direct us to be all we can be for you and for each other as we place every aspect of our lives into your hands -- for the pruning away the unwanted areas of our life (saying no to temptation and ego and to what stretches us beyond what we can potentially do with excellence), and for your growth and enhancement of us (saying yes to your call and allowing you to stretch us to what we can do with excellence). We give all of ourselves to you for your use as you see fit, so that we will always be ready, going about your business and leaving the light on for your arrival--in your ultimate coming, or in coming to our hearts again today. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 399 Take My Life, and Let It Be
Closing Blessing Now as we go, remember that One who is coming has come and is among us. May his grace go with you as the Father lights your path, the Son’s compassion be the love by which you walk that path, and the Spirit’s presence be the power for each step. Amen.