Homily for 8.11.13
19th Sunday in
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today serves as a stark transition from the Lukean discipleship challenges found in the past few homilies to what will follow in in the next few weeks as Jesus’ outrageous and harsh statements that, “the Son of Man comes to divide,” and that the way to be part of GOD's people is a very “narrow way,” indeed.
You will remember how, Dr. Luke, has shaped the Jesus material we have thought-through thus far:
- The Good Samaritan -- where we see we are part of GOD's people when we love GOD by loving our neighbor...
- Mary & Martha -- where we see we are part of GOD's people when we allow the calling of Jesus to disrupt our understanding of the social-structures that have heretofore bound us (in this case living beyond gender divides)
- The Rich Fool -- where we see we are part of GOD's people by not allowing our possessions and our national identity to become an idol, which prevents us from finding the narrow way to life
- The LORD's Model Prayer -- where we see we are part of GOD's people as we join the LORD in battle against the ways of empire (violence and greed) and the powers of darkness (that which undergirds empire)
What we have before us in this morning's text, therefore, is the stiff push of urgency in Jesus' message. Housed here in the ambiguity of this little parable comes the reality that time is running out for both Jesus -- he will soon be in Jerusalem facing the conflict of confrontation with the nation, and time is running out for his hearers as well -- who will soon be forced to decide whether they will become part of GOD's new people and repent -- becoming part of the new exodus -- or be lost to the catastrophe coming from Roman retribution.
Will they be found faithful?
The text opens with this directive from Jesus:
“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Here, Jesus reminds his hearers that constant readiness is the key to being genuine Kingdom people. The servant's calling means the Master's arrival is paramount, not the comfort and sleep of the those who attend the Master’s care. Imminent crisis faced these disciples; the thief was on the way. Said differently, Jesus would soon arrive in Jerusalem, and just as soon he would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders. They would hand him over to empire, like so many more before him, and he would endure the death of a rebel -- the one who was no rebel at all! Then, what would happen to those who served? What would become of them?
It is important to note the context for today’s scripture, that which occurs just before today’s reading:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
Here the text questions Jesus’ listeners, and by extension us:
Are we coveting our belongings?
Is our treasure found in the service of the Master, or elsewhere?
Are we ready to diligently follow-on after the LORD and walk his narrow-way?
Were those followers back then (and are we his present followers) truly his servants, or merely playacting?
How can we tell?
Easy. We can tell by what we do.
This is not to say that what we do makes us part of the new community of the King -- I am not preaching salvation by works this morning. But, what I am saying is that one need only look at the trajectory of one's life to understand if one is a servant -- prepared and waiting for the Master to return at whatever hour. Simply put, is my life, is your life, about the Master’s business, or about my own?
We know what we face. Clearly, the thief is coming. The enemy is near. Soon the challenges facing us will mount just like the challenges facing those first century believers when Jesus was crushed by the powers of darkness and empire. Darkness gathers around us just like it gathered around them.
What will we do?
Will we succumb to the pressure of social conformity.
Will we retreat to an ever-shrinking island of social isolation?
Will we fail to grapple with what it means to follow the LORD and his way in this day because the context has shifted from under out feet?
(Neither of those options describe the faithful readiness of the servant.)
Or, will we willingly follow after him into our own Jerusalem, to whatever waits?
Will we willingly disciple ourselves to do the difficult task of patiently waiting -- looking for the Master -- by joining his work instead of withering away the hours of our lives?
Said differently, the greatest gift given to us from the LORD is our life. The question is, how will we live-out this gift?
The text goes on to read:
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival...And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.Blessed are those diligent servants.
Blessed are those servants...
That is, the blessing of true life and a true humanness rests with those who serve the KING by offering him the gift of their own life. Remember what Jesus said elsewhere:
“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Lk.17:33).
There is here before us then, in waiting on the King, the blessing of peace that springs forth daily from a life well-lived; there is the blessing of life lived beyond the relentless ravages of the self and selfishness. This is the heart of a true discipleship.
But, this humanness doesn’t just fall to us from the sky. No, for this humanness to become a reality there must be a diligence about our discipleship. Disciples do not retire for the night while the Master is out of the house. Disciples remain alert, engaged, part of the Master's work, ready for the Master's call and prepared for service at any hour. Discipleship done in this way is deeply challenging.
Because today our attention is so utterly divided; our time is so disconnected. How do we hope to serve the LORD when we are so pulled apart by seemingly other, more important duties? We hardly have time for our mounting responsibilities, let alone the service of the LORD. We are torn to serve two masters? But, we know where this leads:
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mt. 6:24)
Be sure of this, there is no middle ground. We are either disciples or we are not. I must confess, when confronted with this demand I am deeply convicted here. I am so far down the broad road of the ego-driven life that the way back seems shrouded and fogged over. Sincerely, I want to be part of those Jesus described as the “blessed servants,” but I wonder, is there any hope? How am I to make it back? What am I to do?
BE PART OF THE MASTER'S WORK
The way to move beyond the bone-chill of cultural captivity may only be found by immediately joining the work and ministry of Jesus, who through the Spirit continues to minister to the world unto this very hour. That is, we must get beyond the drive to self and discover the pull of genuine a humanness, which may be only found in choice to bless others. Here, the narrow-way suddenly opens before us as we become the servant of all -- those like us and even those not like us.
We will never begin to understand the call of Jesus to genuine humanness until we ourselves become so burdened for his work and for the world he came to reclaim that we join with him to reclaim that world within the squalor that is the human condition. This means that for us to join the blessing-work of Christ is a summons to struggle.
Somehow, we must discover within us the same promised joy that burdened the Master, that joy of promise that moved him to with compassion to offer kingdom-healings and wholeness to the broken, the left-outs and the locked-outs of his day. And, likewise, we must find the same burden that drove him to the bloody agony of the garden of prayer and the violence of the Roman cross, as well.
We must come to be part of the Master’s people who bless the world. We must come to be included in that company of the committed who offer the world tangible pieces of ourselves through sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness. And, how will we recognize this when it occurs, this Jesus-way of blessing the world? It will be recognized in the choice to gives ourselves away. And, it will be evident when we must come to weep as he did.
This is the reality of becoming the blessed servants that is discipleship. We practice the reality which ultimately opens to us the essence of a true humanness. This, in part, is what I meant two weeks ago when talking then about the LORD's Model Prayer, when I asked us to think-through how we are to be with the LORD in the fight against the powers of darkness.
Before us is a world at war with itself and with the truth. Do we care? Do we see, through the eye of faith, those abused little children, those exploited teens, those battered spouses, those addicted street people? Those lost of our own community? Certainly, Jesus does. GOD help us if we do not.
This, then, is our work.
This is our calling.
This is our Gethsemane.
This is our war.
But, how do we wage this warfare? Well, Jesus is still praying (remember, he ever lives to make intercession for us), and we must join him in his prayer for the world (here John 17 becomes immensely instructive). As we make intercession for a world at war with itself, we take upon ourselves the work of Jesus himself. This kind of prayer is sweat. This kind of prayer leads us to see beyond the me and mine to a world so broken that our blood vessels may strain and break under the burden.
Likewise, our work is to offer blessing to the world by seeking to bring healing to those ravaged by their own sinful decisions and by the disease of the human condition. Now, I do not mean by this that we must send into the fray an army of faith-healers, TV evangelist style. But, having said this, I wonder what would happen if small clusters of disciples, empower by the Spirit of the living Christ, marched out into this broken, dying world with healing power of Christ on our hearts and the power of intercessory prayer on our lips? What if we waged spiritual warfare with the sole design to bless the world that GOD loves and Jesus came to reclaim? Truly, this is the only way the Kingdom is birthed anywhere.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have the servants recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”