08/11/31 Sermon (August 11, 2013)

posted Sep 3, 2013, 11:38 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Sep 3, 2013, 11:38 AM ]

08/11/31 Sermon (August 11, 2013)

Luke 12:32-40  (Liturgist)

"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, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be 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.
“Blessed 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. If 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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Sermon: “An Unexpected Guest”

First of all, I’d like to thank Bill Coleman for preaching last week, and all of y’all for letting me take some time for study leave. Unfortunately, I can’t claim to be any smarter today than I was last week, but I can say that it was nice to have some time to plan ahead for the next several months.

I’m especially looking forward to September and October, as we explore some of the classical spiritual disciplines, like fasting, and prayer, and study, and perseverance. I think it will be a wonderful chance to think about some of the ways that Christians throughout the centuries have looked for ways to strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ, and to broaden their understanding of God.

On another note, I am sorry to announce that our Director of Music, Wes Naron, has resigned. He has been offered some extra opportunities at his school in Cotton Center to lead the choir there and to begin staging musicals, and as many of you know, he and his wife Lee have become brand-new grandparents, and they want to be able to go as often as possible to Dallas to see their Granddaughter.

The Executive Committee will be meeting today after church to discuss what we need to do next. If you have any questions, please feel free to talk to me, and Wes has indicated that he would welcome your questions as well.

I know that I speak for all of us when I say that we are sorry to see him step down, but I know that sometimes its necessary to take a look at our priorities, and choose what’s best for us and our families.

This is another step on the road to finding the right Choir director for the church, and I know that God has already chosen the best person for the job. We just need to be patient and wait for the timing to be right. Fortunately, we have a wonderfully talented choir and a great organist. We’re going to be just fine, at least for the immediate future.

With that, let’s get back to our scripture text this morning.

For the last couple of months, we’ve been following Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. We were challenged with his followers to consider a deeper, even sacrificial discipleship; we watched as he advised a religious scholar about what it means to be a true neighbor; and we were reminded with Martha that all that our work in this world is not done in isolation, that we need to take time to pray and listen for God’s direction before we presume to go and do his will.

And then Jesus gave us the gift of what that prayer might look like, a beautiful example of what it means to come before God and offer our lives and our concerns and our praise, realizing that whatever God gives us is good and right for us, that God desires the best for his children. And that sometimes the answer to our prayers, is ‘no’.

And then, last week, with the help of Bill, Jesus reminded us that our earthly treasures are ultimately useless, that in fact, they can become sources of conflict between family members, and offer us a sense of security that is based, not on God, but on our own efforts.

Or course, the problem is, this sense of security is easily destroyed by the uncertain world in which we live, and that the only source of true comfort and hope in is the everlasting covenant that God has promised to his people. It is when we trust in the grace and love of God, rather than money, that we can truly be free of the fears that surround our daily existence.

This discussion of money and faith continues into today’s scripture. Jesus recognizes that it is a hard thing to think about letting go of stuff in our lives, to think about selling things we don’t need, and finding ways to give everything we can to the work of the body of Christ in the world.

Jesus knows very well that we have a tendency to use our belongings as a sort of protective barrier against the world, that if we simply surround ourselves with enough things, then we will be safe.

Many of you remember of course Drew Travis, who was the pastor here for several years. Not too long ago, I had a chance to meet his brother, Karl Travis. Karl had a word for this insatiable need to buy stuff that we don’t need, he called it consumeritis. He said that consumeritis is when we buy stuff we don’t want, with money we don’t have, in order to impress people we don’t like.

And when we are infected with consumeritis, it damages our souls. It dulls our sensitivity to the poor, it blinds us to the needs of the world. It makes us think that we can rely on ourselves, on our own abilities, on our own merit.

All of these things get in the way of our relationship with God and with each other. Jesus is telling us that we need to give, not because the church needs the money, or because the world cannot continue without our giving, but rather, because it is healthy and liberating to give, it releases us from the demands of the world, and it realigns us with priorities of God.

Of course, that’s not to say that the church doesn’t need the money. Let me be perfectly clear: the church needs your regular financial support, especially during the summer months when everybody goes on vacation and forgets to send in their pledges. But that’s not the reason Jesus calls us to give. We give because it’s it’s good for our souls.

And so all of the last several chapters of Luke have focused on a life that is reaching out to those around us, a life that is not lived as an island, or cloistered away in some kind of hermitage or ivory tower, but rather is lived in community and fellowship.

Jesus is encouraging us to live outside ourselves, to view our lives as gifts to be shared with those around us. Jesus challenges us to let go of those things that prevent us from living in full communion with God and with neighbor.

And as you can imagine, that is a hard sell.

Because it’s not so easy to just let go of ourselves. It’s not so easy to let go of the habits that are formed over a lifetime of self-preservation. It’s a sad thing, but we don’t find much affirmation for a selfless kind of life in our world. We don’t find it in our advertising, we don’t find it in our workplaces, we don’t find it in our politics.

We live in a world that is competitive and at times cut-throat. Everybody is looking for an edge. A life lived for the benefit of others makes no sense in a world that values only blind ambition and the bottom line. Because the bottom line is cold and unforgiving, and there’s just no compromise.

And Jesus knows this. He knows the fears we carry. He knows the corrupting influences of a society that cares more for image and status than for compassion and grace.

And that’s why the first thing he says to his disciples when he tells them to let go of their stuff, is “Do not fear.” “Do not fear,” he says. “God delights in giving you what you need. The kingdom is already yours. But you have to first unclench your fists and let go of the things that tie you down in order to receive it.”

There is a blessing in giving. There is a blessing in developing the habit of generosity. And even though it may seem that our attitudes go unnoticed, that our hard-work goes unrewarded, Jesus promises us that we will not be forgotten. Because when we dedicate our lives to serving each other, we are no longer serving a world that that can only take and destroy. We are serving a kingdom that can only give and create.

In this kingdom, the master who comes home to find his servants waiting for him shows an unheard-of courtesy. In this kingdom, the master serves his servants. He places them in a position of honor. In this kingdom, the master doesn’t assume that the servants will be faithful, but when they are, he doesn’t ignore it, either. He lifts them up for special respect and blessing.

It’s a remarkable picture, isn’t it, this master who comes home from a late night celebrating at his own wedding party, and when he comes home, he takes the time to treat his servants as though they were the honored guests, and he is their slave.

This story somehow reminds me of the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the very end of The Return of the King. The Hobbits, those small, unassuming shire folk, have often been overlooked and sometimes more of a nuisance than anything else, but they were always willing to do, in whatever small way they could, what needed to be done. In the end it was their perseverance, and willingness to give everything they had in order to destroy the one ring, and bring about the ruin of Sauron, the evil prince of darkness.

And so when the rightful king, Aragorn takes his throne in the white city, the hobbits are presented to him. But when they bow to him, he stops them, and tells them, “My friends, you bow to no-one.” Aragorn bows to them, and the whole city pays homage to these good and faithful hobbits, who simply, and without hope of any glory or recognition, gave their lives to do what was right. It’s a scene that makes cry everytime I see it, and I’ve probably seen it 20 times.

This is Jesus’ description of Master serving his servants, and this image is diametrically opposed to our view of how power works, and his understanding of the kingdom of heaven turns the world upside down. The master humbles himself, and the servants are served. The least become great, and the Master bows in deference to them. There is a blessing in developing the habits of faithfulness. There is a blessing to pouring out our lives for the benefit of others.

But there are two houses in this story. There are two houses, and there are two masters.

One of them is ruled by a Master who recognizes the dedication of the servants, and blesses them. But in the other house, the owner sleeps, not knowing that his home is about to be broken into, by a power that he does not anticipate or understand, by a guest that he does not know. Now of course, if he had known that he was going to have an unexpected visitor, he would have made preparations.

We live in the world of the second master. We live in a world that assumes that what we see all around us is all there is, and all that there ever will be. A world that bases its ways of doing things on whether or not there’s something in it for me. We live in a world that thinks that it can trust in its own worldly power, in its own worldly influence, in its own worldly comforts. And the constant drone of greed and the easy promise of false security have lulled this world to sleep.

But this world is not all there is. There is more to life than the rat race of blind ambition and selfish living. There is more to life than simply going through the motions, doing just enough to get by, just enough to earn a living.

Jesus is calling all of us to a richer, more meaningful existence than the world can ever provide, and the kingdom of heaven is breaking in on this world, in unexpected places, at unexpected times. And we are called to be co-conspirators with Jesus, working with him to make the kingdom of heaven the standard by which everyone is welcomed, loved, and forgiven. A kingdom in which compassion is rewarded, in which generosity is honored, in which living for others is the greatest career path one can follow.

Because in this kingdom, treasure is measured not by the worth of a thing, of the cost of our stuff but by God’s love for his children, and the price Jesus paid on the cross.

This is the kingdom that is breaking and entering our world like a thief in the night. Let us do everything we can to be ready for it.

Thanks be to God. Amen.