“Live like this… continued”
Sunday 11 August 2013
Church of the Ascension – The Anglican Church in Hilton, KZN
Gospel Reading: Luke 12: 32 – 40
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34)
At the Readings: Introduction to the readings and sermon
Previously: Jesus, teach us how to pray / When you pray, pray like this…
Last week: When you live, live like this (not like that)
This week: When you live, live like this (continued…)
The gospel encourages the people of faith in God to be watchful. What are some of the marks of a watchful life? What does it mean to be watchful, ready and faithful in this world?
One biblical response to that question is found in the OT reading from the prophet Isaiah. A life that is faithful is a life of the pursuit of justice, standing against oppression, and upholding the cause of the helpless and vulnerable. It is a strongly worded reading, including criticism of ways of religious practice that anger God because they are not accompanied by a lifestyle that honours God. Listen closely to those words.
The faithfulness theme can be extended to the NT reading from the letter to the Hebrews, focused on… Faith! A life of faith is a life of stepping out with vision, courage, and commitment.
The clear message is “pay attention” (note the words from the alternative Collect used today, about “God breaking into our lives” with God’s Word). God has spoken; God has given us direction. Don’t get distracted – not in worship, not in shallow ceremony, not even in life by pursuing treasures of no eternal value, as our Gospel reading highlighted last Sunday.
Portions of the readings
Isaiah 1:11-12, 16-17
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I
have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats …
When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more … Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the
orphan, plead for the widow.
Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-11
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of
things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By
faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God,
so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible …
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that
he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing
where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had
been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac
and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was
too old – and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him
faithful who had promised.
Luke 12: 32-35 & 40
“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 … You also must be
ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Context is always important, in listening to Scripture.
Here are a few verses from Luke 17: 7ff, where Jesus is speaking about the role of the faithful person, likening them to the servant or slave, who does their job and does not specifically need to be thanked for doing what they are supposed to do:
Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”
I will not take this further, but we note the context, and that this was considered normal for slaves.
But in today’s reading, all is turned upside down: The Master comes home and serves the slaves! We can assume that the slaves would be thrown by this unusual behaviour! Just as Peter was, according to John’s gospel, when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet; these slaves also would say, “No Lord, you shouldn’t be serving me dinner! I should be washing your feet, and serving dinner to you!”
When we think of the Master returning at an unexpected hour, we think of judgment, and often in a very negative sense. That’s the tradition we have inherited. But look at this Master. He’s coming back from the wedding feast…
This is a celebration; he’s in the best good mood; he serves his slaves! The Master’s coming is not to be feared! In fact, verse 32 says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!”
It’s true that if we read on in chapter 12 we find verses that speak of judgment, and where Jesus makes clear that even his presence has caused division amongst people.
And there are these verses:
But if the slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves… and to eat and drink and get drunk, the 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 in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave, who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.
People recognized that there are consequences for those who know better and yet still act up when the master is delayed.
But here is the key point, from today’s passage:
It is the master’s good pleasure; it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom! Do not fear his coming….
Why is there all this comment about the master being delayed? It’s because he was delayed, and people were worried. In the early church they expected Jesus back any day, even weeks after his resurrection. But Luke is writing some fifty years after the death of Jesus; people are beginning to wonder if he’s ever coming back.
Some people have begun to behave as if he’s not coming back, saying “we may as well live as we please.” Well… if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves… the 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 put him with the unfaithful.
OK, says the congregation that Luke is writing for: We understand that he is still coming, and that he loves us. We get the picture that he will serve us.
But hey, it’s getting late! What are we supposed to do in the meantime? This is Luke’s answer, quoting Jesus:
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.
He’s reminding them what Jesus has just said; we read it last week, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed for possessions is one of the worst things to distract us from the work of the kingdom. Greed leads us into the kind of behaviour that causes trouble!
One biblical scholar, Bill Loader, writes about these verses saying that they are “liberating” and “honest”:
There is no pretending here that we cease caring about ourselves. The passage even uses monetary metaphors to make the point. Go for wealth that will pay dividends. Go for purses that will not wear thin and lose your money. In other words, the sayings challenge people to act in their own best interests; and within the framework of the gospel, that means to merge together: love of self, love of others and love of God.
It’s not about being stupid and giving everything away so that we starve. We are called to have faith; that is, we are called to show trust in God, by striking a balance between three inseparable things, “love of self, love of others and love of God.”
Perhaps more than ever, we need to get the correct perspective on “love of self” – in its true Gospel perspective, not the usual selfish way (elaborate).
Most of us have too much, more than we need, and it holds us back from the kingdom. We do not experience the joys of the kingdom that are here for us now, because we are too focused on growing our pension fund or increasing our salary, or buying the latest model car or technology.
Give alms; sell your possession for charity – charity means for the loving of others, not selling our valuables in order to buy something else – and, Jesus assures us, we will find a treasure that is far greater than the latest things our money can buy!
NOT used on Sunday, but included with these notes:
It has been said that
life is what happens
while you’re making other plans.
So also with death,
as the rich fool discovered.
The Teacher’s parable
is a call:
rely less on “stuff”.
It becomes an invitation –
live in the day and its wonders;
anticipate the kingdom
God is intent on giving
the way of the Teacher;
alert to the signs
of a realm
unexpectedly present …
while you’re making other plans.
© Jeff Shrowder, 2013