Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sermon: Luke 12: 35-53 The Faithful Servant

I used to work in a corner shop owned by a man called Jackie. On a Tuesday evening and a Saturday evening from 6.30 - 10.30, there was me and another teenager manning the shop. Besides serving customers, there were the shelves to keep stocked, and cleaning to do. Sometimes, there wasn’t much to do. The shop was quiet, the shelves were full, and all was clean. You’d have a bit of time to stand and chat, but you always had to be on the lookout. Not for customers, but for Jackie himself. At any moment he might pop in, through the front door or through the back door, just to see how things were going.

He wasn’t paying us to stand around talking (as he told us on more than one occasion!). When he was away, he expected us to work as if he were there. Some of my colleagues found it so tiring to work when he was there, and needed a rest once he had gone away again (only for him to have forgotten something and to walk back in, and find them lounging over the counter!). When the cat’s away, do the mice play?

We find ourselves in a similar situation in this morning’s reading. What will it look like to be a good servant, a faithful worker in God’s kingdom? Last week, you might remember, we looked at the greed of the man wanting a share of his brother’s inheritance. Jesus told the story of the foolish farmer who was rich, but not rich towards God. Jesus tells us to store up treasure in heaven, not on earth, by seeking God’s kingdom as our first priority.

This morning, we see what seeking God’s kingdom looks like. Jesus is pointing forward to the time after the cross and the resurrection, to the period after the ascension, when Jesus is no longer on the earth. His servants are here, keeping the business going. This is a word for us, for our time. Seeking God’s kingdom means watching and working while we wait for his return. Because Jesus will return. We just don’t know when.

So first, the watching. Imagine a big house, something like Downton Abbey. The master has gone away for the evening to a party. A wedding feast. There’s no indication of how long the party will go on, or how late the master will get home. But when he does get home, at whatever time, he expects his servants to be ready to greet him. To open the door when he knocks, to usher him in out of the cold. Alert, watching, waiting, ready. They’re not sleeping, or snoozing, they’re ready. There is a blessing for those watching servants.

It’s an unexpected blessing. You’d expect that the servants would have to do their job, make the master a bite of supper or a cup of tea, and get him ready for bed. but look at verse 37. The master caters for the servants. The master serves the servants. It’s unheard of! But we’re not in Downton anymore, we’re in the kingdom of God.

When Jesus returns, he himself will provide for and care for his servants. We’ll be welcomed to his wedding feast, given a place at the table, and given the best food to eat. All those who are watching and waiting for him - all who have longed for his appearing (2 Tim 4:8).

The only thing is that we don’t know when it will be. If you’ve ever had your house broken into, it’s a horrible experience. For someone to be in your space, looking at and taking away your things, it’s terrible. If you’d known when they were coming, you would have been ready for them, maybe with a poker or something stronger. But that’s the point. The thief doesn’t ring up and make an appointment. He doesn’t post a card to say I’ll be in your area on Tuesday morning, if it would be convenient to call? In the same way, Jesus says he is coming at an unexpected hour, so be ready. Watch for his coming, whenever it may be.

So are you ready? Are you watching for him eagerly? Ready to welcome him, and surprisingly to be served by him? When the Queen came to Enniskillen for her Jubilee service, the Rectory was made ready (and searched carefully by the security brief). The Dean had to be ready for her coming for morning coffee. The King of Kings has told us he is coming. Are we ready to receive him? Watch!

But as Jesus goes on (and doesn’t really seem to answer Peter’s question), he says that it’s not enough to watch, we also have to work while we wait for his return. The master has left us work to be getting on with. In school, when the teacher left the classroom, the work was forgotten until they appeared at the door, giving off about the noise! What about us? Will we be found at the master’s work when he returns? Again there’s a blessing involved (43).

The unfaithful servant, however, is in danger. He doesn’t care what the master said, he beats the other servants and eats and drinks and gets drunk, lording it over them. But whether he expects him or not, the master will return and deal with him. He’ll be punished, condemned, put with the unfaithful.

So what is the work the master has left us? At the end of this gospel, he sends the disciples out as his witnesses to all the nations. We have been given the job of sharing the good news, telling people about Jesus the Saviour of the World. Are we getting on with this task, or are we merely looking after ourselves and our own preferences?

Have we forgotten about the return of the Lord Jesus, given up on him, and happy to do what pleases us, with no thought of his judgement? You see, there are consequences to our obedience or disobedience. In verses 47-48, the people in view are all servants of the master. These aren’t strangers, these are servants. To know what he wants and to disobey is a serious offence, more serious than not knowing what he wants and doing the same.

In this way, this parable is probably for church leaders (in whatever role), as we take charge and feed the other servants. So pray - pray for those who lead in this congregation, in the organisations, in the diocese - pray for faithfulness, to keep to the work the master has allocated. Pray for focus, to keep on track.

The big message of this morning’s reading is that Jesus is coming. He will return. He wants to find us watching and working as we wait for his return. He has given us work to do, because he completed the work he had to do. He came two thousand years ago to bring fire to the earth. He had a baptism to be baptised with, a work that he had to do, a submersion that only he could do - to go down under the waters of death, to rise to new life. And while his death on the cross brings peace, Jesus says that he also brings division.

Not everyone welcomes Jesus. Not everyone serves Jesus. The division comes on the earth, between those who belong to Jesus, and those who reject him. But Jesus says that division can even be found in families. Households can be divided by him. Some become his servants, and work and watch for him. Others will reject him, refusing to serve him.

But remember where the blessing lies. The blessing is for those who serve the Servant King, who died to bring peace, who serves his servants in his paradise. Will you watch and work for him as you wait for him to return? Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 22nd February 2015.

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