Pentecost 9 – Year C ““Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand 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, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”” (Luke 12:32–40, NIV)
I just love a good mystery story! I like the twists and turns in the plot and unexpected surprises that totally catch you off guard. Today we have one of those surprises as well. Jesus is telling his disciples to be ready and watchful for the coming of God’s kingdom. Like servants waiting for the master of the household to return from a wedding banquet, they should be alert and watchful for nobody knows the hour of the master’s return. I am sure that many of Jesus’ listeners could relate to that warning. Most of Jesus’ followers were not masters, but servants. Most were employees and not employers. They all knew how important it was to be watching and waiting and ready for the master’s return. “Be prepared!” was the watchword for such listeners, lest you find yourself out of a job and out on the street. But then, midway though this discourse on watchful waiting comes a surprise in the plot. A twist and turn no one was expecting. Jesus says half ways through our Bible reading this morning...
“It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he (the master) will dress himself to serve, will have them (the servants) recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” (Luke 12:37, NIV)
Wait a minute, did someone get their typing mixed up here? Is our word processor suffering from a virus? Have the Russians been putting fake news in our Bibles? This was just the opposite of what everyone was expecting. Something that probably never happened in a thousand years, and yet with Jesus, this what his servants would see their master doing and doing for all. Jesus would be the fist “king who was a servant to all”. It must have been “heart attack city” for many of those first hearers of this little passage. Because it was so totally off the wall. So completely out of the ordinary. So completely counter culture and different from anything and everything they had ever seen or heard before. In 33 AD, the master/servant relationship was pretty well established. Masters were there to master and servants were to there to serve. But a master who got down on his knees to wash his servants feet? Now that was something new under the sun. A master who invited his servants to recline at a table at which he served them a meal? Unheard of? A master who would give his life for his servants, even unworthy servants? Now that was a whole new world coming into existence. It was God’s kingdom breaking into our fallen world, and setting things right again. John the Baptist was surprised by this counter culture kingdom that Jesus preached. In the gospels we see him sending his disciples to Jesus asking him if he was really the one who would save Israel. John was expecting a savior who would come with heavenly armies and bowls full of the wrath and judgment. Someone who would reward the righteous and punish the wicked. But what did he get with Jesus? Jesus told John’s messengers,
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7:22, NIV)
Jesus comes as a servant king, and he warns his followers to be ready and watching, lest they miss out on his serving them. What a surprise. And it is still a surprise in today’s world. You mean we’re supposed to walk in this guys footsteps? This is the one we are supposed to imitate? You mean he’s come to make us into better servants of God and one another? I don’t know if I like this! When I was a kid I kind of liked being first in the lunch line, and I still like it today. And being nice to people aren’t very nice? Easier said than done. And what about this business of “bearing one another’s burdens”? Don’t I already have enough burdens of my own to shoulder let alone someone else’s? Jesus said, whoever would be first must be last, and whoever would be great in his kingdom must be a servant to all. In Jesus kingdom if you follow the boss, you better be prepared to bear a cross. For that’s what it means to serve in his name. And I don’t know if I like that! It all sounds kind of crazy! But consider the alternative. Since the beginning of time, people all over the world have been trying to be first in line for everything from lunch to the best seats in the synagogue. And the results have always been miserable. When only one person or one group seeks mastery over their bothers and sisters, the results are always tragic and sad. Racism, sexism, antisemitism, white supremacy. These are sad words, are they not? And the recent headlines in the newspapers remind us of the high price the human family pays for such words. When one group or individual tries to play master over his or her brothers and sisters, the results are always sad and tragic, because nobody wins. When we are all trying to be “king of the hill”, all you get is a bunch of sore losers. But there are alternatives. Father Henri Nouwen is a name some of us are familiar with. We’ve heard him quoted by Max Lucado and studied his books in women’s Bible study. Father Nouwen is an expert in pastoral care and counseling. Father Nouwen has taught at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Yet towards the end of his career, Father Nouwen surprised his friends and followers by taking job, not at Yale, Harvard, or Oxford, but at a small nursing home for the developmentally disabled. He gave up academic glory to change diapers and feed people who could not themselves. When asked about this unusual change of careers, he replied that it had something to do with his new teachers who were the developmentally disabled. It seems that these friends and neighbors who were so helpless and needy were teaching him the most important lesson of all. They were teaching him to love. What lesson do you suppose the master in our reading for this morning was trying to teach his servants, by grabbing rolling up his sleeves and serving them? What lesson do you suppose he is trying to teach us by sharing with us his body and blood every time we commune? What lesson do you suppose Jesus is trying to teach us by bearing his cross of love? May we follow in the footstep of our servant king, learning from him, the most important thing to learn of all, the lesson of love for God and love for neighbor. Amen.