Luke 12:32-40 CEB
“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.
“Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit. Be like people waiting for their master to come home from a wedding celebration, who can immediately open the door for him when he arrives and knocks on the door. Happy are those servants whom the master finds waiting up when he arrives. I assure you that, when he arrives, he will dress himself to serve, seat them at the table as honored guests, and wait on them. Happy are those whom he finds alert, even if he comes at midnight or just before dawn. But know this, if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have allowed his home to be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.”
Okay, after hearing these verses from Luke this week, what do you think would be the worst possible time for Jesus to come back? For instance, imagine it is during the last quarter of the Super Bowl with only three minutes left on the clock, and the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all tied up: 21 to 21. Suddenly, there’s Jesus knocking on the door, … he’s back! How many of us would be tempted to pull Jesus aside and gently plead for him to just wait for fifteen, or thirty minutes on the outside to find who the winner will be? How about this, what would be the most awkward time for Jesus to show up? I am talking about those times when we are all speaking and acting in ways that are not quite so Christian… Maybe, we have just started to shout something not so holy at the car that just drifted into our lane without a turn signal causing us to slam on the brakes to narrowly avoid ending up in their trunk. Just as those words are leaving our lips, there’s Jesus sitting next to us in the car… pretty awkward to say the least. Throughout scripture, we are reminded that Jesus will arrive when we least expect it, but how do we ready ourselves for him to come back? Christ invites us to prepare by living into God’s kingdom values now with no delay, as the kingdom’s final completion and our Lord’s return could happen anytime, probably when it will surprise us the most.
At first, an unexpected return sounds really intimidating, as it feels as though Jesus is asking us to behave like he’s coming 24/7. Going so far as to say, “‘Happy are those whom he finds alert, even if he comes at midnight or just before dawn.’” In other words, better to stay up all night if you have to rather than miss the master’s return! Let us be honest though, who among us can be on watch all the time? My mind, for instance, went to the line from that classic Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Comin to Town,” where it goes:
“He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake.”
I almost can’t believe we tell kids that! Behave yourself because Santa Claus is watching and judging you all day and night! If you end up on the naughty list, no presents for you. That’s enormous pressure to be under, to try to be perfect or at least very good all the time so you do not get caught misbehaving. Having no room for mistakes is exhausting, and it certainly means we are not living joyfully or abundantly!
Nobody can be on alert like this all the time, it depletes us mentally, physically, and spiritually to live under this kind of constant pressure. Even the most secure places in the country, places that need to be watched all the time, like Ft. Knox and Air Force One do not have the same people on shift all day, every day. If they tried, you would find many lookouts asleep at their posts which is far worse! Like Jesus says this morning, “‘ if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have allowed his home to be broken into.’” By trying to stay constantly vigilant, perhaps the thief found not an unguarded household but one where an exhausted homeowner was asleep at his post, not ready because he had always tried to be on alert.
To be under pressure to be perfect and on watch all the time is contrary to what Jesus is really trying to tell us this morning. Let’s look at verse 32, where Jesus invites us to depend on God and live into the kingdom, reminding us that we are the “little flock” dependent on our divine shepherd to survive and flourish. We do not even need to give a second thought to whether we deserve our shepherd’s care for us or not, as we are reminded that “‘your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.’” Putting these verses in context within the gospel of Luke, Jesus had just finished telling his followers not to worry about physical wealth and instead to be “‘rich toward God’” (Luke 12:21 CEB). He then goes on to tell them not to be anxious about what they will eat or drink or wear, saying that God cares for “‘the ravens [for] they neither plant nor harvest [...] yet God feeds them,’” and Christ calls his followers to consider the lilies, as “‘they do not wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth,’” but God still clothes them (Luke 12:24-28 CEB). God delights in being abundant with us, to start giving us the kingdom, here and now.
Through all of this, Jesus is reminding his followers that God provides and God is abundant, and so we too are called to live into the kingdom and be abundant. Jesus reminds us that our lives and all that is in them are a gift from God. We are the “little flock” dependent on God for care. We are servants waiting for a master who upon arriving “will dress himself to serve, seat [the servants] at the table as honored guests, and wait on them.” All of this blessing and care from God should not leave us unchanged. Here is the answer, instead of watchfulness it is readiness that matters. If God dresses up as a servant to serve us, how must we be dressed? How do people know we are Christians? Do we need crosses and scripture and Jesus on our clothing to prove it, or should our abundant lives be our clothing, showing our readiness to serve? If Christ shows up, and we are not living abundant lives, it does not matter if we were watching or not, we are still not “‘dressed for service’” and we have failed to “‘keep [our] lamps lit.’” God has given us the kingdom, we need to live into it.
Being abundant means recognizing where God has been generous with us, and living into that generosity by sharing it with others. We need to have a different approach to life, one where we live knowing and believing that the whole of our lives, the whole of life on this earth is a gift. A gift given with wild abandon by our God who delights in sharing with us, and this same God invites us to give to each other in wild abandon, not clasping onto what we might lose. We should not live for fear that God is always watching or any minute Christ might come back and catch us slacking off. Rather, if we live dressed for the kingdom, living out those kingdom values that Luke makes plain, we will always welcome the culmination of the kingdom and the return of Christ like an unexpected gift that we cannot wait to share in and share with others.
I would like to close with this fitting quick prayer from Brother Ramon, an Anglican Franciscan friar:
“I don’t really expect you today, Lord.
But as I say these words I realize that it is at such a time that you will come.
Make me ready, keep me yearning, and come, Lord Jesus.”
Pastor Paul Grossman