Saturday, August 14, 2010

August 8, 2010 - Impatient Watching

Impatient Watching
Luke 12.32-38

[SCRIPTURE - Luke 12:32-40 as edited by af]
32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 Let your loins be girded, and your lamps burning; 36 And be like servants that wait for their master to return from his wedding; that when he comes and knocks, they may open unto him immediately. 37 Blessed are those servants, whom the master, when he comes, shall find watching. Truly, I say unto you, that the master shall gird himself, and make the servants sit down to meat, and will come and serve them. 38 And if the master shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.

A. To each of us come experiences and intersections where we must watch and wait. We wait for
+the answer,
+the verdict,
+or the outcome.
We wait
+for school to begin,
+for our wedding day,
+for the babies to be born.
+for the mail to arrive,
+for the airplane to bring someone special to the airport (1).

You might say that waiting is just part of life. Watching and waiting cannot be avoided.
1. As a culture, we seem to have little time for waiting of the sort held out in the Bible, waiting for promises whose telling plunges us deep into the wideness and mercy of God. Instead, we attend to promises of a much more limited and transient nature:
+Buy this cosmetic and you will be beautiful.
+Drive this model car and you will become powerful.
+Earn this degree or win that position and you will have fulfillment.
This not exactly waiting on God's promises; it is more like making a bargain with life.

2. Recently, I have learned to track the promises companies that sell on the internet make to me. I buy and look for the package tracking number; then get on the UPS website to watch the progress of my package across the country. I can literally watch the progress of the promises the vendor made. If we track it, are we really waiting on a promise?
Think about: as a culture we have short-circuited our own ability to articulate and dream out of the most fundamental longings of our hearts. The result is that we are poor-er.

B. You see, to wait, in the Biblical sense, is to feel suspended between WHAT HAS BEEN and WHAT WILL BE, to confront and affirm new meanings that take us beyond the familiar present.

1. But there is more. WAITING CHANGES US.
+The young woman who waits 9-months for her child to be born, is not the same woman on the day of the birth as she was the first time she imagined she would have a child one day. Over the time of waiting, she has become both physically and emotionally prepared to be a "mother."
+The young soldier who deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan after months of training and preparation is not the same young man or woman who walked into the recruiter's office months or years earlier. Once a civilian, she or he is a "soldier" now.

2. Jesus repeatedly calls on us to watch, to be ready. I believe that he means much more than merely, "Stay awake, you sleepyhead!" I believe that Jesus knew how our souls are shaped and prepared by the watching and the waiting time. So,
+we WATCH for Jesus to come again.
+We WAIT FOR FAITH to become the strong foundation of our lives.
+We HOPE to see the goodness of God.
And we are shaped by the waiting.

[I.] I want to focus on the parable which begins with v.35.
35 Let your loins be girded, and your lamps burning; 36 And be like servants that wait for their master to return from his wedding; that when he comes and knocks, they may open unto him immediately.

The language of this parable immediately throws us into images and social structures that are strange to us. So, let's dig into it; there are insights and a blessing here.
Jesus speaks to people who know what it is to be servants in ways that we do not. Imagine a household that is run by life-long servants – not just the lawn-care service or Merry Maids who swoop in to do their jobs and then zoom on to the next house. In Biblical culture, there were the wealthy; there were servants. To be a servant meant that your whole life was focused on doing the will and the commands of your master.

We talked with someone at Bible study the other night who had lived in cultures where there were household servants. He said that in most cases these servants were whole families who did everything around the house. This was no 9 - 5 job; they were on duty every waking moment. In return, you were expected to provide housing and food for everyone in the servant family. Your responsibility, as one who had such servants, was to provide a living for them as long as they lived. In these cultures there is no such thing as a pension; there is certainly no Social Security. He observed that if the master had to speak to a servant to get his or her attention, it meant that the servant was not doing the job. Their job was to be so focused on the needs and wishes of the master that they were already watching him and anticipating the next instruction. I can almost hear Jesus saying to his disciples: "Stand ready to be that kind of servants." "Stand ready, for as my disciples you are that kind of servants of mine."

Well, as you can already see, Jesus speaks out of the assumptions of a society that is very unfamiliar to us. The only people who are supposed to be this watchful are servers in a restaurant. Many of us have fumed when the waiter or waitress stays away too long; some of us have waited tables to get through college. Very few of us have worked for one family or one person intensely enough to know what this kind of servanthood is like.

This is one source of the discomfort that I have with this passage; I never think of myself being such a servant to a master. As Christians, we never event think of ourselves being such servants of Jesus. When we think of Jesus, we think of the Jesus who loves us as little children, who takes us on his knee and loves us. But, Jesus lived in culture that assumed the presence and maybe the likelihood of servants. Further, for the 12-disciples to follow Jesus meant that they were willing servants of Jesus. This is the reason Simon Peter was so shocked when Jesus knelt to wash his feet at the Last Supper. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

[TEXT] In the parable, Jesus says, "Imagine that you are the servant of another. The master has gone out to his wedding. You know that the master will be late; these things take time. Your job is to make sure the house is ready when he comes back accompanied by his new bride. Be that kind of servant.

"Gird up your loins," is the literal language of the parable. The words are strange to us. Basically, the words assume that the servant wears a simple, floor-length robe. This is probably easier for women to imagine, because it might be a simple, floor-length dress. You can move elegantly and with dignity in such a floor-length robe or dress, but you certainly cannot run or chase a child who just darted into the street.

Girding up your loins means lifting the hem of that floor-length robe or dress and tucking it into your belt. This frees up your legs so you can run – run to do a job or even run as a soldier into battle. "Gird up your loins."

The job of the servant is to have to house ready for the arrival of the master and new lady of the household. Because it is their wedding night, servants must get this arrival exactly right. There can be no goofing off, no sleeping, no inattention. Be that watchful.

[POINT] And the point for disciples is that as servants of the victorious Christ, we are also to be ready to welcome the returning Christ. Such waiting anticipates a crisis: you can rest assured that the coming of Christ to rule the earth in glory is going to change everything. And, such waiting shapes us, because waiting prepares us to live in a world ruled by the victorious Christ. The WAITING is our time to practice what it means to be Christ's persons. So, be waiting so you'll be ready.

III. Then, Jesus goes on to say something unexpected. You'll find it in v.37:
37 Blessed are those servants, whom the master, when he comes, shall find watching. Truly, I say unto you, that the master shall gird himself, and make the servants sit down to meat, and will come and serve them.

Our friend at Bible study said, "This is unheard of!" The master in such cultures is always the master; the servants are always the servants. You would never hear of the master and his new bride coming home from their wedding, taking off their wedding clothes and fixing a banquet for the servants who stayed at home to get the house ready. It just won't happen. When Jesus said this to his disciples, his words surely startled many who heard them.

Two insights:
A. First, this is Jesus who is telling this story. Remember at the Last Supper when Jesus took off his outer garment, wrapped himself in a towel, and knelt to wash his disciples' feet? Simon Peter said, "Lord, you will never wash my feet." That might have been Peter's job to do for Jesus, but it was never Jesus' job to do for Peter. But, there he was, kneeling in front of Simon Peter, smiling as he reaches for the fisherman's hairy leg, a leg which was covered with the filth of the road. Jesus is the master who serves his servants.
Remember the cross which Jesus did not deserve. He was the innocent messiah who went to the cross in the place of the guilty.
+Judas betrayed, but Jesus suffered for his betrayal.
+Simon Peter denied, and Jesus suffered alone.
+The world is destroyed by sin of every level and sort, while Jesus, the innocent Son of God, dies. He died that we might know the depth of his love.
Jesus is the master who serves his servants.

B. Second, Jesus is telling us that such servanthood is the character of anyone who wants to follow him. "The greatest among you must be servant of all." He was serious in this call. He was teaching us; he was commanding us. He is telling us that the waiting time while we wait for his return is the time to practice this sort of Christianity. It is not optional; it is not just for the super-spiritual; it is not for the extraordinary Christian. Such servanthood is the very character of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

C. Now, when Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, they assumed that he would be coming back in his Second Coming very soon. Maybe today, maybe by the end of the week. Well, 2000 years have passed. What does such waiting mean after so many years have passed?

I believe that watching for Christ's Second Coming shapes the way we live. Our ethics as Christians are not based on the length of the wait before the Lord comes. Rather, now our ethics are based on the confidence that the Lord will come (time indefinite), suddenly and with judgment. All these become the basis for regulating the Christian life which apparently will continue for present.

Instead of thinking that, because Christ is delayed, it does not matter how we live, we should be thinking, because Christ is delayed, it matters very much how we live. This is the time for practicing. This is the time to make the house ready for the bridegroom to come and run the place. Like soldiers getting ready to be deployed to serve our country on the other side of the world, let us use the time to be ready when our orders come.

There is nothing so fatal as to feel that have plenty of time before the Master comes.

The Big Devil held a conference with all the little devils to map out their strategy. "What can we tell the people in East Tennessee to get them to come down to Hell with us?"
The first devil said, "Tell them there is no God." And the Big Devil said, "Nah, that won't work, God spent a lot of time making sure those beautiful mountains would lift their spirits with every sunrise. They know there is a God."
The second little devil said, "Tell them there is no sin." And the Big Devil said, "That won't work; people see the news every night. They see evidence of sin everyday."
The third little devil raised his hand and said, "Ah, I have it. Tell them there is no hurry." And all the other devils howled with glee, for this would surely work (2).

IV. I was talking with an older pastor about this passage one day many years ago. I have never been very comfortable with this parable. So, I asked him what it means to us. He said without hesitation: "It means that we are finally accountable." Then, he went on to say that God is gracious and merciful. God is patient with us and with the world. But... (the older pastor waited until I had given him my full attention), this parable is warning that there is finally an accounting, there is surely a judgment.

As Jesus said:
37 Blessed are those servants, whom the master, when he comes, shall find watching. Truly, I say unto you, that the master shall gird himself, and make the servants sit down to meat, and will come and serve them. 38 And if the master shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.

1. Based on Shelby, Donald. The Unsettling Season, published in Alive Now!, N/D 1994, pp. 19ff.
2. Based on a story that comes, as I recall, from C. S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters.

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