Blessed is that servant…Sermon passage: (Luke 12:35-48) Spoken on: February 5, 2017
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Title:Blessed is that servant…
Date:05th Feb 2017
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong
When I first turned to the passage to prepare for this morning’s sharing, I thought to myself, “It’s not the right season to talk about the subject. The subject of this passage is Jesus’ second coming. That’s the focus of the season of Lent, the season before Christmas. We are currently in the season after Christmas, the season of epiphany. It’s not the right season to talk about the subject.”
I hope no one in this room shares my initial response to the text, when it was read a while ago. My response simply betrays the fact that, deep in my heart, I probably didn’t think what Jesus says here is pivotal to our existence. But I couldn’t have been more wrong to think this way.
Because what Jesus is saying here, is in fact utterly central to our existence. When Jesus our Master and Lord shall come again and knock on the door of our world–– at that very moment––no matter what our age might be, or what sort of health condition we possess, or what we might be busying with–that very moment––would mark the end of our journey on this side of eternity.
Jesus, in view of the importance of the subject, uses no less than 4 metaphors in the first half of the passage to make sure that his followers hear him, internalize what he is saying, and live lives in accordance to his teachings.
The first 3 metaphors: stay dressed in working cloths, keep one’s lamp burning and to wait for the master to come home from the wedding feast. All 3 metaphors call us to be ready and watchful for Jesus’ second coming. When we consider the cultural norm of those days, we have to say what Jesus asks here is something rather challenging. Wedding feasts back then goes on continuously for several days. The master of the house will come as and when he has had enough of the party. He may come passed midnight. He may even come like 5.30am the following morning. Or he may take even longer since the party is still on going. It’s challenging to keep on staying alert and be ready without taking breaks.
But these 3 tasks are only challenging; the next one calls for the impossible. Jesus in the 4th metaphor compares his second coming to the unexpected visit of a thief. The point he is bringing out is again that followers of Jesus are to be ever ready and watchful. For like a thief he may drop in anytime. But who on earth can stay up at all times just to prevent his break-in?
Jesus, of course, is again using hyperboles here to emphasize that we have to get ready for his return. The servants and master in the metaphors can’t stay up forever in order to be ready. As a matter of fact, no one could. But yet it is possible for us to be ready. The way to go about it is to keep on doing what we do as Christians in terms of worship and service. In other words, we are to live a life of continuous faithfulness in preparation for the Lord’s return.
As we try to do this, be prepared to meet with hurdles that will keep popping up along the way. Let me name just 2 common ones this morning. First, we have the tendency to get complacent with regards to the Lord’s return as time passes. We still worship and serve, but everything becomes just mechanical exercise when complacency sets in. I guess that’s exactly my problem, or my initial response to the sermon text wouldn’t have been, ““It’s not the right season to talk about the subject.” And I believe that’s what the Christian Calendar is for: to help us––from year to year––to appreciate afresh the work of Christ, so that we will continue to worship and serve, sincerely. The devotional material for the next season on the Christian Calendar––the season of Lent––will soon be out. Let’s use it, reflect on the articles, and let it help us to journey more intently through this year’s Lent period. Some of us might have spotted a contradiction in what I say and wanna ask, “Ps Enoch, isn’t the Christian Calendar and your thinking about the different seasons the reason for the wrongheaded initial response?” Yes, it is so, and I admit. But this exercise of preparing for this morning has caused me to wake up from my occupational hazard as a pastor. I now have a renewed appreciation of the Christian Calendar and am reminded that we are to make constant preparation to face the Lord. Would you join me?
The second common hurdle we tend to face, I suggest, is this. We have also the tendency to cultivate along the way some sort of Pharisaic mind-set. Pharisees are known for keeping to some visible, external sets of practices and equate practicing them to the worship and service of God. We see in the gospels that they found confidence and peace though keeping Sabbath, ceremonial washing of hands before meals and so on. But we have never read of Jesus approving their reductionism from the same gospels. Jesus instead calls us to be in him and to constantly seek him, through worship, word and prayer. So, quit the Pharisaic mind-set in case we have it, and let our lives on this side of eternity be a constant rehearsal for how we will live lives when we cross to the other side.
In short, these verses alert us to an event that is certain yet unpredictable. It calls us to orientate our lives and lived it with a view of meeting the Lord.
And when we do that, the passage says Jesus will dress himself for work and serve us when he comes. But I think for Jesus to serve his servants and attend to their needs is not something that will only start to happen at his return.
Francis and Edith Schaeffer, an American Presbyterian pastor and wife, went to Switzerland In the early 1950s to set up a home to conduct children’s ministry. During that time, certain Roman Catholics factions in Switzerland still viewed Protestant Christianity as cultic. The Schaeffers happened to work in district with such a mind-set. The villagers, needless to say, weren’t agreeable to what the couple was doing. A few years after they first landed there, some villagers complained to the authorities on what they were doing and the Swiss government in receiving the complaint ordered the Schaeffers to leave the country by March 31, 1955. This family truly loved the work, what were they to do? Thankfully, good thing happened, and they were given permission to stay in the country but were to relocate to a Protestant district. To relocate would then mean that they need to buy a new home. How was the money to come? Edith Schaeffer prayed to God for help, asking at the same time for a clear sign on whether to relocate. The sign she asked was that $1000 would show up miraculously. The next day, a letter came with a cheque of $1000. The Schaeffers of course needed much more money to purchase a new place, which thankfully did come in. But the $1000 that came in the mail speaks volumes. The money must have brought them great comfort and also increased their faith in God. That $1000 points to a God who hears prayers, who cares for the needs of his servants, and serves them by meeting their needs.
Our Lord, who calls us to serve, serves us; the Schaeffers’ is just but one example amongst many others. Our part is to live our days with constant alertness and faithfulness.
Back to the text. The apostle Peter in hearing the metaphors asked Jesus, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all? (v.41)" Jesus as usual did not give a direct answer. And the reason for him to do so is obvious. His main concern is the kind of service we all––every of his followers–– are to give, not which individuals are supposed to be actively serving.
He also wants his followers to know how people can response to his biddings in real life and what they will receive for the responses they give him. He therefore came up with another set of metaphors to do a reality check.
Jesus begins by talking about a manager who is tasked to take care of the needs of other servant in the house during the master’s absence. The first candidate is one who acted faithfully. He was rewarded at the master’s return.
The second went blatantly against what he was told to do. Instead to caring for the servants, he bullied them, and was punished for his deeds. A minute’s explanation is necessary concerning his punishment. Jesus says that this manager will be cut into pieces and be put with the unfaithful (v.46). The gory picture of a person being cut up causes discomfort and leads us to picture a God that is brutal. But Jesus is again using a hyperbole here, the next phrase clears the air. It says that the chap can still sit around and walk about with the unfaithful. The point Jesus is making is probably this: If a follower can do the exact opposite of what he is told to do, exhibiting cruelty instead of reflecting God’s beneficence, the person probably never had any faith in the first place, and should be cut off from the fold of God to stand alongside the unfaithful.
Then there are the last 2 candidates. They both did badly. Jesus says their punishments were meted out in proportion to the level of knowledge and skill that they have and in accordance to their motives. And then comes the closing statement, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (v.48b)”
The point that Jesus is making is easy to catch. We have each been given certain ability or abilities to serve, and this endowment and calling should be taken seriously, because the one who handed them out to us is coming back at a time unexpected, to reward and to punish accordingly.
Regarding reward and punishment, what I find puzzling is not the punishments, but what Jesus calls the reward. The reward, is to be set over all of the master’s possessions. In other word, the reward is to be promoted, given more things to take care, and having more work to do. What sort of a reward is that? A few major commentaries say promotion is a reward because the manager who was put in-charge temporarily will have authority permanently. But that doesn’t answer why the more work the better. One scholar suggests that the promoted manager will be able to use freely the master’s resources to do good to others in the household. This one is slightly more helpful, but I need it clearer than this. I reflect on what Jesus says about reward and will take a risk here to share with us my home spun theology: whether we are Christians or otherwise, have we had opportunities where we serve somebody or help in some projects? It could be involvements in some social work, community service or rendering some form of help, where we know we have blessed someone in the course of it. Such endeavors often yield 2 resultant feelings: feeling of tiredness and feeling of finding the tiredness being all worthwhile. And more often than not, it is the finding it all worthwhile that stands out. That feeling is a kind of deeper satisfaction that we don’t find through doing strenuous exercise. Ring a bell?
In other words, I think to be promoted and to do more is a reward because we are made to serve and to bless, we are satisfied at a deeper level when we do so. More work in the house of God is a reward because it gives us greater room to be who we are truly made to be, servants. To serve one another in the house of God is how thing should be in the kingdom of God, consider Jesus.
In Jubilee, I see many of us serving. But when it comes to those areas of service that need to crack heads and shed blood, it is always the same few faces to be seen. Shed blood, it’s me using hyperbole this time. But I sincerely hope to see more of us stepping forward, and be who we are truly made to be in this big family of God.
ConneXions@Jubilee experienced a lack of manpower for the past 2 years. But at the start of this year, something good happened, some of our 19s and early 20s, who are called the lao jiao stepped forward to take up various areas of service. And I thank these bros and sis for stepping forward. I believe they have volunteered themselves because they see that they have been served by others, that they have been blessed and have grown through the service of others, and it’s time for them to do likewise. Friends, in this hall are many who are more lao jiao than the lao jiao in the ConneXions@Jubilee, and there are quite a few who will soon be lao jiao, and who are each granted ability and abilities to bless the house of God.
I am not gonna explain what lao jiao means. If we know someone next to us who needs an explanation, please give the explanation to him or her. Consider doing so as an immediate application of the bidding of Jesus. As to what’s next, may the word of Jesus this morning illumines us.