A sermon based on Luke 12:35-48
What is our motivation for doing good? Do we find that we do the right thing mostly when others are watching or can we do it when no one is around?
I used to work in a warehouse. While the actual work was not that fun, there were some nice people, some of whom I am still friends with. In fact that was the problem. We would often just stop working in the aisles and would start talking. Obviously our manager was not happy about this. So every once in a while, he would leave his office and walk the aisles to make sure we weren’t talking. When he would leave the warehouse, the motivation to keep quiet would almost disappear.
On a different note, one of my parenting highlights was observing something while my children were unaware. I was looking out the kitchen window and saw Abby and Faith jumping on the trampoline. Abby and Faith are not very close as Faith was quite young when Abby went into a group home. There is not much they have in common and so it is difficult for them to connect. But they do both love jumping on the trampoline. Watching them jump together was enough but it got better. As they stopped jumping, Faith walked over to Abby and gave her a big hug. It was not because we told her to, it was something she wanted to do, and it was something she thought no one saw. It is one of my best memories.
When it comes to our Christian experience, do we have any motivation to follow Jesus? Are we content with praying a prayer or getting baptized? Is there any reason for us to live a certain way after our conversion? This is surprising to some Christians but Jesus actually cares about our life between our conversion and when we go to heaven. Jesus gives us some clear teaching on this with three examples that his audience would be familiar with.
One of the things that I love about Jesus is that he didn’t just give theological lectures. He passed on deep theological truth, but he did it through stories and examples from everyday life. This includes our current passage.
The first one is about a man returning from a wedding banquet. Whether it is the man’s wedding or he was just a guest, Jesus does not say. What is clear is that the master expected his servants to be awake and to have the lights on. Then we see something that is quite radical. When the master returns home, it is not to bark orders and demand that a midnight snack be prepared and a bed made ready. Instead, the master will dress as a servant and wait upon his servants. He has enjoyed a banquet and now he shares that joy with his servants. Notice the reference to the possibility of the master returning very late. The point is, no matter how late the master returns, it is worth it to the servants to be ready.
The second example is that of an owner of a house and a break in. This one is easy for us to identify with. If we knew someone was trying to break in to our house, we would make sure we were ready. About a decade ago, we received a phone call from my mother early in the morning. She woke to the signs of a break in and was not sure if the burglar was still in the house. Thankfully he wasn’t. But if I knew that a burglar was breaking into my mom’s house at a certain time, I would have made sure he had a nice surprise.
The third example is of a master who puts someone in charge of his household while he is away. The warning is about the manager of the household taking advantage of his master’s absence by getting drunk and beating the servants. If the master returns to see this bad behaviour, there will be some consequences.
Notice in these examples, Jesus offers both the carrot and the stick. For those who remain ready, there are good things made available. For those who are not ready, something bad will happen.
We can understand this on a business or home level. But what does it mean for us as Christians?
What It Means
So what does this mean? Well, within the context of Jesus’ other teachings, many of his original audience, or at least the disciples, would have gotten it. Elsewhere, Jesus uses the image of a wedding feast and a thief in the night in reference to his second coming.
I realize that there have been many abuses of the doctrine of the second coming. People have predicted dates, taken money from the gullible and devised crazy schemes. However, the return of Jesus is a consistent theme throughout the New Testament. Jesus will come back.
But I don’t think that Jesus’ intention is just to remind people that there would be a second coming. I have known plenty of people who believed strongly in the second coming and yet did not live wisely. They saw it as an excuse to quit their job or spend their retirement savings, but that is it.
Jesus’ intention is to remind us that how we live our lives is important. In the early church, some believed that it was baptism that actually removed our sins. For some, baptism was then something that should be held off until one’s deathbed. After all, who wants to give up sinning during the prime of life?
The Reformation, while bringing to the front many important doctrines, also created some confusion. Martin Luther correctly stated that we are saved by grace and not our works. But some have misunderstood that to think that works were unimportant if not dangerous. If you sought to do good works, you could slide into trying to work for your salvation.
Without giving up on the doctrine of grace, it is clear that Jesus expected us to live a certain kind of life.
The type of life that we are to live is illustrated clearly in the examples Jesus provides. It all comes down to faithfulness. It is not about achieving a certain level of success. It is about being faithful with all that God has given us.
We have talked in previous messages about the things that God has given us. He gives us treasure, time and talents. We are not to compare our allotment to others, we are simply to be faithful what we have been given.
In addition to those things, we are also given relationships. We have family, friends and acquaintances. Notice in the story Jesus shares, some of the harshest words are for those who mistreat their fellow servants. Do we use our words to build up or tear down? Are we present with people when they really need us? Do we share our faith with those who do not know Jesus? Do we comfort those who are hurting? Do we provide for those who are in need?
It all comes down to this. If Jesus returned today, would we be comfortable with what he saw?
I want you to imagine something. Imagine that we received a message this morning from heaven revealing that Jesus was going to return at a certain time this evening. What effect would that have on your life? Would it be a hectic afternoon of trying to get your life together? Or would you be able continue your day business as usual?
Now let’s reset our imagination. Now, instead of heaven declaring that Jesus is coming back tonight, we are told that Jesus will come back in one hundred years. In addition, everyone of us is guaranteed to live at least twenty-five years more of life. We won’t have to answer for our decisions for at least a decade and a half. How will that affect your life? Do we see that as a vacation from the Christian life? Or will our allegiance to Christ remain as strong as ever?
The point of this story is that we should remain faithful at all times. Live as if Jesus will come back today but plan for Jesus not to come back for another century.