"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reflection on Luke 12:32-40

Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
You Must Be Ready

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Of Thieves and Treasure

Today's text offers enough metaphors and images that a passive listener will become easily lost in the quick flow of flocks, purses, thieves, treasure, weddings, masters, servants, banquets, houses and unexpected hours. Within this small section, however, there are a few phrases or images that unsettle us, and will certainly wake us up if we drifted off in the hearing.

“Sell your possessions.”
A master serving servants.
A thief, coming in the night.

There is much that is valuable to us that sends our lives into chaos if they are taken from us. Money, important documents, our reputations, our health, the lives of loved ones. We fear the loss of those things we value, those things we treasure, those things we love.

And Jesus says, “Fear not little flock”

Have you ever noticed how it doesn't seem to work to tell someone to not feel or think something? If I were to say to you “Don't think about purple elephants” what are you thinking about? Probably purple elephants. Merely saying “Don't fear” doesn't stop fear.

But Jesus does not merely tell us “Don't fear” like we say “no worries” and think that answers it. No, Instead our first verse in 32 says “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

But what are the riches that Jesus promises the faithful?

How do you measure the riches of God? Do you look around and say, I know I ought not to fear because I can look around at how God has blessed me with my house, bank statement, car, and even friends and family. Certainly these are things we might be thankful for, but if that is how we know God is good, what happens when those things become unstable? What happens when like in the past two years, many of our houses have been pulled out from under us, our retirement accounts are looking weak or two years has left us in poorer health? Some think that God's treasure and lavish riches are the abundance of tangible things and if that is true if they falter and when the rug comes out from underneath of us, we will turn to God and cry, “thief!”

A fellow chaplain friend of mine commented on interacting with someone years ago that had a shirt on that read “He who dies with the most stuff wins.” The obvious question is: Wins what? You can't take toys with you. The problem of our treasure that fades and rots is not to get more temporary treasure.

And “faith” can be used improperly as a way to attempt to avoid pain or suffering or loss. I cringe whenever I hear someone is going through a rough time or poor health or pain and someone says its because of their faith. That's Bull. Jesus had that question multiple times (with a building that collapsed, with a man born blind) and rejected that answer each time.

Faith here frames pain, suffering and loss. Faith brings us through pain, it does NOT exempt us from pain. Through real loss, faith is valuing the valuable, counting the temporary with its true limited worth, and the eternal with infinite worth. It as not as though we can do without the temporary. Food is here today and rots tomorrow, yet we still need food. Man cannot live on bread alone, but man needs bread. In verse 30, Jesus referring to food and clothing affirms “The Father knows you need them.” What we are challenged with here is: what do we think we gain by valuing the temporary as if were permanent?

The kingdom of God that is talked of here is not merely more perishable stuff. Christ points us towards “treasure in heaven” and “purses that do not grow old.”

You see, it is not just “Don't fear” but Christ replaces our treasure with something different.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister, once preached a sermon whose content has mostly been forgotten except the title. “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” We are not merely told to sell our possessions but to replace them with this new treasure. We spoke of this treasure in our confession of faith, Colossians 1: The riches of the mystery which is Christ (given even to us). Christ GIVES and even more than that, IS the treasure of the kingdom.

How great are the riches, the treasure, we have in Christ? That we were once under the burden of the Law, and Christ fulfilled the Law in our place. That we once were owing the penalty of everlasting death, and Christ paid our penalty. That we were once at war with God, and now Christ has given us peace with God. That Christ was the one, according to Paul, “through whom God created the world” so that we have the riches of creation but especially of creation's renewal in Christ, that is the hope of resurrection. That once we were far off strangers and enemies and now we are the children of God. That we have the benefits of community in the family of God, however dysfunctional that family of God may seem at times.

Does it strike you that we have in Christ: the master sitting us down. Look at verse 37. It is meant to be a shocking image, as if the CEO of your company came and shined your shoes and served you lunch at your table. Christ is taking the posture of a servant, and serving us with this feast of benefits. That is the treasure and the riches we have by faith, which is Christ in us.

So an WE end, we must ask: Is that your treasure? Or do we have our heart and values set on things that will one day vanish. Do we value the temporary with everlasting hope. Then when they fade, it is as if Christ is a thief come in the middle of the night to steal what we value most.

Our selection of Scripture ends in verse 40 with the exhortation “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” It is a promise of end. It is the obvious reality that the temporary has an end. “End” is reality.

So why? Why do we put all our eternal hope in things temporal and temporary? Why do we become despondent when we see those temporary things do what temporary things do? When they disappear, when we get to the end, will Christ be our treasure we are reunited with - the odd master coming and serving and giving what is most valuable to us, his servants? or will he be the thief stealing what we really value most? You don't change what He does, but your faith and hope do change who He is to you in that moment.

So Who will Christ be? The thief of your fading treasure? Or will He be your everlasting treasure?

O Lord,
enable us to sell our possessions and the idols of our hearts
Enter in our resulting void and reveal to us the riches of salvation
And the glory of God shining in the face of Christ.

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