Summary: Following Jesus: It’s long hours, hard work, costly, and a little bit crazy, but would we ever consider changing positions and serving someone else? Not a chance!
I thought that I finally had a totally positive sermon for you today!
I’ve been under rather trenchant criticism of late for repeatedly giving sermons focused on the theme of judgement and on the hard path of discipleship, and I admit that I have been looking for that text, "Come to me, all ye who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" as a basis for some blessed relief!
Unfortunately the authors of our lectionary have been dragging their feet somewhat in getting to that text, and yet I thought I’d found an equally joyous one this week when I first glanced at the scheduled Gospel reading from Luke chapter 12 - a passage that includes one of Jesus’ great party stories, where the Kingdom of God is depicted in terms of a great big wedding feast, and where we are exhorted to be ready, as nobody is quite sure about the timing of the great event!
Jesus, as I’m sure you know, regularly depicted the Kingdom of God as a party, and a number of His parables speak of a great wedding banquet to which absolutely everybody is invited. Some decide not to come of course, and others have too much on, and there are a few who simply fail to be at the reception centre when the party starts because they are out getting more oil for their lamps! Even so, the Kingdom of God is a party, and it is going to be great, and we are all invited!
Are you getting excited? I was, and especially as the focus of the passage is on being ‘ready’. I was thinking, “Oh yeah, we are ready, Lord! Let the Party begin! We have waited long enough, Lord. We and our sisters and brothers around the world have been through enough. We have struggled in this broken and divided world for too long. We have been through enough. We’ve suffered enough. We have seen too much. Open wide the doors, Lord! Let the party begin!”
And then I realised that the disciples in this parable are not being compared to the guests at the party at all. They are not guests, waiting for the festivities to begin, but rather to the servants of one of the persons who was invited. These servants are not at the party, waiting for it to start. They’re at their master’s home waiting for it to end so that they can get some sleep!
“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.” (12:36)
And in case you missed this relatively negative spin, Jesus then follows it up with another rather painful image: ‘that if the owner of the house had known at what time he was going to be broken into, he wouldn’t have left the house!’ (12:39).
True enough! And those of us who have had their houses broken into, as we have, and as many of us no doubt have, know full well what a painful feeling of violation that is, even apart from the monetary loss. If only we’d known the time for which the break-in had been scheduled. We could have could stayed home and kept the house secure. That would have been great! (though not as great as actually going to the party)
The Kingdom of God is a party. I believe that. It’s a party to which everybody is invited - rich and poor, young and old, male and female, slave and free. Everybody is invited and the party is going to be great! Even so, as these parables do remind us, the joy you get from the party is entirely dependant on the role you play in it!
“Be ready!” Jesus says. That’s actually the thrust of these stories of course, which truly focus less on the party as such as they do on the whole concept of being ready.
And of course, if you’ve ever held a party (and if you’re a parent you have held lots of parties) you know full well that in any party there is always an awful lot to get ready! Even so, the emphasis here is not on the preparations for the actual party, but on the preparations being made for the return home of the master who is a guest at the party: “be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast”
And it’s clear in this context that the master in the story is not the groom, for if he was, the reception would have almost certainly have been held at his house, and the servants wouldn’t be making preparations only for him, but for the happy couple!