Sermon: Sunday 11 August 2013

Trinity 11

The Revd Roger Broughton, Diocese of Canterbury

WATCHFULNESS

Luke 12: 32 – 40;   Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

As a visitor to this Diocese I note that there has been a church on this site for over 1000 years and that since 1927 it has been the Cathedral for the Diocese of Leicester.  In my home Diocese, the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool was consecrated in 1924 in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary.   Therefore we are slightly older but you do lay claim to Richard III!

JC Ryle, first Bishop of Liverpool, says, ‘What a glorious word of consolation this [Gospel section] contains for all true believers.  The Lord Jesus knew well the hearts of his disciples.  He knew how ready they were to be filled with fears of every description, fears because of the fewness of their number, fears because of the multitude of their enemies, fears because of the many difficulties in their way, fears because of their sense of weakness and unworthiness.  He answers these many fears with a single golden sentence: “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”’

Believers are a ‘little flock’.   This echoes Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:14:  ‘But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’  It is so easy to get into the numbers game and statistics.  I don’t want to advocate complacency or exclusivism.  In Canterbury diocese we are tasked to grow ‘numerically and spiritually’, and I believe that is right.  But Jesus was in the early days of his ministry before the explosion of the Christian church we read about in Luke’s second book, the Book of Acts.  At that time they, the disciples, would have felt threatened, just as perhaps many of us do today.

Believers have a glorious ‘kingdom’ awaiting them.  Like that lovely chapter 11 of Hebrews with its commentary on faith, Luke reminds us of the disciples’ destiny.  Here upon earth they were often mocked and ridiculed and persecuted, like their Master was, but as Paul says in Romans 8:18, ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.’  Some say that you can be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.  I don’t think Luke would agree.  It is our hope, our faith, our beliefs that are transformative, firstly with ourselves and then in the society we find ourselves.

Believers are tenderly loved by God the Father.  It is ‘the Father’s good pleasure’ to give them a kingdom.  He does not receive them grudgingly, unwillingly, and coldly.  He rejoices over them as members of his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.  Sometimes churches aren’t always the most loving of places.  We have arguments, divisions etc but deep down when we realise that God loves us all we see that the consequence of that is that we must love one another.

I believe those words are deeply relevant to us today.  It would be lovely if I could leave it there but with rewards there comes responsibilities.  Jesus then tells his disciples that:

  • they are to sell, to give up anything, and deny themselves anything which stands in the way of their soul’s salvation.
  • they are to give, to show charity and kindness to everyone, and to be more ready to spend their money for the relief of others, than hoarding it for their own selfish purposes.
  • they are to provide themselves treasure in heaven, to lay hold of eternal life by providing for themselves evidence which will bear the inspection of the day of judgement.  ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

Let’s put this in its context.  Geldenhuys comments on this passage, ‘Believers should not make their chief aim or passion of their lives the hoarding of material things…  Everyone must perform his daily task, which God gives him, whole-heartedly and to the best of his ability.’  You don’t have to join a monastery or convent, or take up vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to be true to these words.  The problem is we have left it to the cults to display dedication and zeal.  They rightly say, ‘if you have the gospel, what are you doing about it?’

The third part of this section gives us an instructive picture of the frame of mind which the true Christian should endeavour to maintain, and this is where watchfulness comes in.  Our Lord tells his disciples that they are to be ‘dressed for action and have their lamps lit.’  The person who is living the life of faith in the Son of God is, in the words of the AV, the one whose ‘loins are girded’ and whose ‘light is burning’.  I love the next little bit, ‘Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.’  My wife and I have just recovered from our daughter’s wedding two months ago but back then in NT times wedding parties could go on for a week.  One never knew when the guests would go home, but the servants were expected to be up and ready whatever time their master arrived, even in the middle of the night or just before dawn.

But there is another side to the coin of readiness.  Jesus then went on to say that the master who found his servants waiting would be so pleased with them that he himself would wait on them and they would be given promotion to higher things.  One cannot help feeling that this serving master represents Jesus himself.  Indeed John 13:3-11, with its account of the washing of the disciples’ feet, shows Jesus’ readiness to wait on others.  Also, the mention of a wedding-party would make the Jews think of the great banquet to which they as God’s people would be invited at the end of time. Our God longs to bless us.

Now for a little bit of theology.  Barrell says that ‘verse 40, ‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’ sounds like a sentence put in by an early Christian scribe, reminding people to be ready and not caught napping when the Son of Man arrived.’  Caird writes, ‘When the crucifixion had become a distant memory, the parables of watchfulness were still preserved along with other teachings of Jesus, and Christians were bound to ask whether these warnings were intended only for the twelve as they faced the historic crisis that brought the Master to his death, or whether they had a more permanent application.’  As so often in Scripture, both answers are not mutually exclusive.  These verses have a relevance for us in 2013 as they did for the early church and for the twelve disciples.

Jesus concluded by saying that anyone who expected a burglar to call would make sure that his house was securely protected so that the burglar would be unable to break in.  I think our local neighbourhood watches would concur with that.  But Jesus is not talking about looking after our property.  He is referring to the end times when the Lord himself will come like a thief in the night. Consequently the faithful must always be ready.  Just as the master of the house who is not constantly on the watch is surprised and robbed by the thief, so also those who are not ready for his second coming (who neither believe in him nor obey him) will suffer irrevocable loss.

We are living in challenging times.  The Church of England has to make some important decisions that could affect the very life of the church itself.  But we must never forget that we are a church with a mission that has not been rescinded.  Yes, we may have to learn to do things differently with whatever resources we have but we know we have not been left to our devices.  ‘Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’  Watch and pray.

© The Revd Roger Broughton, visiting preacher

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