Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 8, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
Sermon: "The Operative Word Is Watchfulness"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
The Operative Word is Watchfulness
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - August 8, 2004
When I was very young I had a best friend. We did everything together. We played and we ran. We went exploring in the woods. We played ball. We had a great time. My best friend was my dog. His name was Puddles. Now, Puddles was a great friend and a great dog but he was not a handsome dog. He was not a Lassie or a Rin Tin Tin. First of all, Puddles was a beagle. He had short legs and long floppy ears. His back was covered with big tan blotches that resembled rain puddles, hence his name. Puddles also had some distinguishing facial features. One eye was crossed and his top teeth were large and protruded. So, his tongue always stuck out a little bit. He has been the only cross-eyed, buck toothed dog I have ever seen. He was not perfect as we would describe a dog. In fact, when he was born the breeder was supposed to destroy him. Out of pity for the pup, the breeder gave the dog to my father. One of the greatest friendships was the result of her compassion.
Puddles was a great friend. Even with his shortcomings he had a great deal to offer. He was loyal, obedient and loving. I still remember coming home from school every day as a child. When I arrived home Puddles was always waiting. There was a big pine tree in the front yard. Puddles would be sitting by the tree waiting for me to arrive. No one told him the time. No one had to. He was always there as long as he lived. He was watchful. Now, it may sound strange that I begin this sermon with a story about a dog. But I'll bet almost every one of us here remembers a pet that was loyal and loving and faithful. They may not have been our pet. They may have been someone else's pet. We remember the example. We remember it from our childhood. The analogy of the loyal and watchful pet is not so far fetched if we see it as a way we learn as children about God's love.
For when I read the Gospel lesson in John, I was struck by the description of the Christian waiting for Jesus' return. Jesus tells the disciples to be alert. They are to dress themselves for action. They are to be expectantly waiting. He uses the analogy of slaves waiting for a master to return from a journey. We have trouble with this analogy. We have trouble understanding it. First of all, slavery is abhorrent to us and it should be. Secondly, we have a hard time thinking of ourselves as slaves. We know what has happened throughout the world with slavery. People have been abused maimed and killed through this institution of humanity. In some places of the world it is still going on. As a result this analogy, which would have been understood well in Jesus' day, does not work for us.
However, the operative word in this scripture text is not slavery. The operative word is watchfulness. We are to be constantly vigilant, alert, ready, dressed for action, as we await the return of Jesus. We are to be watchful.
But wait a minute I hear the question, "Are we supposed to be so watchful that we don't do anything else?" The short answer is no. Here is where the analogy of a slave or servant comes in from Jesus' day. When the owner of a house was fairly wealthy they usually had several servants. These servants each had particularly duties to perform. Every servant in the house had their own tasks. We can understand this concept due to our work environment. Different people have different tasks in our working world. For example, in large companies there are structured levels from administration to janitorial. Every department has their own task. If you don't think the janitorial people are important just let something happen to the plumbing and let that person be on vacation.
When the master was away, the servants still had to complete their tasks. The house had to be cleaned. Meals had to be cooked. Someone had to take care of the bills. Furthermore, they really did not know when the master would return. A journey could be very brief or very long. Too many factors played into the time of arrival. They did not have the amenities for travel that we have. Anything could happen that might slow down a journey. In some cases, things happened that ended journeys early. So, the servants had to be watchful if they wanted to greet the owner when he came home.
Like the servants, we are to be alert and watchful. We have different gifts and different abilities. These are our particular gifts and they are a part of our particular task as disciples. We are to use our gifts to aid us in our task. Our singular task is to spread the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. So, in our daily lives we are not to be sitting idly watchful wondering when Jesus will return. We are actively waiting for his return.
So how do we watch and wait? We watch prayerfully. We use our gifts. We give to the poor. We give comfort where we see pain. We offer help where we see need. We offer hope where we see despair. We offer love where we see hate. Discipleship is better understood as a verb than as a noun. For discipleship is active. The action is sharing the love we have received form God already. Then, on that day when Jesus returns, we will be ready. And we can truly hope to hear the words, "Servant, well done."