Jesus said to his disciples, “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.”
My friends, are we prepared for Jesus’ coming? It is a question I found myself coming back to over and over again this week as I sat with this text.
It is certainly a question that Jesus was concerned with as he spoke to his beloved followers. His words this week follow immediately from the parable of the Foolish Rich Man that we heard just last week, the foolish rich man who stored up the richness of his harvest in greater and greater silos around himself, until he was isolated from the world around him and died alone one night, so that all his richness could do nothing to help him.
Don’t be like the foolish rich man, Jesus instructs, but be prepared. Be prepared because we do not know the hour when the Son of Man will appear. Be prepared, lest like a thief in the night, Jesus comes and finds you unprepared.
The trouble is, Jesus is a bit light on the details of what that preparedness looks like.
I imagine that the first group of beloved disciples who gathered around Jesus as he spoke had a better idea. After all, they were with Jesus all the time, and the immediacy of the cross was very real to them. So too for the first Christian communities to emerge after the events of the crucifixion and resurrection. They lived in the constant expectation that Jesus would come again any day. Many lived communally with shared resources. Paul would admonish them to avoid getting married unless they absolutely had to, for Jesus’ coming was too imminent to allow themselves to be so distracted.
But now, two thousand years have passed, and we still are waiting. Be prepared, Jesus tell us, but we don’t know what that looks like. We may not even be sure that we still expect Jesus to come any more.
Don’t get me wrong. We know how to prepare for things. We all know how to prepare for retirement. We know how to prepare for tests at school or big projects at work. We know how to prepare for marathons and big trips. We know how to prepare our children for the start of a new school year, with school supplies, new clothes, and excitement about meeting their new teachers.
Sometimes we’re even good at getting prepared! We have a whole subculture devoted to prepping for disasters. People even find some pleasure in imagining the worst-case scenario and preparing for it with stockpiles of food, medical supplies, shelter and anything else you might need to survive after the collapse of society. I once came across a project to create a library of sorts that contained all the information and knowledge necessary to rebuild industry after the end of the world. Some people even take this prepper culture to absurd extremes, preparing for unlikely scenarios like the zombie apocalypse.
This prepper culture has grown enough that it spills over a bit into society, and we don’t even bat an eye. You see it in the articles from financial news outlets with titles like, “Are you ready for the next recession?” or “The ten best stocks to help you weather a financial downturn.” You can see it in the United Kingdom with companies selling Brexit survival kits with preserved food and seed packets that promise to help families make it through any food shortages that may occur when Brexit finally takes place. And you see it in the back-to-school coverage, that in addition to pieces about tax-holiday weeks and back-to-school sales, now also include news stories about safety drills for children in the classroom so that they know what to do in the event of another mass shooting. The story I saw showed images of children practicing curling up on the floor on their hands and knees, with a bullet-proof mat pulled over each of their backs, like so many bright orange turtles lined up on the classroom floor.
Yes, we are very good at preparing for things. But are we prepared for Jesus? Looking out at the state of our world, the answer I believe is no.
If Jesus were to show up now, he wouldn’t find us asleep with our lamps unlit, I’m afraid that he would find the house empty and abandoned.
So how are we to re-learn preparation for Jesus’ coming into the world? The hint that Jesus gives in this passage is in the line, “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.”
For where our treasure is, our hearts will be also. When you look out at the world, where do you see us storing up our treasures? And what does that say about the health of our collective heart? When our treasurers are stored up in corporate profits, in astronomical military spending, in political systems that make the rich ever richer, in gun stockpiling, and rampant capitalism and consumerism, where does that leave our hearts? And how does that compare with Jesus’ instruction to love God with all our souls and hearts and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves?
Most importantly, how do we begin to change that?
What changes can we make so that our hearts are more closely aligned with loving God and neighbor? Let me be clear, yes there are ways that this is personal work that we must do as individuals—learning forgiveness toward family members, colleagues, neighbors who have hurt us or with whom we have long standing conflict. It is important that we practice loving our actual neighbors, not in a metaphorical sense, but literally the people who live to our left and to our right. And it is important that we individually seek relationship with our God and discover for ourselves God’s love for us and kindle within ourselves love for God.
All of that is important, yes, and it is not what I am primarily talking about this morning. Protestant Christianity has often tended to emphasize the faithfulness and salvation of the individual, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. What I’m asking is how do we collectively prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival? How do we collectively place our treasure in heaven? What I’m driving at is how do we change the world? Because, from where I’m standing, I don’t see anyone else stepping up.
How do we learn to love ourselves as a society, in all its diversity of language, color, and creed? And how do we begin to love our neighbors as ourselves, so that immigrants at our borders are met not with walls, neither cages, nor the guns of domestic terrorists? How do we ensure the dignity of all people so that everyone who works is able to earn a livable wage? How do we make sure that all children, regardless of wealth or station in life, have access to an equitable education without the fear of being shot while learning? How do we honor our role of being stewards of God’s creation rather than pillagers of God’s creation? How do we collectively rediscover our love of God over our love of power, money, fame, fear, and anger?
And if these are the places where we want our hearts to be, what does that tell us about where we need to place our collective treasurer? How does that start to look different from where we place our treasurer now?
Friends, the world is woefully unprepared for Christ’s arrival, and the world hurts and aches and groans for it. And the work can be overwhelming in scope, a seemingly impossible task. But do not be afraid. Do not be afraid because God has given us the knowledge and the experience and the wisdom we need, God has given us the resources and the skills that are necessary, and most importantly, God has given us one another, this blessed community, so that we do not labor alone.
Do not be afraid, because God is with us, and God is for us in this work. And with God, nothing is impossible.
Finally, do not be afraid, because the work that is before us is building the very Kingdom of Heaven, and it is God’s good pleasure to give it to us.
So come, let us dress ourselves for action. Let us light our lamps that we might shine brightly in the world. For there is work to be done, and soon the Son of Man will be at hand.
Preached by Adam Yates