Sermon notes 08-11-19 Being Found “Awake”
Luke 12:32-40 “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.
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.”
If you were here two weeks ago you may remember that just one chapter back in Luke’s Gospel, we read about our Lord teaching his followers to pray the Lord’s Prayer, that prayer the church has continued praying ever since Jesus taught it to his disciples over 2000 years ago. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters often refer to it as the “Our Father.” Those of you who have attended a Roman Catholic Mass have likely noticed that when the Catholics recite the “Our Father” during every Mass, there is a pause in the prayer just after the people say the words, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” When the people pause, the priest interjects these words: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” Then the people close with, “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.”
I was a young man, about 24 years of age, when I first heard the priestly interjection to the Lord’s Prayer at a Catholic Mass, and I remember being blown away by that phrase, “as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” First of all, I was blown away because at that time of my life, I generally tried to avoid thinking about Jesus coming again. But in those moments when I was not able to avoid thinking about Jesus coming again, “joyful hope” would not exactly describe what I felt.
What I felt when I thought about Jesus coming again was more like dreaded fear. I felt dreaded fear when I thought about Jesus coming again because I was running from the Lord at that time of my life and I was definitely not looking forward to him coming again. In fact, at that time in my life I did not think I wanted Jesus to come again at all.
It’s interesting how one’s perspective can change so dramatically. I stopped running from the Lord a few years later, and when I finally surrendered my life to Christ in my early thirties, I immediately changed my tune and began praying, ‘Okay, Lord, I’m ready; you can come get me now!’ Obviously, my selfish nature was still alive and well even after my surrender to Christ.
One of the things I love about this passage Jim read to us from Luke’s Gospel is the joyful hope that Jesus conveys in teaching about his Second Coming. There is no place or need here for dreaded fear. In fact, the first words Jesus says in this passage are, “Fear not.” “Fear not, little flock,” he says, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Jesus does not try to scare his followers here with a description of an angry, wrathful God. He describes God instead as a loving Father who is well pleased to give the kingdom to his beloved children.
Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus does use some pretty scary language in speaking about the end times. For example, he speaks in Matthew 8 about a place of outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who lose their place in the kingdom due to their unfaithfulness. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, likewise employed some pretty scary language regarding the end times. In fact, Wesley had just one stated requirement for joining one of his Methodist societies, and that was, “a desire to flee the wrath to come.” Wesley and Jesus both affirmed that there is a place for healthy fear of the consequences of being disobedient and rebellious towards God, but this passage does not focus on the negative consequences of sin. This passage focuses rather on God’s pleasure in giving us his kingdom, and about the blessings that await those who are ready. “Blessed are those servants,” Jesus says, “whom the master finds awake when he comes!”
So my question for you today is, how do you feel about the Lord coming again? Is the thought of his coming something that fills you with joyful hope, or dreaded fear? Maybe your most honest answer to that question, if you’re like me is, ‘it depends.’ It might depend on what is going on in our lives at any given time. If you are like me, on some days, you think Jesus can’t come too soon. But on other days, you might not mind if he were to delay his coming.
It may be that the way we ultimately feel when Jesus comes again will depend on what we happen to be doing when he comes. Jesus suggests it will depend on whether or not we are awake.
Jesus says it not once, but twice in this passage, in both verse 37 and verse 38. Servants who are found to be awake when the master comes, are blessed. If we want to be blessed, we want to be found awake when he comes. So we ought to give some thought as to what it means to be found awake.
Does Jesus mean we are literally not to sleep? We know that can’t be the case. I was reading Psalm 127 this past week and it says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep.” God expects us to have our times of sleep and rest; they are gifts to his beloved children. Working our fingers to the bone while skipping sleep is not what it means to be found awake. So it must mean something else.
Jesus speaks of servants being found awake when the master comes during the second or the third watch of the night, but Jesus does not specify what the servants are doing when the master finds them; he says only that they are found awake. I imagine the servants might be found washing dishes, polishing the silver, dusting the shelves, sweeping the floor, keeping the fire lit, or maybe guarding against intruders. They might be doing just about anything that servants ought to be doing. And perhaps therein lies the answer to what it means to be found awake. We will be found awake if Jesus finds us doing what faithful servants of Jesus Christ ought to be doing when he comes.
We have all seen those bracelets with the letters, WWJD. I have an idea for another bracelet with these letters: WWJFMDWHC: What Will Jesus Find Me Doing When He Comes? So, what do you want Jesus to find you doing when he comes? I think we would all hope to be doing something that pleases Jesus when he comes at a time we do not expect. We would want Jesus to catch us doing something good when he comes.
Have you ever unexpectedly been caught doing something good? That question causes me to think of something that happened to me about 25 years ago. I freely acknowledge that it doesn’t speak well of me that I have to go back 25 years to remember somebody catching me doing something good. But anyway, this was something that happened during the years when I was a single dad, on one particular summer vacation when I had taken my two children to visit my brother in Ohio where I had grown up. One day while we were there I took Jess and Greg, who I think were eleven and nine years old at the time, along with their 12-year old cousin Amber, my brother’s daughter, to the grocery store. I remember all of us getting out of the car in the grocery store parking lot, and everybody was in a good mood, and it was a beautiful day, and we were on vacation, and the three kids were all walking closely to one another, laughing and talking just in front of me, and I spontaneously grabbed them all together from behind and gave them a group bear hug. And as I released them, I noticed from the corner of my eye that a woman was watching us, and as I turned to look at her face, she said, David King?!
It was someone I had gone to high school with, who I had not seen in at least ten years. We chatted for a bit, and she said something about how sweet it was that I had hugged the kids like that, and we went our separate ways. But I heard later from another old friend that this woman had told others about running into me, and about seeing me hug the kids like that. I actually got a lot of mileage out of that little spontaneous act in which I was unexpectedly caught doing something good!
But here’s the thing. I knew that I could just as easily have been caught scolding the kids, or snapping at them, or maybe even popping one of them on the rear end for misbehaving. I knew that if it had not been such a beautiful day, or if everyone were not in a good mood or we were not on vacation, it could have been a very different scenario. In fact, I shudder to think of the times when I have unknowingly been caught doing something that I would be ashamed of if I knew someone was watching… but people don’t usually report back to you about those things. I happened to be fortunate on that particular day in Ohio and was unexpectedly found doing something that a good dad and uncle ought to be doing—showing love to his children. But I could just as easily have been found doing something I ought not to have been doing. It was really just a matter of chance.
Friends, I think we would all say that in regard to Jesus coming again, we do not want to rely on chance. We want to be sure that when he comes, we are ready. We want to be found doing what servants of Jesus Christ ought to be doing when he comes … we certainly don’t want to be found doing what we ought not be doing.
So it seems to me that there are two ways we might approach this. One is, we could try to determine the exact timing of Jesus’ coming so that we can be sure to be doing something good at that moment. I wonder if that is part of the motivation of the many Christians over the centuries who have obsessed about trying to predict the timing of Jesus’ return. There have been many highly publicized predictions of Jesus’ Second Coming, every single one of which has been wrong.
The reason they have been wrong is that he will come when we are not expecting him to come. He says so himself in this passage! “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” So it is futile to think the timing of his coming can be predicted.
How then can we be sure to be ready, to be found awake? If to be found awake is to be doing what we ought to be doing when he comes, another approach is to always be about doing what a servant of Jesus Christ ought to be doing. But yes, I know; that is impossible. None of us is perfect; none of us behaves in ways that are pleasing to Jesus 100% of the time. So what are we to do?
First, we need to remember that we can do nothing to please Jesus on our own. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In fact, it takes the power of the Holy Spirit within us to even have the desire to live a life that is pleasing to God. The Spirit is our helper, our comforter, our sustainer, and our enabler. With the power of the Holy Spirit we can be found awake; we can be about doing what servants of Jesus Christ ought to be doing when he comes. There are any number of things that are pleasing to Jesus that that the Holy Spirit might have us doing when he comes: giving to the poor, reaching out to others in need, working to bring about justice for those who are oppressed, loving our neighbors, hugging our children. But whatever we do, we should never think that our works, our doings, could ever earn our way into God’s heavenly kingdom. We cannot earn entry into the kingdom; Jesus says it is the Father’s good pleasure to give it to us.
So being found awake must be about more than what we are found doing. After all, we are not human doings, we are human beings, so maybe being found awake when Jesus comes is not so much about what we are found doing, but rather what we are found being: being who we were created to be: bearers of God’s image; being aware of God’s presence and activity and goodness all around us; being content with and thankful for what God has given us, and believing in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent in order to provide for our salvation.
Friends, the Son of Man is indeed coming again, and he is coming at an unexpected hour. But his desire in coming, his good pleasure in coming, is not to frighten us and not to punish us, but rather to bless us. We need not fear his coming; he asks only that we be awake to receive him when he comes… yes, by doing what we would want him to find us doing, but above all, may he find us believing. In love he created us, in love he came to us, in love he died for us, and in love he will come again for us. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Thanks be to God. Amen.