A sermon by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ar.
August 11, 2013
– A Lord’s Supper Meditation –
Psalm 50:1-8; Luke 12:32-40
Of all the passages of scripture in this book we call holy, this just may be the one that doesn’t relate much to us, you and me, even those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. And they’re his words!
First, Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Chances are, there’s not a person in the house who couldn’t give an entire litany of things that strike fear in the heart… not the least of which have to do with money and possessions… of which, especially money, we never seem to have quite enough. And this conversation with Jesus certainly seems to be about money and possessions.
Speaking of possessions… Jesus tells us to sell it all, everything we’ve got… and have worked for and saved for. Oh yeah? And then do what? Live off our unsuspecting relatives? Besides, who would we give it to? The poor, who often seem to be so lazy, never getting off their duffs, who just keep producing more children all the time?
Jesus tells us to constantly be on the alert, that he might just come in the middle of the night. Well, it’s been two millennia since these words were spoken, and he hasn’t come in glory yet. Who’s to say he will do so in our lifetimes?
And I don’t know about you, but the idea of the Son of Man coming at an unexpected hour to usher in the new age is a bit of a fearful thought… which brings us back pretty much full circle to Jesus’ first caution… that we are not to be afraid.
So what this passage seems to do is just run us around in an endless circle of not getting anywhere, all the while aggravating us because what Jesus advocates cuts against the grain of our human nature.
You see? Can you honestly say these words are relevant and meaningful to you? If not, what do we do with them?
“Well, you could have ignored them and left this passage alone.” Is that what you’re thinking? That is what you’re thinking, isn’t it? Tell you what, since we did choose to consider this passage for today’s worship, let’s spend the rest of our time together working really hard at explaining these words away. Then, we can leave church satisfied that we’ve fulfilled our Sabbath obligation without having gone so far as to do literally what Jesus is telling us to do. After all, his words are really quite radical, and if we were to do all this, everything – everything – would change. The world wouldn’t change – just us – and we’d find ourselves on the outside looking in.
Surely, Jesus was speaking figuratively. Wasn’t he? He didn’t really want us to give everything away and wait 24/7 for his return. Did he? I mean, it’s been done by some simple-minded folk who think about such things literally, and we all know where that got them.
Well, I’ve kinda painted myself into a corner on this one, haven’t I? How do we explain this away? Well, who’s to say we’re supposed to explain it away? Perhaps we’re simply supposed to explain… at least as best we can.
Let me begin this way…
I generally plan my sermons a few weeks, sometimes even months, in advance. After considering which biblical text I will choose, I give it a title. Some preachers are uncomfortable putting titles to their sermons, especially several weeks or months before they are prepared. I happen to know one pastor just up the street who has told me this. The idea of “assigning” a title to his sermons definitely puts him outside his comfort zone. I find it helpful, however, if for no other reason than it keeps me focused on a theme and requires that I stay with it when I’m tempted, perhaps, to go off on another tangent.
Having said that however, I wonder if the title of today’s thoughts is really in keeping with the text. It appears that the word ready is appropriate. Jesus does say, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit… You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” “Ready” is a pretty good title, don’t you think? But if I had it to do over again, I might entitle it “Distractions.”
Well, we have this tendency, you see, to hunker down in life in the place we have made for ourselves, pulling our possessions in around us, forming a kind of bulwark for protection. We work at being as comfortable as we can possibly be, and then live out our days reducing the risks and not taking any chances. What we have done, though, is fill our lives with those things that distract us from giving our hearts and minds to the most important thing of all… our willingness to follow the One who gave his life for us.
Just prior to this passage Jesus tells the story of the farmer who was quite successful. His crops came in so well he just kept building bigger barns. In doing so he became distracted to the point that he lost any semblance of a spiritual perspective. If we are going to be rich, Jesus says, we are supposed to be rich toward God. That involves giving things away, not hoarding them to ourselves.
You may not want to do what I am going to suggest next, so you don’t have to. You can simply do it in your mind’s eye, if you wish, while I do it for you. Extend your hand out in front of you with your palms up. Now close your fist tightly as if you are holding on to something. When you do that, there are at least two things you cannot do: you cannot receive anything from someone else, and you can’t give anything to another person.
A couple of weeks ago, when we were talking about prayer, I suggested that if we were in the literal, physical presence of Jesus, we would no doubt ask him to teach us to pray. Let’s consider that possibility again, that Jesus is here today standing before us. If he were, would you hold out a fist to him? Of course not. You would give him an open hand, perhaps first to receive from him, then to give back to him. You simply cannot be in his presence and keep your fist tightly closed. The only ones who did that were the ones who put him on a cross.
Distractions cause us to close our hand into a fist.
Another title I could have given to our time together this morning is “Peripheral Vision.” Jesus tells his followers to be dressed for action and on their toes, prepared for his arrival. That’s hard to do without a constant check on what is happening around you, being aware of your surroundings, alert to the possibilities that might come your way.
When I think of this, my mind goes back more than twenty years ago to the time when our daughter Emily was a teenager. She was a whirling dervish, always on the go, planning her calendar, plotting her next move, making sure the social agenda was set… all within the mix of school and athletics. She was so busy she slept on top of her bed, and often in her clothes. She wanted to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
I don’t think it was because she took Jesus’ words from the gospel of Luke all that seriously, but it does provide something of a metaphor for what he tells us. Could it be that Jesus is talking about an attitude, a mindset, a way of life that finds his followers ready to move when the call is made?
Maybe it comes down to this… following Jesus for his sake and not our own, trusting in him not just because of the promise of heaven and eternal life, but because his way of living right now is the only way that gives you fulfillment and changes the world around you. Perhaps that is what he meant by being ready.
The bread and the cup remind us of what is truly important in the eyes of the kingdom. You could partake of these elements because that’s simply what you do when they are offered. Or, maybe even for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – you do it because you want to be ready.
Lord, find us ready when you come to claim us… and in the meantime, may we not be distracted from giving ourselves more fully to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.