New International Version - UK
32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 ‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak. 39 But understand 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. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’
What are we waiting for?
There are a lot of teachings of Jesus that we remember well, as they contain some beautiful strong images. The sewer, sewing the seed of the kingdom, the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the lost sheep, the lost coin. But in this teaching of Jesus, the analogy keeps changing. It slips through your fingers just when you get a hold of it.
Who are we waiting for? Is it the master, is it some sort of thief? Is it a holy thief, symbolising God in some way? We want answers, we want to know what is coming and how to be ready for it, but it is so ethereal, nebulous, it slips away, you can’t grasp it. Kind of like the Holy Spirit really.
God broke into our world like a thief in the night once before as a baby in the person of Jesus, in a place and time unexpected and un-looked for and unrecognised. We have a precedent for his coming again. And a great example of the way his kingdom works.
The text begins in talking about the kingdom. Our Father has been pleased to give us the kingdom. How does God’s kingdom come? Are we pleased to accept it? Will we be ready for it?
Are we, like the religious people at the time of the nativity, putting our own expectations so firmly on what it will look like that we will fail to see it happen as well?
One place that we can look to that is wrong, in terms of our wanting to see the kingdom come, is the past.
And you can see precedent for this in the people of Israel, who when thy were wondering around in the desert on the way to the promised land, were complaining that they would rather b back in slavery, and under the whips of the Egyptians, than be in the desert. If they had given into that feeling and gone back they would never have received the gift of the promised land, the greatest thing that ever happened to the Jewish nation.
There is even a psalm, psalm 126, that expresses thanks for the great things that God had done for Israel, and a yearning for those halcyon days.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
Then it was said among the nations: the Lord has done great things for them. Restore our fortunes Lord.
Can you see what is going on here? It is always looking back. We can not step out into the future that God has planned for us if we are always looking back. We will miss the present, miss what new opportunities God has for us.
In my vicarage year, my supervising Pastor (they call them a vicar-father) received and accepted a call from Murray Bridge, back to a congregation in Adelaide, and we moved with him. It was a unique vicarage experience. It doesn’t usually happen that way. What we soon found however, was that there was an elderly man in this new congregation who remembered how great the congregation had been 20 years ago.
He resisted every new thing that the church had tried to do since those great days 20 years ago. Why? Because back then the Sunday school was overflowing, and there were lots of young families and it was his belief that if we could just do worship and do church like we did 20 years ago then we would get back to a full church and a full Sunday school. What he sadly didn't realise was that the suburb that this church was in was a growing outer city suburb full of young families 20 years ago.
But now those young children had grown up and left and started their own families, and those young parents from 20 years ago were now nearing retirement. The growing outer city suburbs were 20 minutes further away now as the city spread, and the children were now being discipled in the Sunday Schools and youth groups of churches in THOSE suburbs. In this man's longing for those glory days he had completely missed the mission field of upper middle aged people that God had there for this congregation. He was obstructive of any new move in the congregation to reach any of these older people, and it was only after he went to heaven that the congregation began to grow. A sad story, but one that we see all too often. In enshrining the past we can miss the present and fail to perceive what God is doing in the future.
Or a more personal story from my life: Sometimes I like to look through the photos from when our children were young. They were beautiful times and they bring back so many memories but for some reason I always used to end up feeling sad when I took that walk down memory lane. I think the sadness is because those times were so precious and because they will never be again. They are gone, and they seemed to slip through our fingers so fast. It's easy to look back and want things to be like they were then.
However I have to force myself to remember that if I give in to this temptation and keep looking back and keep being sad I will miss the wonderful things that are happening right now. Those times were precious but they were part of what brought us to where we are now. If I keep looking back I will miss the wonderful parts of my children's lives that are going on right now and I will miss out on being there for them where they need me now and into the future.
In the Church, in our Faith, in our life together, the present and the future that God has in store for us is special enough that we dare not give it up for love of the past. We need to let it go and not want it back.
And this may involve a grief process for us.
But if we are not willing to grieve our past and to leave it behind (in the past) , then we will have be ready to grieve for a future that we will never have.
And be bold. Expect more from a God because he is a God who gives bountifully, prodigiously.
I love how Elisha the prophet, when his student Elijah asked him what he wanted, did not ask for less. He asked for more. “give me a double portion of your spirit” he said.
How often do we aim higher, ask God for more and trust him that he can do it. Maybe not often enough. Don’t restore our fortunes God, surpass them! And he can, this is God we are talking about!
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. “
It’s not payment for our readiness, it’s not a reward for our faithfulness, it has nothing to do with us or our character or ability or strength. God has seen fit to give us the kingdom because of who HE is.
And I can’t wait to see what it will look like.
Come Lord Jesus!