12 Pentecost Proper C14
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 12:32-48 Sermon
August 7, 2016

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
243 "O That I Had A Thousand Voices"
345 "Jesus Lover Of My Soul"
352 "O Saviour, Precious Saviour"
221 "Hark!  10,000 Harps & Voices"  


TEXT (vs. 42-44; 48b): ď[Jesus said:] Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessionsÖ.Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.Ē

            You don't have to be very observant to know what is going on right now; and no, I'm not talking about all the hoopla regarding the presidential candidates.  I'm talking about the Olympic games that are going on right now inRio De Janeiro.  And there have been a lot of things in the news regarding all of the preparations leading up to it.

            I'm actually no stranger to this.  When I lived inAtlanta, the 1996 Olympic games took place there.  And I couldn't believe how the city was preparing for this event.  They built a huge, brand new baseball stadium that eventually replaced the old Fulton County Stadium, home of the Atlanta Braves.  They constructed the Olympic Village and everything associated with it.

            But not everything went well.  They constructed some new dormitories on the campus ofGeorgiaStateUniversity.  They erected them in such a hurry and cut so many corners that they weren't stable.  It took a lot of time and money to make them safe for occupancy.  It was an expensive lesson on doing things right the first time.

            As much as the hosting city has to do in preparation for the Olympics, the real preparation comes with the athletes themselves who will be competing.  And that hasn't come without problems either.  It was discovered that some of the Russian athletes had been "doping," or taking performance enhancing drugs.  That's a huge no-no, and they have had to bear the consequences of their actions.

            I think the worst tragedy is what happened to French gymnast Samir Ait Said, who suffered what the press called "a grotesque broken leg" while performing on the vault.  I saw the photos of it, and it hurts just to look at it.

            But these athletes have had to train and train hard.  One of the more positive things is the story aboutGenevaNebraskanative Maggie Malone, who is competing with the javelin throw.  TheUniversityofNebraskadoesn't offer this sport, so Maggie had to train and compete atTexasA & MUniversity.  I saw her on the news, and she is very good.

            I enjoy watching the Olympics when I have the opportunity, and I marvel at the talent.  But I also know about the preparation, and I can only imagine what it takes for someone to be this good.  They are indeed well prepared for what they know is coming.    

            As we look at our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is talking about his second coming, and the importance of being prepared.  Unlike the Olympics, we do not have any clue as to when that will be.  So Jesus uses the metaphor of a master, his steward, and his servants.  Whatever the time frame may be, the point Jesus makes is very clear:  the disciples must be ready because the return may be at any moment, even deep in the night when one normally would not be prepared.  Constant watchfulness and vigilance is expected.  We must be prepared for what we know is coming.

            If we consider the metaphor Jesus uses about the thief in the night, we can further conclude that being unprepared and being caught off-guard carries some rather substantial risks and undesirable results.  You can imagine what would happen if the Olympic athletes sat watching TV and eating junk food instead of preparing.  They most likely wouldn't win anything, and they probably couldn't even compete.  If you're not prepared, there are some negative consequences.  And that takes us up through verse 40 of our Gospel lesson for today that says:  ďYou also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.Ē 

            Itís at this point that the lectionary for this Sunday has some alternate choices to make.  The original appointed reading ends at verse 40; but the revised reading continues through verse 48.  This is the section that most directly addresses the issue of being prepared for the masterís return.

            Simon Peter is no dummy here.  He is able to see just how serious Jesus is about all of this, so he asks a legitimate question in verse 41:   ďLord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?Ē   It is a simple question, but the answer is a lot more complicated.  And we will understand this more as we continue through these last verses of our Gospel reading.

            The very nature of the metaphor indicates that Jesus is talking about those who are in a position of responsibility, or the leaders to whom much has been entrusted.  However, when Jesus returns, his judgment will be for all of humanity.  So we could conclude that Jesus is addressing his comments to all of his disciples.

            So what is a good responsible steward like?  In Jesusí day, a steward was somebody who was one of the masterís most trusted servants.  When the master had to be away, he entrusted the day-to-day operations to this person.  One of the important parts of his job was to take care of the other servants, and see to their welfare.  A key part of this responsibility was to see to it that they had ample food allotted to them, and that they were otherwise well cared for.  A stewardís job was to serve his master by faithfully tending to his masterís servants.  The stewardís job was not to exercise power over the others, especially in an abusive sort of way.  And this hits at the heart of what Jesus is addressing.

            Jesus praises the good servant, the one who waits and is prepared is the one who serves faithfully during his master's absence.  Often we think of waiting as an attitude, but Jesus sees it as translating into action.  The life of a well-prepared steward is marked by constant service to God.  The Lord blesses those living faithfully as they await his return.  Thatís all well and good.

            But now we see the other side of the coin.  What is going on with the irresponsible and unreliable servant?  This person sees his role as one of absolute dictatorial power.  He becomes this miserable tyrant who gets drunk all the time and gorges himself on the food intended for the other servants who wind up going hungry.  And then he gets physically abusive as well with them!  The unfaithful steward could care less about his master returning; in fact, he probably doubts that heíll ever return, and so heís satisfied just doing his own thing.  It's like that Olympic athlete that spends his or her time watching TV and eating junk food.  The preparation just isn't there.

            But the master does in fact return.  And the steward he entrusted everything to was found unfaithful and unreliable.  The master sees this, and what does he do?

            The consequences are severe.  Jesus describes the punishment in verse 46 when he says, ďHe will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful [or unbelievers].Ē  Jesus is describing something so severe that the word in Greek is ďdichotomeoĒ which means to literally and forcefully dismember something, like ripping somebodyís body apart.   The steward is not given a mere beating, but a mortal blow and a total separation.  This represents a total rejection; namely a painful death as opposed to some kind of punishment.  This type of punishment is the most severe possible.  This servant is rejected as Jesus says in Matthew chapter 24, verse 51:  ď[He] will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites.  In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Ē  Thatís not a very pleasant prospect.

            Admittedly we donít like to hear these graphic descriptions, because it paints a picture we just donít like to see.  We donít want to consider the reality of unbelief.  We donít like to hear about a place where God has removed himself.  We donít like to think about abandonment.

            What we have here is a metaphor that we know only too well.  In all walks of life, responsibility, reliability, dependability, integrity, and so forth are rewarded.  Employers promote people whom they can trust and that can be dependable.  Parents reward children who show that they can be trusted by giving them extra privileges.  In general, society likes people who have a high degree of integrity.  Politicians who have a lot of black marks on their record have a lot of trouble being elected.  We just donít have much use for people who are irresponsible, unreliable, undependable, unpredictable, and impractical.  Jesus lets us know that those arenít adjectives that describe one of his disciples. 

            But wait a minute.  Maybe we should look at a few things honestly.  After all if we are to be well-prepared and responsible people, donít we have to be honest too?  So maybe we have to look at this whole metaphor in a whole different way.

            Letís put ourselves into the picture as the steward, or manager in this story.  Jesus says he is going to return, but how well are we prepared?  Do we live our lives like heís coming when we least expect it?  During our lives upon this earth, are we always the faithful managers of Godís affairs?  How many times have we been guilty of neglecting what God wants in favor of our own selfish desires and gain?  How often do we reject Godís will when it doesnít match our own will?  Have we been faithful in the witness of the Gospel, or too afraid that somebody wonít like us because we are a Christian?

            To be reliable and responsible well-prepared Christians, we have to see ourselves the way we are.  And when we do that, we know without a doubt that we need a Saviour and the forgiving love of God in our lives.

            The one thing we can be thankful for is that we are judged according to our faith, and not according to our works.  Our faith is in Christ Jesus alone who is our only Saviour.  Therefore, we can be assured that we will be judged according to Christís righteousness and not our sinfulness.  The responsible Christian is one who has his or her faith in Jesus intact.  And as a result of his love for us, we show our live by living lives dedicated to him.

            When I was a teenager, I took a Driverís Ed course in school.  The main focus of the class wasnít so much to teach us how to find the clutch or brake or accelerator, and it wasnít to teach us how to tune in the radio.  The main focus was to teach us to be responsible and careful drivers, and thatís what most of our lessons were about.  We learned how to safely and responsibly operate a motor vehicle, and to be prepared for just about anything we would encounter out on the road or driving down our neighborhood street.

            We also watched various movies that demonstrated the importance of this.  One that I remember in particular was about this family who set off on a road trip.  They were doing everything carefully and correctly.  But as they were driving down the two-lane highway, a car was ahead of them doing 30 miles per hour.  The two women in that car were arguing about taking the highway or the back road.  They signaled a turn at the intersection of the back road and began the turn.  But at the last second, they decided to stay on the highway, so they swerved back on to the main road.  This caused the car with the family to veer into oncoming traffic, where they collided with a truck.  The mother and daughter survived the crash, but the father and son were killed.

            When people donít drive responsibly and respectfully, there can be some tragic results.  Even though the two women who caused the accident were irresponsible, they had no clue as to what they had caused.  It was a warning that was well taken by me.

            The Olympic Games can certainly have unexpected things happen.  On July 27, 1996in Atlanta, Eric Robert Rudolph set off a bomb in the Centennial Olympic Park that directly killed one person, and injured 111 others.  Others have had unexpected things happen too, like what happened to French gymnast Samir Ait Said severely breaking a leg.  So everybody needs to be prepared the best that they can.

            But as Christians, we have to be always prepared.  Thatís what keeps us coming to our Saviour time and time again for forgiveness and understanding.  Thatís why he stands there with open arms ready to receive us whenever we come to him.  As Christís disciples, we know that weíre saved by grace through faith alone, and not by our good works.  When we believe this and spread that message to the world, we are indeed being faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through faith alone, we are indeed well prepared for the time we know is coming.