With this morning's Gospel we find ourselves halfway through the twenty four chapters of the Book of Luke. We get to know Jesus in this gospel through the many stories of his healings. Words and acts of compassion and tenderness flow through these stories.
The most compelling impression offered in the first half of Luke is that people walk away from encounters with Jesus made whole. Inclusiveness is another strong theme of this Gospel as the needy, the Samaritans, the women and Gentiles were all welcomed into community. If one were to read straight through these first twelve chapters you would notice how many times the word fear is mentioned. Eight times you'll hear either an angel or Jesus say, "Do not be afraid." When an author repeatedly uses a particular word or phrase it most likely is a way of saying this is important, pay attention, something unexpected is about to happen.
An angel appeared to Zechariah, "Do not be afraid, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. "But I'm too old," he protested.
How unprepared was young Mary, betrothed but not yet married, when an angel came to her, "Hail O favored one; you will bear a son. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God."
The shepherds were terrified when an angel appeared to them. "Be not afraid, for behold I bring you good news of great joy."
And in each of these events lives were changed forever.
In the opening words of our Gospel reading we hear those words again. "Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Hold on to those comforting words for Jesus" message will take on a serious tone for we are nearing a turning point in scripture as Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem. He knows the end of his ministry is approaching.
Thousands of people have been attracted to Jesus, in fact, he has developed such a following that the people are trampling on one another to get close to him and to hear the things he has to say.
Remember the parable from last Sunday as Jesus harshly condemned the rich man who thought it necessary to build bigger barns to store his bountiful harvest of grain? Jesus says, "Sell your possessions and give alms, where you're treasure is there your heart will be also."
Those are shocking words to one who enjoys wealth. Consider the land owner whose greatest concern is where to store his abundant crop of wheat. He's not enjoying any satisfaction in this huge harvest, he's stressed out from worrying how he will store it all.
To the many in that crowd of people who have had only a few meager provisions, they are told, "Do not be anxious about what you are to eat or drink, your God knows what you need and is eager to provide it." Those who have plenty are often caught up in worries of protecting and tending their wealth. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Those who have so little are promised that God's faithfulness will provide for all their needs. In either circumstance then whether living in abundance or scarcity, Jesus says, "Do not be afraid." Jesus calls his disciples to embrace life not abandon it. When we give up all attachment to things we can find the true source of life. "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Abruptly the tone of the passage shifts, "Be dressed for action, be ready, be prepared, blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert." "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."
Imagine the scene. The house servants have completed their task of making the house ready for their master to return from a wedding banquet. They've set the table with a simple snack, perhaps a little bread and a bit of wine, then they wait and wait not knowing when he will return. They doze off a bit, yet are eager to hear the details of the wedding and the food and the dancing. Finally they hear the knock, they greet him at the door and invite him to sit down at the table they've prepared for him. But instead the master says, "No, no, you sit down. You've been waiting all night for me to return. It's morning and I will serve you."
The servants had waited up expecting to show the master the hospitality that was his due. Instead he has brought the party home to them. A wedding party has spilled over into a late night breakfast. "It is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Jesus wants us to be ready, he warns us to be ready.
There is a big business out there concerning the return of Jesus, the "Left Behind" phenomenon. The theology behind that particular set of beliefs, made popular in the past one hundred fifty years or so, is not part of the Episcopal tradition. Yet we shouldn't discount Jesus' urging us to be ready. Jesus wants us to be alert, awake, ready for the Son of Man when he comes. His disciples were ready, the women went to the tomb on Easter morning and encountered angels and the Son of Man himself, the grave unable to hold him. Other friends and followers of Jesus, were ready, open, and expectant to meet him on the road to Emmaus, to hear him break open the scriptures and to share with him as he broke open both the bread and their unseeing eyes.
We are called also to be ready. No one knows when Jesus may return. But if we are the body of Christ here on earth, we have to assume Jesus returns everyday. We have to assume we meet Jesus repeatedly, on the road to Montesano and in the aisles of Thriftway. We have to assume the Son of Man is coming like the person knocking at the door of St. Marks in hopes of being given a few dollars for gas or food.
We have to assume we will meet him in the eyes of the transient walking along the Monte- Elma road and in the appealing eyes of residents at Monte Health and Rehab. Be ready and alert for those encounters that take us by surprise.
Do not be afraid friends, it is our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. And this is the kingdom he wants to give us, the kingdom where everyone, everywhere is received and welcomed and honored and loved as Jesus himself. Thanks be to God. AMEN