Summer sermons - Luke 19:11-27
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again (Philip Larkin)
An August Bank Holiday lark – little did they know! - in early August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany, and immediately there were queues at the army recruiting offices – little did they know! The government knew. Popular sentiment thought the war would be over by Christmas, Kitchener the Secretary of State knew differently and launched a recruitment campaign that was phenomenally successful. Men volunteered in huge numbers,often men from the same town or profession signed on together - The Hull commercial boys battalion, and the East Riding Farmworkers complete with horse and cart transport were local examples. Little did they know. The war didn't finish by Christmas and then in 1915 came the Somme and the appalling carnage of trench warfare – little did they know they had signed up for a long haul. The war dragged on for years with huge casualties leaving a generation of widows and fatherless children. Little did those cheerful recruits of 1914 know! Never such innocence again.
And I guess it's much the same today – we're still in Iraq, just a few years ago the Afghan campaign was full of high expectations, now it's all about 'exit strategy'. Politicians are like that – manipulative spinning the positive to keep the public on side in order to achieve their ends.
Our Lord Jesus was a very different sort of leader, as they neared Jerusalem the disciples were on a high, they had seen miracles, they had heard such inspiring teaching which ran so much against the ritual formalism of the religious elite, surely this must be the Messiah everyone had been waiting for?
Well yes He was ...but, and it's a very big but. They had failed to understand the sort of leader predicted by prophets – all they could think of was to get rid of the Roman occupation and somehow return to the days of King David at his zenith. They presumed that the heavenly kingdom promised in scripture was coming and was coming soon. So Jesus, rather than giving a pep talk full of promises that won't be kept, takes time out to prepare them (and us) for the way life will actually be. Yes coming there will be times of heady celebration albeit short-lived, but there will also be a cross and ongoing persecution. Jesus warns clearly of the long haul to come.
Open Bibles Luke 19
1. Unrealistic Expectations
Of course it's easy with wonderful gift of hindsight to be critical of those idealistic young men swept into a world war, to be critical of the disciples with their blinkered vision – yet I guess many of us would have also been swept along by the euphoria. It's easy for us like the disciples to have unrealistic expectations of the Christian life. Like them we are given the tremendous privilege of insight into God's purposes, and in addition we have the wonderful gift of God's Holy Spirit to enable our understanding, from time to time we too catch a glimpse of the heavenly fellowship to come, we see miracles – lives turned round and released from the evil hold the empire of Satan has on folk. We have the security of the certain promise of a life hereafter and a new body!! Wow!!! but we actually live in a sometimes cruel world, in a broken society where there are huge inequalities and much pain and suffering, where the only certainty is death. Some especially in the affluent west seek to insulate themselves from that reality by building a Christian community that is essentially separated from the very society in which we're placed. They preach, teach, and live out an unbalanced message – Yes we can fill our time with church activity, we can concentrate our relationships on nice church people, we can simply use our profession to provide the means to live comfortably. Friends that is not the way Jesus wanted so He prepared His disciples by telling them a story, a story He used (with variations) more than once, it gives a picture that the hearers could readily understand but remember, of course like all parables it was told to make a point and only gives a partial picture, nevertheless it lays out insights and principles we do well to absorb:
2. The story
Jesus told them of a nobleman called to a distant country to be crowned king – – inevitably he will be going away for a substantial time (no Easy Jet travel then) so he calls his servants and entrusts them with some fairly substantial resources to invest whilst he is away, this they do with varying success. This was in the context of a mixed society where there was active opposition to the crown prince which sought to undermine the whole coronation, a diplomatic coup was planned but it failed and eventually the new king returns and brings all parties to task.
The message, in a nutshell, is clearly that Jesus is going to leave His disciples, but after the great events of a 'coronation' He assures them that He is definitely coming back at some unspecified point in the future. So what can we learn from the story:
1. The nobleman gave the servants freedom of choice in how they used the money entrusted to them, essentially He trusted them to work unsupervised, to invest as they thought best. He didn't tell them what to do, nor did he instruct them to form a cooperative (which might have 'carried' the weaker individual who was unwilling to take any risk). He actually gave them personal responsibility to use what they were given in whatever way they chose. – And we have just the same charge – we are all given a range of gifts and abilities and, using the Bible as guidebook, God gives us tremendous freedom to employ our gifts to make a difference in His world. The lesson is clear: We all have the opportunity to use what we are given and we can't expect others to manage it for us. We also need to remember that Jesus was setting a pattern for the rest of the disciples' lives. In other words this is the overall pattern for living until Jesus returns – indeed a long haul!
2. Secondly we note that the nobleman recognised the differing natural abilities and experience of his servants, and crucially did not expect the same return on each investment. Friends we are all given gifts, but be realistic some are more gifted than others. It's no use complaining - our attitude should be thankfulness for what we can do, not dissatisfaction about what we can't. Some of us are five mina people, others ten. In practice some undervalue themselves and don't achieve what they could whereas others are presumptuous and think they are more capable than they really are. Shows like 'Britain's got Talent' illustrate this so well: capable performers appear genuinely surprised to have done well, whereas out of tune singers with a voice like a bandsaw seem oblivious to the public spectacle they are making of themselves!
What is a Christian approach to this? Well firstly we need to live within a realistic and humble assessment of ourselves – it's an attitude thing, we need to let God's word mould us. But even then we are sometimes blissfully unaware of aspects of our character so we need to listen to others. Can I encourage you to find folk who will give you feedback – maybe your boss or pastor or a leader who knows you well and who is prepared to be honest. An annual review is a real privilege so use it wisely and bring any issues raised to God even if you find them unpalatable. And, from the other side, don't be reserved about giving encouragement when someone does something well – it may really help them start to exercise their gifting.
3. These servants were told to invest in the hurly burly of the marketplace with it's risks for the unwary risks that one of the servants was unwilling to take. All too often we forget that as Christians we are called to operate in this world not to insulate ourselves from it, after all we only have a limited time here. Elsewhere in scripture Jesus calls us to be salt and light in society, which means that our primary calling is to be influential in the situation where He has put us. To be a Godly joiner, bus driver, banker, social worker, housewife or whatever using the talents we have been given. Church and the church community strengthens and supports us to be people of influence throughout the week within the unique circle of people that we and we alone rub shoulders with. Yes some, a few, have the privilege of being set aside for 'full time Christian work' to help us do that. Others use their talents by taking jobs abroad as a platform for sharing the Gospel message with the unreached and we should all consider whether God is calling us to do that. But for most of us Jesus is calling us to make a difference, by building His church through us right where we are by our witness out there to colleagues, neighbours, friends, and family.
4. The story makes it plain that there will be opposition. There were countrymen who were prepared to go to great lengths and probably significant personal time, trouble and expense to try and undermine the coronation. Their message was clear: they said 'We do not want this man as our king!'. And it is just the same today for us, even in our stable and secure English society Christians are facing significant opposition in the workplace for the first time in many many years. Some of the things I did as a young Christian to witness at work could not happen today. Friends there is active opposition out there. Do we engage, do we be salt and light or do we retreat? We may not see any immediate result amongst our colleagues but be sure they notice!
A good example is one of our Mission Partners who is a surgeon and worked in a hospital in the middle East alongside national staff. A young local lad Mohammed by name, worked there for a while. Seven years later he came under conviction, he had to find out which was true the Bible or the Koran. Then he remembered those Christian doctors – there was something different about them and the way they worked (probably because amongst other things they were prepared to clean up after themselves). Mohammed studied and became a Christian with all that means for a convert from Islam. May we too all be people of influence in our workplaces.
5. This is so important because the story makes it quite clear that a day of reckoning will come:
1. For those who oppose King Jesus – the outcome will be a lost eternity. Those who reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour are lost completely and for ever. If that has thus far been your position, can I urge you to reconsider? Like the young man Mohammed, put time and effort into working out the truth for yourself. We will be more than happy to help or recommend appropriate reading matter.
2. Maybe you used to be in opposition but have come to the point where you know it needs a decision. Will you follow Jesus or not? If that's you, why not use our time of communion to quietly bow the knee to crucified and risen saviour – come to the rail with thankfulness that he died for you and accept Him as your Lord.
3. There will be those here like the man who hid his money, folk who have avoided facing up to their responsibilities, If you are like this can I gently challenge you? You may be saved but your life thus far has perhaps been a series of missed opportunities. Don't put it off, repent and resolve to invest whatever gifts God has given you for His glory for the rest of your days. Whatever your age God will use your willingness. Young person don't put it off – 'time flies by'. Older person don't say 'it's too late for me' - it isn't. - It may be too late to climb mountains and many of us have issues in the past that we can't undo, just remember God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. Many of God's 'mighty men' have been pensioners!
4. But there's another aspect of the story: Both the servants who had performed well were rewarded by being given additional responsibilities and indeed the status of regional governor. They had proved both their trustworthiness and their ability in 'small things' and were duly rewarded. The message is clear God rewards faithful service by giving us not rest and relaxation but the privilege of more responsibility and extra work! That is not an invitation to be workaholics, it's not an excuse for self advancement. The initiative came from the king and we need to learn to trust His providence and guidance. In my own experience the most fruitful times in both my professional career and in Christian work have been those that where I was invited to do rather than those I sought.
It's a good principle – we give big jobs to folk who have proved themselves with smaller ones.
5. It must have been a daunting experience. The new king returns and calls the servants to account. What would He say? I guess the opposition were pretty worried! But for the servants who had been faithful those two wonderful words: 'Well Done'. Could anything be better at the end of our lives but to hear those words of welcome?
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