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Coming for You

The Rev. Joseph Winston

August 8, 2010

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ.1
“Trust me, I am from the government and I am here to help you.” The nervous
laughter you normally hear in response to this well-known statement about the
power of the government says you know better than to simply take these words
on face value. It is not that you have anything to hide from them but you know all
too well from past experience that something will be taken from you and you will
see almost nothing in return.
That is the way of the world. There is a price to everything. Whether it is a
new outfit that a child needs to start school in a few weeks or the repair of an
existing piece of farm equipment before it can go back into the field, you must a
pay something. It might be high as in the case of a new engine or it might be low
like a new backpack, but the fact still remains. Someone must pay the cost.
1
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians
1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.

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There is something else that we all realize. We treat people differently. Adults
get to eat on the good china and drink from our grandmother’s crystal. Children do
not. Even this distinction between the grownups and the rest of the family does not
happen all the time. We keep our best dishes put away until that special occasion.
Only then, do we take them out. The rest of the time we eat on our everyday plates
and drink from plastic tumblers.
How we eat our meals certainly is not the only example of how we change
our behaviors based on the people in the situation. We do not treat presidents of
corporations the same way we do the President of the United States even though
the two titles are the same. We act differently when we are out having a good time
with our friends than when we sit quietly with them during worship. We interact
with our spouse one way in private and another out in public.
It has always been this way. Pick up a history book and research how human
society works. Pull out those old dusty newspapers and read about the past. Ask
your grandparents what they did in their day. Soon you will see that this is what
we do. We know that nothing in this life is free. We also expect people to behave
in certain ways.
This means there is nothing surprising at all when Jesus commands His fol-
lowers to “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit (Luke 12:35).”2 It is fully
within even a human king’s prerogative to tell his subjects exactly what they need
2
Apparently, the translator for the NRSV though the literal text was too archaic and changed
it from “So let your loins be girded and your lamps burning (ἔστωσαν ὑμῶν αἱ ὀσφύες περιεζω-
σμέναι καὶ οἱ λύχνοι καιόμενοι ).” Additionally, the parallelism found in verse 37 is lost with the
NRSV’s approach.

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to do. That is one of the obvious differences between being a king and being a
subject. One orders and the rest obey. It is your responsibility to be ready at all
times.
It goes without saying that watching around the clock is very expensive. Extra
hands need to be paid. Someone also must provide lights. None of these details are
your problem. The king is responsible for finding the people that will stay awake
during all hours of the night. He also uses the financial resources of the kingdom
to purchase whatever is required. Your job is to come when called and to bring
whatever you need.
There is no reward for this work. It is required of everyone in the kingdom so
do not ever brag about how many hours you sat at your post. All you were doing
is your duty.
The second part of the line in today’s Gospel lesson follows the exact same
pattern. Jesus says, Christians must “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 (Luke 12:36).” You never know what job any king
requires of you. It might be an exciting task like leaving the castle and traveling
with the wedding party to the big event. More than likely, the king has other work
for you. Wait and when the time is right, open the door.
Nothing has changed in this line from the king. It is not your place to decide
what you actually get to do. This responsibly falls solely to the king. This is why
he is the king and you are not.
Just as before, there is an expense associated with having someone open the

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door. You do not have to worry about how much it might cost to keep a person
manning the door rather than replacing it with a completely automated system.
The king told you to wait and that is exactly what you do.
If you happen to be at your post when the king comes, it is not that He prefers
you over all the other people in the world. You are just following orders: nothing
more and nothing less.
By now, you should know exactly what happens when Jesus says, “Blessed
are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes (Luke 12:37a).” All
subjects in the kingdom have the choice to disobey the king. The fact that they
are following the king’s orders when he arrives only means that the king will not
punish them. In other words, an extra reward does not come from doing what the
king requires of everyone.
What comes next in today’s Gospel lesson is a completely unexpected. Jesus
says, “truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and
he will come and serve them (Luke 12:37b).” It is like having someone show up
from the government with aid in hand and it will not cost you anything at all to
make this celebration take place. This type of behavior by a leader just does not
happen in the real world. You know this to be true. A king does not wait on tables.
That job is for waiters.
But that is exactly what this king does. He invites all who are awake to come
and to dine with him at his royal table. As part of the deal, he promises that no one
will have to do anything at all. All that they have to do is eat. And if that was not
a big enough surprise for you, here is another one. The meal is completely free.

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There are no hidden charges.
Experience is a great teacher that showed us how to walk, how to talk, and
how to live in this world. It clearly instructs us two undeniable facts that we use
every day of our lives. First, there is a cost to everything. Next, people follow
well-known patterns of behavior.
We are so comfortable with the lessons our teacher brings us that we cannot
even imagine questioning the logic presented to us. Living must mean dying. That
cost seems completely unavoidable and reasonable in our economic system. In the
same way, rulers must take and not give. After all, the world expects this type of
behavior. That is why we know the phrase, “Trust me, I am from the government
and I am here to help you.” cannot be true. They come and want something from
us and when we have no more to give, we are completely worthless to them.
This makes the message about a King that freely feeds His people like us so
out of the realm of everyday experience that we do not know where to begin in
discussions with our friends and neighbors and that is exactly what we do.
The numbers prove it. Our weekly attendance in this denomination has fallen
by more than 190 thousand members in the last twenty years.3 During that same
period, our Sunday School attendance has dropped by 400 thousand.4 To put it
in proper perspective, the decline in worship numbers is about the same as the
population of Tyler, Texas and the reduction in the number of children is a bit
smaller than the number of residents in and around Corpus Christi.
3
Kenneth W. Inskeep, Life in the ELCA: The Brutal Facts, (Luther Seminary Board Address,
October 2006), p. 30.
4
Ibid., p. 37.

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This harsh critique of our inability to bring the Good News is not new at all.
Listen to what a reputable research organization said about us seventeen years
ago:

The Lutheran Church, like most mainline denominations, works un-


der a broad unwritten assumption that the conversion to personal faith
in Jesus Christ has already occurred in people’s lives elsewhere and
that church growth merely involves assimilating these “already con-
verted” into the ongoing life of the congregation.

Lutheran clergy are trained as nurturers of the faith, rather than as


catalysts in any process of spiritual transformation in the lives of in-
dividuals.

As a denomination, the Lutheran Church is unprepared and ill-equipped


to reach out to non-Christians and engage them in a transformational
process that leads to an active faith in Jesus Christ.5

Clearly, we do not know where to begin.


One way to start is at the beginning.
Jesus came to save the people that no else wanted. Look and see whom He
takes. They were far below the official poverty line when everyone else had more
than enough. They were in prison when everyone else did not have a care in the
world. They were the ones who could not see what was coming when everyone
else knew what was happening. They were the people who never could pay for
5
Roy M. Oswald and Martin Saarinen, Why Some Churches Don’t Grow: Factors that Might
Motivate Those Not Interested in Growth, (Alban Institute, 1993), p. 1.

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their freedom while everyone else could buy whatever they wanted. Jesus came to
save the ones the rest of the world completely abandoned.
Honestly, Jesus came to save people just like you.
You hear this same list in the words of prophet Isaiah that Jesus read in the
synagogue on the sabbath day (Luke 4:16):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,


because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
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to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18).”

This type of rescue would normally cost a fortune and most people in this
world would gladly pay for anyone to help them. Listen what it costs them. The
rich could give Him the best that the world has to offer but the poor had nothing of
value. Jesus still saved the destitute and took no one’s money. The unencumbered
could give Him their freedom but the slave had nothing to give away. Jesus still
saved the prisoner and took no one’s dignity. The ones who can see could give
Him their vision but those who cannot see have little to offer. Jesus still saved
the blind and took no one’s sight. The powerful could give Him the world but the
downtrodden have no one below them. Jesus still saved the oppressed and took
advantage of no one. This tells you that Jesus helps out of love and not need.

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This action of giving something to those people who are worth absolutely
nothing makes no sense in this world’s economics because you get something
for nothing. You trade poverty for riches, imprisonment for freedom, sickness for
health, oppression for power, and finally death for life. We call it the Good News.
What it actually does is devalue what the world holds dear and they call it treason.
Those in charge know only of one way of dealing with problems like this. Kill
them. That is exactly what happens. Jesus is tried and found guilty of subverting
the world’s order. A sentence of death is pronounced and the world believes all
will be back to normal.
For three days, it seemed like the old ways of living had won the battle and the
only way to make it in this world is through the oppression of others. On Sunday,
the world is told the truth: the poor, the prisoner, the sick, and the powerless are
worth saving.
“Trust me, I am from the government and I am here to help you.” This mes-
sage with the nervous laughter it produces tells us more truth about the world than
what we normally want to hear. The world takes many things from us. This is the
cost of doing business in this place. The world also expects us to follow suit and
lead the life it sets before us. Any deviation from the world’s plan is unacceptable.
Jesus brings a different way of life. He takes the poor and makes them rich.
He takes the prisoner from jail and makes them free. He takes the sick and makes
them well. He takes the oppressed and makes them equal with the rest. He takes
the dead and makes them live.
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and

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minds through Christ Jesus.”6

References

Inskeep, Kenneth W., Life in the ELCA: The Brutal Facts, (Luther Seminary Board
Address, October 2006), Research and Evaluation Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America.

Oswald, Roy M. and Saarinen, Martin, Why Some Churches Don’t Grow: Fac-
tors that Might Motivate Those Not Interested in Growth, (Alban Institute,
1993).

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Philippians 4:7.