“People, Get Ready”
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, August 7, 2022
Reading: Luke 12: 32-40
One sunny afternoon about a week and a half ago, I was in my car making my way to visit my dad, blissfully listening to the radio station that always plays my favourite 80s music that takes me back to my youth, when something came on the radio that shook me to the core. I almost veered off the road; my eyes and mouth fell open in shock. It was July 29th, and I was hearing the first back-to-school advertisement of the season. In July. It feels like it’s way too soon to think of summer ending, but the fact is that the CNE starts in 11 days, and schools will be back in session not long afterwards. Late summer and early fall have a certain feel, that often takes me back to childhood, to my school days so many years ago.
In grade 5 our teacher, “Mr. D” we called him, would periodically leave the room once an exercise has been assigned and say, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Just keep working quietly at your desks.” Now, some kids – mostly the boys – couldn’t resist the temptation to try and figure out exactly when Mr. D was coming back. They would take turns going to the door and cautiously peeking out into the hallway to see if he was on his way yet.
Why this obsession about the timing of his return? Because in his absence, they were throwing chalkboard erasers (remember those?) around the room and didn’t want to get caught! Mr. D had a notoriously hot temper, and his wrath in response to willful disobedience was an awesome thing to behold. There were usually wood chips flying from shattered metre sticks. One time he threw a chair at a boy. Ah, the good ol’ days!
While all of this mischief was going on, the girl who sat behind me –Leslie – never worried about when Mr. D might reappear, because Leslie would be at her desk the whole time quietly doing her work. Whenever Mr. D might return, he would find Leslie doing what he had assigned to us. (Leslie was so good! I always thought she was an angel – very pretty, quiet… So, you can imagine my distress the day I dropped my pencil on the floor, and while retrieving it discovered that the underside of her desk was completely covered in boogers.)
The purpose of sharing this story – a story that many of you can probably relate to – is to illustrate the point of this morning’s gospel reading. Leslie was always disciplined and diligent in doing the work her teacher had set before her. She never allowed herself to be distracted by what the rest of the class was doing. She never grew tired of doing what she knew was the right thing to do; she knew when it was time to work and when it was time to relax or play. So, whenever Mr. D returned, Leslie was engaged in her work. She had no need to stress out or worry about the return of the teacher, like the boys did; she just kept her mind focused on the task the teacher had assigned.
In our lives as Christians, our Teacher from Nazareth has given us an assignment as well. While he is not physically present with us, we are to live our lives as His body, as ones who are children of God – in that way, He is always present to us. We are to love God and others. We are to follow Christ’s commands, seek the Kingdom of God, go into the world, and make disciples; study God’s word, and pray without ceasing. If we are faithfully engaged in such work for the sake of God’s realm, then we need not stress or worry about those times when the presence of Jesus confronts us, when Jesus comes before us in the stranger or the outcast. And we need not fear when God may call us into His presence. We will be ready; our hearts will be turned to God, and we will have been faithfully doing the work of love that we have been assigned.
In the reading from Luke, Jesus tells a parable about how wise and faithful servants will conduct themselves while waiting for the return of their employer who has left them in charge of his household while he went away to attend a wedding banquet. You really have to trust someone to leave them in charge of your home, no? You’d want to leave someone who knows your mind and would take care of things the way you yourself would if you were present.
Just like the boys in my grade 5 class, there was temptation for the servants to goof off when the homeowner wasn’t there to watch them. But the owner expects that these are responsible, trustworthy people – more like Leslie – and that they won’t slack off, or he would never have left them in charge. So off he goes, coming home, in the middle of the night, or even at dawn. Now, even those who are responsible and wouldn’t think of slacking off are human and could easily grow weary as the hour grew later and later, while they had no idea when he’d return. They might begin to think he wasn’t going to return that night at all, and decide that it was okay for them to take a little rest – he’d never know, right?
How happy the homeowner will be, Jesus tells them, if he returns and finds the servants fulfilling their responsibilities. And Jesus tells the disciples that this is what is expected of them – that they would never grow weary carrying out the task that God has given to them. That they would trust in him, and that when God comes to them in glory he will find them quietly, diligently carrying out the responsibilities he has given to them, and he will be pleased.
In the time of the early church, around the time when the Gospel of Luke was written, Christians believed that at any moment Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the owner of this household we call Earth, would return to vindicate them and to finally rule the world forever. The longer they waited, and he didn’t return, the more the apostles and gospel writers had to encourage people to stay alert, to be faithful, and to not lose hope. Christ promised he would return. Christ promised they would be rewarded for their faithfulness. And now in this text we hear Jesus say that nobody knows the day or the hour. According to Jesus’ words, it might happen after their lives are over, after our lives are over; but it will happen in God’s perfect timing, and those who have been faithful throughout their lives will find it to have been worth the wait.
While few people nowadays hold to the whole rapture/apocalyptic end-of-days scenario made popular by Hollywood movies, the Christian church has always affirmed that Christ said he will return in glory one day, at the perfect time; and the Christian church still affirms that to this day (I just don’t think it will look like the Hollywood movie many of us think about). But 2000 years have passed since Jesus said he would return, it’s something that not many of us have at the forefront of our minds. So, it’s easy for us to become more like irresponsible servants, who grow weary of waiting, and decide to just relax and take it easy.
There are so many things that can distract us from attending to our spiritual lives if we are not disciplined; if we don’t make the effort to remain spiritually awake. With all the responsibilities and activities that consume our lives, with all the entertainment options at our fingertips around the clock, it is so easy for spiritual discipline to fall right off our daily schedule, for us to spend almost no time in our day considering our spiritual life; and for us to be consumed with meeting our own needs rather than serving the needs of others. And if we’re not careful, over time, we can easily fall into a spiritual slumber, with no awareness at all the condition of our spiritual health. And then we lose sight of the responsibilities given to us by Jesus while he’s not physically present among us.
But if Christ did return now (because now is as good a time as any) what will he find us doing with our lives? (And by now, I mean at this point in our lives, in general. I don’t mean right now, while we’re in church, which would be the ideal time for him to return!!) In our day to day lives, would he find us glorifying him? Or would we wake up with a start, and not know where we stand in God’s kingdom; and barely recognize the one who is standing before us?
Even Christians who dismiss altogether the idea of Christ returning will affirm that God is always with us. So then, if we were conscious 24/7 that Jesus was here with us, how would we conduct our lives? How would we treat others? What would we spend our time on? The truth is, Christ often comes to us in ways that are perceived by our hearts rather than our eyes…if our hearts are tuned to sense it.
Verse 37: Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. And then it says, “He [the master] will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” Wow! This isn’t a text saying that unfaithful servants will be punished. Oh sure, there are texts like that in the Bible, but this isn’t one of them. This is a text that tells us the reward of staying alert, of being faithful, of not growing weary in carrying out the work that God has given to us. Servants who are prepared and awake when the Lord comes to them, Jesus says, not only are blessed by him, but are treated to a most extraordinary reward: the owner serves them at table. The master becomes the servant of the servants and shows his gratitude by sitting them down at his table and laying a feast before them.
Faithfulness to God is, itself, the greatest reward in life. If the Lord comes in the second or third watch, the passage says, when everyone else has grown tired, given up and gone to bed, and He finds that some have been diligent, have kept awake, having not grown tired of waiting on Him, have trusted that he will return even when others have given up hope…blessed are those servants. Those are the ones who have prepared their hearts and minds and souls to receive the kingdom promised in verse 32, the kingdom that God is pleased to give to his children.
Just as there are natural consequences to disobeying God’s laws, there are natural rewards to following them. If pleasing God is in any way important to you, then following Jesus’ teaching in our lives is its own reward in many ways. When we truly love someone, then pleasing them is something we enjoy doing. Even when we don’t get anything out of it ourselves, seeing their pleasure gives us a sense of fulfillment. When we take God seriously, and do those things He says to do, and avoid those things he warns us are not good for us, it pleases God.
There’s a song – a beautiful song – written at the height of the US Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s. Curtis Mayfield, the lead singer of The Impressions, wrote his most memorable song, “People, Get Ready” about the inevitability of God’s Kingdom coming in the form of human rights, freedom, and dignity for all men and women, regardless of the colour of their skin. The words of the chorus say:
People get ready
There's a train, a comin'
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket,
You just thank the Lord
In that turbulent decade Curtis Mayfield was calling people to prepare for the approaching Kingdom of God. The train was a comin’, but those who were asleep would miss it. Those who were ready would just get on board.
The chaos of the 60s left the US and many other countries in confusion. I’ve heard my parents and others speak of the many reasons there were to feel very afraid during those years; all the reasons there were to lose hope, to lose faith, to lose patience. But Mayfield, like many others, understood that something great was just over the horizon. He could hear it like the distant humming of a diesel engine. You don’t need no baggage; all you need is faith; don’t need no ticket; you just get on board.
People, get ready. This is the very message that Jesus is giving to his disciples. They are to be ready. They are not to be afraid; they are to sell their possessions—you don’t need no baggage. They are to be dressed for service and ready to open the door when the Lord returns. They are to never grow weary and never lose hope.
The train is a comin’. Jesus will come to us and those who are found ready will be richly blessed. Thanks be to God.