Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 12th Sunday After Pentecost + August 7, 2016
Almost every movie about teenagers at some point includes the line, “His parents are out of town this weekend, and he’s having a huge party!” And then inevitably the party gets out of hand, the house gets trashed, and suddenly the parents pull up in the driveway, home a day early, and everyone is rushing to escape or clean up or hide all evidence of the party. (I expect some of you have more experience with these things in real life than others: as a parent or as a teenager.)
That stereotype has been popping up in my entertainment more than usual this week: in one tv show, the kids’ mad-scientist grandpa froze time so they could clean up the party mess before their parents got to the front door. (They left time frozen for six months, so they could take their time).1 In a book I read, the parents returned from vacation to find their house trashed and zombie-teenagers still slumped at their kitchen table.2
Anyway, those stories got into my head enough that as I was trying to interpret Jesus’s parable about the wedding banquet — a parable about slaves and masters and situations that don’t directly relate to our experiences — my imagination started re-writing it as a parable about one of those legendary teenage parties:
Be like those who are waiting for their parents to return from their weekend trip, so that they may open the door for them as soon as they knock. Blessed are those children whom the parents find alert when they come; truly I tell you, the parents will put on their aprons and serve their children snacks. If they come during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and find their children so, blessed are those children. […] You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
I may not be so off-the-beaten-path in this interpretation, since a few verses later Jesus talked about one of the slaves taking advantage of his master’s absence to eat and get drunk and beat up the other slaves (Luke 12:42-48).
But, of course, there is one major difference between teenagers being ready for their parents to come home and us being ready for God. Being prepared for parents to return — or the boss to come back — requires some common sense, some responsibility, and maybe some impulse control. But what does it take for us to be ready for God? First and foremost: it takes a whole lot of faith and a whole lot of hope.
When I still lived at home, I saw my parents come and go all the time: sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for a couple of days. Plans might change and accidents can always happen, but I basically knew my parents would return. When I worked at Panera, I knew that if my boss said she was going on a ten-minute break, she’d be back in nine. It didn’t take faith or hope to make me prepare for her return (and to keep me from eating all the chicken salad on the sandwich line) — it was just…obvious that I should expect her.
But expecting God to show up is not obvious. Even those of us who have had very strong experiences of God speaking to us or guiding us or taking action in our own lives can probably also explain those moments away: maybe it was just a coincidence; maybe I was just taught to see God in moments like that. God tends to be invisible and intangible and — most frustrating of all — unpredictable. God is much easier to doubt — and therefore much harder to trust with anything as precious to us as our present and our future.
Consider today’s Old Testament reading: the story of God promising Abraham, an old man with no biological children, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Imagine yourself as Abraham. Imagine having no idea how the story turns out. Imagine that the one thing you want most in the world — something that you had long ago given up hope every happening, something you were powerless to control, something that seems impossible —imagine that thing had been promised to come to you. Even if you had the direct connection to God that Abraham had: how difficult would it be to really trust all that depth of emotion and longing to something that sounds so impossible?
Abraham trusted enough in God’s power and faithfulness that Abraham made himself vulnerable to hope and expect and plan for this promised future. And maybe it would be worth the risk of being disappointed and brokenhearted to put that kind of faith and hope in God’s promise — even for those of us who don’t hear from God so directly as Abraham — just to have hope and joyful expectation for our futures. Isn’t living that way more pleasant than living in despair, anyway — even if in the end we don’t get what we want?
But as Jesus reminds us in today’s reading, being ready for God and God’s promises demands more of us than that kind of feel-good faith and hope. In fact faith and hope themselves demand that we not only feel differently, but also see and live differently. As Jesus said: we are to be “dressed for action and have [our] lanterns lit.” Through our faith God asks us to shift our priorities and take action and make sacrifices. God asked Abraham to leave his land and his family to travel to a new land — when Abraham was 75 (Gen. 12:1-6)! Faith and hope in God are serious commitments that change not only our outlook, but also the way we live our lives every day. We are called to live with confidence that God’s promises will come to be. We are called to be ready for God.
So what does that look like? What did Jesus ask of his disciples? We could make a long list of examples, but in today’s gospel reading we hear: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return.”
This is a very different set of priorities than that which comes easily to most of us. American culture encourages us to be more like the rich man from the story Jesus told just a few verses before today’s reading, the story we read in worship last week: the rich man grows crops and accumulates and accumulates stuff and builds bigger barns to store it in, all so that he can feel safe and secure and rest easy (Luke 12:13-21). Sound like a familiar message? It even sounds reasonable.
But Jesus says that all the rich man’s work is meaningless; it comes to nothing when he dies. Instead of being rich toward himself, Jesus said, the man should have been “rich toward God.” He should have had a different set of priorities. He should not have placed his hope and faith in material wealth, but in God: and then his life would have been different, more meaningful.
In today’s gospel Jesus told his disciples to redefine what it meant to be doing well in life: what matters is not how big our barns are or how much we have stored up or even by how much safety and security we can build up. What matters is trusting that God will fulfill God’s promises to love and care for all people and living out of that trust. Not to accumulate for our own security, but to help meet the needs of others. To treasure God’s mission above treasure. When our heavenly parent pulls up in the driveway, we should be found living as if the promised kingdom of God were already here among us, prepared for God’s grace and mercy and justice to come in full. Faith and hope call us to live in God’s promises even now; to change our lives and take risks for those promises even now.
Today’s parable reminds us to be ready and waiting: to live prepared for God’s promises to arrive. We should be on the lookout for signs of God already present, already at work around us and among us. See the world through faith and hope. See where God is already bringing promises to life, and be ready to jump in and share those promises with the world.
1. [Rick and Morty. “A Rickle in Time.” Season 2, episode 1. Directed by Wes Archer. Written by Matt Roller. Adult Swim (Cartoon Network). Aired July 26, 2015. (Not recommended for children or most people.)]↩
2. [Charles Burns. Black Hole. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2005). (Also not recommended for children or most people.)]↩