For what, exactly, are we supposed to be ready?

A sermon on Luke 12.32-40

What matters most to you?  Take a moment to think about it.
People?  Values?  Things?  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” says Jesus in today’s gospel.  But he’s not making some simplistic division between earthly things (= bad) and heavenly things (=good) but rather inviting us to live as heavenly people, to live in acknowledgement of the fact that by virtue of being part of God’s creation, we are heavenly people, created to enjoy God for ever and to be part of his family and household. Our treasure is with God because God holds in his hands all that he made, all that really matters.

So how does that relate to the next bit of the reading, the part about the slaves. We may be very uncomfortable with the language, and it may have quite different connotations in our modern society in which we (mostly) tend to assume that slavery is a thing of the past.  But the difference between a slave and a more palatably-titled “servant” is that a slave actually belongs to the household, to the master of the house.  And if the master of the house is God, then belonging to him and to his household may not be such a bad thing after all.

And the work of the slaves is mind-blowingly important work – the master has entrusted his whole household to us, the care of everything that belongs to him, everything that he values. What an awesome responsibility, and what an awesome display of trust and affirmation!  In the household of God the work of the slaves isn’t polishing the silver and sweeping the floor, it’s building the kingdom, it’s working to make sure that everything that belongs to God (and that really is everything!) is how God wants it to be.

To do that work means we have to have some idea of what God wants his household to be like. What are the values by which God would like this household to run itself?  These are the values to which we work. Our work is no less than shaping God’s household into the sort of household he wants. Between us all, that means doing everything, and working out what our own task is within this great and noble work is the most crucial thing we’ll ever work out. And then getting on and doing it is our life’s work.

That’s why we won’t misunderstand all that stuff about being ready.  I have a friend who has a T-shirt with a picture of the Holman Hunt ‘Light of the world’ painting, with the caption, “Jesus is coming, look busy!”  That’s not it at all, being ready isn’t a clever guessing game about when precisely to get off our collective backsides and look as if we’re working hard just as the boss comes home. It’s about simply getting on with the task that God’s given us to do, because it’s the whole household that’s got to be ready, not just individual people in it.  The master doesn’t want to come and find slaves that look busy in a house that’s still a tip.  Being ready means getting on with our part in making God’s world nearer to how he created it to be.

And that incorporates our care and compassion for one another, for the environment and natural world, our economic choices and the impact they have on the world economy, and our lifestyle choices and their impact on our society and community, and much more besides.  We might look on the world around us and despair of it ever becoming more like the kingdom of God.  And we might long for a Revelation-like vision of the whole earth being recreated perfect.  And then we remember that God does, in fact, have a whole army of slaves whose job it is at least to begin this process of transformation and renewal.  It is we who build the kingdom according to God’s design.

Working out what that looks like can be hard – what does God actually most care about?  We should ask him.  We should pray, and read scripture, and think together and discern, and start to develop our own understanding of the values of God’s kingdom, God’s household, so that we know what we’re working towards.

And the end result of all this?  The story doesn’t talk about judgement, about failure, about bad slaves being sacked, or cast into outer darkness. It talks about how the slaves were ready, and that when the master comes home they’re invited to sit round his table and he serves them their dinner.   The slaves weren’t working for some other person’s benefit at all –  it turned out that all that preparation, all that cleaning and clearing of the table, all that polishing of chairs, all that washing up, was so that when the master came home he could sit down with his whole household and be a family.  That’s what they had to be ready for. That’s what they were preparing for all this time.  They had to be ready to be part of the family and household of God.  We have to be ready to be part of the household and family of our beloved heavenly Father.  And I sometimes wonder if we are.

We work to make earth like heaven because we want to be part of it; and the more we help to create the kingdom of heaven the more ready we are for it.  Everything we do here in church is supposed to be a foretaste of heaven, from the welcome when you come in to the sharing of coffee afterwards.  But more than that, everything we do in the rest of life is also supposed to be making earth a little more like heaven  – the encounters we have at work, in the street, in the shops, these are all opportunities for kingdom-making and kingdom-growing and kingdom-building.

And that’s what the story of the ‘ready slaves’ has to do with the treasure in heaven, and why far from being an injunction to separate a bad world from a good heaven it’s actually about being part of God’s ongoing work of reuniting the two.  And it’s about our own readiness to be wholly part of earth at the same time as we are children of heaven.

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