Expectancy on the Way
This sermon, given by Geoff Pound at ABC on 7 August 2016 is the fifth in a series entitled, ‘People of the Way’. Check out the introduction to this series and Study 5 for personal and group study that accompanies this sermon.
Reading: Luke 12:32-40
12:32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
12:33 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.
12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
12:35 "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit;
12:36 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.
12:37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.
12:38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
12:39 "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
12:40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
On our recent walk through France we stayed one night in a rambling two storey country house that had been built in 1836. We were welcomed by Michelle who had hosted travellers for the last nine years.
We called Michelle the Wife of Bath. She was the life of the party. She worked so hard that night at developing a sense of community. There were a dozen around the table, all French, except for the two of us.
After dinner Michelle regaled us with stories and jokes. She loved singing so she sang us a song. Then she wanted all of us to sing a solo or a duet. The Frenchmen said, “We’re not musical.” So to kick it off we sang Waltzing Matilda just to add some Aussie culture to the evening. They knew the song. They loved it. Michelle pushed us all again, divided us into twos and made us sing as a round, Frere Jacques.
Michelle started off the first couple and then brought the other five duos in at the appropriate time. We all got through the song once then on the second time we lost it. We collapsed into a cacophony and laughter.
I wonder how well you can hold a tune. Not just when you’re singing solo but when you’re in a group with others bellowing a different part into your ear.
The disciples of Jesus had begun to follow his call in the calm of Lake Galilee. But over the months and the years when the voices of others grew vicious and threatening, they found it increasingly difficult to hold their tune.
Sensing their fear Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid.” (12:32)
Karl Barth shared a story from a monastery in Alsace during the war. While the monks were chanting the Magnificat, a bombshell suddenly tore through the roof and exploded in the nave of the church.
When the smoke and dust had cleared, the monks were still there, still chanting the Magnificat in worship to God.
There’s something about regular worship that lifts our hearts and enables us to sing our song and keep our tune even when life is noisy and dangerous and exploding all around us.
A second issue that weakens our ability to keep in tune with Christ’s call is referred to in v33:
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.
The glitter of possessions, the treadmill to acquire and the lure of climbing up the social or promotional ladder are all things that can weaken our commitment to following that which is truly priceless.
Khalid Al Ameri is a writer and speaker in the Emirates. He often comments on life issues and managing relationships which is very rare in his culture where men so often outsource parenting tasks to women and domestic workers. Recently Khalid wrote about the resetting of his priorities.
Khalid said, “When my father was growing in his career he got a big opportunity to join an organization with high prospects, better pay, and everything that goes with a high-flying role….
He said, “While we were very comfortable in our lives and our father gave us everything we needed, this new job would have simply given us a little bit more.”
Amazingly, his father turned down that great opportunity and when Khalid asked him ‘why’, his father said, "I want you to know me when you grow up, and if I take this role you will never see me."
Khalid said, “That day taught me a lesson on prioritizing the things that truly matter in life because sometimes we sacrifice so much like family, friendships, and health in the search for a little more money, a little more prosperity or
a little more importance amongst people we hardly even know.”
He confessed, “Unfortunately, I fell into that trap, working in an organization constantly in search of that next big achievement and forgetting that my greatest achievements were at home every day waiting for me, my…wife and my two boys.”
He added, “It wasn't easy walking away from a job that gave me so much in terms of prestige and money, but the minute I walked away I knew I was walking in the right direction because I realized that I won't make my family happier by making more money for them and never being able to see them.”
“However, I will make them happier by being there for them, by being present in their lives and the special moments they experience, and by making sure that the work I do allows me to put them first and everything else second.”
Jesus speaks of selling off, simplifying, giving away the extraneous—those fleeting attractions which in the end fades and are no comparison to what he calls, the “unfailing treasure.” (12:33)
Having talked about the distractive power of fear and being attracted to wanting more, Jesus tells a story about security workers who were no longer attentive, so the house they are supposed to be guarding is broken into.
This isn’t the fear of others or the lure of other things but simply growing tired, going off the boil.
It reminds me of that group of Uni students who established an Apathy Club on the Campus. They advertised the first meeting. No one turned up. They judged it to be an absolute success!
Writing from prison a few months before he died, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter in which he used a musical term to illustrate the same point Jesus is making.
In the Middle Ages, composers developed a style of music-making which relied only on a strong melody, that was sung or played by instruments in the lower registers.
Higher voices could then sing all sorts of fancy things and trills, weaving in and out. The whole piece was held together by this unifying theme that was called the cantus firmus - the strong tune/song.
“God requires that we should love God eternally with our whole hearts, yet not so as to compromise or diminish our earthly affection but as a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint…where the ground bass is firm and clear, there is nothing to stop the counterpoint from being developed to the utmost of its limits…and this gives life a rich polyphony, a wholeness…but the cantus firmus must be kept going. Put your faith in the cantus firmus.”
We find the underlying theme in the Scripture especially in the words of Jesus. That strong tune is also sounded in the practice of prayer, especially guided by the Lord’s Prayer.
When Jesus says: "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (12:35), He is referring to our part in His committed community that’s strengthened by feeding from His table where we are reminded of the overriding themes in His underlying tune: Grace, forgiveness, nurture, service and community.
The Rev. William Barber is an Afro-American preacher who spoke at the recent Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. In his powerful short speech he said:
“I’m so concerned at those who say so much about what God says so little,
while saying so little about what God says so much.”
How often we focus on things which in the end don’t really matter all that much. And we pay so little attention to the underlying tune. We can become so engrossed in the fancy, twiddley bits and pieces of life’s music, that we forget to listen and sing the enduring melody. The cantus firmus.
When the crunch comes, there are things that really matter, and things that don’t.
During one of the terrible times of persecution in Rwanda, two groups of Christians were rounded up and massacred. One group were the Roman Catholics, and the others were from a strict conservative Christian group.
Colin Morris, who was telling the story, said:
“They went bravely to their death, one lot clutching their crucifixes and the others clinging to their Schofield Bibles.”
But the Lord who received them didn’t notice what they held in their hands. All that mattered was that they were clinging to God.
Lord Jesus Christ, help us so to hear your tune, that we might also sing it with passion and from the heart.
When life gets busy, when events threaten to overwhelm us and our trust wavers, help us to know this, to get back to the essentials and be active in Your work.
Remind us now at your table of your great grace.
Feed and sustain us not with spiritual snacks but with the Bread of Life.
 Karl Barth, The Word of God and Theology, T & T Clark, 2011, 113; John Killinger, Fundamentals of Preaching, Fortress Press, 25.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 303.
 This story and the Bonhoeffer reference to the cantus firmus, appears in a sermon by Rev Barrie Hibbert, delivered at Flinders Street Baptist Church, Adelaide, 26 November 2006.