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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Have Your Bag Packed

Luke 12:32-40

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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. 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. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night or near dawn and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

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. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

We have all gone on a trip at some point or another. When you do, you are faced with the prospect of packing a bag or bags. You have to think about what clothes you want to bring – a new outfit every day or, if laundry facilities are available, fewer items, and which pairs of shoes and accessories to pack to go with your outfits. Then you need to decide how many bags you’ll need to bring everything you have chosen.

You’ll want to be prepared for anything for wherever you are going. If you’re going somewhere off the beaten track or a place with variable weather, you’ll need to bring more stuff. If the place you are going is near stores, you can always get what you forgot (so you could pack less).

How you are traveling impacts what and how you pack. More can fit in a car, less in a train or bus. Flying requires deciding if you only want to bring a carry-on roller bag (the ones everyone groans about when it takes the person in the aisle ahead of you forever to put it in the overhead compartment) or plan to check your luggage. A lot to decide!

There are other times we have to take all your stuff with you, such as when you are moving to another home. This is particularly difficult when you are downsizing from a larger house to a smaller one and can’t take everything you own with you.

I remember when my parents were moving out of the big house that we all grew up in. There were eight of us so there was a lot of stuff everywhere. Of course, when the each of us moved out, we didn’t take all of our stuff with us. It was left in rooms or in the garage or in the basement since no one knew what to do with it.

I was tasked with helping them sort through all the stuff when they were moving from the big house to a townhouse. You can imagine how much there was to sort out. While going through things, I was in the basement and found some boxes – wardrobe boxes – that had been moved from Michigan in 1967 and never been opened. My mother said, “Shouldn’t you see what is in them?” I answered, “Why? We haven’t needed them since 1967 so I doubt seriously that there is anything in there you will need going forward!”

There are those who, when they downsize, put lots of stuff in storage just in case, thinking that they might need some of the items at some point. Later, maybe after family members are cleaning things out after the person dies or if they are moving to assisted living or a skilled care facility, those cleaning look at everything and ask, “What is all this stuff!?” Some of you have told me that your children have said that when you die, they will get a big dumpster and throw everything in. Why worry, then, about what and how much you have?

In considering how much stuff to bring, we have an eye toward the future. If we are planning to return to our home, we take only what we need for the trip with the expectation that everything will be as we left it (we hope!). If we are moving to a new place, we take what we need for our new life and new environment.

Looking at today’s passage, there are several ways we can go to seek to understand it. One common way is to focus on being ready for Jesus’ return by being diligent, doing the right things, making the right choices, and doing his work. Our bags are filled with all of the things we have been actively doing – caring for others and showing compassion to show Jesus we have done while waiting for his return. To be able to say when he comes, “Look at all I’ve done! Isn’t this awesome!” We might consider ourselves on high alert, not asleep at the switch. Having our eye on the sky rather than focused on the ground.

Another direction we might go in understanding this passage is looking at the importance of security. Do we want to be ready like the homeowner who didn’t know when the thief was coming? To keep those out we don’t want to come in. We have security systems, some with central alarms that call the police when an intruder tries to enter the house, or a Ring doorbell that allows you to see on your phone who is at the front door even when you are not at home.

We also prepare to let in those we want to come in. We put out a welcome mat, keep the lights on, have flowers placed around the room, and are hospitable, all to make others feel that we want them in our home.

Then there are the unexpected visitors. The ones who show up unannounced. For some of us, these visitors are hard to deal with. We don’t want someone to just show up at our door. For others of us, we warmly welcome the unexpected visitor, telling them that we are glad they came over… and really mean it! In any case, we need to be attentive because that unexpected visitor might be Jesus.

Another direction we can consider in this passage is to look at the idea of treasure in heaven. We have heard about the importance of storing up treasure in heaven in the other gospels and in sermons. This option is related to being ready for Jesus’ return by making the right choices, doing the right things, and showing compassion. Some might call these acts as ones that add stars in our crown or brownie points with God. We say to God, “Look. I have put my focus on heavenly things and not on earthly things.”

One more direction we can go in seeking to understand this passage is to consider the idea of the kingdom. In reading this text, we can easily skip over the first line in our hurry to get to the part about treasure in heaven and all the things we are supposed to be doing to get ready for Jesus’ return. Yet at the very beginning of this text, we hear the words, “Do not be afraid…For it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

The kingdom. What do you think of when you hear the word, “kingdom?” Kings and queens, castles with moats, princes and princesses, royalty, the royal family. Kingdom is a place, a location, with defined boundaries so you know whose land you are in. In olden days it was especially important to know whose sovereignty you were under, so you knew who to contact and whose rules you were to follow.

The type of kingdom Jesus refers to here is God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom isn’t a place, a location. In the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus speak these words: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus has brought God’s kingdom to earth.

Kingdom is here and now. It’s about how we live and what we do. In many circles now, it is called the kin-dom to emphasize the relationships that are the focus of the kingdom.

Doing kingdom work may seem very much like doing the right things, making the right choices, and showing compassion and caring. Living in and doing the work of the kingdom is not an either/or like being on high alert or asleep at the switch. This isn’t about being the lookout, the one on the ramparts watching for the enemy or uninvited guest. Rather, living in the kingdom is being ON the lookout. Note the difference: being THE lookout verses being ON the lookout. The distinction is subtle but huge.

Being on the lookout is a way of life. The way that we live while waiting for Jesus to return. It is not a focus on when Jesus might be coming – is he coming today or tomorrow or next week. Couldn’t he come right now? I’ve had enough of what’s going on in my life or in the world. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back, so to spend our life as a lookout scanning the horizon to spot him descending from the heavens in the same way he ascended. This probably isn’t an effective use of our time.

Being on the lookout, however, is like having your eye on the sky while having your feet and other eye on the kingdom, the place you are doing Jesus’ work. The focus isn’t on doing what we do for Jesus while waiting for his return. The focus is on doing it in the here and now for all of those who live in the kingdom on earth.

Living in the kingdom, doing kingdom work, isn’t something that happens overnight. We don’t wake up one morning and tell ourselves that we are ready for the kingdom and all that living in it entails. Living life in the kingdom is a process of cultivating tacit awareness and peripheral vision. We often refer to this as growing or maturing as a disciple of Christ over time not just being ready in the moment. Author Gene Lowry describes this type of readiness as positioning yourselves to be surprised.

Consider that for a moment. How do you position yourself to be surprised? This sounds like an oxymoron – be prepared and expect a surprise. The point is that the preparation over a lifetime that allows you to be surprised without throwing your hands in the air shrieking, “I didn’t expect you!” Rather, it is to say, “I didn’t know you were coming, but that’s OK. I’m prepared.” It’s like having extra food in the pantry or another steak in the freezer so that if someone shows up unexpectedly you can warmly welcome them by saying, “Glad you are here. I’ll throw another steak on the grill.”

Surprise is one of the main themes in the passage. The master’s time of return is a surprise to the servants. The bigger surprise comes when the master tightens his belt, has his servants sit down at the large table in the dining room, and serves them a meal.

The master isn’t supposed to serve them. It’s their job to serve him and his guests. The servants are those who make sure the family and/or their guests are comfortable and then to serve each course to those seated around the table. You can imagine their surprise when they are told to sit and be served. This is a gift from the master, to serve those who have served him so faithfully. Who were ready and waiting for his return just as he had asked them to be.

A similar experience might be the case of a person going through a soup kitchen line and seeing their favorite athlete is serving them their food. Even a player from the Yankees! The tables are turned. The person who you have dreamed of meeting is standing there to meet you. You are surprised!

Consider people such as artists, composers, scientists, mathematicians, and authors who are looking for a breakthrough as they do their work. The “aha” moment. The solution to a theorem that no one else has been able to solve. The sonata the composer had always wanted to write. Many of those would tell you that when they are looking for a breakthrough, the most likely time for that to happen is after taking a break! Sometimes you get so focused on what you are trying to accomplish that you lose sight of the potential outcome, the unexpected surprise.

Paying attention to those creative minds I mentioned and others, you come to the realization that the breakthroughs don’t just happen. You don’t discover a new mineral or plant species by picking up a rock or plant if you haven’t studied science. You can’t write a sonata if you’ve never studied music. You wouldn’t know what notes to write on the page. You don’t write a best seller without some experience writing. You need to know how to put words on a page so that they make sense and are readable.

Breakthroughs such as these are nurtured by a disciplined awareness in a field of study. People prepare to experience that unexpected surprise of a breakthrough moment. Those times when a musician sat at the piano the notes floated off the keyboard or when a writer sat at the computer the words of the novel they always wanted to write poured out onto the page.

Fresh insight often comes while and from where not looking. We see it because of nurtured preparation over time.

This is a sharp contrast to forcing an outcome. You are pushed to write another sequel to your best seller by an unrealistic deadline in order to appease the publisher. At times, your brain says, “I can’t do it. I don’t have the inspiration to write another book right now.” Or the artist who is required to finish a certain number of paintings before the opening of the gallery show on an already scheduled date. You’re supposed to have competed fifteen paintings but only six are done. He or she can’t possibly do nine more paintings in a month and a half. The creative juices aren’t flowing that quickly.

What if the situation was different? What if the outcome wasn’t forced? The musician sat down at the piano, and it seemed as though the piano created the song. You may have heard the question asked of a sculptor who is asked how he decided to create that piece. His response: “I chisel at rock until it shows me what is hidden inside.” The preparation of the artist allows them to welcome the unexpected surprise.

David Schlafer tells the story of an accomplished painter who, when starting on a fresh canvas, says, “I listen to the colors, who tell me, in good time and in no uncertain terms, how I must proceed.” The preparation of the artist allows her to welcome the unexpected surprise.

The servants (and us) go about business with an eye toward the one for whom they are working, but not focused on that at the expense of seeing what is going on around them. We are to be people who live in the kingdom who pay attention to what is going on in the here and now with the understanding that Jesus has brought us to this place and to this time to be those who serve and do Jesus’ work on his behalf, and to demonstrate to others that they are loved.

This isn’t quite the same as doing what we think we should so Jesus will be happy with all that is in our bag. It is a focus on living the life Jesus has given us in the here and now.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the gift of the kingdom. God chooses to give us a gift. The gift of everything we have and need so that we don’t have to be afraid of what might come. We have it all. We are ready to be surprised.

We see around us reminders of God’s gift. Creation and human life. The promise we have and are reminded of often of eternal life. We are given the kingdom here on earth and the kingdom yet to come.

Today we will experience another reminder of God’s precious gift as we share the Lord’s Supper. We remember again all that Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and we proclaim that Jesus is with us in the kingdom right now.


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