Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 08/07/2016

Through our gospel readings in Luke the last month or so, we’ve been on the lengthy journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem. During this extended season of Pentecost, his travels give us the opportunity to work through many of his parables and teachings. This “Ordinary Time” gives us a chance to think about what it means to follow Jesus, to spend some time reflecting on the character of our lives as Christians.

Last week we heard a parable about the rich fool who centered his life on the accumulation of wealth. And today we’re strengthened with the words that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. There’s no need to be worried, so much, about earthly things ... Jesus reassures us with his words, “Do not be afraid.” … And then we move into a new parable, one of the serving master.

Jesus tells the story of servants who are asked to wait for their master to return from a nighttime wedding banquet. Be ready for me. The master is giving instructions to the lowest of the low in his household. Try to imagine this situation. Back then, there is a hierarchy, and the servants, (the slaves actually), of a very wealthy person, have the least rank in descending order in the household. There’s the lord and master at the top and then his wife and children; they’re followed by the steward, the foremen, the permanent hired staff, the day laborers, and finally at the bottom are the slaves. There are a lot of layers between the top and the bottom here.

This day the slaves are told they’ll be blessed if they are ready when the owner returns from the festivities. Blessed, mind you. The lowest of the low. What does this even mean? For us, this word blessed, can bring a number of things to mind – like holy and sacred – some sort of spiritual state. “If you do this, you will become holy.” But in this case, the word means that they will be considered a blessed presence in the household. Their actions, their behavior, show that they are blessed ones because they’re acting in a way that is an expression of who they are; they’re not just going through the motions expecting some sort of bonus. It’s more a situation of the lord of the household telling the lowly, “You are faithful servants, and you are a blessing”.

Their faithfulness is shown as they follow instructions to be dressed for action when the master returns, not reclining comfortably. They’ve been working all day, and now they get to stay up all night and wait, no kicking back a bit and nodding off. It’s nighttime, and they’re told to bind up their robes, tie on a belt and be ready to go. This isn’t the norm past working hours. Loose-fitting clothes are much preferred by those living in the hot, Mideast climate. Both men and women wear long robes that nearly touch the ground, and they only cinch their belts when they’re moving about or working, to get the bottom edge up and out of the way. Tonight they are to be dressed for action. The master also tells them to have their lamps burning and keep them burning regardless of how long the night. This is an evening wedding banquet, and the night could be very long. But they are to be prepared.

When you think about it, the slaves are really being asked, just to do their job. This night the job involves staying up way later than normal, so they can be ready to work at a moment’s notice. After the party is over, the master just wants them awake and alert upon his return. This seems reasonable, seems to go with the territory. Being a slave means having total devotion to the wishes of the lord. Yet, they’re told that when they follow the master’s instructions, there is something more: they are blessed. With all the hierarchical layers, this remains an employer, employee relationship – but with more: a conferring of honor among the least in the household.

It’s not likely, though, that the slaves ever expect what happens next. When the master leaves the wedding reception early – before the festivities are over – he returns home in order not to be served, but to serve them! The master is the one who willingly ties his robe so he can get to work, inviting them to sit down so they can eat. Those listening to today’s parable back in Jesus’ time would hear this to mean that the master, in the middle of what was probably a great banquet, has suddenly remembered his servants. (His servants!) And then he decides to slip away from the party so no one notices he’s gone and to fill a tray with the best food, the most sumptuous treats from the lavish feast. He’s going home to share this feast with his staff, so that they, too, can participate in the wedding banquet. This man at the top, the owner, master, lord, this man does the serving.

Indeed, the servants are valued. Blessed are the lowly slaves.

This kind of role reversal is entirely unexpected in such a well-ordered, classified world. We see the image of an authority in service to others. This leader is showing a sense of responsibility and care for his entire household.

Jesus, in this parable is commending the steadfast faithful servants, the ones who are ready to do their work when called upon to do so. One of the take-aways from this parable is the recognition that we, too, through our faith, are also willing servants, ready to care for others, our neighbors, as part of our calling. It doesn’t matter our vocation. Martin Luther explained that we are all part of the Royal Priesthood with no one vocation higher than another. We can all do priestly work, connecting our beliefs to our everyday actions, at home, in school, at work. God regularly places those in need right in front of us: our family members and classmates and co-workers, and we can make a big difference with our God-given talents and skills and enthusiasm. This gives us real purpose for our day-to-day lives.

Part of the reason we are gathering together today, why we come to a faith community like Bethany, is to become equipped for lives of service, so that we can work to improve society through our daily work. Certainly we come each week to hear and to remember that God has done all things for us through Christ, but we also come needing to hear that God has something for us to do as well, something that matters, that gives us that sense of purpose and belonging that everyone craves. The idea is to be ready so that when God calls us to action, we’re prepared to seize the opportunity and spread the good news. A theologian once said: “Being alert and being ready are like potential energy – (remember that from physics?) – potential energy that’s ready to be turned into kinetic energy when we get the prompt. And our Christian energy is gospel-centered – focused on healing, justice, love, grace, and peace.”

How shall we use this energy? We’re given an idea within the words of the Lutheran prayer for Vocation in Daily Life. This prayer reads, in part, “give us grace to set a good example to all among whom we live … [to be] gracious and generous … toward all; so that the mind of Jesus Christ may be formed in us and all may know that we are disciples...

We, like the servants in the parable, are blessed for who we are in God’s Kingdom, living our lives in relationship to and in service of others – not to earn some kind of reward, but to live out the reality that we are changed people, transformed because Christ first loved us and became incarnate for us. Like the master returning in the night, Jesus Christ has come to us to give us good things.

We are reminded of the good things when we gather together in community, when we read and hear Scripture. We experience God’s gracious gifts in the waters of Holy Baptism, claimed as God’s children. And we are refreshed and re-energized though Holy Communion, as we are invited, each Sunday, to the table: Christ is with us, present as we partake in the bread and wine here in this sanctuary. When we center our lives around God in Christ, we, too, are promised good gifts, all the wonderful things God wants to give us – including our blessed vocations, our servant lives.

Amen

Vicar Terry Frankenstein

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
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welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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one who
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