February 28, 2010

The Coming Kingdom

How many of you ever got left at home with a list of chores to do when your parents went out? I always hated when they did that. It was a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to do whatever I wanted while they were out. Oh wait…how many of you actually let the list stop you from doing whatever you wanted while they were gone? There were a few different approaches to take when we got left with a list of things to do like this. We could have gotten down to business and started knocking things off the list one at a time. We started with the first, got it done, and moved on to the second. We kept working like this until the list was finished and we had the freedom to do the things we.d perhaps rather have been doing. The danger of this, of course, was that our parents returned soon after we finished the list or even just before and we didn.t get much in the way of our free time. Some of us, though, worked our way through the list in fits and starts. We started out working through the first couple items on the list, but eventually we got tired and stopped to do our own thing for a while. After a time we started back up on the list, stopped again, started again, rested a while, worked a while until we finished. The danger here is that by blending the work with the rest, if one work project took a long time or we rested an inordinate amount of time, the deadline could have come up when we least expected and caught us at a bad time. The third approach, though, is perhaps the one that most of us took. We made a show of taking the list and putting it in a prominent place in the house as our parents were leaving so they saw our intention to get right to work. As soon as the car was out of the driveway, though, we tacked the list back up on the fridge and started doing all the things we really wanted to spend the day doing. We kept an eye on the clock, of course. As the time our parents said they.d return approached, eventually we started on the list. But you know how this turns out as well as I do. We never timed things as well as we.d have liked. Mom calls and says, “Oh honey, guess what! I finished up early so I.ll be home in five minutes.” Panicked, we start the three hours. worth of work she gave us in hopes of faking our way through enough of it to convince her that we were working hard but just ran out of time in our effort to do things especially thoroughly as a surprise. How many of you had parents who ever bought that line? Have any of you as parents ever bought it? Any youth want to confess to trying to use that line? Let.s face it: parents always know.

So where am I going with all of this? Well, this morning.s sermon is the final installment in our journey to better understand kingdom life. One of the things we said about the kingdom three weeks ago is that the kingdom is both present here and now and also coming fully in the future. We live with the present reality of God.s kingdom around us every day, yet we still know (in part because the Bible tells us) that the kingdom.s final victory over sin and death hasn.t happened yet. In the interim, though, God has left us with a pretty good summary of the things we are to be doing and the ways in which we are to be living if we would claim to be His followers. And just like with the list left by our parents when they went out to run errands, there are a number of different approaches we take to setting about accomplishing the list. Like the kingdom, the reality of our parents is present when they leave because the house and most of the things in it are theirs. If we look very hard we can find evidence of their ownership all over the place. This reality is also future, though, in our knowledge that they are going to be coming home at some point. How we handle the list while they are gone will play a big part in how we are received when they return home.

As we near the end of our journey through Jesus. parables of the kingdom, we find ourselves this morning nearing the end of His life on this earth. As His time on earth with the disciples grew short, Jesus became even more direct in His encouragements to them to be ready for His return. In fact, His teachings near the end of His life can be summarized in part with the phrase: The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready. Indeed, no discussion of Jesus. parables of the kingdom would be complete without addressing the fact that while the kingdom is present here and now, the final kingdom is coming and when that happens all attempts to live life in the kingdom will end. Then we will either enjoy living in the kingdom or receive the just recompense for our refusal to do anything here and now to prepare for it. So how exactly do we need to adjust our lives to this fast approaching reality? Appropriately Jesus. last parables of the kingdom in Matthew are geared at this very point: how to respond in light of the coming kingdom. If you have your Bibles nearby, find Matthew 24:45 and we.ll start there together this morning.

Let me ask you one more time before we go on: how did you handle the list your parents gave you? Obedience or disobedience in their absence? Responsibly budgeting time to allow for finishing all the tasks completely, or irresponsibly leaving a number of partially finished jobs? Care and courage to see the tasks not only finished, but even going beyond the requirements or apathy and fear leading to doing below even the bare minimum for fear of failure? How we react has much to say about who we are as well as our understanding of who God is. But react we must because just as it is here presently, we can rest assured that the kingdom is finally coming, and when it does the time for playing and choosing will be over. What we will see in Jesus. words here are three sets of examples aimed at casting down a negative reaction to the coming kingdom while upholding a positive one. There is no time for proud disobedience, clueless irresponsibility, or apathetic fear. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready.

All three of these stories from Jesus were spoken to the disciples as they walked to and through the vineyards on the Mount of Olives in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The group had left the Temple earlier that evening for the final time in Jesus. life. As they got to a place where they had a good view of the city the disciples marveled to Jesus about the grandness of the Temple complex. This sparked a conversation about both the end of Jerusalem and the end of all things. As He reminded them that the priorities and placements of the kingdom are opposite those of the world, Jesus gave the disciples various signs to watch for as indicators of both the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD as well as His second coming at the end of time. Nearing the end of this conversation (where we will pick up this morning) Jesus offers both the encouragement and warning that no one knows the exact hour of His return. In fact, no one knows even an approximate date for it. “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven.s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.” What comes next spells out the implications of this teaching.

The first implication we come to this morning sits within a story about the overseer of a great kitchen. Read with me starting in v. 45: “Who here qualifies for the job of overseeing the kitchen? A person the Master can depend on to feed the workers on time each day. Someone the Master can drop in on unannounced and always find him doing his job. A God-blessed man or woman, I tell you. It won.t be long before the Master will put this person in charge of the whole operation.” In many restaurants today, the restaurateur is often the executive chef. Running a restaurant takes more than simply showing up and cooking the food. There is staff to be hired, bills to be paid, menus to be created, pots and pans to be cleaned, and a whole host of other things that have to get done in order to simply cook the food. As a result, perhaps the most important person the restaurateur will hire is a reliable sous chef. The sous chef is the person in whose hands the kitchen is left when the executive chef is out doing executive things. If the sous chef is reliable and smart and dedicated to seeing the business thrive, the restaurateur will give that person more and more responsibility until she is practically running the place. We are God.s sous chefs for this world. Going back to the text, though, “But if that person only looks out for himself, and the minute the Master is away does what he pleases—abusing the help and throwing drunken parties for his friends—the Master is going to show up when he least expects it and make hash of him. He.ll end up in the dump with the hypocrites, out in the cold shivering, teeth chattering.” You see the difference here I hope. The person who follows closely the ways of God will receive great responsibility in the kingdom, but the person who is only out for numero uno and ignores the ways of God at the expense of others has no place in the kingdom. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready.

When your parents left you at home with that list, when you went and tacked it up on the fridge and ignored it your parents surprised you by coming home early without calling first to give you time to prepare. We might try and claim that.s somehow unfair, but such pleas ring hollow. They don.t owe us a warning call. Neither does God. If we are blatantly ignoring the promise of the coming kingdom and living life however we want, the surprise of His return is not going to be a good one. The kingdom is coming. Disobediently ignoring this fact is not an appropriate response. If you find yourself here, simply living life as you want to live it and God can take His restrictive way of life and shove it, pay heed. You will not be able to pursue life with such grand illusions of freedom forever. The consequences will come. The Greek describing the Master.s reaction here literally reads that he dismembered the disobedient servant. Yes, the language is hyperbolic, but the intent isn.t. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready.

Yet I strongly suspect that most of us don.t fit into this first category. The people of this church are concerned with living out the commands of Scripture. Indeed, many in the church could find more common ground with Jesus. second parable here. Look again with me at the text in 25:1. “God.s kingdom is like ten young [bridesmaids] who took oil lamps and went out to greet the [groom]. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly [bridesmaids] took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart [bridesmaids] took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The [groom] didn.t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep. In the middle of the night someone yelled out, „He.s here! The [groom].s here! Go out and greet him!. The ten [bridesmaids] got up and got their lamps ready. The silly [bridesmaids] said to the smart ones, „Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.. They answered, „There might not be enough to go around go buy your own.. They did, but while they were out buying oil, the [groom] arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked. Much later, the other [bridesmaids], the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, „Master, we.re here. Let us in.. He answered, „Do I know you? I know think I know you.. So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.”

Have you ever met someone who seemed almost overly excited about the coming of the kingdom of God? I.m talking excited to the point that they only ever talk about that and really don.t do much of anything because they want to be the first to notice when Jesus starts coming down out of the clouds. They don.t tell others about the Gospel because they don.t want to waste their time in light of the imminence of the kingdom. They don.t feed the hungry because there.s going to be plenty of food for them in the kingdom. They don.t sing in the choir because they want to save brain space for learning kingdom choruses. Are you getting the picture? They are basically making the exact opposite error as the disobedient kitchen manager. We can neither assume the kingdom is going to be delayed nor that it is coming soon according to the word.s most common definition. Jesus was about as clear as He could have been regarding our ignorance of the time of His return. This means we must live in a constant state of readiness. Such a state takes a lot of work. It isn.t at all like we get ourselves ready and then can sit back and do nothing until He arrives. Imagine if your parents were going to be gone for a week and the list included things like dusting, vacuuming, taking out the trash, and cleaning the bathrooms. If we hurry through those tasks on the first day and then sit back on our laurels the rest of the week we aren.t going to be ready when they get home. And protests that we did have everything done after the first day will ring hollow in the face of dusty dressers and rotting refuse. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready. That takes working hard every day between now and then to become people whose lives and lifestyles reflect kingdom values. To do otherwise reflects a dangerous irresponsibility on our part. The irresponsibility lies in our inability to grasp the fact that we are accountable for every moment of our lives and that life goes on whether we try and pull out of it or not. Like the five silly bridesmaids, if we continue to remain in a state of unpreparedness, we will eventually pass the point of no return. And just like we will not receive punishment for the sins of another, neither can we ride into the kingdom on their coattails. The smart bridesmaids were ready for both the short and the long haul. But their preparedness did nothing to help the bridesmaids who hadn.t planned well. We must hold future hope and present expectation in a dynamic tension that sees the best brought out of each. Let us live ready each day in case this is the day. Let us also live in such a way that should we still be waiting fifty years from now we are as ready as we are on this day. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready.

This leaves us with one final parable of the kingdom. This last parable has been treated in numerous different contexts all intended to take things from it that are valuable points, but not necessarily grounded in the broader context. Let me tell you this story and then we.ll talk about it for a bit. From 25:14: The kingdom of God is like this: A man decides to go “off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master.s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master.s money. After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: „Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.. The servant with the two thousand dollars showed how he also had doubled his master.s investment. His master commended him: „Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.. The servant given one thousand said, „Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.. The master was furious. „That.s a terrible way to live! It.s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won.t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness..”

Okay, let.s be honest. We all know Jesus isn.t talking just about money here. Money.s the example, not the issue. Jesus is talking about how we should use our talents and gifts and abilities well and not waste them. Blah, blah, blah. The really talented folks get the most responsibilities and the poor folks who aren.t really good at much are thrown a few bones and expected to do something with them. We know all that, but at the same time we secretly resent this parable. It just shows that the Bible supports the practice of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer…or perhaps in this case, the talented getting more talented, and the untalented getting the shaft. We fixate on the amount each servant was given. The last servant never had much of a chance to impress the master because he wasn.t given much to start with. If things had been doled out fairly, then he could really have had a chance to double his investment like the rest. But this mindset completely misses the point of this story. The focus is not on the amount they were given, but simply on the fact that they were given gifts at all. The focus isn.t on the what, but the who. The broader point here is faithfulness with what we.ve been given. This argument is justified when we look at the fact that both the servant with the five talents and the servant with the two talents received the exact same reward. The master wasn.t focused on the amount of their increase but their faithfulness with their gifts. The broader point is becoming fully who God has designed us to be. Is this not the focus of our mission and vision as a church? God has created us to be a body focused on helping spiritual seekers find a place to belong, learn the Christian faith, and servant unconditionally. The place He is currently leading us to go with this identity is to become fully this church. The closer we can each be to this person when the kingdom comes the better. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready. Indeed, this is why we have been talking about who God has made us to be on Wednesday nights for the last two months. And understanding that not all of you can come on Wednesday nights, we are going to offer the chance for you to go through the same curriculum on Sunday mornings soon.

Put all this in context. God has given His people gifts which are intended to be used for the advancement of His kingdom here and now. Faithfulness is not burying our gifts in the sand so that we don.t fail. This reflects both a fear of failure and apathy towards the consequences of failure. The brilliant truth is that there is absolutely no Biblical justification for such fear. Remember Matthew 18? We have already been promised God.s forgiveness should we fail Him. Instead, Scripture condemns fearing to try. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready.

We have our list as a church. Belonging, learning, and serving are at the top. The question before us is how we can take these themes and expand on them in order to put to use the gifts that God has given us as a church in order to see His kingdom spread in every direction we face. This neither assumes nor precludes starting new ministry ventures or even seeing longstanding, but unproductive ministries abandoned to free our attentions for the best things, whatever they are. Yet if we take the approach of the disobedient kitchen manager, the silly bridesmaids, or the servant given a single talent we can be assured that we will be living outside the plan of God for this church. God will show up when we least expect it and catch us with our pants down. For those of you who have been through the most recent Wednesday night study and for those of you who will go through it on Sunday mornings soon, keep your heads up for new chances to get involved in areas both new and old as God calls you. And for those of you who haven.t been worshiping with us very long, know well that this is a place where you can truly belong. Our goal is unashamedly to help you become fully who God designed you to be to His glory and your immeasurable joy. Join us as we seek to see God.s vision for this church fully to fruition. The kingdom is coming: get busy getting ready.