Jesus made it clear more than once that he would return at an unexpected time in the future. He didn’t give enough information for us to work out the date, in fact he said that he himself didn’t know when it would be; only God the Father knows that. Rather than spending time on idle speculation we are to be ready for whenever he may come. This is not to be something that has us fearfully looking over our shoulder just in case Jesus comes. Rather we are to be like wise and faithful household slaves who consistently perform the duties given us in the household of God until such time as the Master returns.
On Thursday at the 2pm service in the Anglican Cathedral in SL the readings were1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Psalm 145:1-7 and Matthew 24:42-end. The reflection from that service is given below:
I’ve never been one of those people who has a house which looks like it comes out of some ideal home exhibition or magazine. I’ve always kept up with the basics, making sure there are clean clothes, food on the table and so on, but a bit of dust around the place hasn’t worried me much. I long ago gave up trying to have everything put away where it should be as, with four children, that was impossible. Whichever room I tidied, they were likely to make untidy pretty quickly.
I didn’t have the luxury of a study when our children were young as there wasn’t the room. I do find now that if my study becomes too cluttered it annoys and distracts me until I get it tidied. I’m beginning to feel the same way about the rest of the house. It would be nice to think that if someone called unexpectedly, the place would be generally tidy and I wouldn’t have the need to apologise for the mess. Now that all but our youngest child have moved out, my hopes have more chance of being realised. What works against me is being busy with other things like SL, work, counselling, studying and so on.
When reading the gospel passage we’ve just heard, I pictured the situation many of us must have faced, that of being in the worst chaos we’ve had for months only to find that friends call unannounced. Jesus says he will come one day when we don’t expect him to. He advises his listeners to remain ready for his arrival. It would be very, very difficult and tiring to try to keep our house ready for the arrival of friends, no matter what the ideal is to which I aspire. It would actually prevent my being able to do some things that cause a mess. My life would be limited because I would be more interested in being prepared for the visit than in getting on with the everyday business of living. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t expect us to be constantly looking over our shoulders in case he’s coming. There is no way we can know the date so we would be wasting our time trying to work it out. This hasn’t stopped people trying in the past but the dates have come and gone with no sudden arrival of Jesus so far.
Jesus illustrates the kind of readiness he’s looking for by telling the parable about a large agricultural household. Such households would be made up of the master and his immediate family, quite possibly some extended family and then a number of slaves who would be needed to do the work of running the estate, cultivating the land, caring for animals etc. Some household slaves rose to places of great responsibility, often running a business for the master, handling money, or as in this case making sure that others were properly cared for.
The slave had his job to do; he’d been put in charge of the household. That’s a big responsibility which surely wouldn’t have been given unless the master was sure the slave could carry it out. Jesus commends as faithful and wise the one who is found doing just as he’s been asked when the master returns. Having carried out this role well, the master rewards him by giving him a greater responsibility. Instead of just being in charge of the household, he will be in charge of everything that belongs to the master.
The master might be away for a long time and that could lead to complacency. Jesus describes the approach taken by the slave who decides he can fail to carry out his duties in his master’s absence. Instead he misuses the responsibility he has been given, abusing those he is supposed to care for. He spends his time enjoying himself with distractions such as feasting and getting drunk with friends. Imagine the shock felt by that slave, cup poised halfway to his mouth, as the master walks into the servants’ quarters on his return. There will be no way to cover up what has been going on. It will be obvious. The other slaves will complain of their treatment and the master’s riches will have been used for the benefit of the unfaithful slave alone. Punishment will be swift and severe.
When Jesus had his final conversation with his disciples he commissioned them to go and spread the good news to all the world and so make disciples. This is very much what the psalmist is indicating also. One generation praises God to another, telling of his wonderful deeds, his kindness and his righteousness.
If you notice, in the psalm there is a mix of language talking of a group – a generation – and language referring to the psalmist himself. Both the community and the individual are involved in passing on the news. It can feel overwhelming to be given a task to do alone, but it happens of course and we need to do our best as the wise and faithful slave did. Working on something as a community gives each person support and encouragement. It’s often possible to do more as a community than as an individual or even as a whole collection of individuals working independently.
Paul was writing to the church in Corinth. He gave thanks for the community and praised God for all the gifts he had given it, how he had enriched it. As they waited for Jesus to return they had been given all the spiritual gifts they needed to bear witness to Jesus and what he had done for all by his death and resurrection. They were made a fellowship, working together as faithful and wise slaves, until Jesus’ return when they would be found blameless.
Here at the Cathedral the Leadership Team is eager to do all we can to help build community because in our fellowship lies strength. It’s not easy to do this online. We meet many people, probably far more than in RL. Some are just passing through but others will return many times. In returning and having conversations with some of the same people, gradually community builds up and individuals gain a sense of belonging. Perhaps the building of community actually takes longer here than in RL, I’m not sure, but everything else online seems to move much more quickly so that might make us impatient to see results.
The Leadership Team is constantly looking to see how we can improve. We were once criticised for the quality of the welcome here and have since worked very hard to ensure that anyone new is welcomed and given whatever help we can manage. We’ve recently added facilities for newbies in our Community Center as part of this ministry of welcome. It would be wonderful to be able to build a large welcome team to maintain a presence here most of the time.
The Bible study on Sundays is becoming a focal point in the week for many of our members. It’s a safe space to learn more in, to ask questions about what the Bible is trying to teach us. I believe it’s helping to deepen the faith of those who attend as well as building friendships. We hope to begin a discussion group sometime in the near future to give another chance for people to learn and share. We may one day offer an Alpha course also.
Our services are well received, with the time to offer personal prayers being particularly appreciated. We hope that more use will be made of our prayer team as time goes on. We also want to train members in pastoral care so that they can feel confident reaching out to the many hurting people who come here.
Of course, a lot of this can sound very worthy and rather intense. I don’t believe that Jesus was suggesting the slave should be miserable the whole time he was carrying out his duties in the household. It’s also good to have fun, to laugh and relax together. Jesus liked parties and conversations; he drank wine and he feasted with friends and foes alike. Our recent addition of Friday socials (Saturday for those well ahead of SLT) are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy each other’s company. We take the chance to dress up and to listen to music, to converse in a relaxed atmosphere. Members invite their friends and we meet new people who call by as a result of seeing the event advertised.
All this is part of what Jesus has given us as the responsibility of taking care of his household. We may not get everything right but the time to fulfil our calling is now, without making excuses. In the near future we will have the new challenge of sharing with members of the Teen Grid as they come to join us. Then one generation really will be telling of God’s deeds to another!