The Fourth Sunday of Easter May 15, 2022

“Who’s Minding The Store”

By Rev. Stephen R. Carnahan 

Luke 12:34-48

            Do you remember the story of The Cat in the Hat?  You may remember that the Cat and his minions made a terrible mess in the house, and the children were desperate to clean it up before mother came home.  I reminded me of times as a child when I had to scramble because I heard the car coming into the driveway and I had daydreamed and goofed around the whole day and left my chores undone. 

            I remember also being very afraid that one day Jesus would return, and I would not be any more ready for him than I was for my parents.  People have worried about the second coming of Christ.  What would he discover that we had been up to?  Most of the anxiety about this was on the part of people who talked often about the “second coming.”  We were taught that one day (probably soon) Jesus would return to earth to set up his kingdom, and he would cast out anyone who wasn’t ready.  Remember the bumper sticker: “Jesus is coming.  Look busy.”  How awful would it be for Jesus to return while you were visiting Las Vegas or New Orleans, or for him to find you reading bad magazines while your chores were undone.  It frightened me when I was a kid.

            Certainly, in this story, Jesus was telling us we needed to be prepared for his return.  But we need to remember that Christ returns to us every day in many ways.  If we aren’t prepared for his coming we may miss out on the possible blessings. 

 

If you aren’t prepared, you can’t see Christ, or participate in his coming to us.  It is only possible to see what you are looking for.  Too much of the rest we miss.  I had a friend who found a Native American ax-head while on a class trip to search for arrow heads.  It wasn’t the first one he found.  He had found several other ancient artifacts.  I asked him how he did it and he said, “While the rest of you are looking for arrowheads, I’m looking for ax-heads.  We all see those things that we are prepared to look for.

 

We need to prepare because Christ’s coming is unexpected.  If God told you that she/he was sending someone to save the world, where would you go to find this person?  Washington? Moscow? New York or Kiev?  Well, if Jesus came today as he did 2000 years ago it would probably go down like this.  He would be born in a small down in Belarus.  He would have little education.  He would lead some mass movements, crowds of maybe several hundred or even a thousand.  But after about 3 years he would be executed by the government as a traitor.  He would leave behind less than 200 followers.

 

It’s no wonder so many people of Jesus’ time didn’t realize who he was. He didn’t live the expected life of a hero.  The results of his actions don’t make sense.  How could someone so unimportant and unaggressive end up changing the world?  But he did.

In the same way Christ usually takes us by surprise by his arrival.  He himself said his second coming would be at a time no one expected.  Today we are often surprised to find Jesus is with us.  Suddenly we understand something and realize we have been enlightened by Jesus.  Maybe even an enemy will do something surprising, and we will glimpse Christ is there.  Or maybe, when you are sure you are all alone, a friend will put an arm around you and you will see that Christ is there.

 

            Jesus tells his followers to be ready all the time for him to appear.  Have the house ready and clean.  Be awake and watching. What a tragedy it would be to sleep through Christ’s coming.  Sleeping through on of my sermons is understandable, but to sleep through the moment when Christ appears to us?! How sad.

 

            We want to be ready and watching.  We have to look for Christ in places and times we may not expect.  Remember, we are all about this moment: Why are you looking for the living among the dead?  He’s not here, he is risen.  We want to be looking everywhere and all the time for those moments when Jesus comes to us again.  But we have to get our hearts set right to see him.  We set our hearts by doing right.  You don’t need to go off to a mountain top monastery to get ready for Jesus.  You prepare by doing good here and now.  The way to be prepared for the Second Coming is simply this: to love one another.

 

            This story Jesus tells reminds us that we must be faithful managers.  He tells about a vineyard that the owner put in the hands of managers.  But some were unfaithful, and they abused the workers and ignored the work.  Others were faithful who did their best to care for the owner’s crops. 

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            When Jesus finished the story, his disciple Peter asked if that story was pointed at him and the other disciples.  Jesus said it is for anyone who has responsibility for looking out for his people after he is gone.  That means Peter and all the other disciples who became leaders of the community of Jesus’ followers.  And that goes for us as well. 

 

            Obviously, it seems to me.  Jesus is talking about us pastors.  We are expected to be faithful managers.  But it means many of you, as well.  The church has always appointed people to be “managers.” How many of you have ever been deacons here at this church, or any church? How many have served on the council? Or served on the worship committee, or the trustees.  You are all managers of the vineyard. 

            Jesus has commanded all his disciples to be pastors.  Our tradition is that all the people of the church are pastors.  Isn’t that true for us?  Don’t we say that?  We are to be managers of the vineyard of God’s people. All of us have this task, and we are expected to be faithful managers.  We are all to be involved in carrying on the work of Christ.

 

            A faithful manager is one who carries on the work of the Estate as the owner would want it.  We do not own this world.  We do not own this church. We are to care for it in the name of the one who does own it, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  A faithful manager is therefore prepared to see Christ when Christ appears. 

            In his story Jesus mentions a couple of things that makes someone an unfaithful manager.  Perhaps the worst of all is this: to abuse and mistreat the workers.  Now this seems fairly obvious, does it not?  This is something you should not do if you are a faithful manager, of course.  And yet, and yet, it happens all the time.  Mr. Stevens was one of my first bosses, and you would have had a hard time bringing him up on charges of misuse.  But all of the employees disliked him.  There were many reasons, but one thing was that he stood too close.  Does this sound like abuse?  No? He was tall.  And he stood close.  So he could look down through his glasses at you, and you had to tip your head back to speak to him.  Did he do this to intimidate us? It certainly worked.  If he was not abusive, he was at lease rude and dismissive of his workers.  He was stingy with complements and liberal with criticism.  Yeah, it wasn’t abuse, but we didn’t like working for him.  And he was a manager—he was supposed to be taking care of us employees on behalf of the owners of the business.  Maybe he was doing what they wanted because, frankly,  the owners didn’t care much for the employees either. 

            Think of all the other example.  Have you ever heard of agricultural workers being misused and mistreated?  You have?  OK, out west maybe, but not here in Maine, right?  

Yes, right here.  Have you known it to happen anywhere else?  We have had to enact entire systems here in our country to keep managers from abusing workers.  And yet it still happens.  A lot. 

            In Jesus’ story he also tells of managers who steal, party, and get drunk, all while cheating and misusing the workers.  And we know that happens, too.  Worse still in our time is the difference between the income of workers and bosses.  The extreme example?  Jeff Bezos of Amazon makes more in a week than his employees make in a year.  His employees look forward to their vacation at the beach, and yes, they can afford that.  Mr. Bezos looks forward to his vacation in outer space, and yes, he can afford that.  Is this misuse?

            When the manager is flying around in rockets or hanging out at the nicest restaurants, then they will not notice when the owner comes to see what is happening.  When we mistreat others, especially those we are to be caring for, we blind ourselves to the arrival of the owner.  We cannot see Jesus when he appears.  We are not aware that Christ has come among us nor that the Spirit of Christ is being violated by our own actions.

And we dare not point fingers at others (you know, like I am doing now).  Because we ourselves are guilty of it.  Jesus’ message was remembered and written down because it needed to be understood by pastors, deacons and others in leadership in the new community of followers of the Way of Jesus.  But has the church been a place where those in power have abused others?  Oh, how sadly true this is.  How much damage we have done to the cause of Christ when we have hurt and dominated one another?

But worst is that we will not see Christ when Christ comes to us.  A second coming of cosmic proportions? Or a daily coming through the gentle voice of the spirit? However you think of it, we will not see it if we are busy abusing each other.  If we don’t love the people in our lives and in our world, and especially the people in the community of the church, we really can’t see Jesus coming to us and we will not be prepared for the “final judgement”, whatever that may be.

Jesus says that the returning owner will cut these managers in pieces and assign them a place with the unfaithful.  Is he talking about hell?  Could be.  It may mean that we will lose the warmth of soul and heart that makes us human.  What is clear is that not caring for each other is against what Jesus asks us to do.

But loving others and caring for others has the effect of opening our eyes to see Christ arriving and living in and among us.  In his story Jesus says that those who have been given much will have much expected of them.  We are all millionaires in forgiveness, love and grace. We have been entrusted with the life of Christ—it flows among us.  We must therefore be sure to share it among ourselves and others.  If we keep our trust, then when Christ returns he can say, “You have served me well.  Live in peace.”  In the meantime we will often find Christ is with us, loving us and guiding us, often when we least expect it.

 

I haven’t given you a clear understanding of what is meant by the Second Coming.  This is partly because the Bible is not clear on what it means.  Christian teaching through the years has not quite explained it all.  But this is what we do know:

When Jesus Christ comes here, we want to see it.  I want to be there! I know that I have to get my heart and soul ready so I can see it.  Most people did not see Jesus on the resurrection morning, but those who were ready did see.  And I want to see. I am going to try to get ready by being a faithful manager of Christ’s work.  I’m going to mind the store and try to do so wisely and carefully.  Will you join me in this work?  Then we can all look forward to the surprising day when we know that Christ Jesus has returned to us.