Sunday, April 2, 2017

Investing in the Kingdom of God (Luke 19:11-27)

The scenes we saw around the US presidential elections this year were unprecedented. They showed the deep, deep divide in ideologies in western society. Crowds coming out onto the street chanting

 “not my president”

“not my president”

“not my president”

Wanting Donald Trump un-president-ed if you will. Protests on the night of the election and protests during and straight after his inauguration and continuing unrest…

“not my president”

“not my president”

And of course he’s not my president. However I share the concerns of many people around the world about Donald Trump’s Presidency and this rise of not just US first but “us first” nationalism.

I don’t want to get into that debate today…But as I came to the parable that Jesus finishes his journey to Jerusalem with I couldn’t help think of that chant ‘Not my president’, “not my president” because Jesus uses a similar situation of a noble man who went to be crowned king being opposed by his subjects who hated him, to talk about the kingdom of God: To prepare his disciples for what was about to happen and how we should live as we await his return. How we should live with Jesus as our king.

We’ve been on this long journey with Jesus, the journey to Jerusalem, a journey that takes up the central third of the Gospel narrative, way back in chapter 9:51 Luke tells us “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem”. It’s a journey that has focused on Jesus teaching about what it means to follow him in the Kingdom of God. The passage we are looking at today is Jesus final teaching before he arrives at Jerusalem.  The scene is set by Luke telling us he was near Jerusalem and in verse 28 we move onto Luke's account of Jesus entry into the city. Maybe it would have been great if Jesus ministry had finished with the words ‘the son of man had come to seek and save the lost’ that we looked at last week, on that positive affirmation of his ministry, but it doesn’t Jesus tells a challenging and somewhat chilling parable, difficult to understand, but impossible to ignore. seemingly full of injustice and revenge but full of grace and generosity as well.

To understand this parable and apply it our lives we need to look at it in context. Both in the context of the gospel, with what has gone before and what is to come, and in the context of first century Palestinian politics.

There is a direct correlation with what has gone before. Luke tells us that Jesus told this parable while “they were listening to this”  that refers to Jesus  conversation with Zacchaeus and his declaration that today salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house, he too was a son of Abraham.”  There is the expectation with words like that and signs like the blind beggar receiving his sight that the Kingdom of God was going to come when Jesus arrives at Jerusalem, that he would be crowned king and all the expectations for Israel would come to pass… There was that hope that Jesus would “make Israel great again”. Jesus moves to counter that.

It rounds off a section in the gospel about who can enter the kingdom of God. It ties up the ministry that Jesus has had as being willing to invest the gospel into people’s lives and seeing it bring either  left and not allowed to prosper like with the rich young ruler, or give a good return like it did in the livesof the blind beggar, who followed Jesus, and Zacchaeus who stayed where he wasto live out a transformed life. Then there will come a time when how we’ve responded to that gospel will be revealed and assessed.

But it also points to what is to come. That while Jesus is going to Jerusalem to inaugurate his  Kingdom that it will be a difficult process, there will be opposition, his kingship will be rejected, he will die, he will have to go away and but will come back as king. While he is away those who are his servants will be intrusted with what he gives them, a mina is about the equivalent of 100 denarii or 100 days, 3 months wages. You can work that out with what you make a day. It’s not chicken feed, and they are then asked to go about their masters business. When we use the word slave we think of slave labour and forced field work, but in Roman times it was common place for servants to look after their master’s business and free them up to be involved in the public realm. In the Old Testament Joseph as a salve is put in charge of Potiphar’s household and all his possessions.  Jesus parable of the shrewd manager has a servant in charge of all his master’s financial dealings. In the film Shindler’s list about unlikely hero war profiteer and shady businessman Oscar Shindler who saved thousands of Jews in the Second World War, the character Izhak Stern played by Ben Kingsley is a Jewish slave labourer who manages all Shinler's business and eventually becomes his conscience and it’s Izhak Stern with Shindler who goes about the work of redemption, buying back Jewish lives with the Money Oscar Shindler has made.

For Jesus listeners this parable would also have had real life parallels, like I tried to draw with the reactions to the US elections. Judea was a client state of the Romans, so for someone to be acknowledged as king they had to go to Rome to get the authority of the emperor. After Herod the great died, that the Herod who was king when Jesus was born his son Herod Archelus had to go to Rome to be made king of Judea, but he was so unliked that a delegation from Judea went to Rome to oppose him. Because of this he was not made king but rather given a lesser title and less power. When he returned, he made sure that he dealt with the people who had opposed him. (click) Archelus is mentioned in Matthew chapter two as the reason that Joseph didn’t return to Bethlehem but went to Nazareth in Galilee, after Herod died. Coins from his short period of rule have been found, it maybe why there is connection between the minas and his political story in Jesus parable. Anyway He didn’t last long, which is why by the time we come to Jesus passion there is a Roman governor in Jerusalem.  Archelus’ brother Herod Antipas became ruler of Galilee and Peraea and is the king Herod who had John the Baptist killed and was involved in Jesus crucifixion.   But this background meant that Jesus listeners would realise that there can be a long gap between being the King and then starting to reign. It also gave them an understanding of the fact that it was not a simple process and those who were opposed to Jesus as king were going to try and block that.

 It also gives some context to the last part of Jesus parable as his listeners were used to the reality that when a new king came to power the old opposition was removed. Jesus parables are not allegories by the way, we can’t make direct links between each element. There isn’t a direct correlation with the beheading of his enemies by the noble man who became King in the parable, with Jesus. But there is a sense that in Jesus death and resurrection a new kingdom was established. The old order was removed, the old temple worship finished with the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman’s in 70 AD.

That’s a lot of background. How does that connect with us? What does it mean for us today?

Firstly we find ourselves in that time between the inauguration of God’s Kingdom, with Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and its consummation, the time that we are told will come when all will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.  We live in that tension, already but not yet, we know God’s reign in our lives but there will come a time when it is complete. Kris and I met at Bible college, what is now Laidlaw, and the technical theological term for the idea that the kingdom of God has come but we are awaiting its fulfillment is called inaugurated eschatology… the end times have started. Kris and I got engaged, and with the other engaged couples we formed what we called the inaugurated eschatology club, we were all ready… but not yet. The process of getting married had started but it wasn’t consummated.   What do you do in that time? Well one of the things we did was we invested in our relationship to give our marriage the best chance it could to succeed. We invested in the new reality we were in.

The parable says that is what we are called to do by Jesus as well. We are called as God’s servants to invest in the new reality we find ourselves in invest in this Kingdom of God.  What does that look like. Well in Matthew’s version of this parable the coin in question is called a talent and so historically people have seen this as using the gifts God has given us for Jesus. That’s a good starting point. But all the way through Luke’s gospel we are invited to see very thing we have is a gift from God. Luke is the economic gospel, Luke’s emphasis on how much we understand and know God’s generous over the top grace is shown in how deep it reaches into our pockets. In this parable with this coin we don’t recognise as much as the talent is the challenge that it fact about how we use and invest all the resources God has given us.  It speaks of the gospel as well our talents and gifts, and our finances, our homes open in hospitality.

In Jesus we have a best picture of what that looks like. Jesus invests what God has given him into other people, meeting he poor the marginalised the lost at their point of need and bring grace and the presence of God into those situations. In the blind beggar and the short tax collector Zacchaeus we see it worked out as well. The Blind Beggar, goes about telling everyone what god has done for him and through that others give God praise. It’s about investing the Jesus story, the gospel that has changed us in other people’s lives.   Trent is a pastor at a local church and is a member of the Maungarei Ministers association, and I love his passion for the gospel. He came to Christ out of a back ground of drug addiction, drug dealing and gang affiliation. He has a passion for evangelism, telling people about what God has done for him and what God can do for others for you.

Zacchaeus is different as he experiences God’s grace you see his life becomes about justice and righteousness, he sees gives half his money to the poor and he makes restitution for all the wrong he has done. You can guarantee that the tax system and tax burden in his Jericho got a lot more just after that conversion experience. He became about God’s kingdom as good news for the poor and a just society. Steve who I hope to have share in our service later this year is a retiree, who when he retired from the police had a burning question… why… why was their child poverty in New Zealand? So he went to a low decile  school (that's one in a low sociao economic area for my overseas readers) and asked what the need was, and from there he has started breakfast clubs in seven different schools and uses his skills and talents and contacts to see children in poverty in New Zealand get the best chance they can to get through school and on in life. he cares for their families and through his ministry he tells them and shows them that God cares to.

One of the challenges of this passage is the servant who hid his coin, because he thought that his master was a hard man who wanted to reap what he didn’t sow. Our understanding of God can often stop us from risking investing in the kingdom of God. Like the rich young ruler it can turn us away sad. We can live afraid of offending God, or that if we risk and fail well God is going to reject us but I think that third servant had his coin taken away because well he never really let the gospel sink in and touch his heart and change his life… He didn’t know the over the top generous lavish grace of God that we have seen all the way through Luke’s gospel.

Did you notice how the parable starts with ten servants and finishes by telling us the story of three servants. Like most of Jesus parables in Luke such things leave room for us to find ourselves in the story. We stand amongst the servant who we don’t know about  whose use of what Jesus has given us isn’t yet presented to our King.

I want to finish with the encouragement to invest in God’s Kingdom… The reward is great, and with the help of the holy spirit the return on the investment is wonderful. Where is a good place to start? There are times when I feel I’ve never really achieved much and then someone will share with me how a sermon or a word has helped or encouraged them or I’ll hear from a old youth group member whose doing wonderful things for God, I even had someone tell me that I inspired them to get involved in leading worship at their church… I laughed and said “If I could do it anybody could…”That actually makes me see God at work in all the time and effort I’m prepared to invest. Our  starting point is the same as Jesus did… to invest in one person one place and see how God can use that to bring transformation.

It’s when we are prepared to make that investment that people will see and hear…

Jesus is my president

Jesus is my president
Jesus is my king

And we will hear well done good and faithful servant.

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