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Thy Kingdom Come: Patient Faith

Patient Faith

Luke 19:11-27


When St. Paul lists what he calls the “Fruits of the Spirit,” those things that the Holy Spirit brings out in our lives, he lists “patience” as one of those fruits. When most of us think of patience, we think either of waiting or putting up with. We think of a patient person as someone who doesn’t get flustered when traffic backs up, someone who deals with difficult people well, or one of those saints who teaches Kindergarten or volunteers in the preschool Sunday school class. But the truth is, patience isn’t just the art of waiting, or putting up with something difficult. Patience is the art of waiting well; the art of putting up with something difficult well. The ability to carry a heavy burden over a long distance well. It isn’t just waiting. It’s waiting well.


And that’s what Jesus is talking about in this parable, this story that he told. He was with his disciples and many others in the home of Zacchaeus in Jericho, not far from Jerusalem. Zacchaeus was one of the chief tax collectors among the Jews. As a chief tax collector who employed several other tax collectors, Zacchaeus had grown very wealthy by taking more than was necessary from the people who lived around him. But he had undergone a radical transformation. In the presence of Jesus and because of the welcoming embrace of Jesus, Zacchaeus had not only said “I’m sorry,” he’d repented. That means he began to live differently. Very differently. He committed to giving half of what he had to the poor, and to repay anyone he had defrauded four times the amount he had taking. In an incredible display of the saving power of Jesus, he had repented of his sins and become like a different person. On that night eating dinner with Jesus, the old Zacchaeus had truly died, and the new Zacchaeus was born. In a sense, you could say that Zacchaeus was “born again” or “reborn” that night.


Now, Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, and his disciples thought that this was the time for the great uprising, when Jesus their Messiah would be crowned king and they would overthrow their oppressors and be set free as a people by God once again. The prophecies all pointed to it. The miracles Jesus performed and the words he spoke, plus the miracles he had empowered them to perform, all pointed to it. So Jesus told them this parable, drawing from a major news story of the day, to illustrate the way in which the Kingdom of God was coming. The kingdom of God was coming. In fact, in Jesus, it was present, but it would not come in its fullness until Jesus went away and returned, and God’s agenda was bigger than setting Israel free as a people again. His agenda was to offer freedom to any, Jew or Gentile, who would come to him. Jesus was soon going away, and he will one day return. In the meantime, his disciples, his followers, would have to master the art of patience, the art of waiting well, and that is what Jesus describes in this parable.


Turn in your Bibles to Luke 19:11-27. As I said, Jesus was actually pulling a story from the headlines of the day. King Herod, Herod the Great, who had helped rebuild Jerusalem, had died. Most of the time, Rome didn’t bestow the title of “King” on the leader, the regents, they installed to rule in an outlying territory, but Herod had asked for and been granted the title. In his will, he asked Rome to pass his title of King on to his son Archelaus. But titles like this one, because they were granted by Rome, weren’t hereditary. It would have to be granted to Archelaus by Caesar just as with his father. So Archelaus and a delegation of his family went to Rome to ask Caesar for the title. Unfortunately for Archelaus, several in his family actually spoke against his receiving the title, including his brother, Herod Antipas, who also appears in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. And a delegation of people from the territory joined together and went to Rome to speak out against him too, a delegation of Jews and Samaritans TOGETHER. Apparently, Archelaus was disliked enough by the people that they were willing to set aside political, religious, and ethnic differences to oppose him as one.  When you think that neither candidate in our recent presidential election was able to do that and you can see just how disliked this guy was. His gaining the title of King was opposed by pretty much everyone. Caesar’s decision was ultimately to allow this new regent to lead and if he could, earn the title of king. I guess the people were right, because he never did.


That’s the story that’s in the background of this parable. And so Jesus told the story of a nobleman, a man of high birth, like the son of a regent, who had to go to a foreign, far away land to gain the title of king. Traveling by foot, by boat, or on the backs of animals, he would be gone for an extended period of time. Perhaps years. And while he was gone, he gave to each of ten of his servants an amount of money and told them to do something with it. And he gave each of them the exact same amount. Jesus used a similar parable, the parable of the talents, in which each of the servants received a different amount, as a way of describing the different types and levels of giftedness that God in his mercy and grace grants each person, with the instruction that we are to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us for his glory, no matter what they are. In fact, because of this parable, the word talent has been brought into the English language to mean just that: a talent that someone has. And truth be told, some are gifted to greater degrees than others. I will never preach as well as some of my mentors, but I might preach better than some other people. God gifts as God sees fit, enabling each person to fill his or her role in God’s plan and purpose for his creation.


But here, the story is different. Each servant was gifted the same amount. Jesus isn’t talking about talents here. He’s talking about something else. The gift, the amount given, is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is God’s saving grace. And there is no difference between people here. Jesus wasn’t about to die for some people a little bit more than others. The grace and the mercy of God in Christ are available to all in equal measure: just as much to me as to Billy Graham and Chuck Swindoll. We aren’t talking about spiritual or physical or financial or intellectual giftedness here. We’re talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf, and it is available equally to all. There are no degrees of blessing here. Salvation is an all or nothing enterprise of God.


But each of the servants did something different with what they were given. One multiplied the gift ten times. One five times. One took the gift and hid it away and returned it as it was. Nothing lost, but nothing gained either. And there was another group, the people who actively opposed the master’s authority. And they were judged before the ruler and condemned to death. So what does it look like to “multiply” the good news of Jesus in your life? I think there are two ways that we do that. The first is that we grow as disciples of Jesus. The fruits of the Spirit become evident in our lives because we are connected to Jesus and his Spirit is flowing through us. In John’s gospel Jesus used a grapevine and its branches to illustrate this point. Jesus is the main vine, and we are the branches. The branches bear fruit because they are connected to the vine and its sap, its life and nutrients, flows into and through them, producing fruit.


The second way we multiply Jesus in our lives is by bringing others into the body of Christ. Not necessarily by winning elections or winning arguments or making posts of Facebook, but by others seeing the fruit of Jesus in our lives and desiring the same thing. And that takes time, and relationship, friendship. Living the Christ-life wherever you go. In the Apprentice series, which will be launching a new cohort here in January, we talk about a follower of Jesus not being a person who asks and answers the question, “What would Jesus do?” Remember those WWJD bracelets? That isn’t the question of a disciple. The question the follower of Jesus answers is “What would Jesus do IF HE WERE ME? Because as a follower of Jesus, I am one in whom Christ dwells. His life flows through me, and produces his fruit. And that fruit draws others. That doesn’t mean we don’t need outreach ministries and will never need to share our faith or our testimony with someone who doesn’t know Jesus. It simply means that even those endeavors, especially for those who have “talents” (to reference the other parable) in that area, are strengthened by the flow of Christ’s life through us.


This is why Becky and I lead a 4H club. We have an interest in and bent toward liking to work outside and with animals. We also like working with kids, so we put it to use. Many in our club follow Jesus. Many don’t. But this gives us a platform for simply letting Jesus do his thing through us. Sure, we have to answer emails and work with kids and their projects and grow in our own knowledge, and we like it. But it’s really all about just being in a place where we meet lots of people and can use our interests. And our club is kind of like family. Every year in August we camp together for 9 days at the fair, and the kids show their animals and work together and play together all week. It’s exhausting, but it’s the time together in the campground that’s really fun. We have a dear woman in our club who provides lavender ice baths and other “spa” treatments for the kids at the end of the long, hot, busy, stressful days. Here’s a picture of Sterling. Must have been a rough day. He went all out. Even got the cucumbers on the eyes. Not sure what that does but he said it felt good. And here is what I usually look like at the end of a day.


We see three kinds of followers here. The first enthusiastically embraces his master’s mission and purpose, puts the gift to use, and returns a ten-fold profit for the master. The second does the same, but doesn’t produce quite as much. Perhaps there was some distraction, something else that kept taking the focus of the servant, but he still produced fruit. Not as much as he could have, but he produced fruit. Both willingly embrace the mission of their master. One is simply more captured by it than the other. Both are rewarded.


And then there is the third servant. There are some things standing between him and his master, and he can’t quite get past them, no matter how hard he tries. The problem isn’t with the master himself. The problem is in the heart of the servant. He has a faulty view of his master. Look at Vv. 20-21. When you take the Apprentice series (notice I didn’t say “If,” I said “When), the whole first section is about allowing the truth that Jesus reveals about who God is to replace our own faulty views about who God is. We all have faulty views of God in some way. Some of us view God as an angry judge, maybe like this servant did, but Jesus reveals a God who is good. Some of us believe that we can’t trust God, but Jesus reveals a God who is trustworthy. Some of us believe in a God who loves us when we do good, but Jesus reveals a God who is filled with perfect love for you. This is what I call the nominal disciple. This is the follower of Jesus who isn’t really sure that it’s all for real, that Jesus is coming again, but darn it, it’s the way he was raised and going to church is probably a good thing. He doesn’t embrace the mission of his master and certainly doesn’t trust him. But he also doesn’t reject the gift of grace. He simply holds on to it.


It’s become popular in recent years to give people gift cards as gifts. We’ve certainly done that and we appreciate it when we receive them. We can go out to a meal or see a movie at our convenience. Researchers now tell us that almost 40 percent of shoppers will purchase a department store gift card for friends and family, followed by almost 34 percent of shoppers opting for a restaurant gift card. But according to estimates reported in the Journal of State Taxation, the typical American home has an average of $300 in unused or “unredeemed” gift cards. These cards are often misplaced, accidentally thrown out, or only partially redeemed. Between 2005 and 2011, $41 billion in gift cards went unused. The gift is received. It simply isn’t used.


Now there’s something we have to understand here. Our effort cannot make God love or accept us more. But as Johannes Weiss said, “The gifts of God are not given like money, but are plants which need a suitable soil for their growth.” Dallas Willard said it this way, “The gospel is opposed to earning, but not to effort.” Some of us have an idea of the grace of God as being something that we cannot earn, which we can’t, and therefore there is nothing for us to do but receive it. That is the mistake of the third servant. Oh, there is plenty for us to do. We can do things to cultivate the soil of our hearts, things like gathering together to worship God, being fed by his Word, learning to read and study the Bible for ourselves, practicing prayer and generosity and simplicity and the other spiritual disciplines. Not to make God love us or see us, but to allow ourselves to see God more clearly. To allow the God that Jesus reveals in his person and in his Word to penetrate our hearts with his love. That is why St. Peter wrote that we are to “make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:5-8). He goes on to say that those who don’t have these things are “so nearsighted that they are blind, having forgotten that they were cleansed from their former sins.”


And then there are those who actively resist the master. Those who oppose his authority and rule. Those who, like the people around Archelaus, don’t want to submit to his authority. Now, there’s no evidence that Archelaus himself destroyed those who resisted his authority once it was granted, but it wouldn’t have been unheard of. The point here is this, the master IS returning, and those who have resisted his authority by not placing their faith and hope and trust in him will have to give an account. They will sit in judgment under him. There will be a time when we all stand face to face before him. Some will embrace him, having received his gift of grace. Others will seek to flee in fear, having resisted his authority and rule. But that authority and rule will come nonetheless.


How do we wait and endure well? By embracing God’s rule now and enthusiastically embracing his plan and purpose for the world, putting the gift he has given us, his love and grace, and putting it to work that we may bear fruit, in our own lives, and in the lives of others.