Pentecost 12 – 2016

Luke 12:32-40

Marian Free

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Four weeks ago when Pokemon Go was released in Australia, it seemed that you couldn’t go anywhere without running into people who were walking along with their eyes glued to their phones. Despite the fact that the game comes with sound effects it seemed that some players were afraid that if they weren’t paying attention to their device that a Pokemon or a Pokestop would pop up and they would miss it. The craze seems to have died down somewhat, but not before the occurrence of some minor injuries and accidents.

Even though the original version of the game asked people: “to be alert at all times, pay attention to your surroundings”, one person in the United States ran into the back of a police car because he was concentrating on the game rather than on his driving. More concerning is the news that teenagers in parts of war-torn Syria are risking their lives by entering buildings that have been rendered structurally unsound by the bombing in order to capture their Pokemon.  Others have been so obsessed with capturing Pokemon that they have entered private dwellings without asking for permission.[1] In Rhodes in Sydney, so many people flocked to the park that emergency vehicles were unable to enter the area and locals were concerned for their safety.

Presumably as a result of people’s obsessive use of the game, last weekend’s upgrade to Pokemon Go includes additional warnings: “Do not play game while driving.” “Do not trespass while playing Pokemon.” The need to watch where we are walking or driving, to look ahead for hazards that might be coming up, or to plan for an uncertain future seems to be self-evident, but apparently for a number of people caught up in the Pokemon craze, absorption with the game overrides concerns for their own safety and for the safety of others.

The point is not that everyone should give up Pokemon Go, but that there are times when we become so focused on something, that we forget to pay attention to the things that are happening around us. Sometimes, we are so absorbed in our work or our play that we do not even notice the hazards that lie ahead – whether or not the hazard is something physical like the truck that is hurtling towards us or the peril of a breakdown in a relationship. It is possible become so engrossed in our day-to-day activities that we forget to think about the future, or so caught up in anxiety about one thing or another that we become blind to the fact that tomorrow might bring something better. Living in a land of peace and freedom we can become blasé about potential for harm whether at the hands of a terrorist or a drunken driver.

Today’s gospel includes at least four discrete instructions: sell everything, store up treasures in heaven, be alert and ready for action and be prepared. The first follows on from last week’s parable of the barn builder and the others emphasise the need for preparedness, alertness, and readiness. As we read further, we will discover that these are dominant themes for Luke as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem.  In these chapters we are aware that Jesus has a sense of urgency. He knows what lies ahead of him, he understands that “it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem” and he knows that it is in Jerusalem that he will face his final showdown with the forces of evil[2]. He presses ahead despite the dangers because he knows that this is the future that is in store for him.

Because Jesus knows what lies ahead, he feels that it is important for the disciples to know and understand the dangers and difficulties that will confront them. He believes that it is essential that they do not become complacent – that they do not imagine that because they are Jesus’ disciples they will be unaffected by the events that are about to unfold. Jesus is concerned that if the disciples become too settled in their present role, if they are not paying attention, they will be caught out, unprepared and therefore unable to meet the challenge.

To ensure that the disciples really do understand and will not be found wanting, Jesus repeats the message over and over again – be prepared, be ready, be alert.

N.T. Wright believes that in their context, these passages refer not to Jesus’ coming again, but to a cataclysmic event that was to happen in the not too distant future. According to Wright, Jesus believed that the Jews’ resistance to Rome would inevitably lead to a collision with the Empire that could only have catastrophic results – the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersal of Jews throughout the Empire[3]. For this reason, not only do the disciples need to grasp the fact that in Jerusalem Jesus will be facing a struggle between life and death, but that they too may well be caught up in events over which they have no control.

He warns them: you can’t take your eye off the ball, you have to pay attention to the times, be aware of what is happening around you – so that you will not be caught off guard and will not lose faith when the events that Jesus expects come to pass.

Our time and place is vastly different, but I don’t have to tell you that we too live in uncertain times. Jesus’ warning is as pertinent now as it was 2000 years ago: don’t be so absorbed in the present that you do not recognise the hazardous situations that you might be creating or walking into; do not be complacent, do not take for granted the precious gifts of freedom, justice and comparative wealth; do not be so absorbed in the present that you pay no attention to the future.

As best you can, keep your focus on God, constantly re-evaluate your priorities, notice what God is doing in and around you, be ready for God to surprise and challenge you and above all, deepen your relationship with God so that you might both be ready to face any challenge that life throws at you and prepared to welcome God should the Son of Man return tomorrow.

[1] Apparently the creators of the game face lawsuits for trespassing.
[2] In Luke 4:12 after the temptations, Satan departs from Jesus “until an opportune time”.
[3] N.T. Wright. Luke for Everyone. London: SPCK, 2002.

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