The Master Who Serves
A Sermon Preached on Sunday, November 6, 2011, by
The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. (Luke 12:35-37)
When I was a boy, we used to open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve at the home of my grandparents. I would be so excited, waiting for that time when I could finally open the gifts, but we had to wait until all the members of the family had arrived. When someone would knock on the door, I would run to the door and open it, hoping it would be that last group of family members who had finally come.
On the other side of the family, I had an aunt who had four children. Whenever the older sister came home for the weekend, she always brought gifts and surprises for her little brother and sister. I can remember how every time there was a knock on the door, my cousins would run to the door, and swing it open, hoping that she would be standing there.
We all know what it is like to wait expectantly for someone. In this passage we have just read, we find our Lord telling a story of some servants who are waiting for their master to return. He is at his wedding feast where he is celebrating with his new bride, and he will soon come home, so the servants are busy in the household, trying to get everything ready for his return. Our Lord is using the slave/master relationship that would exist in a Roman household as the basis of this parable, but there is no doubt that he wants us to interpret this parable as saying something about our relationship to him. He is our master, we are his servants, and we are awaiting his return. The point of the story is that we must be ready, but it is interesting in this parable how our Lord subverts what we would think of as the normal master/slave relationship.
The first thing we notice about this relationship is that the servants seem to really love their master, and they want to please him very much. Normally, in a master/slave relationship, the slave would be afraid of the master, and would perform his duties only out of fear. In this parable, it seems that these servants really yearn for their master to return. They keep watching, even if he delays his coming for a long time. Even if his return is not until far into the night, they keep watching, waiting, keeping themselves in a constant state of readiness, because they lovingly expect his return. The same is true of our relationship to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. We are not serving him because we fear what he might do to us if we are not ready. Rather, we want to be ready for his return because we love him so much. When we think of what our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ has done, how he left heavenly glory and came to this earth, how he lived a life of service and sacrifice, and how he suffered the cruel indignities and death of the cross for our sakes, we can’t help but want to see him face to face. The coming of our Lord is not something that we dread or fear. Rather, this Second Advent is looked forward to just as you look forward to hearing that knock on the door of the loved one you have been expecting for so long.
` We can only look forward to his coming if we are ready for it. Our Lord begins the parable with idea of our loins being girded and our lamps burning. We must be prepared for his coming. All of you know what it is like to be expecting company, and you are not ready. If someone has told you when they are about to arrive, you have one eye on all your duties and the other eye on the clock. You may be worried that the meal you are preparing is not going to be ready on time, or you may be worried that the house is not neat enough. If you hear that knock on the door, or the doorbell ring, and you are not ready, you start throwing things anywhere you can hide them. Dirty dishes go in the dishwasher, clothes are thrown into a room, and everything is stashed away as quickly as possible. The guests may be left standing at the door for a while as you put everything away. You will notice in this parable that when the master knocks on the door, they open to him immediately. Opening the door immediately indicates how glad they are to see him, but it also demonstrates that they are ready. Nothing has been left undone. Everything has been prepared for his return.
The way we are prepared for our Master’s return is by having placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. If we are believers in Christ, we know that our sins have been forgiven, and we know that we can stand before him without fear. Also, we want to be prepared in the sense that we have done what our Lord has commanded us to do. We have been living in obedience to him. We have been letting our lights shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. It is a wonderful thing to meet the Lord knowing that you are ready. If the Lord should come for us at death, or if we meet him when he returns again, let us be ready. In one sense, the fear of death has been removed from the Christian, for at death, it is as though the Lord is knocking at the door. If we are ready, we can run and open immediately, knowing that we are prepared. Whether the Lord comes for us at death, or if we are alive when he returns, let us be so ready, that we will run to the door, open immediately with full assurance that we have done our duty.
Our Lord further subverts the master/slave relationship in this parable by telling us what the master does when he walks into the house. All of us have an image in our minds of what it would have been like when the master would have arrived. We would expect the master to barely notice the servants. Probably, he wouldn’t even acknowledge their presence or speak to them except to bark out a few orders. Then, we can see him going to the table loaded down with food that his servants have prepared. He would take a seat, expect water and wine to be brought to him, the various courses of the meal served, and all of his wishes and desires would be carried out by these servants. But you notice that in this parable, the master comes in and serves the servants. We are told, “He shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” That action probably never happened in the Roman household, but this is the way it is in the house of God. In this parable, not only are the servants glad to see the master, but the master is happy to see the servants. He appreciates all the work and effort they have put forth. He shows them how much he loves them by asking them to sit at the table, and he serves them.
What a beautiful picture of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is our Lord and Master, but he is so frequently presented as the servant. In an incredible act of condescension, when we die, or when he returns, Christ is going to serve us. He doesn’t treat us as servants, but as friends, even joint heirs. This is almost too much for us to handle. That Christ would serve us is an idea that is almost too much for us to comprehend, isn’t it? Something about it doesn’t seem right. Now we understand why Peter objected so strongly when Jesus was about to wash his feet. Surely it should be the other way around. We must wash his feet, with our tears even. Nevertheless, our Lord delights to describe himself as the servant of his people, especially serving them in the context of a banquet. For this reason, heaven is often described as a feast to which we have been invited, and then Christ himself becomes the servant, and gives his people all the blessings which he has prepared for them throughout the eternal ages. We should not be surprised that Christ would serve us. When he came into this world, he came as a servant. Remember how St. Paul said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)
He came into this world as a servant, the suffering servant. Just before our Lord instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion, he took a towel, girded himself, just as the parable here describes it, and washed the feet of his disciples. Though now he has been exalted to the heights of glory, when he comes for us, he will still take the form of a servant and serve his people whom he has saved.
This sacrament of Holy Communion is a foretaste of that time when our Lord will arise and serve us. When you are kneeling here, receiving the sacrament, Christ is serving you. Don’t think of me as the one who is serving you. We pray after the Communion, “ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.” In the sacrament, Christ comes to us and gives us his own body to eat and his own blood to drink. He is still among as the one who serves. After he instituted the Lord’s Supper, the disciples began to argue about which one of them was the greatest, and our Lord said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:25-27). It is in this sacrament that Christ serves us, and in heaven, this glorious feast will continue. Here, we must leave the table, but there will come a day when we will be seated at his table evermore.
At this time of year, the season of All Saints, we especially remember those who have gone on to be with the Lord. We are never nearer to those who have gone on before than when we celebrate Holy Communion. When the priest says, “Lift up your hearts,” we are transported into the heavenly realms with angels and archangels and all the saints who have gone on before. In these moments, we are seated at the table with them, enjoying communion with Christ, and our Master arises and serves his people. Those who have gone on before are enjoying communion with him in a way that we cannot describe, but as we participate here, we do have a glimpse, just a foretaste, of what the saints experience moment by moment. As we approach the Lord’s Table this morning, and he girds himself and serves us, let us look forward to that time, when we will hear that knock on the door. Let us be ready for it, and then be ready to open. Three times in this passage our Lord uses the word “blessed”, meaning “happy,” “ privileged,’ or “to be envied.” There is no greater blessedness than to be ready for his coming, and to know that Christ will gird himself and serve his people. Amen.