BIBLE READINGS: Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
Jesus calls his disciples, then and now, to be prepared. "You never know when, you never know how," says Jesus, "even I can't tell you when or how. This I can tell you, the minute you let your guard down, you're vulnerable." That's what happened in Noah's day. They had been warned. They just kept right on eating and drinking, getting married and carrying on with their lives like everything was fine until Noah closed the door on the ark; and then it began to rain.
Therefore, says Jesus, you must be ready.
But what is really interesting about this text is that it is not simply about being ready, at least not in the way that we tend to think about being ready. Home-owners get security systems to prepare for the inevitable break-in. New car security systems are huge add-on selling items these days. You can't be too careful says the wisdom of the day. How many of you have prepared your house at night for the evening, checked all the windows, checked your doors, crawled into bed, and finally gotten the pillow just the way you like it only to suddenly open your eyes wide and wonder “Did I lock the door?” Of course you get up and check, we all do. We know better than not too. There are thieves among us. And in this text Jesus compares, characterises, God as a thief. God is coming and when God comes it will be like a thief, you ll never see it until its too late.
So be prepared. You will never know the day or the hour, but do be ready. God is like a thief. So what is Jesus saying here? Should we create fortresses of our lives? Should we install personal and spiritual security systems to guard against the Divine intruder? Is Jesus calling us to find ways to keep God out of our lives? Hardly. Besides, the truth is we do that pretty well on our own. We already put up walls, fences, security measures that keep God at bay. To allow God to get to close can be dangerous to our way our life.
God is like a thief, and we know it. We are willing to tolerate God in our neighbourhood, in our lives, in the same way we are willing to learn to live with other known less-than-desirables. But if God starts meddling in our lives, if God intrudes on our personal space, if God encroaches the personal property of our lives, our existence, our daily routines, then God might as well be a thief.
Surprise! That is exactly who God is. God does all of those things. And Jesus tells us as much: "Blessed is that servant whom the master, upon arrival, finds ready". God is the thief who comes upon us without invitation, ready or not. God intrudes on our lives and leaves them changed, altered, affected. When you get robbed these days, you get listed as a victim. You can read the papers and find out about this week's victims of all the sudden and silent thieves. There are even victim's groups for those who have been through the ordeal; we call them victim's rights groups. These groups help the victimised talk about their experiences and help them move on in life.
How do you feel once a thief has entered your life? Violated? That's exactly how it feels. Violated. The safety of your home, your life, your daily routine gets changed because some outsider has the gall to handle, to finger, your stuff.
Jesus, and even Paul, uses this rather odd image to help us think about how God enters our lives. Now I'll grant you, there are more appealing images of God in the Bible. But maybe none that is as true. God wants us that badly, badly enough to take us, steal us, enter our lives in ways we least expect and in places where we are unprepared. Because the truth is, that is what it sometimes takes. God comes as a thief because for some of us there may well be no other way God can have us. We have built up too many defences, too many security measures. So God comes "like a thief in the night."
There are groups for those who experience the advent of God the thief too, we call them Churches. These groups help the victimised talk about their experiences and help them move on in life. The only difference is that we call them, not victims, but disciples.
That's why all of you are here, isn't it? By God's advent into your life you've been changed, altered, affected by God in some way. There you were minding your own business, thinking that life was fine and that everything was okay and suddenly it happened God, like a thief, came into your life. And now you are not the same. It is like you can never go back again.
So why bother being prepared? How can we? Against a thief who is God, what chance do we have? None. That's the point. Be prepared, not against, not to keep away, not to hold at bay. Be prepared for, to let in, to accept, to be changed, altered, affected by a God who love you so much, so radically that this thief is willing to take the risks, the perils, the dangers to heart. This thief is willing to accept that we might not like the presence of this kind of character in our midst, that we might run this thief out of town or even hang a thief like this on a tree.
But be aware. Be prepared. When this God, this thief, comes it may well be in a way that you least expect. Thieves and burglars have this knack of being able to be pretty sneaky when it comes down to it. Who knows when or how? No one knows says Jesus. So God could be a king. God might come as a great ruler. God could, if God chose to do so, even come a baby? Now that would catch everyone off guard!
Acknowledgement: Vernon Crowe Tipton