Don't let the policy expire

When I was at theological college, we went on an exchange trip to Transylvania as guests of the Orthodox and Lutheran churches there. With us was one older student, in his sixties. After attending the Liturgy at the Orthodox Cathedral in Sibiu, he tripped on a sign in the street, fell and broke his ankle. He was taken to hospital, which was a pretty grim place. We rang the college and asked what we should do.  We were told to get him home. There were two small problems, the student was the only member of the group who hadn’t taken out travel insurance. When we asked him why he said he didn’t think he’d need it. When we went to the travel agency to book him a flight home we were told it would  cost £1,000 and the travel agency did not accept credit cards; that was the second small problem. We then had to gather together, 38 million lei, the price of a small house, in cash, withdrawing the money with all the bank cards we possessed. So we handed over this enormous sum of money and the student went home.    He had not been prepared for this eventuality. 

In our reading from St Luke’s gospel today (Luke 12.32-48), Jesus warns us to be prepared, to be on our guard. He speaks with a warning prophetic voice. He warns the people to heed the signs of the times and to repent. He warns them that they are in grave danger of spurning God’s invitation to his kingdom, and must not be caught unprepared.

Jesus is looking to the future. The religious leaders of his time looked to the past, to their tradition. They relied on the special status of Israel as the chosen people, as the children of Abraham. As Jesus told them, if they were truly children of Abraham, they would behave like him, they would be people of faith, who trusted in God and his providence, trusted him to set out for an unknown destination, who recognized that they were strangers and nomads in God’s world; but they had no reason to fear because God was with them. 

The early Christians also looked back. At the beginning of his gospel, Luke traced the lineage of Jesus back to Abraham, the Christians too were children of Abraham, as numerous as grains of sand on the seashore. But they also constantly looked to the future, for the return of the Son of Man, and the preparations they needed to make. It gave them an added urgency to get right with God.

We do not live our Christian with the same sense of urgency. We do not, I think get up in the morning and wonder whether today will be the day that Christ returns.

Environmentalists give dire warnings about the future of the planet. Some heed the warnings, some ignore them, others dismiss them, because it is not good for business. We might ask what difference it makes what we do, unless an industrial giant like China takes action. We might excuse ourselves from acting. But our actions and our inaction have consequences. Every car journey adds to the congestion and the pollution of this town. Is our journey really necessary, do we have to take the car, or can we walk or cycle?

In our lives we have to be prepared to deal with the expected and the unexpected. The known unknowns and the unknown unknowns as Donald Rumsfeld put it. Winston Churchill was a passionate promoter of insurance He said ‘If I had my way, I would write the word ‘insure’ upon the door of every cottage and upon the blotting book of every public man, because I am convinced, for sacrifices so small, families and estates can be protected against catastrophes which would otherwise smash them up forever.'

Churchill recommended 'small sacrifices' now as protection for the future. What small sacrifices is Christ asking of us now, to build up treasure in heaven, where no thief can steal it, nor moth destroy it? We may see what needs to be done, and yet we put it off. We lounge like idle servants heedless of their master’s imminent return, maybe we even mistreat each other, like the wicked servants. Christ sets us a daily challenge to action, to be active in building up his kingdom. We have to heed the warnings around us, read the signs of the times, and put right what is amiss while we still have the opportunity. And we need to be careful, lest events overtake us and we are left unable to act.

Faith is not like an innoculation that will prevent problems from afflicting us. It is rather like insurance. Because faith  helps us to be ready for whatever the future brings. With faith in Christ we have no need to fear; whatever happens, faith in him will bring us through. But are we keeping our premiums up to date and keeping faith alive?

Don’t let the policy expire.