Gird your loins

Luke 12:32-40

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

            I don’t like to be the center of attention, which should make you wonder why I chose to enter into the profession that I did.  But I really don’t like to be the center of attention, especially when it is for something that I did wrong. 

            When I was just out of college, I was working for my father on the farm.  It was autumn and we were trying to finish up the harvest before the snow started to fall.  So we were going late into the night, and early into the morning, combining the corn.  We had just finished the last of the corn and I was on the early shift to watch the corn dry, which is every bit as exciting as it sounds.

            You see, when you harvest corn, you usually have to run it through a process where it is exposed to a high temperature to drop the moisture level of the corn so that it will not mold and rot while it is in storage.  We have a dryer that fires propane and I believe that we would run it at about 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit.

            So here we are, the corn has all been harvested, it is sitting in the wagons, and my only responsibility is to run the shelled corn through the dryer and into the bin for storage.  And I fall asleep.

            Normally this wouldn’t be a problem.  In all honesty, I didn’t always give the drying process 100% of my attention.  And that was okay because most of the time there were not any problems.  Every so often you go and you check the temperature, you check the moisture rate the corn going in and the moisture of the corn that is coming out.  So like I said, normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me to take a little snooze.  However, this was not one of those “normal” times.

            I woke up when the augers stopped working.  The augers stopped working because the electric had shorted out.  The electric shorted out because of the extreme heat.  The extreme heat occurred because of the fire that had started in the dryer.  Like I said, I don’t like being the center of attention, especially when it is because I make a mistake.  But when the fire truck comes with the siren roaring and the emergency squad comes to your farm, let’s just say that the neighbors noticed.  And many of them came to see what was going on.

            I am glad to report that the damage done was minimal, mostly electrical damage that came from the extreme heat melting wires.  Because of the nature of the dryer the corn was not exposed to oxygen, which kept the flames from getting out of control.  So maybe the cost was not great, and maybe a major disaster had been avoided, but none the less, I had made a mistake, I had been sleeping on the job, and everyone knew it.

            Sometimes I wonder if you all ever question why I left the farm if I enjoyed working out under the sun with the tractors and the cows so much.  As I share more and more stories, I wonder if you are beginning to question if it was my choiceJ.

            Verses 35-36 from our scripture for this morning says, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.”  Be dressed for action.  What in the world does that even mean?  I decided to check out some other translations to see how they interpret this.  The NIV translates verse 35 as “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning”.  Be dressed ready for service.  Any good Mennonite would like that translation!  Be ready for service, service to the Lord and service to your fellow human beings.  This is a reoccurring theme here in Luke and it seems consistent with the parable that we looked at last week in Luke 12:13-21.

But this made me curious as to what Luke was trying to get at, so I went to my trusty Greek New Testament and it didn’t exactly say what these modern translations say.  Actually, it was a lot more like the King James Version, which is a more literal translation, which says, “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning”.

            Let your loins be girded about.  I am not sure what my loins are, and I sure don’t know what girding is.  And how in the world do the NIV and NRSV come up with being dressed ready for service or action?

            In the first century how did people usually dress?  They wore something that looks like our modern-day bathrobe.  Now obviously in the hot Middle East, their robes would not have been as heavy as our bathrobes, but they would have had a similar style to them.  Now imagine that you are just getting out of the shower and you are dripping wet, slipping into your robe, and the doorbell rings.  How well could you run to the door in your bathrobe?  Now imagine wearing your bathrobe all day long (maybe that isn’t too hard to imagine for some people).  Imagine making supper, doing laundry, weeding the flower bed, scrubbing the floor.  Bathrobes are comfortable, but when you start doing all of that in a free-flowing robe, you can find that the robe gets in the way of the things that you are trying to do. 

            So in the first century, when someone was going to work, they would take something, like a rope, and they would tighten up their robe around their body.  They would put a belt around their waist and maybe through their legs to make the robe move with them rather than getting in the way.  This is what we might call “girding up your loins”.  So when Jesus tells his disciples to gird up their loins, he is telling them to do just what the NIV says: be dressed and ready for service. 

In John’s Gospel we read about the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples and a meal that we often refer to as The Last Supper.  As the meal was winding down we find that Jesus stood up, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  He then filled a basin with water and began doing the job of a servant.  He began washing the feet of the disciples.  The word that John uses to describe what Jesus does when he wraps the towel around himself is διαζώννυμι When Jesus tells the disciples to gird up their loins in our scripture for this morning, he tells them to περιζώννυμι.  “Dia” is where we get the word diameter, meaning across, from.  “Peri” is where we get the word perimeter, meaning around, from.  Both words are simply describing wrapping something around yourself making yourself more agile and mobile.  I would think that diazonnumi refers to wrapping the towel across your waist and perizonnumi has the idea of wrapping the towel around your waist.  Regardless, Jesus is showing in John’s Gospel that the disciples are to serve one another.  In our scripture from Luke, he is telling them to always have their loins girded up so that they are constantly in position to be serving God.

Jesus tells them a parable about a master of a home that goes to a wedding banquet and leaves the servants at home to continue working.  Jesus seems to be referring to himself when he is talking about the master that is away at a wedding banquet.  He is telling his disciples that he will be going away for an unknown period of time, but that in his absence, they are still expected to be serving him.

            So here I would like to ask you all a question.  When Jesus talks about the master going to a party only to return again at an unknown time, is he talking about his death (going away) and resurrection (return) or is he talking about something else?

Throughout the Bible we find Jesus teaching that he will not be with the Disciples forever in the flesh.  He warns them that he will be taken away, but he also makes the promise that he will come back again.  When will that happen?  How long will Jesus be away? 

In Matthew chapter 12 some Pharisees come to Jesus and they want to see a sign so that they might believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus says that they will not be given any sign except the sign of Jonah.  Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, Jesus said that the Son of Man would be in the belly of the earth.  In John chapter 2 after Jesus cleanses the temple, again he is asked for a sign to prove his authority.  And Jesus replies, “Tear down this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” 

Most people would agree that when Jesus says these things that he is referring to his death and resurrection.  He knows how long there will be between the time he is crucified and the time that he returns from the grave.  So obviously when he tells this parable, he isn’t just instructing his followers to keep following him during those couple days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  He knows how long he will be away from them then and if they are paying attention they too know how long he will be away.  No, he is talking about the time between when he will ascend into heaven and the time when he will return to establish his kingdom forever on earth.

So when will that be?  Well, even Jesus didn’t know the answer to that.  And to be honest, I don’t know why some people are so caught up in end-time predictions.  Of course the big prediction now is that the world is going to come to an end in the year 2012.  Why?  Because that is the last year on the ancient Mayan calendar.  My guess is that they ran out of stone tablets, but hey, some people really get into this stuff!  And it reminds me of all of the craze with Y2K.  The world was supposed to come to an end then, too.  Maybe it did and I just missed it, I don’t know.  And Jesus didn’t know either.

And I think that this is the point of the parable.  Yes, if the servants in the parable knew exactly when the master of the house was coming home, they would have been awake and ready for him.  The floors would have been cleaned, there would be supper on the table, the front porch light would have been on.  But because they didn’t know when he was coming back they were to be working diligently until he does come back.

            Now you may notice that Jesus changes parables again in verse 39.  All at once he is talking about a master of a house and a thief.  He says that if the master of the house knew when a thief was coming, he would not allow his house to be broken into.  But he would have stayed awake, stayed ready, kept his loins girded up until he saw the thief.

            When I was to be watching the corn dry, I didn’t think anything was going to go wrong.  And I didn’t know when I was going to need to give attention to the dryer.  So I lost interest, got a little lazy, and I took a big old snooze.  I did not have my loins girded up about me.  I was not ready to serve in the capacity that I was being called to serve.  If I knew that the corn dryer was going to catch fire at 6:30 am, I would have probably stayed awake that morning.  Or at least set my alarm for 6:15 so I could do what I needed to do to prevent the temperature from getting out of control and igniting the corn.  But I didn’t know when, or that, it was going to happen.

            Jesus at least tells his disciples that he will be coming back.  They know that it is going to happen.  But he never says when.  And I think that the reason for this is because he doesn’t want us falling asleep on the job.  He wants us to be active, ready for service.  He wants us to keep our loins girded up at all times.

            I tired to imagine my corn-burning experience in this light.  Like I said, if I knew that it was going to catch fire at 6:30, I would have started to work by about 6:15.  But what if I knew that is was going to catch fire at some point in the night?  AHHH!  I would have stayed alert and active all night long!  Keep your loins girded, my friends.  I know that it is easy to take a break from serving God, especially when we have no reason to believe that Jesus is coming back any time soon.  But that is also the exact reason for why we need to keep actively serving the Lord.  We don’t know when he will be coming back.  And as Luke tells us, it will be very good for the ones that are actively serving him when he does come back.

Now to gird up one’s loins also had another meaning in Jesus’ day.  And I think that this other meaning can be just as helpful for us today as we try to better understand this parable.  To gird up one’s loins was often used as an idiom to mean, “to equip one’s self with knowledge of the truth”.  So I think that girding up your loins has two interpretations that Jesus’ hearers would have understood.  They were to be serving the master at all times and they were to be learning about the master at all times. 

In Ephesians chapter 6 we find the Apostle Paul encouraging the church at Ephesus to “Put on the full armor of God.”  Paul uses this metaphor of armor to describe how we as followers of Christ are to prevent falling victim to temptation.  We are to wear the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness to share the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of righteousness.  But there is one more that I left out.  In 6:14 tells us to gird our loins with the belt of truth.  He is using the same word here that Jesus uses in our passage for this morning, perizonnumi.

Girding yourself with the belt of truth.  Paul didn’t just come up with that phrase out of thin air.  Just as you are to gird yourself so that you can always be ready to serve God, you are to gird yourself with truth so that you can better know how to serve God.

There was a man that lived during the late 5th and early 6th century by the name of Benedict of Nursia.  Benedict was a devoted Christian man who spent a fair amount of time developing a rhythm and rule of life for others who were fully devoted to Christ to follow.  Later his writings would be used to develop what is known today as “The Benedictine Order”, which is followed by the Benedictine monks.

            Benedictine monks have a bit of a motto for how they are to live their lives for God.  It is quite simple, and maybe you have heard it before: Work and pray.  That is what they dedicate their lives to do, to work and pray.

            The work that they do includes everything from tilling the soil to grow their own food, to serving and preparing food for the homeless or orphans.  They pray through corporate prayers, personal prayers, and through time spent reading and studying the Bible.  Work and pray.

            I can only assume that Benedict read through Luke 12 a time or two in his life because I feel that the Benedictine order of work and prayer seems to fit right in with what Jesus is teaching in this parable.  Gird up you loins because you never know when the master will be returning.  You never take a break from following Jesus, serving him and his people.  And you should never stop learning about God through prayer and study. 

            When I was (supposed to be) watching that corn dry, I un-girded my loins.  I fell asleep, and I got caught.  There were repercussions for my mistake, and it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood knew that I had fallen asleep on the job.  My prayer for us all this morning is that we will keep our loins girded, we will continue to work and pray.


About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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