"And the Lord said, 'Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.'Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few." Luke 12: 42-48 NASB
In case you're just joining us, we have taken a little segue for the story of Alfred the Butler. It's an allegory and it has surprised me as much as anyone.
Alfred has been a butler for a long time. He has a great master who announced he was giving Alfred a new job. Instead of being a butler, he is now in charge of grain distribution. You might want to read the previous stories to get caught up. Alfred # 1 and Alfred # 2.
We pick up at the point where the Master is leaving Alfred at the warehouse. Alfred is more than a little intimidated...
Alfred has his butler apron in his suitcase. It looks like he will need it, so he finds his new rooms. Maybe he should unpack first. The bedroom is worse than the warehouse. Old pizza boxes and fast food wrappers spill out from the garbage can and litter the floor. A beer bottle is broken, the fragments of glass lying in the corner. The mirror is cracked and so dirty he can't see his reflection. The white sheets on the cot are gray with dirt. They are not Egyptian cotton. The toilet is unmentionable.
Alfred gags and chokes back the bile rising in his throat. "Oh, dear. This is not good. Not good at all." Alfred thinks a little more, but wisely decides not to say it. He had planned to unpack first, but not in this room. He gags again. The stench makes his eyes burn and he has to blink back tears.
Alfred has reached another decision point. He could do what the previous slacker did or he can get to work trying to do the job the master has given him. "I don't even know where to begin," he moans. He looks up and sees a little mouse nibbling on a crumb from one of the pizza boxes on the floor. A grain warehouse is no place for mice.
Alfred has been a butler for years. He knows what to do about a mess and he knows how to do it. I might be qualified for this job after all, if it were just a little smaller.
"Alfred, keep a stiff upper lip and get started," he tells himself, because that is what butlers do. "Make a list." Alfred takes the Mont Blanc pen out of his pocket and retrieves a discarded fast food bag from the floor.
#1. Find garbage bags, broom, and dust pan. (This was #3 but he can't do anything else until he has bags, so he modifies his list.)
#2. Pick up garbage
#3. Take to dumpster
#5. Stack intact bags of grain
#6. Decide what can be saved of the opened bags of grain
He reviews his list. There is nothing about grain distribution on the list. Well, it can't be helped. First things first. He will get to grain distribution when he can get to the grain.
Time to start on the garbage. Alfred reaches into the suitcase for his butler apron, ties it over his suit, and goes in search of a broom and garbage bags.
His little bedroom is horrible. Alfred can't imagine lying down on that bed and trying to sleep with a mouse eating from the trash in the corner. YUCK. Alfred hates that room and he considers beginning his cleaning efforts right there.
You guessed it. Alfred has reached another crossroads. He remembers all the thin, hungry children in the parking lot. This mess, left by the Master's own servants, is the reason those children are dying of hunger. Alfred talks to himself sometimes, and he needs a good "talking to" now.
"Alfred, old boy, this job is not about you. It's about the Master's grain distribution. Hop to it and get this grain ready for those poor little children." He straightens his shoulders and gets to work.
Our butler sweeps up dirt, gathers trash, and fills garbage bags. The dust clouds tickle his nose and make his sneeze. Alfred is accustomed to long hours, so he works until bedtime. When he finally stops, he looks around the warehouse. He has filled twelve bags with garbage. What a mess!
Alfred once again surveys the 100,000 square foot warehouse. It is still a wreck and he is one man with one push broom and a dustpan. Have I made any difference at all? Is this possible? The job is too big, he thinks, but then he looks at the area where he has been working. He has completely cleared 500 square feet of debris and dust. Only 99,500 square feet to go!
He leans on his broom and takes a break. Why didn't the previous warehouse manager keep the warehouse clean? Everything he needed was here. Didn't he care? Didn't he want to please the Master? I will never understand how he let things get in this mess.
"Well, I'm not in charge of what didn't happen. I'm only in charge of what I can do, and I intend to do it." He gives himself another little talk, then Alfred pushes the broom ahead of him. There's too much work to do to stop now.
Alfred finds himself in much the same situation we, as Christ followers, find ourselves in today. The body of Christ has, perhaps, not been the salt and light Jesus intended us to be. Regardless of who did or did not do whatever was or was not done, we have a mess in our world. There's no need to elaborate. You can see it for yourself.
We, too, stand at a crossroads. We can focus on making our little "quarters" more comfortable, or we can wade into the mess and try to make a difference. Alfred finds himself with an awful mess (as do we) but he does not hold back. He starts in one corner and makes a difference where he is, and so should we.
God has placed gifts and abilities in each of us, and He longs for us to use them for Him.
We could make a difference, if we would make a start. What gifts has God placed in you? How can you use those gifts to make a difference in your "corner of the warehouse"?
As we end today, we realize that Alfred the Butler has been a faithful servant, even though he's only worked in 500 of 100,000 square feet. There is much to be done, but he's made a start and that's all that's required of him. At every crossroads of decision (so far) Alfred has done what he can do. He's chosen a good attitude and he's chosen to do what he's supposed to do.
How's our attitude? Have we done all that we can do for the kingdom of God?
Let's gather our supplies and make a start.
Our Father, forgive us for not being salt and light in a dark place. Help us to focus more on your kingdom and less on ourselves. Help us to be more interested in making a difference in the world than in keeping ourselves comfortable. In Jesus' name, Amen.