2010-09-14 by Stephen Schuette
I get the feeling that Jesus’ parable is like a magic act. “Watch the money,” he says as the magician moves his hands. Pay attention to the accounts, who’s getting what. And then he steps back and wonders, “Did you get it?” He’s trying to teach us things that are hard to simply tell. He wants us to “discover” it ourselves from that place where wisdom rather than mere facts arise. And since we’re slow we say, “What did that mean?” Jesus isn’t going to tell us so we can merely understand it intellectually and then dismiss it. That’s the power of parable. The trick here is that it wasn’t about the money at all. That was just smoke and mirrors.
For if we’re offended by this parable the question is, “Why?” What is it that hooks us and prevents us from seeing what Jesus is trying to say? Maybe Jesus is trying to get at some basic blindness and open us to a whole new way of seeing so that we finally come to terms with some of our deepest assumptions about how we value things and people Maybe he wonders if we’re offended by grace and if so, why?
For in a world where those in power put all the emphasis on the money, making sure wealth is funneled to Rome, Jesus doesn’t fight it. He’s consistent. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Welcome tax collectors and sinners, and eat with Zacchaeus (whose converted generosity may be helpful in pointing us to some things in this parable!). Do not be anxious. “Make friends,” he says. He’s suggesting that some are lost in the magic trick and can’t see beyond the smoke and mirrors to what matters. "Step out of it," he invites. Their enterprise will fail because there’s no spiritual strength in it. Their economics are out of tune with the Kingdom of God.
So what of our economics? It raises challenging questions, doesn’t it? Is our economic goal to pursue personal wealth with the freedom to accumulate it? Or is the goal larger, more expansive and inclusive of the well being of all? And I know Reagan Republicans will say, “Wait, that’s a false dichotomy.” To which I say, “Maybe.” Maybe it is in strict economics. I can’t speak to that, and frankly, don’t want to get into that discussion. One thing I do know: I don’t want to get blinded by the smoke just when my vision was beginning to clear. For attitudinally it is an option. Spiritually it is a different way of living.
Finally, Luke avoids explaining this parable and thereby diluting it. In other words he doesn’t turn it into an allegory. In fact he shows Jesus pressing the irony of the parable further. In vs. 11, what does it mean to be faithful in “unrighteous wealth?” Doesn’t faithfulness in unrighteous wealth mean not to value it? And vs. 12 continues the irony because the question would normally be asked the other way: “Who’s going to trust you with what belongs to them if you haven’t been responsible with what’s yours?” Could be that “mine” and “yours” is all mixed up in the Kingdom of God, and economic questions get turned upside down. Jesus seems to be suggesting you don’t get anything unless you’re first responsible toward your neighbor.
Amazing stuff. Almost like magic.
Lord, Have Mercy
2010-09-13 by Rina Terry
Luke 16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
Well, I've read the verse in several translations. I have looked at a few sermons on the full passage. I have consulted the commentaries. All for naught. No one has been able to explain away this very strange verse. It's perverse. Even if it's not all together criminal, it's grounds for dismissal not commendation. Don't you want to yell, "Fire the incompetent, dishonest jerk. File charges against him, fool! Don't reward him!"
I did read some thought-provoking things about how the rich man can't possible be God and the conniving manage can't possibly exemplify a Christian. Then, it became a moral justification of how people not "of the light" admire one another's shrewdness and to be shrewd is a gift of those who live in darkness, not those who live in the light and my head began to ache. Obviously, that didn't do it for me. First of all, God is rich--rich in goodness, mercy, knowledge, and God's ways are not our ways--shall I say, etc. God is so incredibly wealthy in all things that God can and does put us perpetually in the relative position of squandering much that God offers us as we manage the gifts we receive for service.
There are most likely far more righteous folks than I out there who will differ with this and, perhaps, I should be speaking only of my own pastoral inadequacy. Yet, when I have seen a colleague in real trouble, that person has done something at least related to what this frightened manager has done. One who is in a moral dilemma with a parishioner or staff person generally seeks advice from one who has faced similar charges. One who has dealt with the stigma of being labeled "ineffective," calls on another who weathered that accusation. And, well, you get it, right? Doesn't that in some ways decrease the weight of the consultant's pastoral indiscretion, or the ineffectiveness of the one accused. You can now help me ride this out, so that boosts you from where you were. Cancels some of the debt?
Do we assume those who are consulted have not repented, have not reformed their ways, have not received God's forgiveness. I often hear colleagues say well, (s)he "beat the rap" and now (s)he is helping someone else "beat the rap."
Actually, who are we to judge. Perhaps, this rich man understood something we do not. We are stumbling, again, over that offending gospel logic that continucally trips us up. The way we would judge, is not the way God judges. The way we would write the final chapter, is not the way God would write it. We put exclamation points at the ends of our sentences and God often puts question marks? and ellipses....
So, if I cannot be trusted with that dishonest spiritual wealth I garner from my own human shrewdness, my own particular foibles, my personal mortal screw-ups, why should I be trusted with the honest wealth that comes from the Lord of Lords?
This blog/rumination may be my exegetical/theological Molly Bloom's soliloquy; yet, often I need to get in the mud pit with gospel verses and wallow around a bit. Fall down gasping. Pummel the air with my fists. When I do this with scripture, I always come out messy but smiling. Call it one of life's strange blessings?
2010-09-13 by Stephanie Sorge Wing
As usual, most of my thoughts ended up getting cut from the sermon, but if any are interested in reading the "final product," you can do so here:
Stephanie Sorge Wing; Forgiveness
2010-09-10 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to our guest blogger, who has provided many thought-provoking posts, including one that has some of the pericope-based liturgy that she wrote for Sunday. Stephen Schuette made a worthwhile contribution, too. Scroll down and splash around.
Finding the lost is beneficial for the lost but is also beneficial for those to whom the lost is restored, the 99 or the 9. My sermon will focus on this point. I hope to have my sermon up later today (Friday) at the Sermon Feedback Cafe.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Cost and Value
2010-09-09 by Stephanie Sorge Wing
Do you ever set out writing one sermon and finish with another? I'm still in writing/draft mode, but was surprised to find myself writing about "lost and found economics" - when the value of what is found far exceeds the actual cost.
It is budget time at our church, and I know we're not alone in having to make some difficult decisions. While we need to cut, we are also adding a youth program and bringing back a real and active mission focus - areas that are easy to cut in the budget, particularly because there is little return on investment. But all risks were taken, and no expense spared when the lost sheep and coin were sought. The celebrations that ensued likely cost more to put on than the value of either the coin or the sheep - hence, lost and found economics.
It might end up being a tangent that winds up on the editing room floor, but it is at least food for thought.
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