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?

Sunday Sermon
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.

Focusing on Luke
2010-09-09 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

In our service, we typically have two readings before the sermon.  I have chosen to use the readings from 1Timothy and Luke.  I usually try to include an Old Testament Passage, but decided this morning to focus on the Epistle, and primarily the Gospel reading.  The title I have given for my sermon in the bulletin is "A Good Excuse to Party!"  I am really drawn to the images of extravagance and celebration in these two parables, and want to highlight that.  Thinking of my local context, we also will have those celebrating a 50th reunion of a high school class, and the celebration of welcoming new members into the church.  Yesterday we also observed a celebration of the life of the husband of our of our church members - a celebration of different sorts, but a celebration nonetheless.  He had been on dialysis for 14 years, but passed away rather suddenly following emergency surgery for appendicitis.  Family and friends gathered from across the country, and after the graveside service, we all went back to the family farm, where there was more food laid out than I have ever seen at one time.  It filled four rooms of the house!  Just a foretaste of the heavenly banquet...

Charles Cousar reminds us of the context in which our Luke passage appears.  The last few weeks, we have read in Luke calls to repentance and the cost of discipleship.  The stories of the lost sheep, lost coin, and Prodigal Son (not included in the Lectionary pericope) almost throw the weight the other way, reminding us again of God's extravagant mercy.  Though mention is made about the joy in heaven "over one sinner who repents," Cousar points out:: "the stories are not primarily calls to repentance.  Sheep and coins can't repent.  The image of a merciful and joyful God completely overshadows any interest in the behavior or remorse of the lost creatures."  (Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV, eds. Charles B. Cousar, Bevery R. Gaventa, J. Clinton McCann, James D. Newsome, Westminster John Knox, 1994).

In each of these 3 stories (sheep, coin, son), the God character engages in some risky and foolish (according to some standards) behavior.  The shepherd leaves 99 sheep alone in the wilderness in order to find just one - that's a big gamble.  I wonder about the value of the lamp oil used by the woman to find the coin compared to the value of the coin itself.  The celebrations over finding the lost coin and lost sheep probably cost considerably more than either the sheep or the coin were worth.  Can you imagine the reaction of the friends and neighbors, being invited to such a celebration?  So, you found a sheep - you endangered 99!  So you found a coin, which you probably would have found eventually, anyways.  It seems silly, and foolish.  Thinking back to the passages from Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14, the apparent foolishness is indeed true wisdom - God's wisdom, that celebrates when relationships are made right, and when we are reconciled once again to our creator.

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