Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20 Year C, September 18, 2022
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Last weekend Rob and I were on staff at a Cursillo weekend, which is a renewal weekend of the church, much like the Methodist’s Walk to Emmaus. It was Great fun. Wonderful people.
When I came back, a good friend asked me how was it? I replied that I Haven’t laughed that much in years, and I haven’t cried so much in years. The Cursillo weekend stretches participants to talk about their faith journey and to recognize just how God is working in our lives.
Cursillo helps us find a supportive community and then encourages us to build community for Christ.
Generally, people come to Cursillo who’ve been active in the church, but they can be in all kinds of different places in their spiritual lives. One guy at Cursillo this past weekend was in a place in his life where he had LOTS of questions: Questions about the church, about priests, about bible stories, about the ancient Mediterranean world when Jesus lived, about theology.
My friend, The Rev. David Meginniss, was another priest on our staff at this Cursillo—he’s been ordained much longer than I. Starting the first night and repeating each day of the retreat, he’d say, we spiritual directors are here for you—let us know if you’d like to talk. Even if you think your questions are simple, come see me. If you have hard questions, theological ones, ask Polly.
Most folks knew that David was joking. The guy with LOTS of questions didn’t get the joke. At meals and free time, he’d find me. And truthfully, I loved it. “One last question,” he said at lunch on our last day… Why did Jesus talk so much about money?
He’d made a good observation. Money was not at all what we were talking about at Cursillo, in fact the opposite was true. But this question was bugging him: Why is it that money is the topic in 11 of the 39 parables Jesus tells? That’s about a third! So I begin explaining that Jesus used illustrations in his teaching that the people could relate to. He used wheat and grain, sheep and farming—as the people lived in an agrarian society. Agriculture was common to them.
Jesus also used food to illustrate his points, the fig tree, salt, bread, water, wine. Our need for food, the joy of sharing meals, the worry over having enough, this is common to all people.
The same is true for money. Jesus talks about money because it is something we deal with regularly. We need Money to survive, plain and simple. We like money because it allows us to enjoy some extraordinary parts of this life. We also hold on to it for security, some hold on to it for power—Many of us have more than enough.
Jesus knows this. We can’t hide the truth.
Some go so far as to see money, wealth, as a Sign of God’s favor. We hear this in the Old Testament – Abraham sees all that he is given as gift from God for his obedience. Generations later God’s favor is again explained to the people, as they leave the desert for the promised land
They hear …”For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10 You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied… then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”
All gifts come from God. Yes, this is true. Yet, this alone is a Slippery slope…we must also remember the Old Testament teaches us that wealth is an obligation.
The Deuteronomic Code is clear—
7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8 You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9 Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
I promise you I didn’t quote the bible at this man, we were having a conversation and he was digging it. I explained what we are taught in scripture and then how all the prophets address the cruel economic practices in kingdom—where the wealthy hold on to their wealth and speak of the poor as if they deserve to be poor.
As a man of the Hebrew tradition, Jesus joins in this chorus; he speaks a diatribe, criticizing the rich because they have forgotten their obligation. He teaches from the Deuteronomic code at the dinner table, in Bethany, when he says, “the poor will always be with you.” He doesn’t need to finish the lesson, the people know it says so you must always “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Jesus tells the people what they need to hear…. Riches belong to the transient things of this world— riches are subject to decay.
Each Sunday we open our worship with a prayer called the collect—The collect of the day essentially captures the day’s theme, the things the lessons will talk about. Today’s collect I read again at the start of this sermon says help us, Lord, to hold fast to things that endure, not things passing away.
Help us to be rich towards you God, riches that do not decay.
Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager, to make this very point:
It is an odd parable.
It is the story of a wily steward who “cooks the books,” as we say.
It is odd because the crooked manager gets to be the good guy.
We hear that this manager is called to account by the landowner, for squandering the landowner’s property, and he is going to be is fired. Before the word gets out to everyone that he’s lost his job, this crafty guy decides he has to find a way to save his skin. He decides to make good with all those he’s managed for years. He meets with each person who owes the landowner money, and He cuts them a deal.
This dishonest manager is no dummy. He will soon be out of a job, He’ll have nowhere to turn.
In the end, strangely, The master commends his dishonest manager….for his shrewdness.
If that’s not surprising enough, then Jesus ends the story, saying “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.”
Just so you know….Scholars have argued just what this parable means for—-ever.
Some have even wondered if Luke got the whole story straight. The passage doesn’t end here, either;
Why does Jesus talk about money? Here Jesus answers this, as it is the crux of the matter:
“No one can serve two masters; for you will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
One of the central insights we must take away from Jesus’ teaching is about reversal:
Turning our precepts upside down.
As the theologian Walter Brueggeman put it, Jesus simply says, “letting go is to have and keeping is the way to lose.”
You will recall Jesus says, “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
He said, “Blessed are the poor, Blessed are you when people hate you.”
Luke’s gospel begins with Mary proclaiming about God,
“You have put down the mighty from their thrones. You have scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. You have lifted up the lowly.”
All of this reversal must capture our notice.
Next week we’ll read the parable of Lazarus, another wonderful story of reversal—Lazarus is a man who had nothing on earth—this should indicate that he was living a life of sin, a life not blessed by God—but he is the one in heaven who the rich man is begging for help.
We need to understand our gospel is about reversal because we live in a world where we hear over and over “Look how God has blessed you, you have so much.”
And because we feel blessed,
And we should hold this lightly, remembering there is an obligation too
As in the parable of the dishonest manager
Your wealth will rot, so use it now, to assist the poor, to bring kingdom of God.
Our wealth brings us opportunity to affect change. The man who was the manager, holding the fate of all those who owed money to the master, finds his world turned upside down.
He realizes the kingdom of God isn’t exclusive it is interdependent.
He learns that those lower down on the social ladder than himself as part of God’s kingdom and not just part, but they are the very ones he will depend upon to welcome him into the kingdom. This parable is not about exonerating the misdeeds of the dishonest steward, but letting God use him for kingdom.
This wily manager can show us how we also may let God open our eyes, examine our hearts, and helped us be creative with our power and our wealth, to be single minded in serving God. We are here on earth amongst things that are passing away—our riches are transient things of this world.
We pray that God will help us to hold fast to those things that shall endure—a richness toward God.