Sunday, September 19, 2010

“How Dishonest Can We Be?”

Amos 8:4-7
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds

1 Timothy 2:1-7
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all —
this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Luke 16:1-13
Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 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.
Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave 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."

A Message from the Pastor
The parable in today’s gospel reading is challenging and confusing. It is difficult to understand.

The manager has been “found out” by his boss. The manager has been squandering, or reckless with, his master’s property. Obviously, the boss has lost some of his property. People have reported this to the master. He came to the manager, asked for an accounting and terminated him with a grace period.

The manager is devastated. He appears to be at his wits’ end. He is not strong enough to do physical labor. He is too proud to beg. So, he comes up with the scheme of talking to the debtors of his boss and getting them to reduce the amount owed to the master. In one case, it is reduced 50 jugs of olive oil. In another situation, it is 20 containers of wheat. The master does not condemn the manager but commends him for his shrewdness.

Now, in all of Jesus’ parables, the master, lord, ruler, king, or owner of property represents God. The challenge and difficulty, then, is that God is commending a dishonest person. (However, we need to remember that the master is not condemning this latest action, but the fact that he squandered the master’s property.)

To help us understand what Jesus is saying, we need to remember the stories before and after this parable. Last week, if we remember, the influential businessmen and attorneys identified Jesus as “the fellow who welcomes low-life and eats with them.” Jesus responded to this comment by telling them three parables. We heard the first two last week when he talked about repentance and the 100 sheep and the 10 coins, when one of each is lost. The third parable was about the Prodigal Son. We heard that story during Lent.

If you remember, the Prodigal Son was devastated and at his wits' end when he found himself in a pig sty eating the slop of the pigs. The Prodigal Son remembered, then, that his father’s slaves were treated better than he was and he headed for home.

Next week, the scriptures will be about Jesus being reminded that the Pharisees were lovers of money and he told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was suffering in Hades and Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man was devastated and at his wits' end. He wanted someone to return to his brothers and let them know how they were to act toward those in poverty.

There are parallels in these three parables. As noted all three principal characters were at their wits’ ends. Nothing was working the way they wanted it. They were struggling for survival. The Prodigal Son returned to his father as a slave. The manager forgave debts of the master’s debtors. The rich man could not experience forgiveness in any form. (That’s something for us to think about in our life as Christians and consider where forgiveness fits in to our responses to life.) Secondly, the main characters responded to life in the world. The Prodigal Son squandered his inheritance with high living in low places. The manager squandered his master’s property. The rich man kept his worldly goods for himself. In addition, they began to think differently because of trying circumstances and experiences. Both the Prodigal Son and the manager acted shrewdly to survive.

In the case of today’s parable, Jesus reflected on this shrewdness and indicated that the people of the world act more shrewdly than people of God. It’s something to think about.

Jesus is also saying that we are not isolated. We don’t come to worship on Sundays and separate that experience from the experience of our daily life in the world . Karl Barth, a renown theologian of the middle Twentieth Century, suggested that followers of Jesus need to carry a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. (Today we would include television, the internet, web sites, and blogs.) So, let’s look at this morning’s paper and consider how we live in the world, yet are not of the world.

The major headline refers to hoarding. It is a mental disorder for some people. The headline draws our attention to the article. Yet, when we read the article, we find it is more about the reality show on A&E and the local person who assisted in its production, and less about the actual mental illness of hoarding. Is that shrewdness on the part of the newspaper that we should model or is it deception. Where is God in all this?

The next article, on the front page, talks about the possibility that the oil spill off the coast is finally over. The leak is “dead.” What do we think about that as children of the light, living as an oil dependent nation and the possible need to protect our earth, along with the people who gain a livelihood from the ocean? Has BP been shrewd or has it focused only on material wealth. Should there be condemnation similar to Amos’ comments to the people of Israel. (History has demonstrated that when nations become wealthy and powerful, they ignore those in need, those marginalized, and those who are outcasts.) Where is God in all this?

In an inside article, we read about the Pope’s visit to England, where protests continue to arise. In addition, we read about the assassination attempt of the Pope. The Pope has entered a protestant/secular nation. He is the first Pope to worship at Westminster Abbey. His message is heard by Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, John Majors, and Gordon Brown, current and previous prime ministers. While the Pope does not say that the nation should combine church and state, he does suggest that faith is necessary in secular dialogue. He also meets with Muslims and Jews and mentions that we need to be respectful of others’ religious views. Is this a shrewdness that Jesus is talking about? Is this how we are to live in the world while not being of the world? Where is God in all this?

When all is said and done, Jesus reminded his disciples that if we can’t handle the small things, how can we handle the important issues? If we can’t deal shrewdly with dishonest wealth, how can we deal with eternal issues?

And finally, however we respond in the world, we need to remember that we cannot serve worldly wealth, which is what the world is all about, and God. Life in this world is about God, not about us or others.

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