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Sermon: September 22, 2019

Proper 20 – 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 account 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.’

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 account 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.’

This is a particularly difficult parable.  At every turn of the story Jesus tells, it seems that the dishonest manager is being praised.  He’s cheating his boss, reducing the money that’s owed by the property owner’s debtors.  It’s a shrewd move, when you think about it.  This manager is about to lose his job.  Then what was he to do to provide for his family.  Maybe he wouldn’t be able to find another job.  After all, once you’ve been accused of squandering the bosses’ property, who’s going to hire you.

Can you imagine the fear this man faced?  All from an accusation.  On the one hand, what this manager did was something that would allow him to provide for his family.  What would you do if you were faced with a similar situation?

This manager was setting up his security.  He saw the end of his employment was just around the corner.  His bills would mount up in no time and he had no security.  He did what he needed to do in order to provide for his family. Perhaps the parable is speaking about the manager who is pushing against an unfair system that kept poor people poor. It’s a common theme in the Gospel of Luke.  Right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, he returns from his time in the desert and reads from the scroll of Isaiah words that set up his entire ministry. Jesus was about to turn the status quo upside down.  

To hear this particular parable as a call to disrupt systems that are designed to favor the rich and to keep the poor poor makes a ton of sense.  And I think this parable is doing so much more than simply calling for a disruption of corrupt economic systems.

They were the keepers of the story.  Managing the treasury, the people trusted them, looked to them for leadership.  But something had changed.  The Pharisees had lost their vision of what they were supposed to be doing.  Now the wealth they managed was controlling them. Even more than that, they’d been entrusted with this role for so long that they’d become complacent.  Jesus may have been addressing the disciples with this parable, but the Pharisees were there to hear it as well.

There’s a clue that the Pharisees might be the ones who were meant to hear this particular parable.  It turns up in verse 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 their eternal homes.”

This is one of those times when our Bible translations don’t do us any favors.  You see, that final word “homes” that we read in our NRSV translation, isn’t translated accurately.  Rather, it translates more accurately to “tents”.  “They may welcome you into their eternal tents.”

Tents.  Doesn’t carry nearly the sense of stability that “homes” does, does it?  Jesus isn’t promising the kind of stability that we often seek.  What are the images that come to mind when you hear the word, “home”?

What do you think of when you hear the word, “tent”?

Not nearly as stable.  A tent is the dwelling place of someone who wanders.  Refugee camps are scattered with tents that house those who have no home.  Pilgrims dwell in tents, precisely because they are portable.

There’s something else I know about tents.  They don’t hold too much.  Even the largest ones are still much smaller than what we think of as home.  That means you can’t carry a lot of stuff with you.  So, if you have a lot of stuff and you decide to live in a tent, well, you have to get rid of a lot.  And maybe the main thing we need to get rid of is our belief that wealth and stuff bring security and stability.

The Pharisees had gotten so used to managing the wealth of the treasury, so used to the power of being seen as leaders, that they’d lost sight of the vision of God that they had at the beginning.  They were resting into the security and stability of managing the very things that were now possessing them.  Rather than serving God, now they’d become the servants of the treasury.

This parable is asking us where we find our security?  What is it that helps us to feel like we’re stable?  

Are we able to hear God’s voice in the midst of all that we are responsible for?  Have we, like the Pharisees, lost our vision of God and our sense of God’s purpose for our very lives?

The manager in today’s parable is getting rid of stuff.  He may be pushing against a corrupt system in order to provide stability for himself and for his family.  But, if you go back to the original language, the stability he’s going to achieve is a tent. The dwelling of a pilgrim.

People who are on a pilgrimage are not sight-seers or tourists.  They have a very specific goal.  They are searching to see God’s presence in new situation and new places.  Pilgrims are reconnecting with God.  Pilgrims are seeking to listen to God, to capture a new vision of God, to hear anew God’s call for their lives.

This parable is a call to action.  To become a pilgrim once again.  It’s a call to renew our relationship with God.  To reclaim our identity as Children of God.   To see who we are in relation to God and to work to reveal the Kingdom of God that is within us and beyond us.

It was a beautiful fall day.  The sky was a brilliant blue.  The late summer flowers were in bloom.  The cars and the people were lined up.  Conversations were bubbling up and down the line.  In front of the firetruck bays, a group of children ran and played in the empty space.  “How are you doing today,” I asked.  “It’s a great day!” came the response.  The line was long as it always is and some folks had been there for a long time.  They’d come prepared with boxes and wagons and portable chairs for this time of waiting.

Inside the firehall buzzed with activity as food was laid out, ready to be chosen and taken to a new home.  Signs were being posted all along the tables.  The Non-Snap tables were set up with a space for the Faith in Femininity to occupy.  

As we opened the doors and the line began to filter through, young people pitched in to carry boxes growing heavy with frozen meat, cabbage, chick peas, split peas, and navy beans.  The joy in that space was unmistakable.  It was a thin space.  A space where the division between heaven and earth was very thin. You could feel the presence of God in all who gathered around those tables.

It didn’t take long for the food stock to dwindle. Late in the day when almost nothing was left, there at the door stood a young couple with a stroller.  A three-week-old baby and his parents had arrived, not late but too late for much of anything to be left.  It was my honor to meet them here at St. Jude’s and to help them to find some groceries in our pantry.

They’d never had to use a food pantry before and they were unsure of what to expect or what to do.  They’d tripped over an advertisement for our food give-away on a Holly Facebook post.  It said the give-away was from 9 – 11 or until all the food was gone.  They’d arrived around 10 thinking that should be okay. 

As they left, loaded with groceries and diapers, they were incredibly thankful for all they’d received.  I was left wishing there was something more we could have done, angry at a system that placed this young couple full of dreams in this position. They were working but their employment wasn’t enough to provide.  They were lacking stability and security.  And they found us.  Our ears here at St. Jude’s are always tuned to listen for God’s call for our congregation. To hear how it is that God is calling us to work towards revealing God’s Kingdom here in the greater Fenton area.

It’s deliberate work.  Stepping away from all that tries to control us and making time to reconnect with God, to listen for God’s voice and God’s vision, is important. It shields us from becoming complacent.

In today’s world it’s easy to become disheartened. To look at all the need in the world and forget that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead.  Resurrection that didn’t just bring new life to Jesus. That new life is available to each and every one of us today.  Right now. Right here.  And not just today.  Every single day.  Every single moment of every single day.

We are people of the resurrection.  We have already found new life in Jesus!  We’ve been made new in the waters of baptism!    As children of God we find our identity in Jesus!  We find our stability and our security in knowing who God is for us and knowing who we are in God!  We are pilgrims and we live for something much bigger than ourselves.  We live, knowing that the goal we strive towards is the Kingdom of God.  And we know that we can and do experience the Kingdom of God every day of our lives.

All we have to do is to be open to see and experience the presence of God in the here and the now.  And we step back from the pressures of life and listen.  Listen for God’s voice which will continue to be revealed to us in the thin spaces of life. 

We are pilgrims, you and I.  And as we journey through this life together, we are always keeping an eye out for God.  

I wonder, where will you experience the presence of God this week?