Monday, 29 July 2013
Sermon July 28, 2013 Ninth after Trinity Luke 16: 1
I think I must be doing penance this morning for some past sin that I don’t know about. The Gospel reading today is not one that is the easiest to preach on. The lesson from this parable of Jesus - the parable of the dishonest steward as it is often called – seems to be giving us a perverse message. The steward who is about to be dismissed with cause (in today’s jargon) decides he is going to assure his future by conspiring with his customers to defraud his master. He carries out this fraud quite successfully by discounting the bills of the customers. A hundred measures of oil now become fifty. A hundred measures of wheat become eighty.
This sets the scene. What we expect at this point is that Jesus is going to condemn the steward for his dishonesty and condemn the customers for their complicity in the conspiracy. However, what do we have Jesus telling us? To our shock we have Jesus commending the dishonest steward. Jesus holds him up as an example of how the children of light – his followers - should behave. You almost expect him to start to walk away after this set up and shout ‘April Fools – just kidding’. But he doesn’t. He leaves this lesson intact. He leaves it for us ‘Children of Light’ to ponder and wonder, ‘What was he thinking!’- definitely followed by an exclamation point or two or three.It would be as if Jesus returned on a cloud of glory and landed in the middle of Wall Street and proclaimed that those bankers and financiers responsible for the economic collapse five years ago which caused untold hardship throughout the western world should be our role models.
It is as if Gordon Gekko the financier in the movie Wall Street who proclaimed as his creed ‘greed is good’ has been elevated to one of Jesus’ apostles.It is tempting to look for a way to avoid the difficult passages in the bible such as this one or when God orders the Israelites to commit genocide on the people on the way to the Promised Land. There are many other examples of such difficult passages that don’t fit with our view of God and Jesus as his Son who is usually upholding Love as the guiding principle of the universe. There is a tradition in Jewish interpretation of scripture that holds it is not the truth of the interpretation that sanctifies the work – it is the struggle to understand it. If that is the case this passage certainly does lend itself to sanctification. It requires a great deal of struggle to understand what Jesus is telling us.
With that said let continue to struggle with this most perplexing passage. When looking at parables, the lesson – the punch line - is always important to consider. What is Jesus trying to teach us with this story? In my reading the message seems to center around the comparison Jesus makes between the Children of Light and the children of this age. He tells us that the steward acted with prudence and that the children of this age are more prudent than the children of light. Certainly there was a difference between the people in Jesus culture and the followers of Jesus. Jesus certainly did criticize the approach that the leaders of his age took to how the people should live. The Sabbath was no longer for people. They were teaching that people were made for the Sabbath. The leaders criticized him for healing on the Sabbath rather than praising God for the miracle of healing. In effect they were making a god of the rules rather rules being a way to bring people closer to God.That has not changed to any great respect today. Our world seems be moving in the direction of secularism to a greater and greater extent. So is there anything that we as Children of Light can learn from the children of this age? Perhaps Jesus is telling us that we should take a lead from how dedicated and committed people can be in the secular world. A young woman I know and her husband are both lawyers who have worked on Bay Street. She is currently at home with their daughter but when she was working at a law firm I was amazed at the number of ‘billable hours’ they were expected to work. They received significant remuneration for very long hours of work. Another example comes from the small town I live in where I was the parish priest before I retired. The secular God of that culture is hockey. Most of the kids are focused on competitive hockey. They put in an amazing amount of time dedicated to the game – many of which seem to occur Sunday mornings. The family spends many weekends travelling to tournaments. They are expected to give hockey the priority in their lives. When they sign up for the season they are expected to make what could be called a covenant that they will be at every practice and every game. If they miss too many they are off the team. I often wondered what it would be like if we put those kind of expectations for attending Sunday School. Of course that would mean putting the same kind of resources into Christian Education as people put into hockey. A final example is from an article I read recently about amateur bike racers. These were not world class racers who were in training for top class competition. These were week-end warriors who competed against others like them. They spent thousands of dollars on their bikes and the accessories. They train in serious way. Winning was so important to them that there was even a culture of doping.
To quote from the article: “Something rational is lost when one joins the religious order of serious amateur cyclists. Self-worth is measured against how thoroughly one thrashes others in the same cloistered sect. The outside world shrinks, dims and disappears. In this context, regardless of how meager the stakes seem to those on the outside, cheating becomes about the survival of the self”. Notice the religious language that is used ‘religious order’, ‘cloistered sect’.Perhaps that is something that we Children of Light can learn from the children of this age. Not that we should use dope to succeed or work such long hours that home life is next to impossible. What is described is life’s purpose gone badly off course. Rather, the sense of giving our all – being fully committed to something in our lives is what we can strive for. We should give all we can in leading the lives that God desires for us to lead. Lives that are balanced and focused on our families as well as our careers; lives that give to others as well as to ourselves; lives that will let the world as the ancient hymn say ‘know we are Christians by our love’.
The bottom line is what god do we serve? Is it the god of success in our culture? Is it the god of hockey or and other activity or the god of mammon or the god of winning at any price? Or is it the one true God who is our creator and redeemer? Thou shalt have no other god before me. That commandment hold true today as much as it did when it was delivered to Moses and when Jesus walked among us. Amen.