We had a very fine meeting today, getting our heads together about what kind of leaders we need to start this new congregation here in Brockton -- this new congregational LIFE in Brockton.
My role model of the moment is Frances Willard, social gospel organizer extraordinary, whose motto was, "Do Everything." If we are going to bring about new life on Pleasant Street, we DO need to do everything, and do it more or less at the same time. New congregational life, and new social outreach.
How can we fail, as Desmond Tutu used to say, when the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are on our side?
Here' are two sermons: one about MONEY and one about BLUEBERRIES.
Proper 20 C 9/23/2007
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 Psalm 79 1 Timothy 2:1-7 Luke 16:1-13
So, what is your vote on the governor’s casino proposal? Is he the shrewd dishonest manager, commended by the master? The one who hopes to make friends for himself by means of dishonest wealth?
Who knows what is the right side to take on that casino issue, and today’s gospel lesson is similarly hard to understand. One thing is certain, though: the Gospels talk a lot about economics. Jesus cares how we use our money.
One other certain thing about the bible: it’s written from the perspective of the people on the bottom of the heap, people for whom money is a real concern because they do not have much – people for whom freedom, or comfort, or security are real concerns, because their lives are so precarious.
A line from the Jeremiah reading brings to mind a familiar old spiritual: There is a balm in
Like those spirituals with their layers of meaning, the parables of Jesus often don't make sense to our modern ears. The gospel as we have it today contains stories about Jesus passed down to the community of faith, stories then retold and reshaped by the evangelists. And so, the gospel also tells us something about the experience of people of faith in the first century. Life was not easy for them; they were persecuted by other Jews or the Roman authorities, and they believed that the End was coming literally within their own lifetimes. Consequently, they added to the gospel a sense of urgency, of the immediate coming of Judgment Day: a crisis. Each parable is told within a situation of conflict in the life of Jesus, conflicts with Roman or Jewish authorities or with people who do not believe what he has to say. Jesus' responds to the challenge or conflict with a parable: a story that makes people stop and think.
Here is the setting: The socially unacceptable tax collectors and sinners are gathered around Jesus to hear him teach; the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about this Jew who lowers himself to be with those people. First he tells the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin (which we read last week), then the story of the Prodigal Son, and then, today's story, the parable of the dishonest steward. As he tells each story, Jesus raises the stakes. The conflict escalates. When Jesus delivers the moral of the story, "You cannot serve God and wealth," Luke tells us, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this and they ridiculed him." Jesus knows who his audience is, friendly and hostile, and he uses the hostility as a foil for teaching, as a set-up to show the faithful how to make decisions when the Judgment Day is at hand.
The dishonest manager cuts some corners and satisfies everyone as best he can. He is in a time of crisis; the Day of Judgment is at hand, and he acts decisively (and saves his neck).
Jesus makes the connection between this bold decisiveness (or "creative bookkeeping") and the boldness and imagination that the
This unsettling story presents several "morals" tacked on at the end of it. After the master has commended the dishonest manager we read, "For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." Are we to think, therefore, that since we live in this age, before the coming of the kingdom of heaven, that we should be as sleazy as the steward? When in
The next one is quite odd: "Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes." That sounds a lot like buying indulgences, or paying your way into heaven with someone else's money.
The third interpretation talks about honesty, faithfulness and trustworthiness, which are tested by the manager's use of the rich man's resources: the accounts squared up for the master, no matter how unethical the means by which the steward balanced the books.
But finally, the real message of this parable is revealed: no servant can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and money. We are called, through this peculiar story, to choose between God and devotion to profit and gain. We live where we live: in an unscrupulous world, and so the example of the crooked steward who is shrewd and resourceful with his master's goods is appropriate teaching for us as we wrestle with our crises of life and faith, as we come to terms with the daily decisions between right and wrong, as we struggle with how to use God's resources rightly in the service of others and to God's honor and glory.
Proper 19 C 9/16/2007
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 Psalm 14 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Luke 15:1-10
In Blueberries for Sal, a little girl and her mother, and a little bear cub and her mother, climb a mountain to gather berries. Both mothers are dutiful and systematic berry-gatherers, while both children are easily distracted, would rather sit and chomp than follow mom, and surprisingly find themselves following the other mother. Both mothers are shocked, dumbfounded, to turn around to check on the little muncher and discover a creature not only not her own, but not even her own species. A panicked hunt ensues, both children are found, and each family pair goes relievedly, and peacefully, on their way. Sal’s mother, and the bear’s mother, were both like the shepherd in Jesus’ parable: persistent and diligent in finding the one that was lost. But to me, a bear is not a particularly attractive metaphor for a shepherd. When I see a bear, I would just as soon they were NOT persistent or diligent in finding ME.
When Jesus told these parables, neither the shepherd nor the poor woman were particularly attractive figures to use as protagonists of these stories. Neither were commonly held up as exemplary or virtuous figures. Jews and Romans did not see eye to eye on many things, but they did agree that shepherds were not to be trusted. People who had to make their living as shepherds, or tax-collectors, or donkey-drivers or peddlers, were considered necessary but shady characters. They worked on the margins of society, where breaking the law was almost inevitable. How could you trust a shepherd NOT to graze his sheep in someone else’s pasture?
Yet as Jesus tells it, the shepherd is not only the hero of the story; the shepherd gets to play the part of God. God loves the world the way the shepherd loves all his sheep – you can hear the jaws drop like iron when Jesus tells this one. Of course, the sheep love the shepherd, just as the baby bear loves her mother, but I wouldn’t want to get found by a bear, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get mothered by one. But that is just what Jesus says: God loves us like a shepherd, no matter how scrawny, smelly or disobedient we are, no matter how deep the ditch we have fallen into, the shepherd God will look for us, find us, and bring us home.
The hero of the second parable is an even more shocking character to Jesus’ listeners, for she is a woman – a lowly, ordinary, poor woman – and she represents God. God is a poor woman who has lost one coin out of the ten she has. When she finally founds the lost money, she throws a party for all her friends. The point of the story is not her unwearied search, nor her housekeeping abilities, “but simply and solely the joy of finding what was lost. As the shepherd rejoices over the lamb brought home, and the woman over her recovered [coin], so will God rejoice”[i] when God finds us, too.
God wants us, and God won’t give up. It’s not about being perfect that God wants, or being self-sufficient, or getting out our Global Positioning System. It’s when we’ve got nothing, when we’re last, least, little, lonely and lost, that God comes and finds us.
God has been at this a long time. The passage from the prophet Jeremiah is bleak indeed, a picture of desolation and desertion. The poem is a reverse of creation – every piece of what God had done is undone, the void returns, the birds are silent, the earth is barren, the very creatures created in the image of God – human beings – choose evil over good. God is angry, so angry that God seems ready to throw in the towel on all of us.
It’s a tough world. It’s tough to read the newspapers daily, or watch the reports from
But God, that persistent shepherd, that diligent woman, tries again. A few chapters later in Jeremiah, God is pleading with the people of
God doesn’t give up on us, doesn’t stop looking. It’s not when we think we have it all together, when we’re powerful and in charge and in control, but when we are lost – really lost – with nothing left to lose – last, least, little, lonely and lost – that God finds us and brings us home.
[i] Jeremias, p. 107