September 18, 2016

Sermon by The Reverend Christian J. Baron, 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, Luke 16:1-13

Good morning.

It seems, that each week, the male side of your co-rectorship, uses his preaching time as a short time for personal confession.

Sorry to make you endure that.

But, you should know this about me. Jodi and I went to seminary in Austin, TX.

It was a wonderful 3 years of being formed by a life of prayer, participating in chapel three times a day and forming friendships with priests and soon-to-be priests.

Now for the confession time.

There was a small group of us, that occasionally, would skip chapel and go for tacos. Or, we might skip an afternoon class and go to the pub across the street to try to cool off from the Texas heat with a cold beer. I know… shocking…. Well, there was a very pious student at our seminary… actually, there were a few, that were more disciplined. Almost all were better students. Most are better liturgists. Occasionally I’d get the better of somebody in class due to my quick wit or with passive aggression… But, of all the students at Seminary of the Southwest, in Austin Texas, I knew where to get the best tacos and where and when to find the best happy hour prices (Remember, I’m 110% Dutch). It was a spiritual gift of sorts.

But I remember one day after walking back onto campus with my good friend Rod… I probably had salsa in my beard… as the other students were walking out of the chapel, that extra pious student (who is a friend), slowly shook his head at us and wagged his finger. And he said, “As in seminary, so in life.” He was a former Roman Benedictine monk. The sentiment, of course, was that if we didn’t pay attention to our prayer life, if we skipped the daily office in seminary, then we wouldn’t be able to get that rhythm back after seminary. Though he was joking, I have thought about that a great deal in the past 3 and a half years. Mostly, I wonder, if that is, in fact, true, then I’m doing it wrong, because Northern Michigan doesn’t have nearly the taco options that Austin does. Although Elbert’s in Elberta has some good tacos.

I hope you got a laugh out of the story, we’ll come back to it later.

Today we were introduced to one of the most convoluted and tricky parables in the gospels. Experts agree that there isn’t much that they can agree upon when it comes to Luke 16:1-13. During our vestry meeting on Tuesday, we had to giggle, because the parable is really hard to follow.

If you are anything like me, perhaps some questions bubbled up as you listened to this sacred text, maybe you, like me, had problems in the text that surfaced in the form of wonderings. Some questions that came up for me are in what my preaching professor would refer to as “Theological Pitfalls”.

Is the manager in the text, in fact, dishonest and if so, is the rich man rewarding that manager for that dishonesty? If so, does that mean that God will reward us for our dishonesty?
In present day America, are the rich being rewarded because of their faithfulness to God? Are the poor also reaping what their faith dictates?

Is God angry? Maybe a better question for this pitfall is, “if I sin, is God going to get angry and disown me?

Though these pitfalls may be easy for us to walk around or build a bridge over, I’m aware of the fact that many people hold or are held by these theological pitfalls and the theological narrative that accompanies them.

I want to be overt on these three points because I’d like to avoid any of us falling in.

No to all three pitfalls.

God’s economy is based on love and compassion and kindness.

The accounting will not compute because Grace disrupts our human calculations and is incapable of being “balanced.”

God does not reward us financially for being good boys and girls nor does she punish us with poverty.

God doesn’t keep us healthy if we go to church or make us ill if we skip.

But you should still come to church just in case.

God is not angry with you because of sin. Anger is the wrong word. God, of course, does realize that our sin causes great damage and harm to relationships, but God’s emotion is that of pain and sorrow over our sin rather than anger.

And now that we have cleared the pitfalls, we can look at the passage free of those and let it speak to us.

If you think I have covered up pitfalls that should remain open, send me an e-mail and we can speak in person about God’s wrath or capitalism vs. God’s economy. I’m happy to do so.

I think that it is essential that with all theological conversations or biblical interpretations, that we start with the assumption that God is good and that God loves humans and all of his creation. If we don’t start there, then we will end up speaking different languages and run into great confusion.

Maybe we can work together on this difficult parable.

The word economy roughly means, “how we manage our house.” What is valued, what is exchanged, how do we reward others for work.

I’m sure that some here would like to nuance that definition a bit, but you get my point. What are some things that comprise God’s economy? Do you have some words that could describe how God manages her house?

Grace, love, forgiveness, justice, peace.

When the King of the Kingdom rules with these kinds of values. With this kind of economy, it builds bridges rather than walls. It welcomes rather than turns away. It rejoices when justice is present and it makes room for error. It forgives. It doesn’t hold grudges. It speaks from a place of kindness, which confers dignity upon all friends and neighbors… and enemies.

And, if this is true… if these are the ways that God manages his house. If this is the economy of God’s kingdom, then we can read this gospel text in a different way.

If God has indeed entrusted us with a great deal of power then we need to acknowledge that those things that God’s economy is based on, are never-ending…they will NEVER run out!

But, Humans trade and care about the finite commodities like olive oil and wheat, coffee and gold. We hoard it, over indulge, we exclude, the haves get more and the have-nots go without… while it is true that God also cares about these things, they are not the base for his economy.
Because those commodities have limits and are finite, humans will always compete to get them… Whereas God deals in the commodities of relationship. God cares about connecting, which are infinite…limitless.

And when an economy isn’t based on a finite commodity, but instead is based on an infinite commodity, like love, charity, kindness, justice, peace, forgiveness… Because the creator of those good things is divine, then those things can be used accordingly.

Then the manager can see that what the rich man has is endless. The manager comes to his senses in a way and decides to make the accounts right. He decides to settle the books, for the rich man, now while he is still in charge.

Perhaps, if God is the Rich Man, then the rich man is happy that the manager because he has settled these debts.
Perhaps he is pleased because he, in fact, needs the manager or at least chooses to need him.
Perhaps he has several managers that he counts on to carry out his work.

And, if that is the case, then it doesn’t look good for the rich man to have lingering debt out there. It isn’t good for his name or for the people who work on his land. Perhaps the rich man truly sees his manager and those who work on his land…. As his partners.

Cooperating… for a common cause and purpose for all to flourish.

And when the rich man, who truly holds the power and authority… because it IS his land…. is willing to share that power. Then it matters how his relationships play out. It matters if those who work his land suffer… It matters if they can eat and if their children are hungry… if their children suffer.

That’s nice, right? The rich man cares… about his manager… and about those who are managed.

The rich man cares…. Our God cares. About us…

Remember, our God is good and loves us… look at your neighbor… That’s good news neighbor… Our God loves us.

But… we can’t forget that our God has a deep sense of justice. The deepest sense of justice. Boundless.. A sense of justice that encompasses all and that is the great leveler. God’s justice flattens hills and straightens curves. It puts the wind at our backs and refuses to compromise.

And so, St Philip’s Beulah.

As citizens of the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and as a member of a small parish in a resort community, how are we to hear these verses: “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.”

Ugh… how do we hear those verses?

I’ll tell you. As half of your co-rectorship… your new priest… I have seen unbelievable generosity within our midst. I have seen you be very faithful with your things and with how you manage your house. As you manage God’s house.

You may have examples of ways that we have mismanaged this house or examples that we should be embarrassed by… but I think that you have done amazing things in Benzie County.

I think that you… that we… can be proud of the way in which we have managed this house.

And yet… there is injustice… global injustice…. Racial injustice particularly in America right now… injustice and inequity in our county… and even injustice inside of our own house… our own parish… And so I ask you… what can we do?

What do we do with those last two sentences? How do we measure ourselves against those verses? How can we… as individuals… as a parish… as a country…. Take a step closer to justice? Take a step deeper inside of the Kingdom of God?

I’d like to tell you, that after a great deal of thought… about my friend’s comments about my tacos and my happy hours… and about my chapel discipline… that he was wrong. He was dead wrong.

Because the whole point of a living faith… the whole point of life, in general, is that we can change… You and I can change. We will change.

We will go through times of consolation and desolation… We will go through times of intense discipline… and times of less faithful discipline.

We can change and we can help make change.

We live in a world in which injustice is prevalent. In some ways, we are passive participants… In some ways we are victims… in some ways we are perpetrators…

But our God is good… and our God loves us… and our God calls us to personally change and to carry out change in our spheres of influence.

So if you have not been faithful with the little things… you get another shot… Today.

You and I get a chance to be faithful… today with the rich man’s things. We get a do-over as we manage… our relationships… our money… our power… our authority… St Philip’s… Let us make it so.
Amen.