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Last Sunday's Sermon: The Shrewd Manager

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I apologize for being late with this post.  I just returned from visiting my son in North Carolina.  It was a very good visit.

The Gospel

Luke 16:1-13

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."

The Sermon

 Let me give a brief summary of this story. The rich man finds out that his manager is squandering the rich man's property. He tells the manager he is fired and as a last act the manager decides to at least win the good will of the community and reduces the debt of the people who owe the rich man money. The rich man gets wind of the deals the manager is making and praises the manager for his shrewdness.

There are several ways to look at this parable from today's perspective. Lets put ourselves in the place of the steward. We have been given life by God and we are expected to manage our life well. We are charged to look after not only ourselves but also others and in reality, all of God's creation. We are to be stewards of this planet for a short time and then our end will come. God will require an accounting of what we have done and it would be in our best interest to make a positive report. It would be far better for us to use good judgment in the management of Gods creation rather than waiting until we are near the end of our time and then try and fix things as the manager in our story did.

And, sometimes good stewardship means not always taking the safe route. I was looking at another interpretation of this reading and I found this passage.

Our society often prizes safety over welcome, fear over compassion, division over unity. We are sometimes too often willing to sacrifice love, compassion, and caring on the altar of safety. But God insistently and consistently points towards the good, and good is not always safe.
Jesus in his life and ministry chose always to do the good at the risk of being safe.
  • Safe says, “Stick to what you know.” Good replies, “Put out into deep waters. Imagine the possibilities.”
  • Safe says, “Follow the rule of law.” Good replies, “Seek compassion and mercy.”
  • Safe says, “Keep score. Hold grudges.” Good replies, “Love your neighbor. Forgive.”
  • Safe says, “Worry about yourself” Good replies, “Consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air.”
  • Safe says, “Take care of our own.” Good replies, “Just as you do to the least of these you do to me.”
  • Safe says, “Come down and we will believe.” Good replies, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
  • Safe says, “King of the Jews.” Good whispers, “Resurrection!”
  • Safe is tempting, but good is eternal.

Near the end of this reading from Luke, Jesus makes a very clear statement.when he says, “no slave can serve two masters.” He is telling us that God must come first. He says you cannot worship God and wealth. This statement is all about attachment. It is something we humans deal with all the time. We seem to want to accumulate things and at the same time we find it difficult to let go.

I give lip service to being unattached to my possessions but I think I am not always being forthright. When I started having problems with mobility I became frustrated that I could not do the things I could do before. I think that sometimes God gives us challenges so that we can learn from them. So what have I learned. I have learned that all things will pass away including my health. I have learned to allow people to do things for me. I have learned to slow down and not always to charge forward. I have learned that God is in charge and yet I trust that even though I may be walking slower these days, God still walks right beside me.


Last Sunday's Sermon - The Lost

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Just as a note:  We had our annual picnic at Bill's house yesterday and it was a wonderful event.  I am so blessed to have such a caring church family.  The conversations were great (no politics were mentioned) and the food was a culinary delight!

The readings

Old Testament
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse-- a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

"For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good."

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Gospel
Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

The Sermon

What keeps going through my head after reading the scripture readings for today is the lyrics from Amazing Grace. “I once was lost but now am found. Was blind and now I see.” Each of these three readings, Jeremiah, Timothy and Luke are about people who are lost and are found or at least are in the process of being found. In Jeremiah, the people of Judah have lost their way and through the prophet Jeremiah, God is searching for them. In Paul's letter to Timothy, Paul recounts his evil ways and he tells us that “Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” and to bestow on us his mercy.

In Luke, Jesus is once again breaking the rules and he is eating with tax collectors and other sinners. In the first century Jewish culture this is simply something that was not done. Tax collectors were particularly unliked by people of the first century and here is why. The Roman Empire had a fairly unusual system, by our standards, of collecting taxes. A person who had the job of tax collector was told how much tax he was to collect for the empire. Any money he raised above and beyond that he could keep for himself. The assumption among those who were taxed was that they were being unnecessarily gouged by these collectors and because of this they were held in very low esteem.

In Jesus's analogy of the lost sheep and the lost coin he brings home the essence of his mission on earth. Yes, Jesus is grateful for the righteous but his mission is to find and bring home the lost sheep. After all there is great joy in heaven when those who are lost find their way and are brought home.

When I reflect on this from my own point of view, I am one of those sheep who strays with some frequency. I have to assume that I bring great joy in heaven with some frequency. Some of you are probably thinking the same thing.

If Jesus's mission was to search out and bring home lost sheep, did the searching end when his time on this earth was over. I don't think so. The mission continues and it continues with you and me. We are all expected to share our faith in ways that fit who we are.

You all know what you do best and now think of how those skills can be used to reach out to others and bring the joy of the Good News to the people whose lives you touch. Live your faith by doing his work.


Love and Hate - Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Readings

The Epistle
Philemon 1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-- and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

The Gospel
Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

The Sermon

OK, lets talk about the elephant in the room. According to this bible reading Jesus is telling us to hate our mother and father, brothers and sisters, and even our children, not to mention our casual acquaintances. This doesn't sound like a religion full of love and peace but just the opposite.

When I was putting together this sermon I decided to go to a website titled, Sermons that Work. It is an Episcopal website that offers sermons geared toward whatever the readings were for that week. I figured these learned sermon writers would wisely send me in the direction I needed to go. To my surprise the sermon writer completely avoided the gospel reading and only wrote on Paul's letter to Philemon. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised because on the surface this writing from Luke seems to be the antithesis of the Christian message.

But, it isn't, and here is why. Scripture is translated from Greek text and one of those Greek words is miseo. Miseo can be translated to the English word hate but can be translated also to 'love less' or 'esteem less'. Those two translations fit very well within what Jesus was saying all along as the bedrock of his teachings. Remember, Jesus said you must love your God with all your heart and all your soul. He was saying we have to be 'all in' when it comes to loving our God. We must love God first. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus still wants us to love. He just wants us to love our God most.

Lets take a look at Philemon. There are a few sticky things here as well. As an aside, today's reading of Philemon is the entire book. It is a complete letter written to one person, Philemon. This letter can be a little difficult to figure out because we are only hearing one side. The common belief is that Philemon's slave Onesimus had gone off to be with Paul who at the time was in prison. Paul had great affection for both men and wrote this letter to smooth things over between the two. Paul even goes so far as to ask Philemon to grant Onesimus his freedom.

This is a letter full of warmth and praise. It is also an example of Paul's skill in letter writing and his ability to persuade. We do not know the outcome of this story. Philemon may or may not have granted Onesimus his freedom. History can be like that. A lot is left to speculation.

One point that is often brought up is the institution of slavery in those early times. Why didn't Jesus speak to it. Why was he not outraged. Why didn't Paul take a stand? After all Jesus and Paul were both challenging the system in so many ways. Why not this one. Once again, it is left to speculation. For one thing slavery was a very entrenched institution and slavery was not the chain gang image that we have of it today. One could even move up in the social system and be a slave. In some cases slaves owned other slaves.

In my world. In your world. Slavery is wrong. One person should not be allowed to own another person. It would be sinful to do so. That is the context we live in. It was different back then.

This has been a different kind of set of readings but really it carries the same message. Jesus says to love your God above all else and Paul writes of his love and concern for his fellow man.