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Sunday
Sep182016

The Dishonest Manager

LISTEN

Luke 16: 1-15

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

16 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The Law and the Kingdom of God

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

THE DISHONEST MANAGER

National Velvet. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. Those titles and others are the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s movies a lot of us grew up watching. We saw John Wayne, Vera Miles, and Natalie Wood in The Searchers, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in On the Town, William Holden and Jennifer Jones in Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. We practically watched Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney grow up on the big screen. And who can forget Doris Day singing and Jimmy Stewart being chased in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much? We watched these actors, these beautiful people, beautifully dressed. And we assumed that that’s how they were off the screen, also. We thought of them as beautiful people, respectable people, because everything we saw of them on the outside was just that. We assumed that that’s how they were on the inside, too. We didn’t know how messed up a lot of them were. Their private lives were a confusion of multiple marriages, multiple families, multiple sexual partners. Some of them struggled with alcohol or drug addiction or depression, even mental illness. And now, even though most of them are long dead, we don’t want to know how messed up they really were. We still want to remember them as beautiful, honest, respectable, and decent people.

That’s how we want our personal world to look. That’s the kind of folks we want to be with. That’s the kind of folks we want to surround ourselves with. That’s the kind of folks we want to be friends with. Beautiful, respectable, honest, decent people.

So, when Jesus tells us to make friends for ourselves by means of “unrighteous wealth,” we really don’t know what to make of that. Unrighteous wealth? You mean, use ill-gotten gain in order to make friends? Make a bunch of money illegally and then use it to win friends and influence people? You mean do what the dishonest manager did? Win friends by treating the boss’s money as if it were you own? What kind of friends would those be? Dishonest, disreputable cronies, accomplices, toadies, hangers-on?

Well, I’m not sure what unrighteous wealth is. After studying it all week, it doesn’t appear that anyone else knows what it means. Though here in the Gospel of Luke the wealthy are never spoken of as being righteous. That could shed some light on the rich man in the parable of the dishonest manager. The manager is dishonest, but what about the rich man? Has he cheated his debtors? Charged them sinful rates if interest? In Luke’s Gospel, the rich are either building bigger barns or ignoring poor Lazarus.

But then Jesus adds to this parable these words, “…so that when the unrighteous wealth fails, those friends may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now, that makes us think of the parable that comes right after this. The parable about that poor, scabby beggar named Lazarus, and a certain rich man who wishes he had been a friend to Lazarus. In the parable, the rich man ends up in hell (Luke 16:19-31). He can no longer hope to be welcomed into heaven, he can no longer hope to be welcomed into the eternal dwellings by Lazarus. He only asks that Lazarus might leave heaven for a moment to bring him a sip of water. So when Jesus talks here about making friends, He may be talking about the kind of friends who can vouch for you when you’re knocking on heaven’s door. They’re the kind of friends who can testify at the Final Judgment that your conduct on this earth, how you used your money, whether it was much or little, showed you to be a child of God. They’re the kind of friends who have piled up debts, as in this parable of the dishonest manager, but you helped them. They’re the kind of friends like the beggar Lazarus who will one day be able to testify that you did not let him or her go hungry or scabby but were a true neighbor and friend to them.  

But they’re not the folks we are drawn to. They’re the folks we don’t necessarily want to surround ourselves with. They’re the folks we don’t necessarily want to be friends with. They may not look all that beautiful or respectable or honest or decent. Regardless of how messed up and broken on the inside we ourselves are, we still think of ourselves as beautiful, honest, respectable, decent people. Regardless of how messed up and broken are the systems of this broken world that can plunge people into debt or leave them homeless beggars, we still want to think that we are different. We are respectable, beautiful, honest, decent people.  

How hard we Christians have worked over the centuries at becoming that, of reaching a level of respectability. How hard we have worked at portraying Jesus as a respectable, beautiful person. All of our cherished Sunday School art portrays Jesus with beautiful flowing robes, a handsome head of hair, a tragically handsome face. We Christians have managed to make Jesus beautiful and respectable.

When Jesus was hardly considered respectable. He repeatedly broke the Sabbath in order to heal the diseased and the disabled. He was accused of being a glutton and a winebibber. We wonder at how Jesus could tell a parable about a dishonest manager, but Jesus regularly ate with crooks. As for the Sadducees, they believed Jesus opposed the Temple. Jesus was hardly considered respectable by those who were considered respectable.

But in order to do His redeeming work, Jesus was not timid about risking His reputation. Jesus came into this broken world with its broken systems often rigged against the poor. In which businesses still make the ephah small, shorting the one pound bag of bread, maybe not by adding in wheat husks, but if a little sand gets in the bread, who’s the wiser? (Amos 8:4-7) Jesus came into this broken world with its broken systems often rigged against the poor. In which businesses still artificially increase debt through ungodly interest rates, while the general public looks the other way. Jesus came among those who are clearly broken and those who still appear respectable and beautiful on the outside but who are also broken. And Jesus befriended all of us, the poor, the broken, the respectable, the dishonorable, the beggar and the businessman and the manager and the rich man and the crook. And He did it so easily, what we find so hard to do. He befriended all. He readily risked His reputation and His personal comfort to befriend both those who are obviously broken and those who hide their brokenness from the public eye. So, He was often not considered respectable. Even death showed Him no respect. It put Jesus on a shameful cross, crucified Him next to two disreputable convicts, with no beautiful flowing robes to cover His nakedness. With no show of respect for Jesus, death did what the rich man does in the parable of the dishonest manager. Death fired Jesus from His duties.

Nevertheless, Jesus was not done. He came back from hell with a long line of life’s debtors like you and me trailing after Him and He took the account book that lists our debts to Lazarus and the poor, and He struck a scarlet line through every one of them. 

And Jesus keeps on striking a line through the image we have of Him. Those shiny, handsome, respectable images we have of Him in our memory and our mind He strikes through them. And gives us a fresh image of Himself. And He is not timid about doing it. Jesus gives us a fresh image of Himself in His Word and His Supper today. Jesus plants a fresh picture of Himself in our hearts and minds. Jesus’ face is that of the beggar Lazarus. Jesus’ face is that of the person in great debt. That we would befriend not only those we think of as respectable, but would also be a friend to the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the destitute, the left behind, the uncared for, because Jesus respects them and redeems all of us broken people. 

Amen

Sunday
Sep112016

Who Is The One Lost Sheep?

<AUDIO NOT AVAILABLE>

Luke 15:1-10

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his 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.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And 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.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

WHO IS THE ONE LOST SHEEP?

For thirty years, a woman named Darva Campbell searched diligently for a ring. Her story begins with the Dust Bowl days of the 1920’s and ’30’s, when Darva’s grandparents left Arkansas to settle in Oregon. In those lean years, Darva’s grandfather couldn’t afford a wedding ring. But over the years, he saved up enough to buy a ring for Darva’s grandmother for $10. It had only one small diamond. Over the years it got dinged up. It had a scrape mark on the side of the band. Still, it was handed down from mother to daughter like a precious family heirloom, until it came to be on Darva’s finger when she went off to college in 1978. Just three years later, the ring was stolen when Darva’s apartment was burglarized. So began a thirty-year search to find that ring. Darva searched pawnshops to see if it had been pawned for cash. She went from antique shop to antique shop searching. Along came eBay, and Darva searched for the ring online thousands of times. Then, in September 2009 Darva saw a photo on eBay of what looked like her grandmother’s ring. She contacted the seller, asked about the ring, and placed a $500 bid to make sure she won the auction for that ring.

Now, before I finish Darva’s story, let me say that some might question spending so much money just to get back a cheap, banged up ring. Given their experience of living through the Great Depression, Darva’s grandparents probably wouldn’t have done it. And would not have approved of her doing it. Wouldn’t that kind of money be better spent for something more practical, more God-pleasing?

Jesus also told a story about something lost. Because the time and attention that were being spent on “sinners” was something the Pharisees and scribes questioned. They grumbled about Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them. Surely, Jesus was aware that He was defiling Himself by sitting with those who were unclean. Those folks were wrongdoers. Surely, Jesus was even being tolerant of wrongdoing. Those folks were lost. Jesus was wasting His time on them.

You see, the Pharisees and scribes thought they knew who was lost and who was not. They thought they knew who were the sinners and who were not. They thought they knew who was in the kingdom of God and who was not. They thought they knew who were the 99 who deserved the shepherd’s attention versus the one sinner whose loss was unavoidable and needed to be written off as a waste of His time.

But did they really know? Did they really know who were the lost and who were not? Do we? Notice what this text says. On the one hand you have the tax collectors and sinners. They were not considered religious. They were not regulars at worship. They were considered to be lost. But as Luke says, they “were all drawing near to hear Jesus.” They all seemed to realize their need for Jesus. They all wanted to listen to Jesus. On the other hand were the Pharisees and scribes, considered very religious, regular worship attenders. No one would have thought of them as lost. But they had no use for Jesus. They didn’t come to listen to Jesus. They had no need to repent. They were secure in their own righteousness. So, which group was lost and which was not?

Now, does that make religious people like you and me Pharisees and lost? You see, that’s just the kind of labeling and judging that Jesus wants to pull us away from. The Pharisees loved labeling people. Like calling people “sinners.” Like wanting to know who really was their “neighbor.” The Pharisees loved labeling people. But labeling people serves only one purpose. It dictates how we get to feel about certain people. Labeling dictates how we get to treat other people. Labeling gives us permission to write certain people off and to consider them a waste of our time. Does not Jesus want all of us to see ourselves as sinners? Do we not refer to ourselves as both saints and sinners?

This addresses something very important in our lives. We are not spiritually strong every day or in every season of our lives. We have our highs and our lows. We have our times of not being so close to the Shepherd. Do we sometimes stray, or even become lost? As Isaiah 53 says, “We all like sheep have gone astray.” Were these parables about the lost intended for the tax collectors and sinners? Yes. Were these parables about the lost intended for the Pharisees and scribes? Yes.

These parables were intended for all of us in order to tell all of us something very important about ourselves and about God. He seeks us. He searches diligently for us. When we go astray, when we lose our way, when we feel so distant from God, or when God seems so distant from us, God searches diligently for us like that shepherd searching for his one lost sheep. So, He goes wherever He has to in order to find us. He goes out into the streets and alleys where are the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. He goes to the side of the road where men get beaten, robbed, and left for dead. He goes out of the city to the Place of the Skull where men get crucified. He goes out to the tombs, to hedgerows and thickets and thorns and brambles and digs through them, and even when those thorns and brambles cover our graves He digs through them and pulls us out to safety.

Like that man in the red bandanna… one of the heroes of 9-11 was a man who in the aftermath was known only as the Man in the Red Bandanna. With a red bandanna covering his nose and mouth, this man went up to the 78th floor lobby again and again to search diligently for the survivors that huddled there, like Ling Young and Judy Wein. He was neither a firefighter nor a policeman. He was just one of them, a man who worked in an office in the Twin Towers. They did not know him, and could identify him later only by his red bandanna. He did not know them, nor did he make distinctions among them between the savable and the not savable. He carried at least one person on his back. He encouraged those who could walk to help those who could not. That day Welles Crowther, the Man in the Red Bandanna, gave his life to pull to safety other people. Today, those other people include you, for whom the Shepherd gave His life to search diligently for and find you, and still seeks you when you go astray.

Like a woman searching diligently for her lost coin, God searches for you. Like Darva Campbell… who did not consider her $500 bid to be a waste of money. But who won the bidding. And when the ring was sent to her in the mail in what she described as 15,000 pounds of tape and bubble wrap, she ripped through it furiously to find that her search was over. The ring inside had a scrape mark on its side just as she remembered it. Her ring was found. Like a woman searching diligently for her lost coin or her lost ring, God searches diligently for you. He doesn’t consider it a waste of His time. He doesn’t consider any of us to be a regrettable yet unavoidable loss. He seeks us. He seeks a turnaround in us.

And He loves it, He rejoices when He makes a breakthrough in our faith, in our personal walk with Him. God in heaven rejoices when He enables us to stand alongside fellow sinners and acknowledge that we are fellow sinners with them, both in what we believe and in our attitudes and in our actions. God in heaven rejoices when He enables us to stand alongside fellow sinners and bear witness to the One who considers none of us a waste of His time. God in heaven rejoices when He enables us to set all labeling aside for the sake of the Shepherd who does not label any of us, who does not distinguish between the savable and the unsavable, but who gave His life for us all.  

Amen


Sunday
Sep112016

Border People

LISTEN

16th Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 14:25-35

The Cost of Discipleship

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Salt Without Taste Is Worthless

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

BORDER PEOPLE

In the North Pacific Ocean, there is an odd border. That border lies between two islands, Big Diomede and Little Diomede, separated by just two miles of water. Big Diomede belongs to Russia. Little Diomede belongs to the US. Prior to 1948, Eskimo families lived on both islands and crisscrossed back and forth. They were border people; had relatives on both islands. But in 1948, the border between the two islands was suddenly closed. The Soviet military moved onto Big Diomede. That island’s Eskimos were forced to move to the Siberian mainland, thus separating them from their American relatives. In a recent interview with the BBC, one of the American Eskimos said, “The older generations of our family are dying out on either side of the border, and the thing is we know nothing about each other. We are losing our language. We speak English now, and they speak Russian.” The Eskimo people of this border region are border people. They’re of mixed blood. There’s a little Russian in them and maybe a little American, too. Still, they see themselves as one people. They see the border as an aggravation. “It shouldn't be like this,” one villager says, “we've been here for thousands of years, before the Americans came, before the Russians, before any governments and regulations separated us from our family.”

We can appreciate their frustration. Family is important to us, too. I say this on a day when my youngest son is living in Japan. I cannot imagine how I would feel if suddenly the border between our two countries were closed, and I would not be able to hold him in my arms again. Family is important to us. We understand the love and loyalty that exist between people who are of the same blood.

And so we are not sure we get it when Jesus says to us, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, he cannot be My disciple.” 

We have been taught, and I have preached this myself, that Jesus means we can love our family. We just need to love Jesus more than we love our family.

Yes, but is that a way of trying to dance around the issue? There’s no way to get around that word hate. There’s no way to soften that word. Especially considering the other words around it. “Hate your life.” “Take up your cross.” “Count the cost.” “Renounce all that you have.” “Either you’re salt or you’re not.” These are radical requirements for faith. And merely loving Jesus more than family doesn’t match up with those other radical requirements. Jesus is saying that for us to be Christians, for us to be His followers, we must hate our family members and love only Him. Now, if Jesus is saying that if we vote for Him, then we must give up our homes and families, then we just don’t get it. But if Jesus is saying, “Come follow Me up this steep, icy, mountain pass. There are people up there who need rescuing. Leave your packs behind. The path is too steep to carry all that stuff. Send your last postcards home. This is a deadly route, and some of us won’t make it back home to our families.” Well, then His words begin to make sense. Jesus is not denying how important family is to us. He’s saying that the mission He’s called us to is an urgent one, and sometimes a deadly one, and therefore, everything, our possessions, our blood relationships, even one’s own life must be put at risk for the sake of bringing God’s shalom to people.

It means being prepared to cross some borders. For Jews like Peter and Paul that would mean leaving home and going to Gentile lands. Mixing with Gentiles even if that violated their loyalty to their Jewish families. It meant eating with Gentiles, eating Gentile foods, speaking Gentile languages, wearing Gentile clothing. For these Jews, now mixing with Gentiles in order to bring them the Gospel probably meant that their Jewish children might marry Gentiles, mixing their blood, becoming border people. How would that go over with their Jewish families back home? How could Jews like Peter and Paul remain loyal to their Jewish fathers and mothers, yet follow Jesus? How could they remain loyal to and love their Jewish parents while still remaining loyal to Christ and the mission to the Gentiles He had given them.

This may have been the point behind Jesus’ choice of illustrations. “Count the cost,” Jesus said, “before becoming a Christian.” Count the cost first. Make sure you’re up for it. One who builds a tower or goes to war must first count the cost. The Jews at that time were proud of the towers of their Jerusalem temple. Many of them were chomping at the bit to go to war with Rome.

There was a great national pride among the Jews at that time, centered upon their temple. Where Gentiles were not allowed to go. There was among them a great desire to remain separate from the Gentiles, to get those Roman Gentiles out of Israel. There was a great desire among the Jews to maintain the racial purity of their families. How could they hold onto that nationalism and still follow Jesus to take the Gospel to the Gentiles? They could not. For many, the cost of following Jesus was too high. The loyalty to their Jewish blood, to their blood kin was too great. They made their choice, and it would soon bring the Roman legions down on them, the destruction of their temple, and the end of their nation.

What about our own loyalty to our white kin? What about our own loyalty to the blood of our white families. What about our loyalty to whiteness? Is it possible that our own desire for racial purity, our own nationalism, our own desire to stop the flow of brown people into our country, our own favoring of lighter skin over dark, our own sense of white supremacy, our treating of those who are darker as though they are children who don’t know any better, who need to be given our theology, our music, our art, our approaches to work, mercy, and justice, because they are inferior to us… isn’t it possible that this in effect closes the border between ourselves and those whom Christ would call to Himself through us? There is a tendency to not want to cross borders, but instead to look down on border people. Folks of mixed blood. Darker skin. Mulattoes. Mestizos. Folks of mixed language. Speaking Ghetto or Spanglish or Creole or a mixture of English and Eskimo.

But the truth is we’re all border people. Our ancestors crossed one border after another. Our language is mixed. Every day we use Spanish words like patio, plaza, poncho, and Spanglish words like washateria. Our blood is mixed. We’re not Darwinists. We join every other human being under the sun in tracing our roots back to Adam and Eve. We are all border people who follow a border person.

Jesus was born in the heart of Jewish country just miles from Jerusalem. But He was raised in Galilee of the Gentiles, as it was already called back in the days of Isaiah (9:1). Galilee of the Gentiles where Jesus spent as much time with Gentiles like the Syro-Phoenician woman and the Gadarene Demoniac and the Samaritan woman as He did with Jews. But after all Jesus Himself was of mixed blood. The blood of Gentiles like Ruth, Tamar, and Rahab ran through His veins. Jesus was a border person who had already crossed a border when He took on the brown skin of a Middle Easterner. But that was nothing compared to the border He crossed when He God Himself took on human flesh and became mortal and took up His own cross and died so that our sins do not put a closed border between ourselves and God… for they are taken away. Jesus crossed a border, crossed over from death to life, so that already through faith in Him we have crossed over from death to life as Jesus says in John 5:24.

We have eternal life. God holds us in His arms now and in the age to come. We are border people, having crossed over from death to life in Christ Jesus. And therefore we are enabled as Peter and Paul were, to cross some borders. To go towards folks darker than ourselves, not out of a disrespect for our families or for our heritage but out of a love for Christ. Going towards folks darker than ourselves… and eating together and speaking of Jesus together, and accepting their language and learning from them, and receiving what they have to teach us about music and art and work and mercy and justice. We are border people, crossed over from death to life, redeemed by the mixed blood of Jesus, so we are able to come alongside other border people for the sake of what is most important, Christ and the Gospel.

Amen

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