Saturday, October 02, 2010

19 September 2010 Sermon

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon – 19 September 2010
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
Greenwood, Virginia – in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
Proper 20 – Luke 16:1-10

The Collect
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

Jesus once again takes a stick of dynamite and puts it right at the foundation of the structures of society.  Just as this passage of the “unjust manager” confounds us, Jesus likely confounded his hearers 2000 years ago.  Jesus tells this story of the “unjust” or “shrewd” manager who, when faced with the possibility of being chastised or being fired by his master, chooses some rather unjust, though, creative conduct.  He goes to various debtors and he reduces what they owe, one who owed 100 will now only owe 50, another who owed 100 will now only owe 80, and so on.  Commentators and scholars wonder about these amounts, and have conjectured that perhaps the manager is lopping off his own commission, in order to get his own master’s books in order, or perhaps he is just cutting the debts in order to get some of the wealth back in the coffers of his own master.

One point that must be made is that there is danger if we can overly allegorize this text.  The best example is that not every character in the text lines up with an actual person.  Many times when we see the term “master” in a parable of Jesus, we assume that the “master” is God, or perhaps Jesus himself.  However, it seems likely that the master in this story does not represent or symbolize God.  

A lynchpin of this passage for me is the line when the manager realizes that he is going to need some friends when/if he loses his job.  He seems to have gotten the news, or picked up on clues that he will soon be out of work.  Adversity does different things to different people, of course, but this “manager” is experiencing the injustice of a corrupt economic system.  He is seeing the nasty side of his own profession.  He realizes that in this system “wealth” (mammon) trumps humanity; that acquisition of stuff tends to obliterate relationships.  “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” 

This dose of harsh reality, this dose of judgment, brings him to a wiser place, a place of greater awareness, and deeper understanding. This awareness appears, at first blush, selfish, but also uncovers the fact that the manager is keener, and wiser (and kinder) than he may appear.  In the end, the manager has a sense of what the real currency really is.  As he contemplates the end of his employment, he realizes the real currency is deeper and more tangible than how many barrels of oil or money are owed. 

In realizing the fact that the “end” is something deeper – friendship – love of God – love of neighbor, the shrewd manager does not fall into an idealistic or purely mystical notion.  Rather, while he sees that the real currency, the real “bottom line” is love/friendship/community, he also sees that the currency of wealth can be a means to that end. 



An interpretation of wealth in this passage is that we are to use the wealth we have prudently, to ensure your status in the final era.  The manager is concerned that he will have “no friends” when he is cast out of the unjust system.  It could be that he has finally come to the realization that the “friend”he is concerned about (and should be!) is God.  Strangely, perhaps, he has turned from desolation to hope.  When he contemplates his end, his eyes become clearer, and he sees what is really most important – and he sees what the real currency is.  Here, he is given the strange gifts of losing his “faith” in the unjust system.  And so, also, for us.  Do we set our hearts where rust does not corrupt.  Are we most concerned about the currency of God’s love, and love of our neighbor?  What will it take to wake us up to this deeper reality.  When earthly goods fail, we will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. Wealth can be understood as everything that God has given us.  This awareness is deep wisdom, indeed.  “All things come of thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.”

“No one 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”.

  
Where do we put our trust?
What shall we do with our wealth and possession?
What do we love?
What do we truly love?


Do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God. Live as if you did not exist. Expect and ask nothing in return. Then the merchant inside you will be driven out of the temple God has made. Then God alone dwells there. This is how the temple is cleared: when a person honors God alone. Only such a person is free and genuine. ~Meister Eckhart

The Collect
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

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