Trinity 9 2015

Parables are the perfect text for those lazy, hazy, days of summer. Parishioners like them because they already know the story and can snooze during the sermon; pastors like them because they are so easy to preach, and any pastor worth his homiletical salt can preach on a parable in his sleep. All you have to do is to sort of re-tell the story, toss in a little Law, add a little Jesus, and voila, you’re done. And Luke’s a treasure trove of parables: prodigal sons, lost sheep, lost coin, the sower, and the good Samaritan—just to name a few.
But there’s always an exception to the rule though isn’t there? There’s always that person (or parable) willing to throw a wrench into the works of simplicity to complicate things, and that’s exactly what Luke 16 does: a trap door opens and a “jack-in-the-box springs up in the plot to unsettle” the preacher and “to complicate the” task.
The trouble isn’t the parable itself, in fact it’s a pretty good story, almost on the order of Robin Hood; the problem comes in verse 8: And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly, and we can’t have a Jesus who seems to uphold what it is that this “unjust” steward did. In fact if it wasn’t for that single portion of a verse, this parable would be smooth sailing, but now, now, we preachers have to somehow explain-or explain away-how it is that Jesus could commend the action of the steward. And the master, let’s not forget about the master, who is not outraged, who does not order the steward jailed, but seems to be delighted with the manner in which he had been duped.
Luke 16 has the very real potential to become one hot, homiletical mess.
From my perspective though, the best way to deal with a parable like this is make the assumption that Jesus knew what he was talking about-that is, no one came later and added verse 8, and to simply deal with the parable as its written-and not how I might wish it had been written.
To begin with, well, let’s start with There was a rich man, and while that seems a harmless enough start, almost like “Once upon a time,” but to be called “rich” in Luke’s gospel by Jesus is never a good thing; for Luke, “rich” is never a neutral term. Those called “rich” by Jesus are those who are always blind to what it is he’s teaching.
It’s the poor Mary sings of in the Magnificat who will be exalted by Christ; Jesus is said to be the One who will bring good news to the poor, and it is Jesus who says, But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
And we know how the rich fare in Luke’s gospel: there’s the rich young ruler, the rich fool who wanted to build more barns, and then there’s the rich man in purple who ignored Lazarus.
So we can’t ignore the economics that are at play in this parable; nor can we allegorize them away in those comfortingly abstract categories of “sin,” or “debt,” which are nowhere to be found in the parable.
This then is the “rich” man who is the landowner, and if you happened to be in the crowd listening to this tale being told, you would already be predisposed to dislike the rich man, and perhaps we are too.
What happens? That’s perhaps the simplest part of the parable and can be summed up as follows: “You abuse it, you lose it…period.”
Now that’s a statement that would make a Pharisee’s heart leap for joy: a crime has been committed, and instead of mercy or clemency, this steward is going to be removed, and from the sound of things, be forced to beg for a living. There’s no begging for mercy, there’s no confession or forgiveness, there’s not a “Go and sin no more,” what there is, is a scheme. The plan as hatched is to give all of the creditors a monetary break, gain their favor, and then when the steward is out on his ear, hopefully the people he helped with remember such aid, and welcome him into their homes.
So far so good, but now two things happen: the first is that the master is not angry with the steward, but stands in admiration of him, and the second is what Jesus says of this, For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light, and with that statement, the parable leaves the world economics and enters into the world of the kingdom of Christ, and the point is, that those of us who do belong to world to come, those of us who do realize that this life is transitory, are to imitate-yes, imitate-this steward, who is very much a child of this generation.
Well OK, now how? Once again Jesus answers, 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. We’re not to be “shrewd” for the sake of being shrewd, but rather-like the steward-to use “dishonest wealth,” or “unrighteousness wealth,” or the “mammon of unrighteousness” if you like, to make kingdom friends.
Once again, how? In Luke 14, Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee, and at the dinner he tells those assembled Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. This saying of Jesus takes the normal rules of invitation and social status and stands them on their head, so too the steward, for he did not use the money to make money and increase his wealth, but rather to make friends. “The result in both cases is a new community: for the steward open homes in this world, and for the children of light, the banquet table filled in the house of God and the resurrection of the righteous in the world to come.”
What is inescapable in this parable (and in Luke generally) is a view of money that makes Christians uneasy, in fact, many a Christian (or church, or synod) has so artfully explained away all the warnings Jesus gives of wealth, that were the effort an Olympic sport, they would be Gold Medalists. Realistically, show me person who does not love their money?
Does anyone here today hate their “wealth”?
The problem with money isn’t theological, rather it is, quite simply, that you can’t take it with you, for as powerful as money may be, it is still very much a product of this “generation,” and this world; as such, it is subject to decay and rot. This is precisely why anyone who loves money is a fool, for while it may seem potent and powerful, it will become-all too rapidly-o-b-o-s-o-l-e-t-e.
Are we to avoid it?
No…at least not according to this parable!
We are to spend it with riotous abandon to make new kingdom friends. There’s no sense of economic asceticism here, nor is there the old percentage to charity and the rest for me formula; rather there is a new opportunity for us to act within a very narrow window of time, to use money-which will ultimately fail-in the establishment of gospel friendships that will not fail.
Decisions about money are urgent, and they are indeed a spiritual test, 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. Such a crisis forces a choice: You cannot serve God and wealth.
But there’s more to this parable than a simple Go and do likewise, there’s still the curious commendation of the master who recognizes the prudence and shrewdness of the steward’s actions. He certainly doesn’t seem to be like the Pharisees, who were “lovers of money “and who ridiculed Jesus and his parable. He wasn’t like the rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
This master caught a glimpse of something more; the wisdom of another world and another way of life, and in this way begins to resemble another “rich” man we meet later in Luke’s gospel, Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was a man who “has used friends to make money” and by the end of his encounter with Jesus, “is using money to make friends”: Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.
And the response of Jesus? Today salvation has come to this house.
So what’s the take-away?
You’re going to hate this.
You’re going to think it came from a fortune cookie.
You’re going to think it’s a cliché…and your right, but it’s still true.
What seems to be permanent and powerful…is not. Go up to Grandview, and under that dirt, inside a vault, and locked away in a casket, find me a “rich” man or woman. Ultimately, money is the coin of a doomed world. So it should be used by us as fast as possible to build relationships that will last into eternity.
Finally there’s one more take-away and that’s the “divine possibility of impossible salvation,” that is, the chance that the camel can indeed go through the eye of the needle. It’s about the very rich and powerful so often condemned in the pages of scripture being given a taste of grace, maybe just a glimpse, and responding. Zacchaeus the tax collector who now wants to share his wealth with the poor, and more to the point, it’s about the rejoicing in heaven over the one who was lost-Zacchaeus and all like him-who have now been found.
It is to be as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6.10: Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
From Acts 2:
3 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
They were “being saved,” and that’s for eternity.

Trinity 8 2015

Jemima_puddle-duck“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes…” All she wanted was babies, but his wife didn’t think she would make a good mother. So each day that Jemima laid eggs, that very day the farmer’s wife would come and take them. To add insult to injury, the father’s wife would give the eggs of Jemima-who was a duck- to the hens in the chicken-coop to hatch them! No matter where she hides her eggs, they are always found. Continue reading Trinity 8 2015

Trinity Seven 2015: Goldfish

goldfish_cracker_pictureI’m writing this on Wednesday, after we’ve sweated our behinds off frying three hundred pounds of cabbage for the haluski, and as I sit down to type at 3.35PM, the cabbage crew has headed for any room where the A/C is on full tilt, and now the smoker is merrily, well, smoking along, with twenty-four pork shoulders in it. By the time you hear this on Sunday, out in the side lot, there will be two hundred chickens on the grill, two hundred potatoes baking in the oven, and two hundred ears of corn getting ready to be roasted. Continue reading Trinity Seven 2015: Goldfish

Trinity 6 2015

I wasn’t back from vacation 8 hours when I found myself out at Windber Hospital, sitting in a room with Brother —–, watching blood slowly drip into him. Brother —– didn’t want to talk about his illness-though he did mention that he had to tell the doctor what the **** was wrong-he wanted to talk about grilling chickens, making welded grates, and fabricating portable chicken grills. He wanted to talk about junk yards and scrap metals; meanwhile his wife just put her head into her hands. Continue reading Trinity 6 2015

Not All News is Bad News

The saying “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” or its cousin, “If it weren’t for bad news, there’d be no news at all,” could serve as a motto for Lutherans, whose combined penchant for schadenfreude and predictions of societal doom have become legendary. If you read across social media sites, the LCMS blog, to say nothing of the Fort Wayne seminary’s societal pronouncements-which flow like the proverbial **** through a goose—you would think that we were the most fatalistic “Christians” on the face of the earth. The moniker of “Christian” would have to remain in quotations, for our fatalism is proof that from our perspective, Christ is little more than a societal cuckold: powerless, impotent, and anything but the Son of God. Continue reading Not All News is Bad News

Do the Charleston.

downloadEach time another atrocity is committed in America, society as a whole, wants to know why. Why Sandy Hook?  Why Charleston? Why Columbine?

The hunt for the elusive “why” becomes almost epic, perhaps even Homeric.  The hunt for the “why” actually becomes a quixotic quest, with the tip of our finger pointed Cervantes like at those windmills failure. We need the “why” to locate the failure, because when failure is found, blame can be assigned. Continue reading Do the Charleston.

Failures

failureI’ve often thought that a more accurate measure of an organization is not how many successes that they have, but rather how they deal with failures. Nowhere is this truer than in the church, and nowhere is failure as fatally extreme as when it has to do with sexual transgressions. Aside from anemic absolutions and “forced” resignations, despite our Seelsorger ball hats, as an organization, we simply have no use for failure(s). Continue reading Failures

Trinity 2 2015

wisdom_and_folly_by_bstrgncragus-d327a3i I know why the three men in the today’s Gospel turned down the invitation, they weren’t really busy, they just had a better offer; the chance to go to a different banquet that promised to be more fun, a bit more indulgent, a bit less preachy. A banquet that was the contemporary equivalent of the famed “Get Way” to Vegas, and we all know that what happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas![ The following sources were used in this sermon: “The Banquet of Wisdom–An Exegetical Study of Proverbs 9.1-12,” by John Kleinig; “’White Trash’ Wisdom: Proverbs 9 Deconstructed,” by Mark Sneed; “The Interpretation of Old Testament Wisdom Literature,” by Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm.; “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Prov. 9.1)–A Mistranslation,” by Jonas C. Greenfield; “Gegory’s Sophia: ‘Christ the Wisdom of God,’” by Wendy E. Helleman; “Wisdom and the Spirit: The Loss and Re-making of a Relationship,” by Paul S. Fiddes; and “Wisdom, the ‘Amen’ of the Torah,” by C. Hassell Bullock. ] Continue reading Trinity 2 2015