Sunday, September 22, 2019
Lectionary 25, Year C
Prayer of the Day
God among us, we gather in the name of your Son to learn love for one another. Keep our feet from evil paths. Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Amos 8:4-7 Warnings to those who trample on the needy and poor
1 Timothy 2:1-7 One God, one mediator—Christ Jesus—who gave himself for all people
Luke 16:1-13 A shrewd manager: faithful in little, faithful in much; serving God/wealth
Title: Squandering God’s Abundance
Hey, Trey, you see that bowl of water that we are about to use for your baptism? I want you to use your imagination, and imagine that it is much bigger. Maybe like a bathtub. No, that’s not big enough. How about a swimming pool? A really big swimming pool. The kind that a city or a town has so that lots and lots of people can all go swimming at the same time. Do you like to go swimming? To play around in the water? To feel the cool refreshment splash on you when you are really hot? How about a pool with a good slide so that you can really have some fun as you come flying into the water?
Come to think of it, now I’m thinking a pool isn’t quite big enough for what I want you to imagine. Have you been to the ocean? Stood on the beach and looked out to see that all you could see is water. Water straight ahead. Water to each side. Lots and lots of water. So much water that it is almost impossible to measure just how much water there is.
So, I hope you are using your imagine, (and the rest of you as well) and are picturing that endless ocean of water spread out in front of you. And with that picture in your mind, I would like to say the word abundance. Maybe you have heard this word before, but just in case you haven’t, when you hear the word abundance, I want you to think of that ocean such that you can’t see the ends of it, it just goes on and on and on and on. In that picture, you are seeing an abundance of water.
This word abundance – (are you seeing the ocean?) is very important today. For you, because you are being baptized. And for all of us who use these baptisms to remind ourselves of our own baptism and be refreshed by hearing God’s promises again. It is also a good word for today because it just might help us understand this strange story that Jesus is telling us in the gospel reading for today.
First your baptism – the reason you can even be baptized is because of God’s abundance of love for you. Like that ocean you are imagining because I said the word abundance – you will never see the end of God’s love for you. It goes on and on and on, just like that ocean of water. Wherever you look, there it is. If you take a boat out on the ocean, wherever you go, the water of the ocean is holding you up. That is the same with God’s love. It is always there holding you up, supporting you. And I hope that as you get older, you will explore God’s love in the same way that people explore the oceans. Always learning more. Always discovering greater abundance.
Now, Trey, you just might want to stay there on the beach, looking at that wonderful ocean and thinking about God’s love. Because, as I warned, this story Jesus is telling is really strange. Difficult even for people who have spent a lot of time trying to explain about God’s love. But, for those of you willing to step away from that wonderful, peaceful ocean picture and consider this parable of the – I don’t know, what do we all him – the Shrewd Steward, the Manipulative Manager, the Devious Major Domo? The first pitfall for possible confusion is if we think that parables tell us how to act. Some can, the Good Samaritan, the Guests to the Wedding Banquet – the ones who say Yes to the invitation, that is, or the maidens who bring extra oil. But be assured, in this parable of the steward who cheats his master, Jesus is not encouraging anyone to go and do likewise to those who trust us to manage their affairs.
Rather than tell us how to act, most parables display for us, in story form, how God acts. Last week we saw God as the Good Shepherd or the Obsessive Householder, each one not giving up until the lost one is found, and then rejoicing when the search is successful. God is also that Father in the other Lost Parable about the Lost Son, who welcomes his wayward child home. All three stories are about God’s abundance. There is the word for the day again. God has such abundance of love, grace and mercy, compassion and faithfulness, that God searches us out wherever we go to get lost, welcomes us again and again no matter how many times we get lost. God’s abundance is more than enough to find, welcome, forgive, restore, renew, even resurrect.
Now before we get to this less obvious story of God’s abundance, let’s take an important look at who Jesus is talking to, because over the course of these four stories – shepherd, householder, father, and steward – that all are told one right after another in Luke’s gospel, the audience changes. Last week we heard that Jesus was partying it up with sinners and tax collectors. The real low lifes, the outcasts of his society. And the arrogant, judgmental, legalists were upset that Jesus was wasting his abundance on these people. So, Jesus goes on and tells those three lost parables to explain why he is hanging with this crowd. Some might call them the lost ones. If those legalists really understood the inability of the law to save them, if they had really understood how, in spite of their obedience, they too were lost and in need of being found; they would have sat down at the table with all of the other folks who were more like them then they wanted to admit and rejoiced that they too were found.
But right after these three stories are told at the “He Found Us” Celebration Table, we read that now Jesus is talking only to his disciples, and he tells them this story of the steward who goes around forgiving what people owe his master, and then, the master is happy with what the steward has done. As surprising as a shepherd leaving 99 sheep for the sake of one, or a house-holder wasting all that time looking for one coin, or a father welcoming back (no questions asked) his wasteful son, so we are surprised by the master’s pleasure in the steward’s actions. Once again, it is a story of how God acts. Jesus, the steward, is going around forgiving people their debts owed to God, and God is happier for it. A surprise born out of abundance. There is no need for God to withhold. Jesus goes on to say that if people can be generous with money that is limited, why can’t children of God be more generous with God’s gifts of grace that are showered on us in such abundance?
Perhaps we have a hard time truly imaging that ocean that I asked Trey to picture; and seeing it as God’s abundance made available to us through Christ, who, as First Timothy says, is our mediator, and we are truly blessed to have him in that role. Or maybe we have a hard time with abundance because we see and practice so much scarcity in our own lives. Amos’ words in the first reading ring as true for our context in 21st century USA, as they did in his time in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The rich never think they have enough. They cheat the poor every chance they can. The economic and judicial systems keep the poor low and powerless. And everyone is convinced and lives from a place of scarcity. Some even begin to think and teach that God operates in that same realm. But look to the ocean and think abundance.
Trey, as you are baptized into the abundance of God and become a child of God through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, see God’s abundance expressed yet again in today’s psalm:
7The Lord takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes,
8enthroning them with the rulers, with the rulers of the people.
God’s abundance doesn’t merely pick up we who have nothing, we who are dust and to dust we shall return. We are not just given a good suit of clothes, a meal, and a pat on the back. We are lifted up out of the ashes of death and enthroned as God’s children, equal to even those we think so mighty on earth.
Trey, and all who are baptized, all who are children of God, look to the abundance of God that is ever before us. And know that God lives to squander that abundance on those God loves. In Jesus, we can even say that God is dying to squander that abundance on us all. God is not only the Squandering Shepherd and the Squandering Householder, but also the Squandering Parent, and even the Squandering Steward.
Trey, come and be baptized into the abundance of God’s love and grace. All the baptized – live into the abundance of God’s love and grace.
The Rev. Mark Erson,