Taking care of business, by Pastor Noel

Sept. 21 & 22, 2019    Proper 20, C


     This passage from Luke is considered to be the most complicated and difficult to understand –and not just by me! Fortunately, we have help to sort it out.

     In our Collect we prayed, “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.”

     That is this gospel in a nutshell.

     Put your trust in God and God’s abundant grace and you will find peace. 

     Or, from the Gospel of John, love the glory that comes from God more than the glory that comes from people.

     But the gospel passage is much more complicated than that—so let’s see if I can help you understand how I can find good news in this story.

     We only meet one man in this story, but there are 4 major players. A rich man; his agent who is called “manager” but might be called “steward”; and the clients who get to write off some of their debt to the rich man.

     The steward has already done his job badly, and is being fired. I want us to think of him as a steward, because he is responsible for something that belongs to someone else. He is a steward of the rich man’s business.

     Before he turns over the books, he must settle some debts. He does this in a way that sounds as if he is still cheating his boss, but he is actually helping make his boss look good.

     As the steward tells the clients to write off part of what they owe, he is showing mercy on behalf of his boss. So the client is happy and the rich man looks like a generous benefactor.

     In fact, the rich man praises the steward for doing this.

     That is probably the end of Jesus’ parable, and what follows is, then, Luke’s way of explaining it to his early church, but he actually makes it more complicated!

     Luke has two main themes throughout his gospel and The Acts of the Apostles: 1, forgiveness; and 2, the problems that come with having wealth.

     Elizabeth Palmberg has given us this loose paraphrase of the parable: “If you have the sense God gave a dog, you will realize that you can’t hold onto money very long anyway, but you can keep the friends you make by giving it to those in need. You do the math.”

     Throughout the Gospel of Luke we have many words about wealth: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (12:15); “none of you can become my disciples unless you give up all your possessions” (14:33); “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (12:33-34).

     For Luke, as for Jesus, wealth is to be used to take care of those with less, and we have many stories in the gospel about that.

      Luke also gives us the wonderful stories about forgiveness—the abundant grace that God pours out for us that we can neither earn nor deserve.

     With our abundant forgiveness in mind, Luke writes about giving a party and inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind… you will be blessed because they cannot repay you… you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (that’s from last Sunday’s Gospel)

     As God pours out grace on us, so we are invited to be gracious and generous to those with less, and especially those considered outcasts from society.

     Luke writes, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Did you think I’d forget that—my favorite line?)

     God has already promised salvation: we give thanks for that now by being generous to those in need.

     We can be generous with money, or with our time, to help those who need us. The problem that Luke shows us about wealth is not only for the wealthy to hear.

     There was once a story from Taiwan of a man who stole a bike so his daughter could ride instead of walk the 6 miles to school. The police took pity on him and helped get a bike for his daughter, and the school is helping them, too. Oh, the family lives in a packing crate.

     Anxiety over money is a disease that affects both those who have it and those who don’t.

     But the Aramaic word that is often used in this story is not just about money. In translations that many of us grew up with, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

     Mammon means much more than money or wealth, mammon is that which we trust, desire. Mammon is what we give our heart to.

     Jesus says that the steward gave his heart to being invited into peoples’ homes. Now, that can be fun, but is it our life’s ambition? Or, as we prayed, do we hold “fast to those (things) that endure”?

     While this world and our lives are passing away, God’s love endures. And God’s love endures for us even when we squander the gifts we are given, even when we run away and try to hide.

     We are all stewards. Everything we have is a gift. This earth and everything on it, our lives, and everything in them.  This is what we acclaim as we say, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”  or sing, “Praise God, from whom all blessings, flow..”

     God gives, we give back. That is stewardship. The only question is, what kind of stewards are we going to be?

     Fred Craddock gives such a good description of this that I have to share it with you. (Interpretation Commentary, p 191-2):

     “The life of a (good steward) is one of faithful attention to the frequent and familiar tasks of each day, however small and insignificant they may seem.” He continues,    “The realism of (the gospel) is simply that life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities. Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than the chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday School class, share a meal, read a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat. ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.’”

     These rather small and easy examples show how we can be good stewards of even a few minutes of each day. The glory of God is seen in all the ways we share with and care for others.

     Do we squander, throw away, the glory that God shares with us, or do we use our lives for the glory of God? How will we do that in the days, weeks, years ahead?





The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details