Sep 192016
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, September 18, 2016 The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Did that Gospel parable we just heard Jay proclaim among us baffle you?  The progression of events is not what we might expect from a chapter of the good news of Christ.  The main character is the manager of someone else’s wealth, and it is rumored to his employer that he has mismanaged the money.  When confronted he does not defend himself, but accepts his fate – that he will be dismissed as manager – and then sets about thinking about how he will support himself after that takes place.  His solution is to go to all those that owe money to his employer and reduce their debts owed, so that the debtors will then feel indebted to him and save him from a life of hard labor in the future.  What happens when his employer finds out?  We might think the man should have been severely reprimanded, and even have been brought up on charges, but instead he ends up with the adulation from his employer.  What is going on here?

Biblical historians quip that hearing this parable in our day is a bit like hearing a joke originally told in another language, whose punch line is rendered “un-funny” in translation – we just don’t quite get it!  That is because our set of economic principles and norms are quite different from those of the ancient Hebrew business code of Jesus day.  It will help us to understand this parable to know that within that economic system, the manager of this parable would have been well within the acceptable norms in reducing those debts owed to his employer.  That explains why his employer praises him rather than punishing him at the end of the parable.  Instead of just walking away in shame at having been dismissed, this manager makes his final act as manager to shrewdly settle debts for his employer and at the same time strengthen his own social connections.  We don’t know what happened next between them – did the impressed employer keep the manager in his employ or stand by his original decision to fire him?  We don’t know because Jesus shifts the focus from them to us, with words that to me always have always sounded like they must be a misprint – Jesus tells us:

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into eternal homes.”

 

Well what is that supposed to mean?  Is Jesus advocating dishonesty?  It may seem that way at first, but no, he isn’t.  This becomes clear when we look closely at what the word “dishonest” is describing in his statement.  It is not modifying the subject – which would be us, his hearers – so he is not advocating dishonesty in our actions.  Rather the adjective dishonest is modifying the word wealth – dishonest wealth!  A look at several other translations of the Bible makes this distinction clearer because they use alternative wordings for this verse.  The New English Bible reads: “… use your worldly wealth to win friends…” and the Jerusalem Bible reads, “…use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends…” And to clarify further, the Jerusalem Bible adds a footnote to the verse that reads:

“Money here is called ‘tainted‘ because great wealth is rarely acquired without some sharp practices.”

I don’t know about you, but that makes me squirm a bit, especially after having traveled to places like Haiti and El Salvador.  It makes me squirm because I am a citizen of one of the most affluent countries in the world.  The US claims a small percentage of the world’s population and yet we have at our disposal a very large percentage of the world’s resources.  What sharp practices have we been and are now involved in to have amassed such wealth?  Did you know that the median annual household income in the US is about $53,000?  The median annual household income in El Salvador is $6000.  I have to ask myself, what is my part in that disparity?  What is my responsibility?  Hard questions.  Not ones I like to spend a lot of time with, but questions that our gospel lesson asks me to revisit once again.  After all, even if I say, “this Gospel parable is just a bit too strange to understand”, Jesus’ final words in this lesson cut to the chase.  He tells us, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

          It is not that the incredibly varied resources of the world from which wealth is derived are inherently tainted, or worldly, or dishonest.  Nothing could be further from the truth! God created all of them as part of the natural order and God saw that all was good.  It is in our relationship to those resources that the problem can arise.  All too easily we get mixed up and think that ultimately our security depends on how much we can get for ourselves, forgetting that God is the giver of every good gift.  Indeed God does expect us to responsibly use our skills to support ourselves and our families to the best of our ability.  But problems begin when we leave God out of the equation.  It is when we ae lulled into the illusion that we are the masters of our own destinies that the problems begin – problems that can develop into greed, self-centeredness, insensitivity to the human need and suffering that are pandemic in our world!

Well, what to do?  How are we to appreciate and enjoy the good gifts that God has created and put into our care without it ending up being at the expense of others, and without letting those gifts come to control us?  We need to ask ourselves some questions.  How much of what I have do I need to live and be responsible to those who depend on me, and how much can I share with others?  How much is too much?  Where is the point at which my wealth begins to possess me?  No easy answers, but what is certain is that prayerfully asking those questions of ourselves on a regular basis is a good way to let God lead us.

And when we do that we can take hope, because Jesus has hidden a wonderful promise in that statement of his that I referred to earlier. Here it is again:

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into eternal homes.”

What I hear him saying here is that if we share with others from our wealth, we will be making friends who will still be with us when everything of this world passes away.  What sort of friends would those be?  Those able to welcome us into eternal homes – Angels perhaps?

Later this month, on the 29th of September, the church observes the feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  A day reserved to celebrate God’s heavenly messengers who work unseen to coordinate the mechanics of God’s grace and mercy.  When we open our hearts and as servants of God share from our wealth, we make friends with those heavenly beings and give them ammunition for their arsenals of grace. Then lives are touched and changed for God’s glory.  Then we are participating in the economics of Jesus – the economics of grace!

There was a time in my life when I was on the receiving end of those economics.  It was a small thing, but I have never forgotten it.  It was almost the end spring semester of my first year at seminary.  My bank account was pretty much at zero and I needed to buy $60 worth of books required for a summer placement I was about to undertake.  I had made more than my share of pleas for support to my family that year and did not want to ask again.  I didn’t know where the money was going to come from.  Then the day before I was to leave for the placement I got an envelope in the mail with an unfamiliar return address.  In it I found a check made out to me for $60 with a noted that said each year a group of concerned members of my home diocese tried to send a little money to seminarians of the diocese to help defray book costs.  It went onto say that though it was only a small amount they hoped it would help in some small way.

The economics of Jesus – the economics of grace. I needed $60 and that is what I received – out of the blue – or as I believe, out of the hands of angels.  The need was known in heavenly places and through the generosity of others was taken care of – I received just what I needed no more no less.  But this unforeseen gift increased the balance of my faith tenfold!  That is the kind of economic system I want to be part of: one in which through charitable giving and political action, those who are well endowed and those in need, with the help of the angels, come together in ways that support the dignity and welfare of all.  As we manage our financial lives, both as individuals and as a community of faith may we seek to advance the economics of Jesus – the economics of grace.

In Christ’s name and for his sake.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday, September 18, 2016 The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 19-Sep-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, September 18, 2016 The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sep 132016
 

The Rev. Martha L. Hubbard                      

I want to begin by expressing gratitude for the many prayers and words of concern I have received from so many of you in these last weeks as my father continues to heal from a hip fracture and  as my sister and I have been accompanying him and my mom through some difficult times and decisions for their future.  Your care has meant so much to me.

This week was also marked by the deep and caring spirit of this congregation as we said a heartfelt, tear soaked and at the same time joyful farewell to someone so dear to so many of us – our Joyce Bothwell whose life we celebrated here on Friday.  Thank you to all who were able to be here and to all who prayed with us from a distance  – it meant so much to Joyce’s family and dear friends gathered here.

So my plate has been full to overflowing this week, and as I sat down to prepare for this sermon, I looked back to old sermons I had written about these texts, and I came across one that I had written in 1995, just one month after I began my work as Rector of St. Mark’s in Penn Yan, NY.  What a different life I led back then, before children, before my parents had moved into their elder years, before 9/11/01.  Back then life was in many ways much simpler.  As far as our family goes it was just me and Marco and my cat Jasper.  We had not yet discovered the wonders of parenthood, and our world had not been rocked by the past 15 years of terror, war and ardent prayers for and actions toward peace. The sermon I wrote all those years ago about the intersection of my lived experience and these Gospel parables still resonates with me even in this very different life and world situation.  And I think there is much in it that relates to the theme of homecoming which we celebrate this morning, and to the hope that we hold to that God seeks us even when we feel so lost in this world of tinged as it is with terror, war and great suffering So, here’s that sermon from my archives. I pray it will be a blessing to you in this day:

This morning Jesus hands us the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  In the past I have identified with these parables from the standpoint of the sheep or the coin, being lost and then being found by God’s incredible grace.  But this week I have come to identify with these parables from a different angle.  This week I had the experience of being the searcher – the experience of dropping everything else in order to search for something very dear to me that was lost; my cat, Jasper.  He disappeared Wednesday night and unfortunately our search for him ended on Thursday morning when we found his lifeless body on the side of our road near the entrance to our driveway.  He had been hit by a car.  Marco and I have been so privileged to care for him here in this world and I do believe that there is much rejoicing in heaven as God and the angels take over full care for him there.  Yet it is a time of sadness here for us, as we grieve the loss of his furry-purry presence with us.

There is always risk for a preacher to share this personally about his or her life in a sermon – risk that the focus will be too much on the preacher and not enough on the Gospel.  I’m taking that risk this morning because through this experience of loss I have been reminded of some important things about God that are also presented to us in the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. My hope is that in talking about my own experience this week and what it has shown me about the nature of our God, you will find point of resonance in your own life and we will see together how threads of these Gospel parables are woven into even our most difficult moments.

The first thing that came into focus for me this week as I dealt with the loss of Jasper is the truth that though God is all powerful and all knowing, God’s search for us when we have strayed – as the Israelites did in the OT lesson this am – God’s search for us is not a simple mechanical process with a given outcome. Into the midst of my Thursday morning panic and anguish over Jasper’s unknown whereabouts, something seemed to whisper in my ear, “this is how God feels in the search for all who are lost or have strayed.”  That took me aback.  I had never really thought about how God feels before.  Of course in our Gospel parables the shepherd and the woman are images of God, searching for the lost and isolated among God’s children.  But I had never given much thought to how that searching God felt, probably because I knew how the parables come out; with a find of the sheep and the coin, and much rejoicing.  I am sure that my Thursday morning anguish, bound as it was by time and space, is quite different from God’s experience in eternity.  But maybe the difference has more to do with scope than with quality.  After all we are made in the image of our creator God.  So though our God has the big picture of eternity that we do not have, and though our God knows for a fact what we hold by faith – that Christ Jesus has won the victory – still I believe our great and almighty God experiences something like my anguish as he seeks us out in the places we stray to and get lost in.  After all, the outcome of the search is not just up to God it is also up to us- we have to be willing to be found.

That brings me to my second learning. As we searched for Jasper I was aware of the fact that I was not in control.  There is part of me that wishes I could have found a way to keep my cat from being killed. But when I follow that thinking through to the end, I realize that to rule out his being killed by anything other than natural causes would have meant severely limiting his freedom.  For one thing I would have had to keep him indoors, and while that is a fine life for some felines, not so for Jasper – he loved the outdoors.  To keep him inside all the time would have made him quite miserable.  No, better that he was free to express his full ”catness”. I strongly believe that the same is true of God’s approach to us. God has given us our free will because God knows that the only way for us to be who we are made to be, is through that free will.  God does not want the love of a caged creature. What God rejoices in is love freely expressed from a creature that has the power to express that love in unique and creative ways.

All of this leads to the last piece of clarity that I was gifted with in the course of this painful week. What came into focus finally was that God’s search for us is not about ownership, but about relationship.  As I searched for my missing kitty, I realized I wasn’t searching out of some sense of wanting to get back something of economic value. I was searching because I wanted to be with another being whose welfare mattered to me and whose presence in my life was a comfort and a joy.  My search was not about ownership, it was about relationship. And that is the deep down truth of the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin – the truth that the value that the world places on people is not even a consideration with God. God seeks each one of us because God wants to be with each one of us. To God, our value is inherent, not determined by the measures the world uses.  That is why God as the shepherd is willing to leave the 99 in order to go after the one lost sheep. And why God as the woman did not rejoice until she had all 10 coins.  Our Eucharistic Prayer A in our prayer book puts it well: Holy and Gracious Father: In your infinite love You made us for yourself.” God does not seek us out in order to have power and control over us.  God does not choose to meet us on those.  And God does not come after us to demand that we praise him and give our homage.  Rather the God we meet in Christ seeks us out simply to be in relationship with us. God, the true lover of souls, will never force us into that relationship. God wants our love freely given.

That doesn’t mean that God will simply passively sit by and wait for us to return to him.  As our parables this morning points out and as our experience may also show, ours is a seeker God, who will do wilder things than we can imagine to get our attention and woo us back. That is what is known as God’s amazing grace and mercy.  That is what the author of First Timothy was talking about in this morning’s second lesson.  And that grace and mercy comes to each of us in just the right ways and at just the right times.  Repentance happens when in our wandering ways we recognize that grace, reach out for its hand, and let it lead us back home to God, who in love, made us for love.

And this is my post script to this sermon for today 9.11.16.  If our God seeks out each one of us, bringing us home to that relationship of love, how much more are we each called to live as the heart, hands and feet of that same God in this world?  This is our call every day, in the ground zeros of each other’s lives, and at the larger ground zeros of the life of our world, where the compassion of people possessed by God’s love does not erase suffering, but gives comfort, brings hope and builds strength to go on.  For this we are drawn home here together today, to be sent out again in the name of the Lover and Seeker of every human soul. Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday September 11, 2016 The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 13-Sep-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday September 11, 2016 The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost