Here is my first sermon from Sept. 22nd 2013. Enjoy!
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Christ Jesus Amen.
There are a number of great reasons to become more familiar with the particularities of the Bible. It is a great source of daily encouragement and hope. It strengthens and challenges our faith. It teaches us about a loving and merciful God… It also enables you to avoid volunteering to preach on a tough judgment text during your first Sunday in a new pulpit. But alas some lessons are learned the hard way. So land mines, here we come! But enough complaining, onto the sermon.
When I read this text I can’t help but conjure up images of Ebenezer Scrooge gripped by paralyzing fear as he stares into the lonely chasm that will be his grave. He has come to understand that no one cares for him and in fact despises him. His life’s work of amassing a large fortune will come to naught. He will not be missed and will be quickly forgotten. I imagine this dishonest manager foresees a similar fate as he hears the stinging words of rebuke from his master. Interestingly he and Scrooge come to a similar conclusion. He needs to right the wrongs he has committed. And so he goes to each of his master’s debtors and cancels a significant portion of their debt to curry their favor. Now, lest you think he is further squandering or mismanaging the Master’s affairs it is important to note that the debt he is cancelling amounts to his own cut of the profits. That which he levied unfairly from his tenants is being returned with interest. For this the manager is commended by the master for acting shrewdly and prudently. Indeed the Master says: “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” He goes on, turning to address the larger audience: “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
Jesus hits us right between the eyes. He asks: “Have you been faithful, or dishonest in what you have been given? Are you to be trusted with the true riches?”
The prophet Amos doesn’t seem to think so. He declares: Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,
6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.”… Though these words are intended for the nation of Israel, it’s not hard to read them into our own context.
Indeed, I ran across an article the other day that discussed a plan in Columbia South Carolina to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. The plan did not include an expansion of services, nor did it seek to humanize this marginalized segment of society. No, the plan called for criminalizing homelessness. If passed, those found in violation of this new law have two “choices”. They either go to prison or can be bused to a mandatory “shelter” outside the city from which they cannot leave unless given permission by local authorities. The reason cited for this forced migration… It’s good for business… You see local business people are complaining that those people struggling to survive are scaring away customers the presence of the homeless is driving down sales and profits. It seems they are more than willing to trample the needy and do away with the poor.
While such actions in the name of profit are rarely this egregious I suspect we have all looked the other way at one time or another, chosen not to notice or have insulated ourselves from the reality of our broken world. The reality is that although Wall Street is booming, a record 46 million Americans are at or below the poverty line according to the latest US Census. That figure includes 1 out of 5 children. We insulate ourselves from this reality I suspect because we are quite comfortable with the way things are and are afraid of losing our place. Or maybe we insulate ourselves because we don’t know what to do or are afraid to speak up. Or possibly we insulate ourselves because we suspect that we may be part of the problem.
Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is we have not been trustworthy with what we have been given. We have not been trustworthy what is not ours.
Amos was frustrated that Israel was behaving in much the same way. They had forgotten where they had come from. They did not remember their heritage and how it was that they came into the Promised Land. The Israelites had been a people enslaved under a cruel Pharaoh in Egypt and had been delivered by God through the Red Sea and the Wilderness to a land that they could call their own. However, though they were to possess the land, it was not because of their own doing or work. Indeed we hear God’s Word to this newly liberated people in Deuteronomy 6: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”
This is what the manager forgot and what we all too often fail to remember. We like the Israelites forget that this creation was never ours to begin with, it is simply on loan. It is from the formless void that God brought about the good gifts of creation, the resources and the means from which our wealth comes. We are called merely to steward these gifts faithfully according to God’s good and gracious will. Therefore, to horde wealth for one’s own purpose is to dishonestly manage God’s creation. In so doing we do not trust in God’s goodness but instead in our own ability to garner resources. In the end we cannot serve God and money because by pursuing money we worship that which is made instead of the maker. Indeed, we are reminded in this text that hording wealth and resources is idolatrous. It puts us in the place of God as rulers of our own destiny. God cannot and will not be worshipped in this way.
Now…. Before you are burdened with a mountain of guilt, or more likely, send this presumptuous intern packing for St. Paul, I want to you to hear one more thing… You are enough, and you don’t need wealth or status to prove it. You are good, because that’s what God created you to be. You are trustworthy. Indeed God has already entrusted you with the true riches, the riches of His Kingdom, that no rust can tarnish and no moth can destroy. So live in the abundant promise of life from God and share in the goodness of creation with all of God’s children. Amen.