Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Two Tax Collectors
Marinus van Reymerswale

This is one of the more difficult parables that we hear.
It is hard to work out what Jesus is getting at.

Are we supposed to agree with the dishonest manager?
Are we supposed to agree with the master?
Are we to think of ourselves as the debtors?

It is very confusing.
It is made all the more confusing by our lectionary system, which takes it out of the order it is in in Luke’s Gospel. If we were following the order, this would follow the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a parable not without its own difficulties.

However, if we do place the two side by side,
we can come to some understanding of what is going on.

‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 

The manager has been misappropriating some of the money,
The master is placed in a difficult position: his honour is at stake.
He can’t control his employees.
His status is in danger.
By firing the manager, he can save face.

Then the manager said to himself,
“What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.
I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager,
people may welcome me into their homes.” 

The manager is also in a difficult position, one even more precarious than that of his master.
Not only will he lose face with the community, he will also lose his livelihood.
Being a manager is all he knows, and if everyone thinks he has been dishonest, no one else will employ him, and no one will want to associate with him.

He works out a scheme that both restores his master’s honour,
and salvages his reputation as a manager.
He forgives a portion of each debt.
All the debtors assume this is the masters doing, therefore he looks generous.
Because the manager has made the master look good,
he is no longer in danger of losing his job, and his reputation is kept intact.

All done, hunky dory.
So what?
What are we to take from that?
Where is God in all of that dishonesty and protecting of status and worldly honour?

If we put this parable next to the Parable of the Prodigal Son,
we might get some insight into what Jesus is getting at.

Not only are these two parables placed side by side in Luke’s Gospel, they both share some linguistic and structural similarities.

In both, the main protagonist, the son and the manager, squander their possessions.
Both talk to themselves into a way of sorting out their difficulties:
the prodigal son decides he will ask his father if he can be a hired hand,
the manager works out the scheme of reducing the debts.

A difference between the two is that the prodigal son works out his trouble on his own.
The dishonest manager is caught out by his master.

The prodigal son wishes to return home, even if it means being a hired hand instead of as a son.
He hopes his father will have enough compassion to welcome him back even at this lowlier status. We remember the father shows greater compassion in that he welcomes him back as a son, and celebrates his return.

The dishonest manager however cannot rely on mercy from his master.
So, he works out a scheme that if he cannot receive mercy from his master,
he may be able to receive it from the master’s debtors.

The end point of both parables is that they both find a way to receive mercy, and both are welcomed home.

It is how this mercy is worked out with the dishonest manager that is a difference.

He shows mercy to his master’s debtors.
He reduces their debt payments.
It seems he is attempting to buy mercy for himself by showing it to others.
This is not a gracious mercy, but one that is part of a deal.

This makes sense of Jesus comment after the parable:

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.

He is saying show mercy, forgive all.
Even if you are doing it for what may not be completely selfless reasons.

I am not suggesting that our forgiveness be hollow, or our mercy meaningless.
But what this does suggest is something greater.

What harm can ever happen by showing mercy?
Can we ever get it wrong by showing forgiveness?

The dishonest manager’s scheme could be seen as a way of getting back at his master,
because he is reducing the amount of money the master will receive, like “that’ll show him.”

But rather it ends that because he showed mercy to those who were in debt, he was shown mercy.

Because what does he actually do?
He forgives debts.
He has no right or authorisation to forgive them.
He does it for the wrong reasons; looking after his own status and to try and redeem himself for his dishonesty.
But the action he takes is forgiveness.

So, forgive.
Forgive for any reason, or no reason. But, forgive.

So, rather than the parable being about money and honesty, debts and masters, it is really about forgiveness.

And the forgiveness it speaks of is even more pointed than with that of the prodigal son.

In this parable Jesus is telling us to forgive anyone, in anyway we can.
Even if our motives may be less than pure, he is saying forgive.
There is no wrong reason to forgive.

By forgiving, even when we don’t feel like it, we show the kind of grace God shows to us, and by doing so, we put ourselves more in touch with God’s grace.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus and the Lost Sheep
Glenn Bautista

There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents

Again, we enter into a story where it seems that the world is being turned upside down.
A world where it is better to find one that is lost, at the risk of losing everything else.

The key to both these parables is the word lost.
In both, the protagonist, the shepherd or the woman,
rejoices because they have found something that has been lost.
The rejoicing comes from finding.
The rejoicing comes from what has been lost.

If we think about a time we have lost something,
we all know the joy that comes from finding it.
Think of the time you lost your keys.
The stress in the time you couldn’t find them.

Or when you couldn’t find the spice in your kitchen for the stew you were cooking.
Upon finding it, remember the joy when you smelt the stew as it was supposed to smell.

Think to the time when you felt like you were losing your grip on a situation,
when maybe your position at work was threatened.

Or maybe when your status was changing.
Maybe think about how you may have lashed out when you felt you were losing control.

Or maybe, think about when you felt you had lost your child.
When you knew your child was no longer yours,
but rather, they were their own person who would make their own decisions.

Or maybe for some of you, remember when you felt like you were losing your mind,
or when you lost your will to go on living.
Remember when you felt like you were lost from everything.
Maybe you felt like you had lost God,
that Jesus the great shepherd wasn’t there to pick you up and carry you on his shoulders.
Maybe you lost your faith at some time.

Losing something is never fun.
We have all experienced loss of someone or something.
We all also know the joy of finding something.

In these two parables, we hear about losing and finding.
A lost sheep, and a lost coin.
In both parables, the person goes to extreme lengths to find what was lost.
In both parables, the person goes to extreme lengths in their celebration.

If we think about the economics of the parables, they seem to be very extreme.
Jesus recognises that as such by stating each parable as a question:

Which one of you..’ and ‘Or what woman…’

Jesus invites us into the stories.
He asks us whether our behaviour and reactions would be the same.

Would they?

By asking a question, he opens up the possibility of a negative answer.
Maybe that is what he actually expects.
Maybe that is the point.

Which one of you,
having a hundred sheep and losing one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost
until he finds it? 

That is economic madness.
The 99 could then become lost.
It doesn’t make sense.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins,
if she loses one of them,
does not light a lamp,
sweep the house,
and search carefully until she finds it? 

This one makes a bit more economic sense.
No one likes losing money, and most people will search for money they have lost.

But the rejoicing that takes place makes very little sense.

When she has found it,
she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying,
“Rejoice with me,
for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 

So she gets the village together to have a party to celebrate the lost coin.
A party that would cost more than the coin. Again no economic sense.

No worldly economic sense.

But in these parables we are not talking about worldly economics.
We are talking about God’s economics.
That is an economic system that that doesn’t count,
doesn’t use ratios or percentages.
It is an economy that isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair. It seems to go against all we hold dear, that there is a fair go for everyone.

But this is God’s economy.
He doesn’t work in our ways of understanding economy.
He doesn’t work with what we think is fair.

God and the angels rejoice over finding one who was lost.

And it is the lost or losing things that is the key.

It is those who are not with us.
It is those who have lost their faith, who have lost their way,
who have lost their hope, that God rejoices over finding.

That is why there is such extreme rejoicing by the shepherd and the woman.
They found something that was lost to them.
Someone could have given the shepherd another sheep, or the woman another coin.
But that wouldn’t work.
In our economic system, it would, but in God’s it doesn’t.
It is the lost sheep, the lost coin being found that cause rejoicing,
not the balancing of the books.
It is that particular sheep and that particular coin.

It is the finding what was lost that causes rejoicing.

There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents

And it is to those that we are called to be with.

We are called to be with those who feel lost from God.
We are called to be with them, to let them know of God’s love for them.
We are called to rejoice with them when they find God’ love for them.

Then, we can rejoice with the angels in the presence of God over the finding of one who has been lost.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

"If you love somebody set them free"
The Dream of the Blue Turtles

"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." 

The humilty we heard of last week gets turned outwards.
We are to regard others as more important than ourselves.
Now, such humilty, not looking out for ourselves, gets turned on to how we view our relationships.

Do illustrate, Jesus deconstructs the standard building block of society: the family.

‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Now we all know that he doesn't mean hate your family.
That would be disgraceful and evil.
That certainly is  not what he means for us to do.
But he is asking us to look at our relationships, and our understanding of family.
He is asking us to look at how are relationships are, how they work.

The key is the phrase:
"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." 
We have heard Jesus speak about our attachment to items, but here is speaking about people.
The Greek helps a bit.
“Possessions” in the Greek can be “possessing.”
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessing.
When we heard about the danger of possessions, we found it wasn't the things in themselves,
but rather our attitude toward them.
Here Jesus is saying that we need to look at our relationships, and our attitude toward them,
or rather our attitude toward those we are in relationship with.

If our attitude toward our possessions was the problem,
then it follows that our attitude toward our relationships has the same problem,
that of trying to own or possess them.
To this Jesus adds “even life itself.”

It's our possessing things that turns love to hate and life to death.
We try to possess others and we try to possess our own lives.
We don't treat our lives and the lives of others that we love as a gift.
We treat them as something as something we have worked for, have earned.
Life isn't something we have to cling on to.
Life is not something we need to possess.
It is something we have to be able to share, something that is for everyone.

Our relationships are the same.
Those we love we need to be able to set free.
We have to be able to let go of those we love.
If we let go it means we aren't trying to possess them.
If we let them go, we can receive them back as gifts.

I know there is a lot of pain around this for some of you.
For many of you feel hurt by the fact that your children haven't followed you in the faith.
I think what Jesus is getting at here may be of help and comfort.
It may lead to some uncomfortable soul searching, but I think it will also lead to healing of relationships, and healing of yourselves.
If you have truly let go of your relationships with your children,
you will see that their decision to follow Christ is nothing to do with you or anyone else. We can't possess our children. We love them, and that means freedom.

The only way to true life is for each of us to be willing to give up all our possessing.
And this is true of our churches.
We can't possess them.
We have to be able to let go of any ownership of them.
It is only by doing so will they have true life.
They aren't ours to possess, rather they are ours to let go, to be free.
They are ours to give to others as a gift.

All this isn't to say that we aren't to care for our relationships, our families, our churches, ourselves.

It is more that we need to look at our attitude toward them.

It follows from Jesus humility we spoke of last week.
Jesus showed the ultimate in humility in his giving of himself, his very life, on the cross.
He saw his life as something to give.
In doing so he showed us the way to real love, love that doesn't need to posses.
God's love doesn't possess, it gives, even in death.
On the cross, Jesus said “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
The last thing he did was to give his life to God the Father.
And that act wasn't the end.
In three days, God the Father gave his life back to him.
And that life Jesus shares with us, eternal life, a gift.

If we treat our lives as a gift as Jesus did for us, we know we can't possess anything.
By giving we receive back.
Generosity breeds generosity.
Jesus gave his life so we could have eternal life.
We give freedom to those we love to receive freedom.
"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." 
To be a disciple of Jesus means a great letting go of possessing anything.
He gives us that freedom and to be a disciple means to accept that freedom and to live our lives freed from the need for possessing anything.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Christ Crucified
Diego Valasquez

'For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Humility is a most overlooked quality in in our society.
Most of us admire it when we see it in those we don’t expect to have it.
In fact that is when we notice it the most.
We notice humility when we don’t expect it.

And if you think about it, that is right.

Humility by its very nature should not be visible.

Imagine, instead of an Oscar, or a Grammy, or an Aria, that there was 'Humbly.'
A 'Humbly' is the award for the person who showed the most humility in the world that year.

First imagine the selection process.
What would the criteria be?
How could you define the most humble?
How would you even know about their activities?

The committee would have to find these people.
How? The only way could be if other people nominated them without the knowing.
You can’t nominate yourself for an award for humility.
To do so is not humble.

Then, let’s say they do get some nominees.
How could any of them accept the award?
To accept an award for humility lacks humility.
There would be this never ending cycle of people deferring the award to the other nominees.
All being humble, and out humbling themselves.

The whole thing wouldn’t work.

This is so typical of Jesus. He turns the world upside down. He reverses expectations.
What used to be right is wrong.

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

And the thing is that Jesus didn’t just say this. He lived it.
He wore rags when he could have worn the best clothes there were.
He could have worn a crown of gold, but he wore one of thorns.
He could have sat upon a throne, but he was nailed to a cross.

As St Paul tells us in his letter to the Phillipians:

Christ Jesus,who, 
though he was in the form of God, 
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself, 
taking the form of a slave, 
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— 
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross. 

In his death, Jesus showed the ultimate in humility.
Obedient to the point of death.
And we know that being crucifed was the most shameful way to die.

So Jesus lived with humility, his death was also in complete humility.

Paul gives us more of clue to humility

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 
So being humble means having no ambitions for ourselves.
It means not being conceited.
It means regarding others as better than us.
But I think his last clause is the most significant.
We aren’t to look out for our own selves, but rather for others.

Society in our time is allergic to humility.
It does not understand it, and it does not recognise its value.
Our society is one that rewards those who push themselves to the top,
who win the game,
who have the most likes on facebook,
or who has the most money,
or friends,
or the most influence.

Humility can’t compete with that.
It is like oil and water.
And that is why Christ’s message seems so lost amidst all the noise.

But the one thing the world can’t ignore is the figure of Christ on the cross,
in that act of selflessness,
in that act of putting others needs ahead of his own,
in that ultimate act of humility.
The world can’t ignore the crucified Christ.
Within that act, humility is shown to have the greatest power that the world has ever seen. By dying for all, he saved all.
Christ upon the cross shows the world the true meaning of humility.

'For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’