19th Sep, 2004

The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise other.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. + Amen

In the landmark work, “Rediscovering the Parables,” Scripture scholar Joachim Jeremias wrote that the parables of Jesus take us to the core of the mind, the vision, of Jesus, as to what life in the Reign of God is like. Some parables and actions of Jesus are quite consoling and comforting, like the parable of the Prodigal Son, which reveals God’s great mercy. But other instances of Jesus’ parabolic ministry are quite disturbing, calling us to radical life change and repentance, warning us that we may be missing the point of life; warning us that in the eyes of God, opportunities for us to get on the right course of life might be running out. In the 16th and 17th chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel we have examples of some of Jesus’ hard sayings, sometimes hard to understand, sometimes hard to live.

Our Gospel Lesson for today tells the story of the rich man’s dishonest steward, who is dismissed for squandering the rich man’s money. This shrewd steward contemplates his fate on how he will survive after he is let go. He decides to create friends for himself among his master’s debtors by lessening the debt that they owe the master. When the rich man notices how shrewd the manager has been, he commends him for his shrewdness. Jesus concludes the story by observing that the children of this age are shrewder dealing with this generation than are the children of the light.

Jesus wants us to be children of the light, but He seems to be saying that He wants us to develop some of the shrewdness of the children of this age!
Translated for today, I think Jesus would like to see us take some of the skill, effort, time, and determination that we give to our normal everyday concerns and apply it to our life in the Reign of God, or living a spiritual life. He is not encouraging us to become dishonest like the steward, rather to become entrepreneurial about what really matters in life. Shrewd in understanding the relationships of money and power, in seeing how oil, wheat, gasoline, and bread are all related to the coming Kingdom of God. Another way of putting it might be: “Get your head on right about the relationships to people as of more value than your relationships to things.”

In addition to our Gospel Lesson from Luke, the epistle for today from I Timothy suggests the way in which Christians are to realign their relationships to God. We are urged to pray. Why? Because when we pray we are giving voice to the relationship we have with our Maker and Redeemer. Relationships require communication, and prayer is the principal form we use to signify our relationship with God. As St. Augustine so aptly put it: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Our restless hearts find focus in prayer.

The Disciples implored Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray… teach us to pray!” The avenues available to us are innumerable. Many people are delighted with the rich offering of prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, or in other devotional material, such as “A Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion.” Others find a spontaneous prayer experience to be rewarding, or personal devotions focused on the Blessed Sacrament. Like any relationship, we grow in depth with God as we begin to explore and use the language of prayer. Corporate prayer as the family of God is especially necessary in the Body of Christ. There are many opportunities for that here: like Evensong and Benediction once a month or the Rosary Prayer Group every week. But attending Mass together is the greatest expression of our corporate prayer and everyday of the week we gather at the altar here at St. Thomas Parish to receive our Lord.

We learn about prayer from doing it… by living it. It’s like if one decides to devote even a small amount of time each morning to conscious prayer; instead of reading the comics in the L.A. Times, having another cup of coffee, or watching the Today Show; one prays. That small amount of time barely matters in the whole 24 hour hectic-ness of our lives; but by giving such a small part, we have in essence consecrated our whole day to God and can feel the difference! Learning about prayer deepens our relationship with God and lays a foundation for our response to God in giving from what God has given to us. Or to put it another way, to quote I John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.”

How can we quantify what we return to God in the face of so much generosity to us? We cannot; for anything we give is trivial in the face of such extreme generosity… all He asks for is one thing… our hearts. Learning to pray is really about realigning our lives… all of our lives, including… (dare I mention it?) even our personal finances and the Parish budget.. Whoops… well there I went and said it… but you know, Jesus never minced His words and He talks a lot about one’s relationship to God and possessions.

Like our parable today, the crafty steward uses his cleverness to assure himself a place when the bottom falls out. Jesus encourages that same cleverness, though of course not the dishonest behavior, and He says you cannot serve God and possessions. That is because He knows how hard we struggle with our limited resources, how we wish we could have more, and how we say, “If ever I win the lottery, I’m going to give a bundle to the church!” Well, to tell you the truth, Jesus doesn’t really want to hear that. He wants us to feel freedom and joy to give from what we have, right now! He knows how bound we are by our feeling of scarcity. He wants us to claim abundance.

How do we get there? It’s back to that simple but profound fact of consciously being seekers, deepening our relationship to God by prayer, through our worship together as the family of God, by asking God’s help and then expecting it, by trusting in God and really meaning it. It’s really like a relationship with a friend. remember when you first called them because you needed a favor and you were hesitant? “I hate to ask you, but could you…?” And the friend said, “No problem, I would be glad to help.” That was when you discovered a new level of friendship. That is the way it is with God.

It is really all about relationship, a relationship that growers deeper and more vital with trust and, admittedly some risk. Some people who are worth millions feel poor because in the post 9/11 declining stock market, they are only worth half of what they were before; some people who are financially very challenged feel rich because they are focused on the blessings they have. During the Great Depression, one of my father’s aunts was married to a clergyman who died at 37 leaving her with five children and no money. They were very poor. One day her children came home and told their mother there was a food drive for the “poor” at school. They wanted to bring something. Aunt Maggie went to her cupboard and found some cans of soup, ones she could hardly afford to give away, and sent them to school. Her children never knew they were poor, because they had never had much to begin with and because Aunt Maggie always focused on the things they had, rather than what they did not have.

Our Discipleship calls us into relationship, into a realignment, into a stewardship of what we have been given guardianship over. An honest spiritual journey leads us in the ways of personal integrity and conscience; brings us more love in our personal relationships; motivates us to think outside the box to be more shrewd stewards of God’s resources entrusted to us, and shrewd about dispensing mercy, compassion, and justice.

This is a spiritual journey all of us make, each of us at a different place in that journey. Bill W. touched the essence of resistance to such a challenge in the Fifth Chapter of the Big Book immediately after listing the Twelve Steps: “Many of us exclaimed, “what an order! I can’t go through with it.” Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”

So, we are all fellow seekers of God’s purpose for us. We are called together to be shrewd stewards of how we manage the many gifts and resources with which we are entrusted. We are building a spiritual legacy that will nurture us and bring us to know God as our lover and our friend, who will one day bring us to our true home.



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