September 18: The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, September 18, 2022, was preached as a response to Luke 16.1-13. The manuscript on which the sermon was based is below.

If anything is clear in this parable from Jesus,
it’s that not everyone Jesus tells stories about
are meant as people for us to just emulate off the bat!
We have today the story
of someone who is very, very rich.
This Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos rich.
He’s so rich
that he has to have other people
taking care of his money for him.
He can’t keep track of it all.
Jesus says that he gets a report
that his manager – or steward –
is not squandering the rich man’s resources.
The rich man asks for a self-audit
and tells the steward that he’s on the way out the door.
So the steward goes to some folks
who owe the rich man grain and oil
and cuts their bills.
Jesus says,
“The children of this age
are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
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.”
Jesus’ parable today
is not encouraging stealing from our employers
not even taking all the paperclips and copy paper
literally on the way out the door,
although that’s about what this man does
except this is about 5,000 pounds of of wheat
being cut down to about 4,000.
This steward, knowing that he’s on the way out,
does what he needs to do
to prepare for what’s next.

Like the steward,
we’re on the way out.
You’re probably familiar with the old refrain
that no one gets out of this life alive.
Although the NRSV uses “manager”
I really like steward better.
Like the man in the story,
we’re stewards of God’s resources.
All that we have is God’s,
whether time, talent, or treasure.
We don’t get out of here alive,
so we have to wonder what we’re doing
to prepare for the next life.
This is not buying our ways to heaven or paradise!
This is being mindful
that we will be asked to give an account.

Because of the averted engineer and conductor strike this week,
I was listening to union songs for much of the week.
As I listened to Pete Seeger sing “Talking Union,” –
which I’ve loved for over a decade because of its sass –
I was reminded of my sermon two weeks ago
when I talked about doing something
and challenging us to go to the meetings.
Seeger talk-sings, in his wise grandfather voice,
“Now, you know you’re underpaid, but the boss says you ain’t
He speeds up the work till you’re ’bout to faint
You may he down and out, but you ain’t beaten
Pass out a leaflet and call a meetin’
Talk it over – speak your mind
Decide to do something about it.”
Having heard stories about conductors and engineers on NPR
and read their stories firsthand on the @TwoPersonCrew twitter account –
especially with Warren Buffet heading on of the railroad companies –
I understood the steward in today’s text just trying to survive
knowing that he’s on notice
and that along the way his rich boss
was a boss.
There was no way the boss had gotten as rich as he was
if he wasn’t exploiting others along the way
and getting rich off their work.

So he cuts the bills for some debtors
whose debt probably wouldn’t have lasted
more than seven year anyway
without automatic forgiveness.
The NRSV chooses for us
that his boss commends the dishonest manager
though the Greek isn’t clear whether its his boss
or Jesus the master teacher
who is telling the parable.
He’s been participating in a system
that has taken advantage of others
he’s bettered himself too
and now he’s being cut out.
So he cuts and runs!
Jesus says,
“The children of this age
are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
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.”

It’s possible that Jesus is suggesting –
as later church writers wholeheartedly proclaimed –
that this level of wealth is just bad.
The common parlance today
including by the children of Patagonia’s founder is
“Every billionaire is a policy mistake.”
Jesus may be saying
that they’re moral mistakes as well
particularly with counties, towns, and countries
domestically and globally
not having reliable access to clean drinking water
and people being lied to about having jobs waiting
only to be dropped off on an island.
While Jesus is challenging this issue
he’s continuing to invite us to do something,
like I talked about two weeks ago and
Pete Seeger invites those who are down and out
in their jobs.

Will charges be brought against us
that we’re squandering the gifts God had given us?
Or will we find ways to use the systems we’re caught up in
systems we can’t escape no matter how hard we might try
because we live in a society
to make life better for others
out of our love for God and God’s love for us and creation?
Those are some questions to think on
as you start to think about your financial commitments
to St. Hilda St. Patrick and other places of giving
for next year.
God loves us no matter what
and wants us to join in God’s reign being at hand
and making it manifest at hand.
Maybe we don’t manage debts of 5,000 pounds of grain
but we can be fair in our dealings
and acknowledge the realities of
wage stagnation,
limited housing supply,
addiction as disease,
and so many other things where we can love like Jesus
instead of reach for easy answers
and dismiss concerns.
No one makes it out of this life alive,
so we’re on notice.
We’ve got God’s grace to buoy us
and God’s grace to guide us.
Will we be just or unjust stewards? Amen.

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