Monday, September 20, 2010

Pentecost 17C

This is one of my favorite gospel readings. It’s wonderfully, ethically ambiguous. It comes put of nowhere and leaves the listener with an itchy scalp.

To me, it gives permission to color outside the lines and to push the edges of acceptable behaviour, Jesus demolishes any sense of ideological purity.

What we have is a guy who really likes his job and wants to keep it. Or at least to clear a smooth exit for himself. So he goes to each of his clients and takes an axe to their invoices. It looks like he’s more interested in keeping these folks as customers then in keeping his boss happy. Maybe he wants to strike out on his own since he knows that a pink slip is waiting in his mailbox when he gets back to the office.

But when his boss finds out what the manager has done, the pink slip becomes a promotion. Apparently, the boss liked the way his manager played the game. Dishonest initiative is rewarded. A weird reaction, isn’t it? Or as one bible commentator put it, “ethically reprehensible.”

The punch line to this story makes even less sense, Especially after the story he just told, “You can’t serve God and money.”

So, which is it Jesus, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth” or “You can’t serve God and money”? You can’t have it both ways.

I could be that Jesus is saying to make friends with money but don’t let it become your master. Be the chess player, not the chess piece. Work the system. Don’t let it work you.

That may sound like good news for anyone who’s been caught tipping the scales in their favour. After all, we have to live in the real world, where our messy hands leave a grimy film on the purity of God’s ethical demands.

But maybe that’s the point that Jesus was trying to make. Jesus could be telling us in a backhanded way that there is no clear division between clean and unclean, good and evil, comedy and tragedy.

Just as there is no such thing as clean money there is also no such things as a pure person. We are mixed both with the blood of Jesus which declares us innocent, and the blood of Adam and Eve which announces us broken and sinful. We are, as one writer puts, “citizens of heaven and tax-payers on earth. It’s no excuse for the trouble we get into, but it does explain our spotty record.”

So what does this story REALLY mean? I’m not entirely sure. But what I do know is this: the world will behave shrewdly and with calculation. Perhaps Jesus is asking us to make the best of a bad situation by being shrewd and calculating ourselves, not worrying about following every rule, but daring to think outside the cubical, knowing we aren’t saints, but forgiven stewards trying to figure out how to live faithfully as Jesus’ followers.

Jesus says that we can’t serve two masters. But that’s where we live. All of us. We serve one master who is merciful and loving and in who’s name we are saved - and live with another master who asks us to be shrewd and calculating. And all we can do is ask for the wisdom to tell which one is which.

And this wisdom is something we can discern together. Today we’re re-launching our ChristCare Small Group ministry. As many of you know, ChristCare is a specific model of small group ministry. A ChristCare group usually has 3 to 12 members, and it rests on four pillars:

Care and Community
Biblical Equipping (I call this “bible study you can use in daily living”)
Prayer and Worship
Missional Service

These four pillars make up the small group gathering and help each member grow as a follower of Jesus. ChristCare groups are microcosms of the large church. In fact, many people have pointed out that they grow more from Christ Care groups, because of the participation it requires, than they do after sitting through hours and hours of preaching. Even MY preaching!

ChristCare groups bring together the collective wisdom of their members, so that, together, they learn and discern God’s will. Then, with the help of God and the accountability of the group, live their faith in all that they do, being shrewdly gracious in their relationships.

And our participation in the One Community Project with Canadian Lutheran World Relief helps us reach beyond our doors and our lives as we help people in developing countries build a sustainable future. One thing I know about development agencies like Canadian Lutheran World Relief is that they are shrewd managers, working a system that is built to keep poor people poor, but reversing those who benefit from it. They raise funds, not by dishonest means, but they certainly need to have their voices heard over a cacophony of competing voices. And that takes creativity and cunning.

So whether it’s the One Community Project, ChristCare Small Group Ministry, or the regular healing the sick and raising the dead ministry that we do everyday, what I think this passage does is challenges us to think and act creatively in the cause of the gospel. To learn to work the system in a way that benefits the kingdom. To act on God’s vision in ways that would astound us.

Because we believe in a God and follow a saviour who broke all the rules so that we might have life.



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