Monday, September 23, 2013

Shrewdly Graceful

What are we going to do with this parable?
All of the commentaries I read this week on this parable said something like this, “Good luck preaching on this text.” for years commentators have been wondering what Jesus is getting at with his parable of the dishonest manager.
The great theologian and New Testament professor Rudolf Bultmann called this parable, “The problem child of biblical interpretation.”
I want to say that there is no way for me in this sermon or any sermon to fully get what is going on in this parable.
However, this is also the beauty of the parable.
Far too often the parables of Jesus have been watered down into discernible moral lessons.
We have taken the sting out of Jesus’ parables by assuming always that we know what the lesson is in them.
But parables are supposed to be surprising, and not about common sense.
This parable is wonderful because it stops us from making it an easy moral tale.
This is not to say that it has nothing to say, or that I don’t have anything to say this morning.
It is just to say that we should have to struggle again and again with what the Gospel has to say.
One of the things I want to say this morning is that perhaps this parable is not about some nice moral lesson that we should learn.
It is instead about the grace and mercy of God.

One of the possible keys to this parable is to consider the people that Jesus is addressing in the telling.
We are told that he tells this parable to the disciples.
But we know that there are other people listening in as well.
Back in chapter 15 we are told that Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners.
The good religious folks of Jesus day, the Pharisees and scribes, are grumbling because Jesus would dare to associate with just seedy characters.
Last week we heard the parable of the lost sheep as Jesus way of explaining the mercy and grace of God.
Today’s parable is in the same vain.
Think about how you would hear Jesus’ words if you were a tax collector.
It was your job to deal all the time with dishonest wealth.
You did the bidding of the Roman Empire.
You were seen by your neighbors and religious figures as working for the enemy.
But Jesus tells us that even this work in light of God’s grace can have redeeming qualities.
That even outside of religious holy things God’s work can still be done.
In fact, there are gifts that people of this age have that can be used to do God’s work.
It is not about morality but the grace and mercy of God.

Those of us who attempt to live a godly life know how hard this is.
We know that the world we live in is a messy place.
It is filled with good and bad.
It is filled with contradiction, and paradox.

I know that one of my daily struggles is to live the life God would want me to.
To live a life filled with righteousness and justice.
I have learned over the years how hard it is to do this.
When I was in college I saw a documentary about the clothing industry.
Because of NAFTA major clothing companies in the United States were moving jobs to Latin America that didn’t have unions or minimum wage.
The shirt you bought at the Gap for ten dollars cost the company only a dollar to make it.
And of that dollar only pennies went to the workers.
I decided that I was only going to buy clothes that came from companies that paid a living wage.
It has been about twenty years since I have been in Gap store.
But here is what I found out.
It is almost impossible to buy clothes that are not made on the backs of the poor.
Every company does it.

My Dad spent most of his life working for Sears, in fact my grandfather also worked for Sears.
Truth is that Sears also had some pretty shady business dealings.
For example, They would go into a town and buy up all the local shoe places so that the only place to get shoes was in Sears.
A friend once confronted me about Sears, and said something like, “Well if you don’t shop at the Gap then you can’t shop at Sears either.”
What was I to do?
What are we to do?
We live in a capitalist country, we live in a place where the bottom line of business is profit and not people.
How are we to live with integrity as children of light?

The children of light are not as shrewd as the children of this age.
Jesus this morning tells us that shrewdness is not a bad thing when it comes to doing the work of the kingdom.
That is good news, because if we are going to take Jesus seriously, if we are going to try to live as children of the light we need to be shrewd.
The definition of shrewdness is; having or showing an ability to understand things and to make good judgments.

The only way to live a life of faith is to live in God’s grace.
To live a life of faith is not merely to follow the moral rules.
It is not merely to be good people.
It is to understand the world we live and how God interacts with that world.
The God that Jesus teaches us about is not just about the morality and ethics, the God Jesus gives us is about grace.
It is a God who gives us grace to live in a world as morally messy as the one we live in.

Does this let us all off the hook?
Does it mean that we can do whatever we wish?
Because grace calls us back live again in this kingdom.
It sheds light on the world we live and exposes it for what it is.
The system that the shrewd manager finds himself is one of hierarchy based on money, power, and exploitation.
That is the system we live, and it is about rewards and punishment.
The system that Jesus gives us is about a gracious God who has provided for our every need whether we deserve it or not.
It is about a God who deeply understands the human heart and loves us anyway.
To see this is to be able to shrewdly asses the situations we find ourselves.
To be able to see wealth for what it really is, a trap, and not true security.
 To see ourselves for what we are sinners and saints.
To see the world in all of its messiness and still believe that God’s grace shines through.
To see others for what they are beloved children of the same God.

To be shrewd in the kingdom is not to be the Pharisees and Scribes who look down on others because they are not as religious as they are.
To be shrewd in the kingdom is to not look down on ourselves, but to be lifted up by the power of God’s grace.
If we can see the world through the lens of God’s grace then we can be less judgmental of others, we can be more forgiving, we can live without fear, and we can be shrewd in assessing what God is up to in our lives.

The problem with my boycott of certain companies was that often I used it to feel superior to others.
Like I was doing something more holy then all those people buying those clothes.
I still never shop at the GAP.
I still try in my own life to find ways to not fall into the system of consumption and exploitation, but I also am able to put everything in better perspective.
This act alone does not make me superior to others.
I live as everyone else does by the grace of God alone.

May all of us live by God’s grace.
May we be shrewd in dealing with the world, by not falling into the trap of believing that there are somehow us good religious people, and the rest of people living in sin.
In all of it in everything small and big is God’s grace working for our redemption.

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