Sermon Pentecost 18 September 18, 2016
Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1 Psalm 79:1-9 1 Timothy 2:1-7 Luke 16:1-13
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Today’s Gospel is tricky. At first blush it looks as though Jesus is advocating deception ! I think we all know that that cannot be right – Jesus is the man who gave up His life for Truth. He is hardly going to applaud dishonest behaviour is He ? So what is Jesus saying in the parable of the Dishonest Manager ? The dishonest manager is doing whatever he can to save his skin. Like a drowning man he flails about hoping to keep afloat until he is rescued. No problem with that, the sole purpose of life is to live. Preserving life is all there is when it is being taken away from you unless you have hope. Christians have hope in Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the forgiveness of Sin, so we need not be desperate and resort to deception or illegality, but there is no alternative for the manager except to be even more crafty than he was when he got himself into trouble in the first place – and he is. What Jesus is applauding in the parable is the man’s resourcefulness. We often wish that criminals would use their ingenuity for the betterment of society, that is one reason we like the Robin Hood myth. Robin is seen as a victimised but clever hero who robs the rich and gives to the poor. The Jesse James legend tends that way too. There are some very clever people out there on the wrong side of the law. If they were to put their skills to honest work they could be real contributors to the betterment of all – trouble is they do not. The popular and fictional examples of them are the Magnificent Seven and Ocean’s 11 and all its sequels, where dispirit characters with various special types of expertise come together to takedown criminals worse than they are, meanwhile lining their own pockets. They are just criminals stealing from or wreaking vengeance on other criminals – they are not doing Good.
The status of the real life Julian Assange of Wikileaks who published reams of government documents and Edward Snowden who did the same is open to question. By stealing government information and publishing it were they were acting criminally ? Or were they whistleblowers acting in the public interest revealing the criminal activity of their governments ? Do two Wrongs make a Right ? Do the ends justify the means ? And then there is Herve Falciani who stole confidential bank account information from the HBSC bank and released it to all and sundry. The bank account information revealed that many of the wealthiest 1% are hiding money offshore and not paying their proper taxes the way the rest of us have to. So Assange, Snowden and Falciani seem to fall into the same category as the dishonest manager, who Jesus applauded for his ingenuity. On that basis should they be let-off ? Many of us I am sure would say ‘Yes’. But they broke the law ! Jesus broke the Law too, usually around the Sabbath and blasphemy but in both cases He spoke the Truth, that cannot be wrong surely ! And He did it for the Greater Good, not the Common Good that I spoke about last week, but the Greater Good. There is a difference. The Common Good is about using our resources of every type efficiently and with the highest utility, with no necessary concern about morality. The Common Good makes its own morality so almost anything goes. The Greater Good is concerned about Truth and Justice and is really the work of those who profess the Christian faith, as indeed it was Christ’s work first. Jesus wants us to be more resourceful about our faith, that I think is the lesson of the parable. How can we do that ?
Paul in his letter to Timothy sets the stage with prayer. To get rid of injustice and the questionable activities of governments pray for those governments, the political leaders and the civil servants – and tell them you are praying for them. That way we won’t need the Robin Hoods of this real world to intervene for us and those who wish to do good won’t have to break the law to do so. Then what is it that we want governments to do ? Well, to act in accordance with Christian principles. From ancient times we have been susceptible to corruption, all over the world, in every jurisdiction people are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, like the manager. If you are a true follower of Christ, that will not happen, the opportunity for power to corrupt will be defeated by a life lived in Christ. That is the key. Jesus says “You cannot serve God and wealth”. We used to say ‘mammon’ meaning more than just money, it means ‘worldly things’.
Christians admit that financial security is necessary for both young and old. The young need to be able to make a home for their family and today it seems ever more difficult to do that even as we have historically low interest rates. Low interest rates though are usually the sign of an economy in trouble just as high interest rates do too. And young people’s jobs are low paying (unless you have a special skill or are clever enough to have invented a new widget). And most jobs are short-term contract and part-time. In truth we are not leaving our kids much of an economy. We have left them with a future full of uncertainty and struggle, no wonder they turn away to things which may get them the financial security they need. So Sunday mornings they are not here looking for God they are elsewhere looking to improve their sports skills and become the next Sidney Crosby, Josh Donaldson or Andre Degrasse. They have decided to serve mammon, because they will have to put bread on the table. Trouble is they don’t know or don’t believe that God can do that for them because first they have to drop the wealth thing and then concentrate on the God thing. My own experience tells me that God will provide. I believe you can say the same. Our challenge is that our young people need to be convinced that spending an hour or so on a Sunday morning with God is much better than the same time on the ice, or the field or the diamond. “You cannot serve God and wealth”. Older folks need to make that determination too, so choose God for yourself, and your family, and invite your friends. Amen.