Monday, September 20

The Everlasting Dwelling: Sermon for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time after Pentecost

Failed to record the sermon on Sunday. What follows is a manuscript based on the outline I used for the sermon.

Amos 8:4-7 ;Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

We generally identify with and are identified by those with whom we associate. This is how communities function and form. Are we, am I, part of this group or that? Who gets to say who is in and who is out? Who decides the boundaries? Currently before us is how do we create a pluralist society of tolerance? Is such a society even desirable? To create a homogeneous society or a pluralist one both require some control of association: Moderate Christian’s and Moslems are encouraged to distance themselves from what is labeled as the dangerous and fringe elements of their own religious communities. Diversity has its own limits and boundaries it would seem. What community do you belong to the Christian one or the progressive or conservative one? In response to such questions we hyphenate our selves to admit that we may have more than a singular identity. We become attached to these hyphenated identities and one side of the hyphenation will insist on dominance and so Christians as often as not try to assert their progressive credentials or their conservative credentials. Rarely is the question asked if such activity distorts our witness and Christian identity. Yet what is this Christian identity, should one even seek to identify with Christianity and the Church? Isn’t it better to modify that identity by other values and ideologies? I wonder are we too attached to our identities whether Christian, or American or conservative or progressive, or Queer, or straight, male or female, or androgynous? In becoming attached to our identities do we limit our ability to pray for all people and to make friends for ourselves universally? In being so attached to our identities are we not binding ourselves exclusively to certain economies of truth and ideology? We are seeking permanent homes for ourselves and in the midst of this search Jesus Says “Make Friends for yourselves by means of unjust wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the everlasting dwelling.” Jesus concludes the puzzling parable of the unjust manager. Do we as followers of Christ seek to make friends in the way the unjust manager has? Are we too? If we are to do so, what might that look like, and how may it change our engagement with the world?

Paul enjoins Pray for all people, especially for Emperors and those in positions of authority as a means of engagement with the world and those with whom we live in the world. This sort of prayer instills in us an attitude and mindset. In prayer I have friendship and commerce with the world through petitions addressed towards God. Prayer acknowledges that God is at work in the world and cares for what and whom we pray. Prayer says we care for what and whom we pray. Prayer is an attitude of friendship. Prayer affects the world through the acts of God and by creating in ourselves a mindset of Friendship towards those for whom we pray. Thus Paul enjoins us to pray for all people to not draw away from those who wield power and who can and do wish us harm. We are through this prayer for all, as a church, to dwell in the world in peace, quiet, piety and dignity. We are not to abase ourselves, nor war against the world, nor add to the chaos of the world, but in confidence engage the world without attachment to these powers and authorities. That is to love the world freely across all boundaries and walls.

Parable of the unjust manager is a story one who crosses all sorts of boundaries. Jesus’ parable is tricky and it refuses to be tied down to a singular meaning. We are thrown by this parable it upends our expectations and our sense of morality and ethics, it causes us to struggle with why Jesus tells this parable and what it tells us to do. It is helpful to remember that parables are not meant to map directly onto a desired action or ethical scenario. Parables are to encounter us and shake us up in order to move us into a place of transformation. So we have multiple possible meanings and are to look for the one thing we are to look for that holds the multiple meanings together. For this parable it is the shrewdness, or the mind set of the unjust manager. The shrewd and unethical behavior shakes us up, disables our ability to judge what we are to take from the parable. We are confronted with things we want to be, and which are disrupted by the story having dishonorable character as the exemplary character. The unjust manager is not loyal to his master or anyone but his own survival. He is unconcerned about wealth, or communities (households). He simply wants to be able to live without begging or back breaking work. He does so by ensuring that no matter his reputation he will have a place to live, because the other heads of households will be indebted to him for saving them money, by having forgiven part of their debt. The unjust manager is not seeking for someone to be loyal to, or to work for again but for a number of households and communities to be friendly towards him and take him in when he is in need, even if they know he is a cheat and a swindler. He has guaranteed that for a time at least in each household he will have a place to stay.

What then is the attitude of the unjust manager that we are to have ourselves as disciples of Jesus? The unjust manager has an attitude of non-attached engagement. Non-attached engagement is the mind set we are to adopt. This is the attitude of God towards the world that is shown in the incarnation. God becomes both human and divine and thus in some sense neither purely divine, nor purely human. God becomes disloyal to God’s own divinity, in order to make friends with God humanity and the whole of creation! We are to take seriously the world in which we live and others we meet and inhabit the world with, just as God did in incarnating in the person of Jesus Christ. Like an unjust manager who has no loyalty to his master but knows the value of things and relationships that can be formed through material things, so we are to value the world we live in but for the purpose of making relationships that are not bounded by any household, or community or economy monetary or ideological.

God in Jesus Christ embraces all things. God is the unjust manager, we too are called to have this carelessness about households and community loyalties, so that all may have dwellings into the ages of ages. The continued dwelling of all forever require this attitude, this shrewd dealing with ourselves and the whole world as non-attached engagement. To seek relationship with all to be at peace retaining our dignity as human beings requires us to transcend ourselves to be simultaneously spiritual and physical. This can be so because God is the unjust manager when God joined God’s self to the material world in Jesus Christ becoming human and divine and thus pure neither. God in order to embrace the whole world in love abandons God’s pure and singular identity, becomes disloyal to that which is spirit. The identity of the church then is a friendship with all that is truly catholic, i.e. embracing all universal and disrupt all loyalties but values persons and communities but in the valuing remains unattached to any particular community or economy. The goal of this is that all may come to know the truth of God love that lead God to care nothing for Gods own identity as God freely became one with humanity and all creation for eternity, dwelling in the love of God.