An Anti-Lesson

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.

Think for a moment of a person whom, at any time in your life, you admired so much that you made an intentional effort to be like them.  We all have these folks in our life.  For me, it’s my grandmother.  People always said we looked just alike but I have always wanted to love and care for others as well as she did. And even with all of my intentionality to be like her, I pale in comparison.  But that doesn’t stop me from always trying to love as she loved.  

Now, think of a person whom, at any time in your life, you observed and then said, I’m intentionally not going to do things the way they do.  Every time I begin work on a sermon, I think of someone about whom I can say I learned a lot about how not to prepare a sermon, a priest who mentored me well in other areas, but who waited until Sunday morning to even think about the sermon and sat in their office with heavy metal music blaring while they prepared it.  This is what prompts me to start early in the week and give it the time y’all deserve for me to.  

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us think of Jesus’ parables as lessons about how to live, but have you ever thought that some of them are what I like to call anti-lessons.  We listen to a parable and try to decide who we are in the story or at least who we should be like but do we ever think we shouldn’t be a particular person in the parable.  Is there anyone in this parable you aspire to be?  Maybe perhaps the folks who are getting their debt cut in half but other than that, really?  

So, I think this is a lesson in who not to be, of how not to be.  It’s a lesson about the consequences of living transactionally rather than relationally.  The manager sees wealth as a means for relationship and relationships as something he can purchase.  In the economy of God’s Kingdom relationships are both free and priceless.   

Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about Jesus explaining the true cost of following him, of being a disciple, that we had to give all that we have into the service of God’s Kingdom.  And last week we talked about finding the one lost sheep and the one lost coin as a way to teach us that each of us is infinitely valuable to God.  The “wealth” of God’s Kingdom ins’t weighed out in gold coins.

Jesus is telling us a story of a manager getting sideways with his master.  This would have meant a household manager, also known as a steward, someone hired by the master, the owner of the house to oversee the family’s business dealings: the buying and selling of whatever the house needed and produced: livestock, crops, wine, oil, cloth, etc.  A manager, a steward, is trusted to manage these transactions as if the items and money of the owner were their own.  The manager mishandled what belonged to the master and when called to task, cheated the owner out of more in an attempt to purchase relationships he could cash in on later.  And although he is commended for his cleverness, he still doesn’t avoid the consequences of his choices. 

As a conclusion to the parable, Jesus asks about faithfulness and dishonest wealth and true riches, and I think this is the clue that it’s a lesson about what not to do.  Jesus asks:

If you have not been faithful with dishonest wealth, why would anyone trust you with true riches?  

If you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, how can you be trusted with anything?  

Jesus is using these words in the context of God’s Kingdom.  True riches are the riches of God’s kingdom – love, compassion, justice, mercy, the characteristics of God that equip us for true relationship.  This the wealth of God’s Kingdom.  God entrusts us with true riches – life and love and relationship.  How do we misuse them to build the wealth of money and possessions for our own benefit?  If we misuse the very life we are created for, are we using any thing properly – in the Way people and things are designed for in God’s Kingdom?  

These questions of Jesus should lead us to the questions: do I value my relationships more than anything?  

Do I use all that I have to nurture and grow relationships or for my own self interests?  

Do we live as stewards, with the understanding that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God?  

Do we let Jesus shape our worldview so we move through this world in relationship with God, each other, and all of creation, or do we have a transactional worldview in which we see everyone and everything as something for our use, including God?

When Jesus talks about dishonest wealth, he uses the Greek word mammon which refers to worldly wealth, but it’s not just money.  It is that which we give the power to fulfill our deepest needs and desires: money, possessions, looks, service, excitement, prestige, another person, knowledge, rules, ourselves.  When we look to anything else besides God to fulfill our deepest needs, to give us our identity and sense of belonging and purpose, we are serving the wrong god.

When we look to money or possession or another person or our job or our volunteer work or exciting experiences to make us happy, to fulfill us, to save us, we are worshiping the wrong god.  None of these in themselves is bad, money and wealth aren’t evil, work and volunteer efforts, fun and travel, none of them are bad.  It’s what we do with them and how we use them that matters.

Jesus uses this lesson to help us orient our lives properly.  With God at the center, what we do have, our possessions and wealth, our ability to serve, our skills and talents, our quest for fun and enjoyment are part of how we live into the command to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves.  When we use these as a way to elevate ourselves, we’ve got it wrong, like the man in the story.  He used his wealth as a way to curry favor and earn relationship and relationship built on transaction can’t last.  Relationship, as Jesus shows and teaches us, is a gift freely given and freely received.  

We use the title ‘disciple’ often to describe our relationship with Jesus. Being a disciple means that we learn from Jesus, by following his life and teaching, with the intent of becoming like him. The purpose of being a disciple is to become like the teacher.  Who or what do we allow to disciple us, to shape who we are becoming though the whole length of our life?  Do we orient our life toward the Kingdom of God or the fallible wealth of this world?

This parable is about who or what we put at the center of our life and who or what we choose to serve; it is about knowing Whose and who we really are; It teaches us about living relationally instead of transactionally, letting go of the idea we can earn or purchase real relationships and accepting God’s gift of love and life.  It is about the rich and abundant life of living on earth as it is in heaven, as we are created to live, here and now.  Amen. 

One thought on “An Anti-Lesson

  1. Thanks Mother Nancy. This is another tough Gospel scripture. Your sermon clarifies the message and helps me to digest, learn and use it. Peace


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