Archives: Proper 20

Arguing the Way

One of the courses I’ve put together in my teaching ministry is called “Questions of Jesus.”

In the gospels, Jesus asks 307 questions and only answers 3.

He clearly has a lot to ask of us, not only in terms of what he’s calling us to do, but in terms of what is going on in our hearts and minds—he wants to know.

What I do in the “Questions of Jesus” course is present Jesus’ questions with no context at all, no indication of the story, the situation, and the surrounding verses.

Then I let folks wrestle with them, individually, in small groups, and as a large group.  It’s always a fascinating process.

Jesus’ questions, taken apart from their familiar contexts, have a way of cutting right through our customary b.s. and assumptions, like a laser to the heart.

And the question he asks today is one of my favorites.

“What were you arguing about on the way?”

It’s a heck of a relevant question to us right here and now. Continue reading

Dishonest Manager Job Application

“You’re fired.”

One of our presidential candidates used to like to say that on TV, and that’s what the man in our gospel story today is about to hear from his employer.

This story in the Gospel of Luke is known as the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, and it’s honestly a little tricky for us to get our heads around at first.

When I found out this was the text I had drawn for my first sermon at St. Francis, I was afraid “you’re fired” was exactly what I was going to hear as soon as I got out of the pulpit!

But I have faith that we can figure this out.

Let’s review the facts as we know them. We start with two characters: the rich man and his manager.

Word on the street is that the manager has been embezzling funds and taking kickback, and the rich man summons him to his office for a pre-firing dressing down.

In serious hot water, the manager realizes he’s not trained for any other type of job and he’d better lay some groundwork for his future.

So going to his master’s clients, he reduces their bills, thereby earning himself their gratitude and restoring his master’s reputation from someone who employs corrupt officials to someone who is generous with his clients.

We can follow up to this point. The manager is trying to make the best of a bad situation, and since he’s already defrauded his boss, he might as well go whole hog and make himself look good by unethically reducing the amount of money the clients owe.

You would think that when the rich man found out that his manager had again cheated him out of money, he would call for the tar and feathers.

But no. Jesus said that the “master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

What? Continue reading

Bad 70s Pop Psychology in the Gospel

I have something I try to remind myself of on a regular basis.

And that something is that everyone can see through me.

Everyone can see through my posturing and my careful cultivation of a holy priestly persona and a polite and cheerful mask. I’m not fooling anyone.

And when I remember that it brings me back down to earth. I get this kind of mixed set of feelings in myself that is somehow a blend of chagrin, wry humor, and relief.

Why do we try to fool the world into thinking specific things about us?

Why do we act as though the false self of virtue or power is who we really are?

It’s because we are afraid.

We don’t believe that people would love us if they knew the truth about us. Continue reading

There Is No Such Thing as iChurch

“I can’t get no satisfaction,” to quote Mick Jagger.

That is exactly what our scriptures are about today.

We have a passage from the Book of Exodus where the Israelites are so unhappy and ungrateful that they actually wish out loud that God had allowed them to die as slaves in Israel.

And we have the story from the Gospel of Matthew where the laborers who worked all day are angry that the workers who only showed up at 5 p.m. get paid the same amount as themselves, who have worked all day in the hot sun.

To be fair and honest, they all have a case.

The Israelites are lost in the desert, and have no reason to expect that food and water will magically appear to save them.  And it really doesn’t seem fair that nobody is rewarded according to how much he or she worked in the parable in Matthew.

Despite these instinctive misgivings, we like to believe we would somehow be far-seeing and obedient to God if we were in the same situation.

We’d like to believe that if we were with the Israelites, we would be brave and have faith that God would take care of us.

And we’re sure that if we were with the disciples hearing Jesus’ parable, we’d immediately understand that God’s grace is given freely to everyone regardless of how much effort they are able to put in.

Well, I’m calling bogus, and I’d actually like to propose that we are even less likely either have faith in or be satisfied with God’s grace than the people in these two stories. Continue reading