Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sermon: Even Kids Know Its Wrong

Proper 20 Year C – Luke 16:1-13
Vicki Hesse, Ministry Intern
Open our lips, O Lord, that our mouth might proclaim your praise

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his 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. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Have you seen the TV ad
for a bank with the slogan
“even kids know it’s wrong”… ?

It goes like this…
A market researcher
asks a little girl if she would like a pony.
She says, “Yes!” and
he reaches in his pocket for a plastic horse. 
She takes it and plays with it, smiling.

He asks the other girl
if she would like a pony.
She, of course, says “Yes!” 
He leans a bit to the side, clicks,
and out from behind the cubicle wall
walks a live pony. 

Both kids are wide-eyed in amazement. 
The camera zooms into the first girl’s face – she says,
“How come I didn’t get a real pony?”
and the market researcher says,
“Well, you didn’t ask for one,”
The narrator closes the scene
with the moral of the story…
“Even kids know it's wrong to hold out on somebody… "

Hearing today’s gospel,
we may feel like that first girl…
“even kids know its wrong”
to be dishonest, especially with someone else’s accounts. 

Why did the master commend the dishonest manager?

I recently watched a film called The Proposal. 
Sandra Bullock plays Margaret, Exec Editor
of a big New York publishing company. 
She is bossy, pushy and cold. 
In the opening scenes,
she barks out several commands to
Andrew, her mistreated assistant.
He has to help her to fire the #2 manager. 
Then, the company president calls her
to his office.  He explains that her visa expired
- she is being deported to Canada.

You can almost see
the bubble over her head,
“what shall I do, now that my master
is taking the position away from me?” 
(But it’s a film, so you have to imagine it.) 

“I have decided what to do,”
she explains to her president,
and calls Andrew into the office. 

In that moment, she forces Andrew
to say they are getting married.
Andrew plays along, there,
(he’s used to covering up for her),
but is very reluctant later, when he thinks about it. 
He agrees to the deal
after Margaret reminds him that if she goes, he goes,
since he was complicit
in firing of the #2 manager earlier.

You can almost see
the bubble over his head,
 “what shall I do, now that my master
is taking the position away from me?”
(again, it’s a film!)

“I have decided what to do,”
he explains to her after the INS interrogation,
convincing the officer that
they really were getting married. 

He shrewdly insists that
Margaret make him the editor
and also publish his book. 
So now they are both in this for personal reasons.

The plot thickens as they go to Alaska
for his grandmother’s 90th birthday –
and they announce their engagement. 
After a weekend of shenanigans,
they do hold the wedding in
his family’s completely renovated barn,
with the whole community there. 

At the last minute, right before the “I do’s,”
Margaret calls off the wedding. 
She admits her selfishness in the situation
and flies back to NY for the deportation. 

This forces Andrew to face his own selfishness. 
He has to now think about how he really feels. 

In the last scene, he arrives in New York just in time
as she is cleaning out her office. 
He admits his selfish ambitions
and that in all of this,  he forgives her and says
he is actually falling in love with her. 

He then asks her to marry him. 
She admits her part, too,
she forgives him and agrees to marry him.
The closing credits show them
snuggling and smooching happily. 

Like our gospel reading, this familiar plot shows how
“someone in trouble can stumble into grace
practically by accident.” 

Although they were in this for themselves,
their hearts softened
as their relationship deepened
with the weekend shenanigans. 
In several scenes, they began
to see each other as human and
they learned to forgive. 

The dishonest manager in the parable
also “stumbles into grace.” 

In the debt-reduction scenes,
those who owe money
appreciate his forgiveness and
begin to see him – and the master –
in a new light. 
They appreciate the manager
and this bodes well for future job possibilities. 
And, by grace, it works even better than planned! 
The debtors get a better deal and
the manager gets praise from the master!

Because of his shrewdness,
the master looks like a good guy. 
Everyone wins, and the closing credits
could show them snuggling and smooching.

Well that’s just crazy!
Why would someone so bad
end up in such a good situation? 
Some of us might want
the manager to pay for his dishonesty –
not get out of the situation even better
than he started. 

What kind of moral example is this? 
Well, it isn’t one. 

Its simply an illustration of
the outrageous nature of God’s grace,
and our call to live in it with forgiveness.

It sounds a bit like the story of Jacob.
He was the trickster patriarch
who deceived his father, cheated his brother and
then made off with most of his father-in-law’s flock.
God’s blessing was always available to him.

Jewish folklore – which Jesus knew –
is full of stories of clever and wise rascals…

The dishonest manager is praised
but not for his thievery. 
With one folklore-ish parable,
Jesus pushes his disciples and
critiques the scribes and Pharisees, whose efforts alienate the very people to whom they ought to be kind.

Jesus rhetorically asks, in essence,
if a selfish guy can make friends in this way,
with a little forgiveness…
what more can he do with the grace of God
behind him the whole way? 
What if he used this cleverness
to bring about good-ness,
not just to serve himself?

We have to consider, what about us?  
When are stressed by this dog-eat-dog world,
when we get anxious
about earthly things –
money, status, power,
the kind of phone we have,
the brand of clothes we wear…
what do we do?
We get clever and shrewd
and use our best skills for ourselves alone. 

That’s the challenge in today’s message:
How can we, as disciples,
use our cleverness
to love things heavenly,
bring about good-ness,
not just to serve ourselves?
How can we, with God’s grace,
offer forgiveness,
feed the poor,
welcome the outcast
love each other more deeply? 

The good news in today’s message is that
we can, with God’s surprising grace
and with acts of forgiveness. 
Forgiveness is an act of discipleship,
not an emotion. 
Through forgiveness,
Margaret and Andrew
found what really mattered.

Through forgiveness,
the manager gained friends
and the master saved face. 

Through forgiveness
and by the grace of God,
our relationships are deepened,
our hearts are softened, and
unfair systems are up-ended. 

Forgiveness, the starting place
for living into God’s’ dream.
If God was keeping score,
we’d be in debt
like the folks in the parable today. 

With grace preceding us,
we accept it and
with forgiveness to others. 

That is how to be a disciple and
to create ripples of goodness
into an expansive sense of God’s justice. 

It is grace
that fuels the engine of forgiveness
that drives our journey into God’s Love.

We who receive it gladly
are called to share it freely. 


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