Traditional Sermon Pentecost 15
Folks I gotta tell you something that you may not know about me. There’s something I really, really don’t like. Okay…let’s be honest…I kind of detest.
My list of “Things I detest” used to be pretty long.
As a kid I detested a lot of food that would be classified as a vegetable. Especially brussel sprouts…and these days…they ain’t half bad…you put them in a smoker and they are downright delightful.
On that list of things I detest used to be elevators. I used to not like them…all the buttons, the closing doors, the people. But when I was in college, my professor was on the 15th floor of an academic building, and elevators and I got to know each other much better. And these days… I kind of like them. Especially the see through kind. It’s kind of fun riding in them. Like a free…very predictable…amusement park ride.
There was even a time I really didn’t like and couldn’t understand anyone’s proclivity to hot sauce. And these days… if you’ve seen me eat…I usually put hot sauce on anything.
My list for things I don’t like or may even detest has really shrunk in the last few years, but there’s something that remains.
Something…or I should say…someone on that list I just really don’t like.
It’s the anti-hero.
Whether you are reading a story, watching a movie, or hearing a plot unfold, you may encounter the antihero.
They’re a main character who lacks conventional heroic qualities and is missing things like idealism, courage and morality. Anti-heroes. Yuck.
When fellow teenagers were all about reading books like Catcher and the Rye or Fight Club, I was staying away from it like the plague.
I’m reminded how much I dislike antiheroes whenever Pastor Craig and other staff members chat about The Walking Dead or last summer when so many of my family members were talking about Game of Thrones. Or even a week or two ago when my husband asked me if I wanted to watch old episodes of Breaking Bad. Do I want to watch any of those shows?
“Why in the world would I want to watch that?!”
Calm….find my happy space…a space where there is only heroes and stories of courage, valor, and making the righteous decision…. Breathe in…breathe out.
And I realize it speaks to who I am.
I like clear cut right and wrong answers.
I like clear directions–do this, don’t do that.
I like order.
I don’t like vague, opaque, gray areas.
If anyone has ever taken the Enneagram, I am a type 1.
And being who I am, I REALLY struggle with Jesus’ parable that we find in the Gospel of Luke chapter 16.
There are so many antiheroes in it.
There’s gray areas and perplexing conclusions.
And my hot take on it makes me go ick. I dislike….and if honest…detest.
Let’s set the scene of this parable I really don’t like and its antihero I really, really don’t like.
You have a steward, a manger, who has been mismanaging.
Not doing what he’s supposed to be doing.
And the master…the boss… becomes aware and asks this manager to make an accounting for all the accounts.
Loans need to be repaid. And fast.
And the manager has to do some fast accounting to account for his mismanagement.
Now there’s some historical background here…first…people who were hearing Jesus’ parable would have known that the master is an antihero, as well. The amounts that are due include principal and interest, but small snag… in the 1st century Jews were forbidden to lend money at interest. But many got “around” this snag by lending in kind with things like oil and wheat. So you could call the boss underhanded.
Then you have the manager who’s not been managing well, and rather than being a good predictable hero who falls on his sword or asks for mercy and admits that he’s not good, he runs around making deals with the people who owe the boss. “Pay me the principal…forget the interest” (and by the way…remember me when I come knocking on your door for a job)
But in the end…somehow…everyone ends happy.
The debtors are delighted.
The manager scored points in the debtors’ eyes.
And the boss…well he’s impressed with the manager’s scrappy, shrewd dealings. That’s the type of manager you want to have, right?
Someone who can think fast!
What does someone like me do with a story like this?
As one of our church members keenly observed, Jesus must have found this parable from the well known Book of Sarcasm, Chapter 2 verse 1.
What does one do with this parable?
Even the Gospel writer Luke seems to struggle a bit…why else does he try three different times to interpret Jesus’ words… talking about children of light and children of this age…throwing in being faithful with little means your faithful with much and visa versa…and even alluding to buying your way into heaven. All of it makes us uncomfortable.
Well, I don’t want to speak for you. It makes me uncomfortable…me who’s much more comfortable with heroes than antiheroes.
But what if we take a step back and begin with Jesus.
As like to I say, Jesus is a good place to start.
He is the alpha and omega the beginning and the end…so let’s start there.
When Jesus is sending his apostles out two by two, he’s sending them into the world with the mission of revealing the kingdom of God and giving them advice about being workers for the kingdom.
“See, I am sending you like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”Jesus, Matthew 10:16
Wise as serpents. Innocent as doves. Or as a mentor of mind said to me in my first month of ordained ministry…
“When going into the world and doing God’s work, you got to have the Holy Bible in one hand and Machiavelli’s The Prince in the other.”
In other words…God wants you to be shrewd.
God wants you to be wise.
God wants you to think!
I love being a Lutheran for many reasons.
I love living in the assurance of God’s love for me through Jesus Christ.
I love being cradled in the truth that there’s nothing I can do that will undo God’s salvific work in me.
I also love being a Lutheran because it means that I can ask questions.
I can have doubts and not worry about being smited.
I can use my brain. God doesn’t want me to check my brain at the door… and nothing makes me happier than when I see you using your brains, your creativity, your spunky scrappiness in order to serve the Lord.
Cause when I see that, I hear angel choirs singing and God’s kingdom come.
God wants us to be wise as serpents, innocent as doves, using your shrewd, wiley selves… not for our own glory, or our own benefit… because really…none of this around us is ours…nor is it permanent…
…but God wants us to be shrewd, scrappy, and creative
to better serve the kingdom.
Remember, “Thy kingdom come?” Yeah…that kingdom!
With God’s work, and our hands.
God wants your brains, your wit, your grit, your stamina, the resources that God has given you to manage…and when you use it to better this world, to bring God’s kingdom for all to see… it’s beautiful.
I’ve come across a few shrewd, creative, scrappy and spunky managers these past few weeks–either meeting them in person or hearing about their work.
A few weeks ago I read in the paper about how a local grocery store will be cutting out single-use plastic bags. This store goes through 4.6 million single-use plastic bags at its checkouts a year. That’s a lot of plastic that too often ends up on the side of the road or in our waterways. As Christians we believe that we’ve been ‘loaned’ this beautiful fragile place by God who asks us to account for it. And this is an example of a company is taking that environmental stewardship call seriously.
Oh and by the way…they will be selling reusable bags — made out of recycled plastic bottles — for $1.59 each.
That’s some creative thinking that in process can benefit the kingdom.
The other week I stopped in at a local coffee company. I like a good cup of coffee. While there, they let me know that they ensure that coffee bean farmers are paid a livable wage. I get a good cup of coffee and I know I’m not taking advantage of a hard working farmer. Makes me want to go back there more often. Oh and they work with other business partners that have the same mindset…being the change they want to see in the world. For bean counters out there, that really adds up, doesn’t it?
Or earlier this week I met some folks in Manheim Township who are part of the Occupational Development Center–a not-for-profit vocational and employment center for adults with disabilities. I heard the story about a local industry who couldn’t find enough workers to fill demand, and one of the managers of ODC went to that industry and said, “Look. I work with a population of adults where there is 80% unemployment. Let’s work together. You get the workers you need. My folks get to fill jobs that bring them purpose and responsibility.”
Everyone wins! Shrewd for the industry’s bottom line, creative from the manager’s point of view, and life-giving for the employee and participants of ODC. That’s kingdom work.
I don’t even need to look far to see the quick-thinking, creative spirit that St. Peter’s share with our mission partners. Last Spring we heard the news that the Busoka Lutheran church building was destroyed by weather. Members of the Tanzanian Mission Committee quickly moved to see the destruction first hand…and to see how building programs work in Tanzania. Brick by brick. Piece by piece the village of Busoka is ready to build a church for the people of God to gather.
Faithful, resource-filled conversations ensued.
Fast forward to this Fall and we’re in the midst of the Busoka fundraiser–and already you have faithfully raised $4,600 of the $5,000 goal. That’s the faithful, creative, and resourceful thinking that God asks us to be a part of.
God’s work, our scrappy, creative, shrewd hands.
And guess what God works with antiheroes… that’s us.
We who are broken, we who so often mismanage our priorities and resources. God works with us antiheroes because Christ our Lord is the only hero we need.
And because of that, by God’s grace, presence and inspiration–beautiful holy things can happen.
Remember: God wants your brains, your wit, your grit, your stamina, the resources that God has given you to manage…and when you use it to better this world then truly thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.