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The Way… of Life Abundant

(a sermon for October 27, 2019 , the 20th Sunday after Pentecost and Stewardship Sunday; last in a series, based on John 10:7-10)

(a podcast version of this message can be found here)

And Jesus said to them, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Perhaps it’s a by-product of having turned 60 years old this year, I don’t know; or maybe it’s simply that we’re now inching toward late autumn and there’s another long New England winter looming on the horizon, but I must confess to you that these days I’ve been thinking a lot about life… life, what it all means, and at the end of the day what makes it abundant.

Now, to have life is certainly a good thing; it’s desirable, important.  “How much more so, then,” writes theologian and pastor David Lose, is “abundant life. The chance to not simply persist, but thrive, to not simply exist, but flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted.”  Lose goes on to say that if there’s one thing that “pretty much everyone” desires – “even if they can’t name that desire” – it’s this.  And I would agree; I mean, we hear this desire expressed all the time, don’t we?  That there’s years to your life, but what counts is that “there’s life to your years;” or that “it’s not the number of breaths you take but the number of moments that take your breath away?” Or maybe it’s simply the difference between being able to wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord!” as opposed to rolling out of bed and saying, “Good Lord, it’s morning!”

All I know is that’s the kind of life I want – that is, the “Good morning, Lord” attitude, not the other (!) – especially now that I’m (shudder!) looking – eventually, mind you – toward my “third act.” I mean, like anybody else, have a vision in my mind’s eye of how life should be.  But as I say, sometimes I do wonder about the way… of such abundance.

Of course, Madison Avenue and the ever shifting pop culture of this world would love not only to sell you on the idea of what abundant life looks like – you know, beauty, fun, romance, hope, identity, relationship, joy, community and popularity – but also that such things are attained through money and fashion and the perfect physique; by driving the best car, having the most up to date iPhone, and of course (and I hear this a lot on television), the ability and resources to “retire rich.”  Even social media gets into the act:  do you know that there’s been a move afoot to remove “like” buttons from sites like Facebook and Instagram – you know, the little “thumbs up” and “hearts” and “angry faces” that people put on your posts in re – in part because so many people have somehow placed their perception of personal popularity and success, or the complete lack thereof, on the basis of how many of those “likes” they’ve received, or conversely, on all the negative feedback they’ve received online; as though the meaning and abundance of a life could ever be determined by one’s identity on social media (my own podcast page on Facebook does  currently have 107 followers, which is pretty cool, but I digress…)!

The point is that there’s so much in this world and the culture that purports to provide a life abundant, but as the saying goes, “It hits all the right notes, but it is not the song.”  In fact, I’ll go one step further here: not only do these worldly efforts ultimately fail to bring life in any lasting or meaningful way – because it always ends up that the abundance that’s promised inevitably comes in the next big thing – it also tends to steal away the qualities of life that truly matter.  It’s actually not unlike what Jesus was talking about in our text for this morning when he refers to “the thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  We’re all seeking true life and to have it abundantly, but so often that which we desperately cling to for that purpose would rob us of that true life.  When it comes to providing abundant life, these are the thieves, the bandits, the imposters or even potentially the hired hand (!) that would actively seek to put the sheep (that is, you and me) in danger; but the good news is that we do have a good shepherd.  In the wonderful words of Nadia Bolz-Weber, “in a world where people are being fed spoonfuls of nonsense and told it is Jesus… we have a better Gospel.”  And that better Gospel comes in the Good Shepherd who not only stands at the gate for the sheep but who is the gate, and who says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Let me just say at this point that this whole section of the 10th chapter of John, from which our text is drawn this morning is amongst the richest, most evocative and – at least in terms of point of view – one of the more perplexing passages in all of John’s Gospel.  First Jesus talks about anyone not “not enter[ing] the sheepfold by the gate” (10:1) being a thief and a bandit; then it’s all about the gatekeeper whose voice the sheep recognize (v. 3), then, as we’ve said, it’s Jesus referring to himself as the gate (v. 9), and then, most prominently, it’s how he’s “the good shepherd” (v. 11) who knows and cares for his flock, even to the point of laying down his life.  Jesus is coming at this particular parable at a whole lot of different angles – which is why we preachers tend to divide up these verses in our sermons (!) – but do you see the overarching theme of this whole metaphor of sheep and shepherd and sheepgate?  It’s that Jesus is the one – the only one – who saves those sheep from all the predators of this world and who ever and always cares for the sheep that they have life and have it abundantly.

So… given all that, what is this way of life abundant that Jesus offers us?  Actually, it’s all right there in Jesus’ words about shepherds and sheep, and it comes down to three things: protection, provision and presence.  “That’s it,” writes Karoline Lewis of Lutheran Seminary. “Not observable opulence.  Not assumed affluence.  Not luxury or lavishness.  No, it seems that abundant life, according to Jesus, is knowing that you will be safe and sound, trusting that your basic needs will be met, and believing that you are never alone.”

It’s worth noting here that Jesus’ words about the care of the good shepherd comes on the heels of Jesus (in chapter 9) having healed a man born blind – this man, who as you might remember, was reduced to begging at the pool of Siloam (9:1-9) – and by virtue of this healing was not only given the ability to see but also a whole new life; quoting Karoline Lewis again, even when afterward “the formerly blind man has been thrown out by the religious leaders,” (because remember, the Pharisees were not all that keen on the healing having taken place on the Sabbath), and even though he was “cast out again from community and exposed to the elements,” Jesus finds him and is there for him, bringing him the assurance of his protection, provision and presence (9:35) because that’s what it means to be part of Jesus’ flock; because that is the blessing of having Jesus with you always; because that’s what it is to truly have life and to have it abundantly.

It’s also why Jesus, almost immediately in John’s Gospel, responds to all of this by saying  to all those people who were no doubt confused with Jesus’ mixed metaphor here (and here’s The Message version of this passage), “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep.”  I am the Good Shepherd; I’m the one who will lay down my life for the sheep!  “All those others are up to no good – sheep stealers, every one of them… a thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

At the end of the day, you see – all through the day, in fact – the way of abundant life is that life spent with Jesus and his protection, provision and presence.

Like I said before… I do wonder at times about my life; about what the future holds for me, and for my family and all the people that I love. I know; it’s still “a ways” off yet, but I do think about retirement and what that’s going to look like and how we’ll manage; and like many of you, I suspect, in these ever changing and sometimes insanely crazy times I can’t help but worry a bit about what this world is going to look like for our children and grandchildren.

And truthfully, beloved, I wonder what’s going to happen with this church as the future unfolds in its unpredictable way.  And don’t misunderstand me here; first of all, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon (!) but also because I don’t worry about this church.  Oh, yes, we do have our concerns and challenges and uncertainties in this place; and not only would I be less than honest, I wouldn’t be any kind of a pastor if I didn’t confess that there’s not a year when I don’t fret a little bit about budget and offerings and how the rest of the building will get painted.  But here’s the thing: I don’t worry because the Lord is our shepherd, our good shepherd, and he has come that we may have life and have it abundantly.  And so just as I know in faith that the Lord will most certainly see me in and through everything that comes in my own life, I am convinced that as you and I walk the way together, East Church and the ministry that we share will not simply persist, but thrive; and that we will not merely exist in this world and in this life, but flourish… not only right here and now, not just in 2020, but “from season to changing season, from age to age the same.”

You see, the great joy of walking in “the Way” of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is that wherever we go, wherever we’re led, wherever the windy and twisted road of life takes us we’re never alone on the journey.  And wherever that pathway goes and however long the journey, individually and collectively we walk as God’s children.  We are known, beloved; known by the God who has created us in his image and for his great pleasure.  We are loved with love unfathomable, we are protected along every step of the way in this life and eternally in the next.  And we are provided for; provided all that we’ll ever need by the one who is the very source of all of our blessing.  And we are strengthened and empowered by his very countenance; we have and shall always know our Lord’s presence times of trial and of rejoicing; so, as our Epistle reading for this morning puts it, “[we] may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

And if that is not life abundant, then nothing else can possibly be.

Beloved, may God bless you and me as we navigate all the joys, the challenges and the blessed uncertainties of this life.  May God bless all of his creation with inspiration as it struggles to live with mercy and kindness, with humility and divine peace.  May God bless his church – even this church – with power for love and to be Jesus’ disciples here on Mountain Road and beyond.  And may God grant us all life that is truly abundant; with the wisdom and the spirit to walk the way ahead in faith and with all manner of joy.

And ever and always, as we do may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Sermon, Sermon Series, Stewardship

 

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The Way… of Faithful Giving

Opening Scene from “Chariots of Fire,” 1981

(a sermon for October 20, 2019, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost; third in a series, based on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

It’s a wonderful scene from one of the great films of the 1980’s: Chariots of Fire, and it still ranks among my all-time favorites.  Now, if you’ve seen this movie (and if you haven’t, why not?), you know that this was the true story of two runners competing in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, one of whom was a Scottish missionary by the name of Eric Liddell.  And the scene in question depicts Liddell trying in vain to explain to his sister Jennie why he had decided to put off a Missionary call to China so that first he could compete in those Olympic Games.  “Jennie,” he says. “You’ve got to understand… I believe that God made me for a purpose… for China.  But he also made me fast… and when I run I feel his pleasure.”

It’s just this little moment in the film, but I think the reason I love it so much is that though I’ll never, ever be confused with someone who is any kind of runner, much less one of Olympic-caliber, nonetheless I understand exactly what Liddell was talking about there, and moreover, I know that  feeling!  I’ve felt it, for instance, in music – many times in singing or playing the guitar – moments when by some miracle of grace everything just goes right; when the melodies and harmonies all come together just as they should and the song, or the hymn or the anthem – whatever the music happens to be at that moment – is, as musicians like to say, “in the pocket.” And let me just say here that there are also times – quite often, in fact – that I feel it in our times of worship together: sometimes, it’ll be there in the music we share; it can also be felt in our laughter, our fellowship and the occasional unpredictability of this time we spend together every Sunday morning; it’s certainly been there in our moments of prayerfulness; and sometimes – not always, mind you, but sometimes – I even feel it when I’m standing at this pulpit preaching the sermon for the day.

And understand, I’m not talking here about everything going perfectly, or even according to plan – trust me here, sometimes the best moments we share as a congregation are the ones that no one saw coming, including your pastor (!) – what I’m referring to here (and I suspect you know what I’m talking about here) are the moments when everything connects; when it’s clear from everything that’s happening that the Holy Spirit is moving in and through this place and its people; when there’s joy that’s palpable or, for that matter,  when  grief and sorrow is mutually borne.  It’s in such moments that yes, we do feel God’s pleasure in it, and in us.  In fact, I would go so far as to suggest to you that this is maybe the primary reason we’ve come to worship and ultimately, what we get out of coming here (actually echoing something we talked about here a couple of weeks ago): to faithfully give the best of ourselves unto God so that we might feel God’s pleasure in what we do.  And to quote Eric Liddell (or at least, as he’s quoted in the movie), “to give it up would be to hold [God] in contempt,” but “to win is to honor him.”

And who are we, I ask you this morning, to deny God’s pleasure?

All of this brings us to our text for this morning, in which Paul is exhorting the Gentile Christians in Corinth to contribute to an offering to benefit the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  First off, let’s be honest about this particular passage of Paul’s epistle; there’s no disguising the fact that this is a financial appeal, and a pretty effective one at that! Not only does Paul emphasize the spiritual rewards for an abundant response (“For the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God”), while also reminding them that since they’ve been provided with every blessing in abundance, they might also “share abundantly in every good work,”  Paul also manages to, shall we say, “play the guilt card” in mentioning Macedonian Christians (to whom, Paul makes a point of saying, “I’ve been bragging about you.”), suggesting that “if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready” – that is, if you aren’t ready with an offering, “we’d all be pretty red-faced – you and us – for acting so sure of ourselves.” [The Message]  See what I mean?  It’s a stewardship message, basically with no hold barred; and it’s no wonder that we preachers return to this particular passage on days… well, days just like this one (did I happen to mention that next week is Stewardship Sunday here at East Church?).

But all that said, friends, we need to understand that there’s much more going on in this passage than merely a pitch for the benevolent support of Jerusalem; in fact, in just a few short verses of scripture Paul lays out for us “the way” of faithful giving, and whether it involves our time, talent, treasure or all of life itself, it all really comes down to those very familiar words, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  Now, there’s a whole lot that’s interesting about this verse for me, but just about at the top of the list is the fact that the word translated at “cheerful” is from the original Greek word, hilaron, which is also where we get our word “hilarious.”  So this verse could well be translated as “God loves a hilarious giver;” which, at least in our 21st century parlance, sort of suggests a lack of seriousness on the part of the giver (sort of creates an image of someone running through the sanctuary throwing money in the air while laughing maniacally, doesn’t it; not exactly the wisest approach to stewardship!).  No, in this instance, that word hilaron has to do with delight, as in (and this is how The Message translates it, and very well, I might add), “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”  And that’s exactly what’s at the heart of the way of faithful giving: delight!  When you and I give of ourselves delightfully – that is, when we find our joy in that giving – we will most certainly feel God’s pleasure in it.

I hasten to add, however, that Paul is not suggesting any kind sort of false piety here or fake generosity; and he’s certainly not demanding, as a parent might ask of a reluctant child, that we “do it with a smile on our face.”  No; that’s the other message of Paul’s stewardship letter to the Corinthians: that each one “must give as [he or she] has made up [his] mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”  The act and intent of giving, you see, always has to be from the heart.  And that’s also borne out in the original Greek of this text: the word used for “decide” or to “make up one’s mind” is actually karia, which means heart and yes, why it’s referred to in a hospital as a “cardiac” unit.  In other words, the true way of giving is not meant to be sorrowful, or forced, or born of necessity, but should be that action of a truly delighted believer; the giving itself ought to be a sustained and joyful response to every blessing that God gives in abundance.

Now, does this mean that if you’re not feeling happy or delighted in giving you ought to give it up? I say this as a preacher of God’s word, but also as a church pastor: Perish the thought!  In the words of a church sign I saw some years ago, “God loves a cheerful giver, but God accepts from a grouch!”  Make no mistake; as persons and a people of faith, giving, in whatever form it takes, is part of our spiritual DNA.  To quote John Calvin here, “For we are not born for ourselves merely, so a Christian… ought neither to live to himself, nor lay out what he has, merely for his own use.”  In other words, for the Christian giving is essential, but the motivation for that giving is… everything.  The right motivation for giving, you see, is what brings us joy, it is what fulfills purpose, it serves as a catalyst for a true generosity of spirit, it’s what creates community and it is what fuels ministries of love and peace in Jesus’ name.  And it’s a blessing… one that when extended ends up blessing you in return.

But, says Paul… and this is a very important point… “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  And I don’t think one needs to be a farmer to understand what that means.

This morning we have had the distinct honor and great joy to dedicate gifts to this church to the glory of God; gifts that were given by a faithful and devoted long-time member of this very congregation, our friend “Effie” Watts. And let me just say once again that while choir robes, tables and chairs, and a clavinova are wonderful, useful and “spirit filled” tools for the ministries of East Church, the true blessing we received came in how it was given to us, in the faithful heart – Effie’s heart – that motivated the giving.  That is a wonderful thing indeed… and I have to say that it’s all served to remind us that in so many ways, who we are as a church – our history, our tradition, our personality (joyous, loving, unique and even at times quirky!), and most especially our shared ministry in the name of Jesus Christ our risen Lord and Savior – all of it has come about as the result of many faithful hearts who have found delight in following Jesus and sowing the seeds of love and faith as they give of themselves to others and to the glory of God, both in this place and out those doors and into the world.  You and I, beloved, we are the recipients of the “surpassing grace of God” that has been given to all the saints, past and present, who have walked the way of faithful giving.

And I’ll tell you something else, in case you haven’t noticed… because of them, and by God’s surpassing grace, we thrive as a congregation here on Mountain Road.  It doesn’t mean it’s all easy and that we don’t have budgetary concerns, because we do; but nonetheless we thrive in this place.  We flourish as God’s people because of YOU, who by that surpassing grace of God give wholly of yourselves with great delight in what God has given you and in joy awaiting what God has yet to do in our midst.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you for that, beloved, and I ask that we all give this matter some thought and prayer as you consider our shared pathway as a church in the coming year.

And as we do, may our “thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

Amen and AMEN.

©  2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Adjusting the Bottom Line

(a sermon for September 22, 2019, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 16:1-13)

(A podcast version of this message can be found here)

Let’s just say this up front: our text for this morning is by no means “easy.” In fact, let’s just go with what a whole lot of biblical commentators over the centuries have confessed in one way or another: that of all of Jesus’ parables, this so-called story of the “Dishonest Manager,” is perhaps the most “notoriously difficult.”

And it’s easy to see why:  I mean what we’ve got here is a parable that’s chock full of immoral, unethical behavior from beginning to end!  We’ve got this property manager who’s called out on the carpet by his wealthy boss for “squandering his property” – presumably cheating said boss out of his money – and demands an audit of the books before he’s fired.  So this “dishonest manager,” realizing that his days are most certainly numbered, immediately goes into crisis mode (after all, he reasons, “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”) and decides to go around to at least two of this master’s renters and tells them to reduce what it is they owe; this to ingratiate himself to these people so perhaps he might have a place to stay after he’s out of work!

So, basically what we have here is a shady character involved in some very shady dealings, a swindler engaged in the act of swindling his soon-to-be ex-boss, “adjusting the bottom line” to his own advantage and to save his own skin!  There’s nothing here  the least bit inspiring or commendable; this man is a scoundrel and most certainly a criminal, someone who if justice were served would be convicted of fraud and tossed into jail! And yet, it turns out that not only is the boss impressed with the guy’s shrewdness but worst of all, it seems, so is Jesus!  In fact, says Jesus to his disciples on the heels of this story, “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” adding, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Or, as it’s paraphrased in The Message, “I want you to be smart in the same way” as this unjust, crooked manager!

And you and I, together with generations of biblical scholars and faithful disciples, are left with the same question:  what’s that all about?  What is Jesus even thinking here?  It’s bad enough for him to be suggesting that God’s people might have something to learn from such a criminal, but could Jesus really be suggesting that as his followers we ought to be engaging in such unethical, not to mention selfish, behavior?  It’s no wonder that there have been those biblical scholars over the centuries who have wondered aloud if Jesus actually did tell that particular parable, or if maybe, just maybe, Luke got it wrong in the telling!

I think, however, if we dig a little deeper into this parable, and Jesus’ assessment of it, it actually makes a lot of sense.  And as so often is the case when we look at scripture, it comes down to language and context.  First of all, we need to understand that when we’re told that “charges” were brought against this manager, the Greek word there is probably better translated as “slandered,” which suggests that perhaps this manager wasn’t as dishonest as we were led to believe (granted, just about every Bible in the world refers to him as the “Dishonest Manager,” but it’s worth noting here that as often is the case with any accusation there might just be a rush to judgment… just sayin’!).  And the charge itself, that the manager had been “squandering” his property, in the Greek language has more to do with spreading it around rather than wasting it; literally in sense of sowing seed!  To quote Richard Swanson, could be that “the manager was investing.  Or he was diversifying.  Or he was stimulating the local economy.  Or he was making allies for his master against a time when allies would come in handy.”

Could be… or maybe not.  But can you see how a particular choice of words would serve to make a heretofore thoroughly dishonest manager a shrewd manager (oh, and by the way, the Greek word used for shrewd is phronimos, which also suggests wisdom and prudence)?

It’s also important for us to understand that Jesus tells this particular story immediately after he’s told a trio of other very familiar parables: that of the lost sheep, the lost coin and of course, the parable of the prodigal son.  Remember, those three stories were in response to the scribes and Pharisees grumbling and complaining that Jesus was welcoming tax collectors and sinners, of all people, and eating (!) with them (15:1-2).  So these stories about how God reaches out to those who are lost and draws them back into his loving embrace; about how even the worst of the worst and lowest of the low could be welcomed back home by the father who loved and forgave him actually flows very nicely into this next story about a supposed low-life criminal who is commended for his incredible shrewdness!  And isn’t it also interesting that the next thing Jesus says is a reminder to his disciples and to us that “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?”   Or, to quote The Message again, “If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?”

Kind of changes our whole reading of what Jesus is saying in this parable, doesn’t it?

No… I don’t think that Jesus is actually suggesting we go out into the world and seek to mismanage other peoples’ money for the sake of the Kingdom of God, nor is it for us to take undue and unfair advantage of a particular situation in which we find ourselves.  But it does seem to me that the point that Jesus is making here is that God calls us to make use of the resources that we’ve been given; to make an assessment of all that God has provided us, in trust, to care for and invest; doing the absolute best in whatever way we can with that which we’ve been given so that when that final day of accounting comes for us we also might be commended for our shrewdness, our prudence and our wisdom.

If that all still sounds a bit suspect, let me put this another way: in a world that ever seems to be shifting beneath our feet, it would seem to me that a greater sense of responsibility as regards our faith is paramount in importance.  In this seemingly outrageous parable of Jesus we are being admonished that in times of crisis, when all the other securities of this life have either fallen short or crumbled altogether, our actions as God’s people need to be decisive, bold, creative and above all, faithful, even if some personal risk is involved; because the future, as uncertain as it might seem, is ever and always God’s future, and we who would call ourselves believers are stewards of it.  The steward in the parable takes a rather precarious and bleak situation and works with it; he  wheels and deals and does whatever he can, “adjusting the bottom line,” literally and in faith that somehow, someway some good will come out of it.  Likewise, you and I are called to take what we have, this treasure which is the hope and love and peace and joy of God Almighty, working with it in and through all the joys and challenges of this life that by our efforts and God’s grace, it will become transformed into something sacramental and miraculous.

This is what Jesus is getting at, and it’s a crucial understanding of the Christian life for you and me, and a challenge as well. Maybe it’s not tantamount to the shady dealings of a soon- to-be unemployed property manager… but the point is, if he was able to do this why can’t you and I, as the children of God and stewards of something infinitely precious, show the same vigor and determination in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom?  Likewise, if you and I who seek to follow Christ cannot use to our best advantage the resources of this life and this world, then how can we ever be expected to be good managers – that is, good stewards – of the true riches to which God wants to entrust us?

I think that what all this means for us in these days of confused and challenging situations is that now, perhaps more than ever, where our lives as Christians and as the church is concerned it can never be “business as usual,” if in fact there ever was such a time.  As stewards of all that God has given us in such abundance, we can no longer merely rest on a safe and easy “bottom line;” that is settling for a “warm and fuzzy faith,” basking in what’s comfortable and easy and convenient about our relationship with God, daring not to risk ourselves on what one Celtic hymn refers to as “the steep and rugged pathway,” the way which requires from us courage and some struggle, not to mention wisdom and prudence.  Our bottom line needs adjusting, friends; we need to be stirred out of the comfort zone that keeps us from being bold stewards of God’s future.  And that’s true for us both individually and collectively: you have often heard me say from this pulpit what I’ve long believed, that the best thing that the Church can do in these times is to actually be the Church; well, I’d like to add to that.  If we truly hear Jesus’ words in this parable, perhaps the best thing we can do right now as the Church – and each one of us here as part of that sacred body – is to be all that we can be… and more.

Of course, along with being bold and courageous and occasionally outrageous in doing so, we also must be… cautious.  Don’t forget here that Jesus makes the point of reminding us that “no slave can serve two masters,” because “you’ll either hate the first and love the second or adore the first and despise the second;” [The Message] all this to say that you can’t love God and wealth, any more than you can employ the ways and means of the world in your faith without risking becoming sucked into that kind of a life rather than one that’s wholly centered on Christ and his kingdom… so maybe Jesus wasn’t advocating the life of a scoundrel, after all (and also, by the way, if you read the next verses in Luke, you discover that the scribes and Pharisees, “who were lovers of money,” ridiculed Jesus for what he was saying about this… which just sort of proves Jesus’ point)!  The point is to be bold, yes; but it matters how… and that’s what you and I need to remember as we seek to live out the ways of God’s purpose and plan in this life.

I remember how, on the days following 9/11, a few of us who were pastors in our community decided to hold an ecumenical prayer service in the aftermath of that horrible day.  As I recall it now, it all pretty impromptu,  there was little or no time to promote it, and really, we weren’t at all sure what we were going to do or say once we got there!  But word got around, and come the evening of the service, that sanctuary – which was at the Catholic Church, the largest in town – was filled to overflowing – standing room only, fact (!) – with just about every congregation in town represented and including a whole lot of people who’d rarely, if ever, had darkened the doorway of a church until that night.  It was surprising and humbling, to say the least; and what I will always remember is that our host pastor, a wonderful priest by the name of Fr. Jim Morrison, stood before these literally hundreds of people who’d come out that night and simply said, “Well, at least one good thing has come out of these terrible events.  It got us all together.”  We were together… in faith, in fellowship and above all in prayer… and we sang and we wept and we embraced one another in that moment as one people of God, relying on the power and grace of God to sustain and lead us. It was a truly holy moment, one that I know with every fiber of my being was good, and right, and acceptable to God.

It’s often said that on 9/11, the world changed forever, but the truth is that our world is always shifting and changing; and so are we in our lives and living. Each new day, each new event, each new change brings with it a new challenge for you and me as people of faith.  But whatever happens, whatever changes come our way, one thing remains the same:  God’s future is sure and God’s kingdom is forever.  And because of this, we can move into God’s future with hope, confidence and strength.

So let us not be afraid to adjust the bottom line of our lives in faith, proclaiming this sure and certain hope boldly with wisdom and all shrewdness that we might be entrusted with the true riches. Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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