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Pentecost 18 Proper 20C RCL September 22, 2013

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Psalm 79:1-9

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Luke 16:1-13

James Philip Hyatt of Vanderbilt Divinity School says that the prophet Jeremiah “was the outstanding personality of his age,” though he was not recognized as such during his life. He witnessed the decline of the Assyrian Empire and the rise of the Babylonian Empire, which, at the point of our reading, is poised to invade Jerusalem.

Jeremiah also was an eyewitness to a heartbreaking period in the history of God’s people. In 621 B. C., King Josiah and the people were rebuilding the temple, which had been damaged during battles with the Assyrians. The Assyrian Empire had been weakened and had loosened its hold on Judah. The people were rebuilding the temple and finding a sense of some freedom from foreign domination. During the rebuilding, a copy of the Book of Deuteronomy was found in the temple ruins. King Josiah was inspired to begin a time of great reform, a time of renewal of faith and new dedication to following the law and living intentionally as God’s people.

In 609 B. C. King Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians. After three months, his son, Jehoiakim, was placed on the throne by the Egyptians, who were making Judah a vassal state. Prof, Hyatt writes, “Jehoiakim used oppressive measures in dealing with his own people.” We can’t help but think of the current situation in Syria when we hear this. Hyatt goes on to say that Jehoiakim “was pompous and proud, and he probably reversed many of the religious reforms which had been instituted by his father.” (Hyatt, Jeremiah, Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5, p. 778.) Jehoiakim was subservient to the Egyptians, who had put him on the throne, and later he began to pay tribute to the Babylonians, which led to the two invasions. During his reign, the people worshipped Baal and other gods, the temple worship became an empty sham of a ritual, moral values declined, and the society began to fall apart with those at the margins suffering the most.

The leaders and people had abandoned God and were worshipping idols, but they felt that God had abandoned them. The temple clergy were corrupt, They did not preach the truth. They did not call the people to be close to God. So there was no balm in Gilead. There was no healing. God was right there, but the people could not see that God was present.  This is such a tragic situation. It is possible for us as individuals and as societies to drift far away from God and have no idea that that is what we are doing.   We think that God has deserted us, But that is not the case.  Both God and the prophet Jeremiah are weeping for the suffering and blindness of the people. There is a drought and the Babylonians are about to attack.

Our gospel for today is complex. What is it telling us? First, as Fred Craddock of Candler School of Theology, Emory University writes, “How one handles property has eternal consequences.”  (Interpretation, Luke, Fred Craddock, p. 190.)

Jesus is also encouraging us to be as shrewd and clever about building his kingdom as this man is about protecting his future. Jesus is not commending the steward for his dishonesty. Remember that elsewhere he tells us to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” as we work to advance his kingdom. We have to know the ways of the world and be able to deal intelligently and with complete integrity as we navigate the twists and turns of this world.

As Craddock says, it is difficult for us to think of a “shrewd saint.” But when we look at the life of Jesus, he was able to think on his feet and maintain his integrity while sparring with those who tried to make him stumble. Jesus was not naïve or unsophisticated, and he was extremely intelligent.

We cannot serve both God and money, We cannot make money or power or things our master. That’s what was happening in Jeremiah’s time. People were worshipping idols, and heaven knows there are plenty of idols we can worship today if we choose to go that route.  But, Craddock writes, “…for all the danger in possessions, it is possible to manage goods in ways appropriate to life in the kingdom of God.” (Craddock, p. 191.)

Perhaps the most important idea in this gospel is Jesus’ observation that, “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in very little is dishonest also in much.” Craddock writes, “Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday School class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat.” (Craddock, p. 192.)

But faithfulness in these small, everyday things is what builds the foundation of the shalom of God.

As we read through the lessons and think about them, often it is the epistle that gives us the clear and timely direction we need. Paul is encouraging Timothy and us to remember how important prayer is. God constantly calls us to be partners with God, and prayer is one powerful way to do this. I think of prayer as a powerful force field of God’s love and healing. For example, if everyone on this planet were praying and working for peace with everything we have, we would have peace. When people are praying for folks who are having surgery or fighting cancer, things happen. Surgery goes better, healing happens faster and more completely. Cancers have been known to disappear. We cannot overestimate the importance of prayer.

Paul is especially asking us to pray for those in positions of authority. This is important at any time in history. But especially now, we are called to pray and to ask God’s help and guidance for the leaders and people of the world.

This Sunday,  I ask your continuing prayers for peace on earth and for all who are working for peace.  Amen

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