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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 16 Proper 21C September 29, 2019

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah gives us the exact year. It is the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, and the eighteenth year of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, also known as Nebuchadnezzar. It is the year 588 B.C.E. In 587 B.C.E., Jerusalem will fall to Babylon. In our time, Babylon is known as Iraq.

Jeremiah is in prison in the court of the palace guard. King Zedekiah has arrested Jeremiah because Jeremiah predicted that, with all the corruption and injustice that was going on under the leadership of Zedekiah, the Babylonian Empire would conquer Judah.

And yet. And yet. Our reading contains details of a real estate transaction. Jeremiah is from Anathoth. He buys a field from his cousin. The text tells us, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both the sealed deed of purchase and the open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

No matter how bad things get, with God there is always hope. Jeremiah is investing in that ray of hope, and God has the last word.

Our gospel reading for today is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not the Lazarus who is the brother of Mary and Martha. The rich man’s clothing and food are the finest available. At his gate lies Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores. In those days, there were no napkins, and the wealthy used pieces of bread to wipe their mouths and then threw those pieces of bread on the floor. Lazarus would have loved to eat those bits of bread. The picture of the dogs coming and licking his sores is particularly moving. It also means that he is unclean and therefore an outcast.

When the the rich man and Lazarus die, there is a great reversal. The poor man is carried by angels to be with Abraham. The rich man descends to Hades, where he is tormented. The rich man looks up and sees Abraham with Lazarus by his side. The rich man calls out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.”

This tells us so much. The rich man knows Lazarus’ name. He went in and out of his gate every day and saw this poor man begging, and he even knew his name, yet he never shared any of his food or clothing or riches with Lazarus. He never really saw Lazarus as a fellow human being.

There is a long tradition that teaches that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and poverty is a sign of God’s disfavor. If someone is poor, they deserve it, says this tradition. In this parable and others, Jesus makes it clear that he does not agree with that tradition. He is calling us to see everyone as a brother or sister in him.

Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us of the version of this parable in the Cotton Patch Gospel. “O Father Abraham, send me my water boy. ‘Water boy! Quick! I’m just about to perish down here. I need a drink of water.’ That old rich guy has always hollered for his water boy. ‘Boy, bring me water! Boy, bring me this! Boy, bring me that! Get away, boy! Come here, boy!’”  (Taylor, Bread of Angels, pp. 111-112.)

Taylor comments, “Even on the far side of the grave, the rich man does not see the poor man as a fellow human being. He still sees him as something less. He thinks Lazarus is Father Abraham’s gofer, someone to fetch water and take messages, but Father Abraham sets him straight. Cradling old bony Lazarus in his bosom, he says No, No, and No.”

We are hearing this parable from our Lord, who has risen from the dead. We are here because we are trying , to the best of our ability and with his grace, to follow him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased Unitarian minister and theologian Theodore Parker when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Our epistle gives us clear direction. Paul calls us to “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  “…do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing for [ourselves] the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really is life.”

This is the first Sunday after the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Shannon McVean-Brown as the eleventh Bishop of Vermont. As you know, the whole process has been conducted in an atmosphere of prayer, and the Holy Spirit has been present at every stage of the journey.

Our new bishop is building on a strong foundation laid by God and her predecessors. She has long and faithful experience in helping the arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice and in helping our Lord to build his shalom. 

May we keep her in our prayers. May we also give thanks for the ministry of Bishop Tom, who helped to build the foundation on which we now stand. And may we give hearty thanks for our Presiding Bishop, Michael. May we continue to keep these faithful and loving servants of God and their families in our prayers.

May we all continue to work together in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit.

Guide our feet Lord, while we run this race. Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 20C September 22, 2019

Jeremiah 8:18—9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God’s people have reached a low point in their corporate life. Earlier in Jeremiah’s ministry, King Josiah had put into place reforms that brought a new life and breath into the society.  The king encouraged his people to return to sincere faith and worship and to follow the law faithfully.

But Josiah was killed in battle. His son Jehoiakim had become king, and all the progress had been unraveled. There was little justice in the land. The clergy were not preaching God’s truth. The rich were growing more and more wealthy, and the poor were barely surviving.  Jeremiah’s lament is also God’s lament for the people.

Our gospel for today raises more questions than answers. Why does the rich man believe the charges he hears against his manager? Why doesn’t the landowner investigate the charges? Why does he simply fire the steward on the basis of these charges without giving him a chance to explain? Most of all, why does the master praise the shrewdness of the manager he has fired? Is Jesus trying to tell us that we should be shrewd? That’s strange, because shrewdness isn’t listed among the great Christian virtues.

Scholars remind us that the rich man was very rich. R. Alan Culpepper notes that, though our translation mentions “a hundred jugs of olive oil; the actual measure was 100 baths of olive oil, which would equal nine hundred gallons. Culpepper says that in this parable we are dealing with “large commercial interests.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, p. 308.) Other scholars point out that landowners were typically extremely wealthy while the tenant farmers who raised the crops had to pay exorbitant commissions to the landowners plus extremely high taxes to the Roman authorities.

In reducing the debts of the tenant farmers, the manager is in a sense leveling the financial playing field by increasing the income of the tenant farmers and decreasing the income of the already wealthy landowner. Sharon Ringe says that the original title of the manager in Greek is “manager of injustice,” and that in redistributing wealth the manager is doing justice.

 Ringe writes, “For the disciples, this provides a ‘management model’ for their own role as leaders….instead of urging upon them a lifestyle or even an ideal of poverty,…it challenges them to manage wealth in the direction of justice. In the process, they will be creating new communities and relationships that will allow their mission to go forward and that will support the enjoyment of abundant life by all people.” (Ringe, Westminster Bible Companion: Luke, p. 214.)

Herbert O’Driscoll also has a very interesting interpretation of this parable. He points out that in Galilee at the time of Jesus, there were many large estates often owned by absentee landlords and managed by stewards. He says that we humans are realizing that we haven’t been very good stewards of God’s creation. Like the manager, we are facing a crisis because of our poor stewardship of God’s creation. The worldwide climate strike emphasizes the immediacy of this crisis.

O’Driscoll points out that we, like the manager, are asking what we can do? Bill McKibben has an article in the current Time magazine in which he envisions looking back from the year 2050 and describes what we did to save the earth.

The manager in the parable asks the tenant farmers how much they owe the master. And they give their answers. O’Driscoll writes, “This is exactly the question being asked of all sorts of huge enterprises today. It is a very tough and unpopular question that no one wants to hear. But answers must be found. New attitudes have to be adopted, compromises made, profits reduced. The consequences are enormous.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us Year C, Vol, 3, p. 115. 

The point is that the manager acted quickly. True, he was acting in his own interest. But we, too, will be acting in our own interest as we take the actions necessary to create the just and loving shalom of God and to save our planet. It is not so much the shrewdness as the ability to take action that is being praised.

What actions is God calling us to take in order to be good stewards of our planet? What actions is God calling us to take in order to create a more just society?

There are two statements in this passage that we can easily imagine our Lord as saying. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” We know that is true. Our faithfulness in small tasks prepares us for being faithful servants when the big decisions and the major tasks come along.

And finally, No one can serve two masters. We cannot serve God and wealth. Wealth is not in itself a bad thing. We are called to be wise stewards of the wealth entrusted to us. We are called to share the wealth and the gifts given to us by God. But God must always come first. If we let Mammon be our god, if we allow anything to take the place of God, we will not be following the way our Good Shepherd would lead us, and we pray that, if that happens, we will listen to the voice of God calling us back.

As Paul or his faithful disciple says, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.”

May our loving God help us to “love things heavenly,” to “hold fast to the things that shall endure,” and to act decisively to be responsible stewards of God’s creation and to help God to build God’s shalom of justice and peace.  Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 21C RCL September 25, 2016

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Our first reading today is one of the most tragic yet powerful passages in the Bible. It is the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah and the eighteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Babylon is what we now call Iraq. The Babylonian Empire is laying siege to Jerusalem. This is a situation very similar to what is happening in Aleppo, Syria right now. The year is 588 B.C.E. and in the next year Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians. The temple will be reduced to rubble. The people will be deported to Babylon.

Jeremiah has been put in prison by King Zedekiah because he told the king this would happen. Jeremiah will be deported to Egypt and held captive. It is Judah’s darkest hour.

And yet—in the midst of this tragedy, Jeremiah describes in minute detail a real estate transaction. Jeremiah is from Anathoth, a town about two miles northeast of Jerusalem, just outside the city wall. Hanamel, son of his Uncle Shallum, comes to him and asks him to buy a field. According to the law, if you needed to sell a piece of property, you were required to try to sell it to the nearest relative. In Judah, just as in Vermont today, families valued and cherished their land.

Jeremiah describes the transaction very carefully. Then he asks his secretary, Baruch, to store the scrolls recording this transaction in a clay jar so that they will last a long time. We recall that the scrolls found at Qumran lasted for two thousand years.

God’s message is that fields and vineyards will again be bought in the land. At the darkest hour, there is always hope with God. The Exile will be a terrible time but out of that crucible will come deep and careful scholarship,  a more profound commitment to God’s law, and a renewed dedication to worship and to compassionate life in community.

Our gospel for last Sunday ended with Jesus’ words, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Today, he tells us the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not the same Lazarus who is the brother of Mary and Martha.

There is a rich man who has the most expensive clothing, eats the most luxurious foods, and generally has the best of everything. At his gate lies the poor man Lazarus. He is starving. His body is covered with sores, which scholars tell us makes him ritually unclean. The dogs lick the sores.

Both men die. The rich man is buried, The poor man is carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man looks up from the underworld and sees Lazarus beside Abraham. He calls to Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and satisfy his thirst. This is the shocking part. The rich man knows Lazarus’ name!

The rich man has gone by this man every day of his life. He has done nothing to help Lazarus. Yet he actually knows his name! His wealth and power have blinded him to the needs of this fellow human being whose name he knows. Now he is asking that Abraham allow Lazarus to become his waiter, his slave, and bring him some water.

But Abraham says No. The great reversal of the kingdom of God has happened. A chasm has been fixed. No one can cross it. The rich man then thinks of his five brothers and asks that they may be warned. But Abraham says they have Moses to warn them. In other words, the law of Moses calls us to love God and to love others as ourselves. But how easy it is to forget that law, especially when we have a great deal of wealth and a great deal of power.

That is why Jesus tells us that we cannot love God and wealth. We are called to love God first and foremost and to love others as ourselves. If wealth comes our way, we are called to put it in its proper place as a gift from God and to be good stewards of that wealth, which includes sharing it with others.

Even in our reading from the Letter to Timothy we are cautioned about the seduction of wealth. Paul writes, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil….” We see this in our own society. The accumulation of wealth and possessions appears to be the goal of many in our world. This parable gives us an insight into what is dangerous about wealth and power. When we humans become extremely wealthy, that wealth gives us power. People are deferential to us because our wealth gives us power over them. Then we begin to live in our own little world in which we are supreme. No one has the courage to set us right, and perhaps that is because we do not want to hear the truth. For example, King Hezekiah did not want to hear the truth that Jeremiah was trying to tell him on behalf of God, so he put Jeremiah in prison. The religious and secular powers of Jesus’ time were threatened by his message, so they had him killed.

Someone has come from the dead to lead us in the way of compassion. Our Lord Jesus calls us to know our neighbors by name and to care for them. Those neighbors may live in South Dakota or halfway around the world, and we are called to treat them as we would want to be treated.

One of the most powerful things about the history of Grace Church is the great good work done by people like Mary Catherine “Kate” Whittemore and the many others who over two centuries have ministered to the needs of our brothers and sisters in South Dakota, have helped our neighbors locally, and have supported ministries here in Vermont, in our country, and around the world.

We will be continuing to collect money to help a family who lost their home to fire, and, as we move toward the time when we make our offering to Episcopal Relief and Development, I ask you to continue to keep in mind the suffering of refugees, especially in Syria. I ask your prayers for Syria, and especially Aleppo, and I encourage us to do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

Paul’s guidance to Timothy is good counsel for us, and I paraphrase: “May we pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. …May we  fight the good fight of the faith, may we take hold of the eternal life, to which we were called….may we be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share…that we may take hold of the life that really is life.” Amen.

 

Pentecost 18 Proper 20C RCL September 18, 2016

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

As we think about our first reading today, we recall that Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry began in 627 B.C.E. during the reign of one of the greatest kings of Judah, King Josiah. Judah had long been trying to defend itself against the Assyrian Empire. In 627 B.C.E., the year Jeremiah was called to his prophetic ministry, the king of Assyria died, and Assyria became much less of a threat to Judah.

Somewhere between 622 and 620 B.C.E., as their sense of freedom returned with the lessening power of the Assyrians, the people of Judah were rebuilding the temple which had been destroyed by the Assyrians, and they found in the ruins a scroll of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy. King Josiah began a time of reform, a time of renewal of faith, of renewed commitment to God’’s law—“love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Led by Josiah, the people rededicated themselves to life in community grounded on faith and love for God and each other.

In 609 B.C.E., King Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians.

It did not take long before his reforms were undone. Love of God and each other was a thing of the past. The rich got richer and the poor became poorer and poorer. The temple worship was not properly conducted. One scholar notes that the temple was the place you were supposed to be able to go and hear the truth. But the temple clergy no longer had the courage to tell the truth.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Empire was gaining power. At the time of our reading, it was about to conquer Jerusalem. Jeremiah is in deep grief over this situation. The leaders are so corrupt and so faithless that they cannot remind the people that there is indeed a balm in Gilead that cures the sin-sick soul and that God is as close as their breath. The people think that God has abandoned them, when in fact they have drifted away from God.

Today’s gospel is one of many portions of Luke that deal with money and material goods and how to handle them in the kingdom of God. This parable is puzzling, to say the least, and scholars have many questions and disagreements about it.

Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees, but now he turns to the disciples. He tells them a parable. There is a rich man who has a manager.  Most scholars agree that the rich man is an absentee landlord who has hired a manager to collect payment from the farmers who are working the land.

Charges are brought that the manager is squandering the property of the rich man, and the rich man is going to fire the manager. We do not know exactly what the manager has been doing. We really do not know whether he has even done anything wrong. We simply do not have the details.

The manager thinks to himself. He is going to lose his job. He is too proud to beg, and he is not strong enough to do manual work, such as digging.

So he calls in the tenants. He asks the first one how much he owes. One hundred jugs of olive oil. He reduces it to fifty. Our translation reads “jugs,” but the actual measurement, one hundred baths, is an enormous amount of olive oil. R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of the School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia, tells us that a bath is nine gallons, so this man owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. He tells us that the second debtor owes one hundred kors of grain. Culpepper says that estimates of a kor range from six and a half to twelve bushels, but that the total is clearly substantial. He concludes that this landowner is dealing in “large commercial interests…and not in household quantities.” (Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible, p.308.)

To put it bluntly, the rich man is very, very rich.

Some scholars think that the manager is simply reducing the total amount owed by giving up his commission, but Culpepper’s view is that the manager is actually reducing the amount owed to the rich man.

Sharon Ringe, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., agrees. She tells us that the original Greek translation of the manager’s title is “manager of injustice.” She points out that the economy of those times was an “economy of scarcity, where the quantity of wealth available is fixed. Some have more only if others have less.”  Ringe writes, “Any excessive accumulation in the hands of one (such as the “rich man”) is by definition evidence of injustice that must be redressed by that redistribution of wealth called “giving alms.” By reducing the amount owed by the (obviously poorer) debtors to the rich man, the manager is doing justice—a way of doing his job as “manager of injustice” that no longer aims at perpetuating and even adding to old inequities, but instead reflects the new ‘economy’ of which Jesus is the herald.”

Ringe continues, “For the disciples, this provides a ‘management model’ for their own role as leaders…. Instead of urging upon them a lifestyle or even an ideal of poverty, or advice to keep themselves pure from contamination by wealth, it challenges them to manage wealth in the direction of justice. In the process, they will be creating new communities and relationships that will allow their mission to go forward and that will support the enjoyment of abundant life by all people.”   (Ringe, Westminster Bible CompanionLuke, p. 214.)

Our Lord is calling us to help him create his shalom, which retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori describes as “a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 35.) Part of the work of bringing in God’s shalom is reducing the gap between the wealthy and the poor. That is what this “manager of injustice” is doing.  May we be faithful in all things, both large and small. May we love God and our neighbor.  Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 21C RCL September 29, 2013

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Psalm 91:1-6.14-16

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Luke 16:19-31

In today’s reading from the Book of Jeremiah, Nebuchadrezzar II, King of Babylon, is besieging the city of Jerusalem. In 597 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar had placed King Zedekiah on the throne of Judah, but now, in 587 B. C., the Babylonians are on the attack. They will now reduce the temple to rubble and will deport the leaders of  Judah to Babylon, where they will spend almost fifty years in exile.

The people had comforted themselves with the thought that, no matter what they did, God would protect them from foreign invasions, Jeremiah had told them that this was not so. King Zedekiah branded Jeremiah as a traitor and put him in prison.

In the midst of this disaster, God guides Jeremiah to buy a piece of land, to invest in the future hope for God’s people. Jeremiah is very careful to follow every provision of the law and to preserve the documents regarding this transaction. In the darkest hour, there is always hope. In 539 B. C. the people returned home.  King Cyrus of Persia, now Iran, conquered the Babylonians. He had a more benevolent policy toward those who had been deported and allowed them to return home.

Last Sunday, Jesus told us that we cannot serve God and money. This Sunday, we have the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not the brother of Mary and Martha, but another Lazarus.

The rich man is extremely wealthy. At his gate, very near the rich man’s home so that he can see him every day, lies Lazarus, covered with sores, who longs to eat the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Both men die. The rich man goes to Hades. He looks up from his torments and sees Lazarus at the side of Abraham. Now we find out that the rich man actually knows Lazarus’ name, because he asks Abraham to tell Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and bring it to him, but Abraham says that is not possible.

The rich man saw Lazarus at his gate every day. He even knew his name. But he never dipped his finger in water to help him. He never fed Lazarus or tended to his sores.

Herbert O’Driscoll summarizes the point of this parable in these words, “Our Lord’s parable is about one who lives an utterly self-centered existence for which a terrible payment must be made.”  (The Word Among Us, Year C, Vol, 3, p. 117.)

As Christians, we are called to care about our neighbors, and, as Jesus points out in another parable, everyone is our neighbor.

Walter C, Bouzzard, Professor of Religion at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, points out that “the verb translated, ‘to satisfy his hunger’ appears elsewhere in Luke at 6:21, the beatitude about how the hungry will be filled.” Bouzzard continues, “That beatitude’s promise is previewed in Luke 9:17 when the hungry crowd is satisfied with the loaves and fishes Jesus provides.” Bouzzard writes, “ The satisfaction of hunger is clearly a sign of God’s reign. Moreover, in this parable, that aspect of God’s reign and will is just as plainly something the rich man might have advanced from the things that, in his opulence, he simply wasted. …There are consequences for the willful neglect of our neighbor.” (Bouzzard,  New Proclamation Year C 2013 Easter through Christ the King, pp. 185-86.)

Jesus powerfully calls us to love God and love others. We cannot be self-centered or self-involved if we are to live a Christian life. The whole life and ministry of our Lord show us an example of one who is constantly reaching out to others. In the Judah of Jeremiah’s time, one of the great tragedies was that the rich were getting richer and the poor were suffering. That is happening in our own day as well. Those at the very top are doing great, and the rest of us are losing ground. As Christians, we are committed to helping those who are in need and finding ways to correct this inequality.

I recently heard an interview with Will Rapp, the founder of Gardeners Supply, who has gone on to work on sustainability issues around the world. In the interview, he posed a question which provides a window into the kingdom, the shalom of God” “What would happen if we put the well being of people ahead of the production of stuff?”

This is a great question. As a psychologist and as a Christian, I believe that something happens to us when we become self-centered to the point of ignoring the needs of others as this rich man did. We become hard, uncaring. We think that we have achieved our wealth through our own efforts and that we deserve to keep it all. We give no credit or thanks to God for our good fortune. We really don’t care. Something dies within us. We become a closed, self-absorbed system.

Once again, I feel that I am preaching to the choir. I don’t know anyone at Grace who would do as this rich man did. One of the reasons that I love being among you is that you live your faith. You do care about people and their concerns and problems. You do reach out and help.

However, as we look at the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us in this country, I hope we will all think about this parable and about Jesus’ teachings on wealth. I hope we will continue to keep in mind that we are called to take care of those who are less fortunate. As our epistle says, we are called to set our hopes “on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment…[and] to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for [ourselves] the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of the life that really is life.”

May we love our Lord Jesus, and may we love and care for others in his Name.  Amen.

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