Sunday, September 22, 2019

Whatever it takes

Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

This Gospel text is one of those that have preachers scratching their heads and looking at the other bible passages for the day, to see if there is a better choice. But, we’re sort of stuck with this one, because the Amos and Timothy texts reinforce the message of the Gospel.

There is a man who owns a big company. Let’s say it’s Publix. He buys and sells a variety of foods, wholesale. He buys in large quantities, and sells to local stores. The parable mentions olive oil and wheat, though they could also deal in foods such as barley and figs and almonds.

His manager has been mismanaging the accounts. We might say he has been cooking the books, and now he has been caught, and he is worried. If he is simply fired, he loses face, reputation, in the community. He wonders: How can he support himself and his family? He is not strong enough to do manual labor, and he is too proud to beg.

But he is a quick thinker and figures out a way to save himself. He partners with his vendors and offers to reduce the amount of product they owe. It seems the vendors owe more product than they can provide, so when he reduces the amount they owe, they are happy. They are also obligated, in a way indebted, to the manager, and will welcome him into their homes even if he is fired.

The rich man also learns what the manager has done, more cooking of the books. But  instead of sending him to dig ditches or cut stone in the quarry, which is what we would expect, he praises him for this creative solution.

Why does it seem that Jesus applauds the manager when he has just defrauded his master? There are several parables that Jesus tells where it doesn’t matter that the people spend or reduce the original capital. In God’s economy, money is a tool, not a substance to be held, saved, even hoarded. Money is there to be used for God’s purposes.

We have this saying, that we will do whatever it takes to make something important to us to happen. Jesus did whatever it took, and continues to do whatever it takes, to let us know God loves us. Leaving behind the glory of heaven, walking among us as a human, healing, preaching, and suffering and dying, Jesus did whatever it took for us.

The manager does whatever it takes to save himself. When someone we know is ill, we do whatever it takes to get care for them. The people of the Bahamas and Mexico Beach are doing whatever it takes to return their lives to a new normal.

Congregations, too, need to do whatever it takes to be vibrant centers for mission in their communities. But they usually can’t do everything. Most congregations are like St Matthew’s, trying to figure out how to do everything they used to do. Or trying to figure out what will work today, considering the people and funds they have available, today.

I have heard people say they don’t have any good ideas. I have heard people say that they are not important. It is so very essential that everyone here does whatever it takes to shape an accurate image of the interests, passions and gifts of the congregation.

I have a couple stories to share about women who did whatever it took in the congregations they belonged to. The first is Helen. She died a couple of years ago, at age 96. We were at a congregational meeting, with not enough candidates for the Council. Helen raised her hand and asked, “Can a 90-year-old woman contribute anything?” Of course she could, and we elected her.

And what we discovered was that although Helen didn’t speak often, when she did speak, we listened. Helen was the voice of wisdom and calm in an anxious meeting. She offered perspective when it was hard to see beyond the moment.

Sally was an older woman who reluctantly offered her opinion. The organist and Sally and I were selecting music for worship for the next month. While I don’t sing well, I enjoy all sorts of music. Because I’ve been at lots of conferences, I know a lot of hymns and songs. The organist knew a lot, too, naturally.

So, I would say, “How about this one?” and name a hymn. The organist would say, we could do that. Sally would say, “I don’t think I know that one.” I found the hymn on the computer and played it for us. When I looked at Sally, I knew that it would be a big hit or that it wasn’t going to go well. While Sally didn’t think her opinions were of any value, she let the organist and me know how the congregation would probably respond to our choices. It may seem like a small thing to Sally, but her contributions helped the organist and I do what it took to plan worship that brought joy, not frustration, to the Sunday morning.  

For St Matthew’s Lutheran Church to thrive, we need to hear all of your voices. We need to work together to envision a future. We need to listen to each other and to God in order to know where God is calling us now. We each need to be willing to do whatever it takes to move with God into the next adventure at St Matthew’s. We may even need to be as creative and determined as the manager was.

Please stay this noon for lunch and the opportunity to have your voice heard. Be willing, today, to do whatever it takes to be part of the process of calling the pastor God has in mind for you. And continue to pray often for this congregation as we continue through the process.