Monday, September 19, 2016

Earth vs Heaven

Proper 20 + Year C                                                  Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
18, September 2016                                          Parish of All Saints’ Hampton

The Collect pleads with God to admonish us: Agrant us Lord not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; ...@  Have you ever even considered for a moment, how much we trust in earthly things?  We put on our dollars, Ain God we trust@, but do we really?  The events of the last two weeks have shown us a glaring short-sightedness in our national life: we are fragile. People have asked: Awhere was God when all of these things happened?@  My answer?  The same place he was before.  If he was a part of one=s life before that time, he was assuredly there at the time of the disaster.  When bad things happen to good people (as we say) we question and seemingly forget that God died on a cross for us. God in Christ did not come into the world to Areform@ it, he came into the world to save it from itself!  He came to make a new creation that begins in us, who claim to be his followers.  We are the first nation in world history to assert that Aall men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.@  You notice that even in our constituting documents, God is included.  Is he included now?   

Today we are confronted by a parable that not only is difficult, easily misunderstood and in some fashion for this wealthiest nation in the world rather shocking.  We have a gospel reading where Jesus tells a story hard to understand.  It might seem that Jesus was suggesting that being a corrupt businessman is somehow commendable!  But that is not the point of the parable.  Jesus says there are two classes of people on planet earth.  There are the worldly, and there are the other-worldly. The children of this age are bound in sin and darkness. Scripture says they are "condemned already."  Then there are the other-worldly, the children of the light.  They know the truth about sin and judgment and grace and redemption. They know the blessing of peace with God and the promise of heaven.  How do these two groups live together on this planet?

Jesus says there is frequently if not usually, a huge contradiction in the outward life of the children of God in this world. Jesus says the children of God don't live consistently with their beliefs. The world does. But the children of God don’t.
The children of this world live consistently with their goals and priorities. They live to work their system. It's the children of the other-world who don't. They say one thing and live something else.
This steward is somewhat like a stock broker or a financial planner only these guys could make real money by exploitation, by being loan sharks charging an exorbitant rate of interest and were shrewd in their dealings.
Eventually, the owner gets wind of what the steward is doing and he is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, badly using what was entrusted to him and he is fired. Now his time is limited so he is in a dilemma to put him in good stead after his firing is complete.  He comes up with a stroke of genius. He goes to the ones who owe his master money and cuts their debts.  This way the Master (for our purposes we may say God), looks like a good guy and the creditors are in the debt of the steward who now will be unemployed.  He cuts his own earnings in interest and it appears to the debtors that the Master is really a good and generous guy.
Now the Master looks great and the steward looks great, even if he has taken a hit financially. He will look good for his shrewd way of dealing with his dilemma and the master will look good to those who owe him. The Master finds out what has happened and commends the wasteful steward=s resourceful-ness.  The Master commends the steward’s shrewdness that is wisdom, insight and understanding.  He sees the steward as wise looking to provide for the steward’s own future.

God created His people in Christ to love people and use things.  The world has it backwards.  The world loves things and uses people.  Worldly resources promise much but so often can vanish in a moment.  Make friends means to care for neighbors in their needs and be willing to give up everything if need be for the kingdom. There is a principle here: we cannot show we love God unless we love and provide for others.  What may be a shock is that Jesus says that it impossible to serve God and money.  Jesus tells them to use worldly wealth to make friends and establish good will. Money itself is a spiritual power that moves to direct, control and possess human life. How is the steward a model for we Christians?  One commentator suggested it is this: he was adept at assessing a dire situation and acting accordingly to fix it. The Greek word is the same Jesus uses for the wise man who built his house upon the rock rather than our sand. The steward was thinking of the future not simply the here and now, as our credit card companies would like us to live.  Jesus is telling us to live with an eternal perspective.   It is not telling us not to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.  It a practical Christian teaching. Earthly wealth is how we practice being faithful.  Even crooks know how to use it for benefit, how much more should the righteous be able to do

Let me return to the collect for a moment. We prayed: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Anxiety!  How our present times are rife with it!  But it is not only a characteristic of our time, but in most of the history of human existence.   What makes you anxious?  I know for me it has been more often than not money!  But my sisters and brothers, There is nothing in this world that we can say is truly our own.  Wealth is an illusion.  Possessions are an illusion.  No my friend you really cannot have your cake and eat it too.

We practice with small things.  Jesus says being faithful in small things will teach us faithfulness in much.  Yet we live in a culture that is brainwashed to accumulate more and more and more.   How much is enough?  Just a little bit more they say. Worldly wealth has no eternal value, so let us use it for the good of others. We have a saying: “what goes around comes around.”  When we read the collect a moment ago, we know the truths of what we prayed.  Wealth is passing away No you can’t take it with you.  But what we do for neighbor, will endure. 

A new church opened a couple of years ago in Portland Oregon name Christ Church.  They have welcomed many of the outcasts that the Episcopal Church welcomes. The final straw that the Evant3lical Covenant denomination broke the camel’s back was the pastor’s support of same gender marriage.  I have always liked their operating mission statement: “For God’s Glory and Neighbor’s Good.  

Is that not what Jesus is teaching in this parable?  Is it not how we are called to live our lives?  Let’s think about it. Let’s pray on it.  Let’s do it.

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