When you have lost

The first thing of note in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16: 1- 13, at the end of the blog) is Jesus has given the rich man the last word.

The rich man gets the final word, but the manager carries the story.

The manager is first cast in light of the Prodigal son whose story, not by accident, is told right before this one (Luke 15).  Scripture says the manager squanders his master’s property.  The Greek word for squanders is the same word used to describe what the Prodigal son does with his inheritance.  The rich owner sees what is happening and fires him.

Scripture gives voice to the troubled manager’s inner dialogue as he decides what to do.

Before we listen to his words, let’s play the insightful game of what he doesn’t do.

What doesn’t he do that he might have done?

He might have put all the blame on the rich man, saying, that rich man never did care about me or anyone else!

He might have put all the blame on himself.  I really blew it.  I squandered money and lost a good job.  What a loser I am!

He might have become defensive, chosen to fight the charges, found a lawyer.

That’s what he could have done.   Yet, the manager strolls down a completely different path.  Instead of fighting to keep what he once had or looking to shame and blame the rich man or himself, he pragmatically looks towards his future, asking what will I do now?

I’m not strong enough to dig and I’m too proud to beg. 

So what will I do?

The cartoon balloon rises above his head.

The manager’s answer is utterly optimistic:  I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.

His answer reveals two things:  He believes there is a future for him.  And, it reveals how he will act to create that future.

Believe in a future.

Act to create that future.

That is scripture’s word to us about what to do when we have lost.

Believe in a future.

Act to create that future.

That’s exactly what we have done here for the last 4 years.  We began by telling the story of a group of people willing, not only to worship in the 90805, but willing to serve the people in the 90805.  Through newsletters and facebook posts, we got word out about how we are living into our mission:  To be a reliable testimony to our living God.

We have had thanksgiving dinners, expanded our food pantry, given away goods and clothes to our neighbors, cleaned up the education wing preparing it for the new school which serves young people who have had to drop out of high school, hosted a parenting class and an exercise class, taken people through the entire Bible and a class focused on sexuality and the scriptures, hosted two Praise Rallys, hosted community meetings, provided a 2 year home for the Compton based Divas dance group that allowed them to get their program off the ground, turned the Mural room into a room the community can use, fixed the stained glass sanctuary windows, and solved the problem of the stained ceiling.

I could go on and on.

Before we got started, it looked like we had lost.  The education wing smelled.  The school that had moved in couldn’t meet its bills.  Our board was tired. We almost closed our doors.  And then…

We looked out and chose to believe there was a future.

We chose to act to create that future.

Now, because we told our story, Community Church, Congregational United Church of Christ in Corona del Mar has chosen to expand their mission to help us.  They see us as doing work they cannot do where they live.  They see we have a future and have acted to help us live into it.  Because of them, our Children’s Ministry Director, Ms. Jill Johnson, is with us today!

Their giving does not displace ours.  In a few weeks, we will have covenants out asking for pledges of time and money.  Your pledges allow us to do the work we do here.  Furthermore, they are documents to your faith, to your willingness to act that the church may be a reliable testimony to our living God.

Upon that page you testify…

Here at NLBCC there is a future!

Here, at NLBCC, you are willing to give of yourself to build the future God has for us.

Okay, enough bragging about what we are doing, let’s get back to the scripture.

The hope filled manager looks up from his trouble and puts his hope in the possibility that he would be welcomed into people’s homes.

I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.

As we look for the meaning of this parable, it also helps to know that this story is remembered during the early days of Christianity and only in Luke.  We understand, from Paul’s writings, and other missives of the time, that the early Christian church met in homes.  Indeed the idea of home ties together these three stories told together in Luke.

Last week, we heard Jesus tell the parable of the lost sheep to the Pharisees who asked, why does he eat with sinners?  Since Jesus was a wandering rabbi, he had to be entering the homes of said sinners, eating with them at their tables.  The Prodigal son follows last week’s story, the story of the young man who takes his father’s inheritance, squanders it, and then returns home.  This week, it is clear that the clever manager seeks a way to be welcomed into other’s homes.

Home is the place where meals and intimacies are shared.  In a Christian context, the table is the place where bread is broken and forgiveness is poured out; it is where Jesus’ life and sacrifice are remembered.

One by one the manager meets with those who owe his master a debt.  In each case, he decides on an appropriate amount of debt to forgive.  Clearly there is no set percentage when the oil is reduced from 100 to 50 barrels and wheat is reduced from 100 to 80 bundles.

The manager believes a future is possible and acts to make it happen.  And as he acts, watch this, he brings the debtors along with him.  By his forgiving a substantial amount of their debt, they enter into a new possibility that their debt will someday be paid.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

And the rich man, instead of being angry at the change of accounts, commends the manager because he acted shrewdly, fronemos, thoughtfully, wisely.

And then starts the litany of moral endings because the gospel writer is so dang uncomfortable giving a rich man the last word.  And yet…that is exactly what I think Jesus intended.

The rich man of Jesus’ story is given the ability to see all that is happening which allows the rich man to offer his final judgment.  Scripture uses the word dishonest to underscore that the rich man knew the manager was not playing by the rules.  Yet, the rich man, the master who is now called kurios, Lord, neither stops the manager nor scolds him.   Instead the rich man, the lord, kurios, judges the dishonest manager’s act thoughtful and wise.

In so doing, he calls us …

To believe in a future

To act to create that future.

It is a future which opens doors, allows us to sit at table with others, the sinners and the Pharisees, the rich and the poor, and share the bread of our Lord’s body, the wine of forgiveness.

The rich man is the one called lord.

Our Lord, like the rich man, does not need more wealth.   Our Lord, like the rich man, smiles when debt is forgiven.  Because the one thing our Lord is most keen on…

Our doing what it takes to open doors to our Lord’s forgiveness and grace.

Managers of God’s wealth…let’s get busy.

 

Amen.

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager (NRSV)

16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;….