Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Mercy of the Master

Title slide
The manager in Jesus’ parable this week…
is a liar and a cheat.
Eventually his boss catches him out
…and the dishonest manager gets the boot

And there’s a moment of decision in Jesus story…
did you notice…as the manager thinks to himself…

Word slide
 ‘what shall I do now?’

Seems to me he’s got some choices
he could cut and
run… and try to find work
where nobody knows his name and
he could give up in
despair….and throw himself in the river

or…he could
risk throwing himself on the mercy of his master…by turning things around.

If he moves
away… he’d give up on the relationship with his master…if he throws himself in river he’s giving up on life …but if he risks everything trusting in his master’s mercy …trusting he’ll be forgiven… maybe things will work out

What does he do?

He works hard to turn things

how does his master respond? ……… By praising him…..For what?  [ask]
That’s right…for his cleverness. [pause]

Garrett slide
Two days ago… embattled Act MP…David Garrett… announced his resignation from the partythis follows revelations that… in 1984…
he stole a dead baby's
identity… to obtain a false passport and then swore a false affidavit in court

After a frenzied outcry from voters…
boss Rodney Hide… tells him to hit the road.

When Garrett realises his position is untenable
like the dishonest steward… I imagine…he asked
slide words
‘what do I do

Do I catch the next plane to Timbuktu and become a politician there? Do I give up and resign from politics all together…or shall I throw myself on the mercy the voting public…from whom I’ve hidden the truth? [pause]

Well…I guess following politics… is different than following Jesus. And that’s really what I want to talk about today…because it’s likely David Garrett is history politically speaking.

Now…David Garrett and I have very little in common
politically…he leans to the right…I lean to the left…he’s pro-smacking…I’m against it… he’s a brawler… I’m a pacifist…

In a political argument we’d disagree on almost everything.
And I have no idea of his true character…
or whether he has
repented and reformed…I don’t know him.

Cartoon slide
What disturbs me… is the media feeding frenzy…
fuelled by public
outrage… around the discovery
of a
crime committed twenty six years ago…
and the absence of
any public discussion…on the place of forgiveness in politics….

Steward slide
It amazes me how once again the lectionary readings for today are so appropriate for our reflection on current events
because following Jesus
is so different…
from following politics.[pause]

story of the dishonest steward makes no political sense at all. And it’s probably the most difficult of his parables to understand

Why? Because it’s
thoroughly counter-intuitive…
and there’s a lot we don’t
like about it…first we don’t like the manager… but mostly…we don’t like the outcome when he’s praised for his cleverness.

Shouldn’t the manager get what he
end to the relationship with his master?

But perhaps this is precisely Jesus’ point.
Maybe Jesus is
sayinglisten you Pharisee’s
howling at me for breaking bread with sinners
the mercy and grace and
forgiveness of God… are counter
your logic…particularly when you believe in just deserts.

Garrett slide
Now Garrett himself has fought for a limit to public mercy…he’s a champion of the three strikes you’re out legislation…in relation to prison release. So it seems even Garret believes there must be an end to mercy at some point in a criminal career…no matter how a person changes.

It may be that Garret will reconsider his position now. [pause]

I’m sure we were all shocked…by the revelation…
of Garrett’s long hidden
crimes. But…
was ours a
gut reaction… or did we pause to reflect
on what an gospel oriented Christian response would be?
Did we
ask ourselves what Jesus’ would do?
Or what Jesus taught
God would do?

Were we even
interested in finding out whether David Garrett had changed since his last crime…do we even believe people can change? Or did we yell ‘off with his head’? before we even thought about it. [pause]
Hands slide
What was it Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount? [ask]

Word slide
‘Blessed are the merciful…for they shall obtain mercy.’

Yes that’s it……and I’m grateful that following Jesus is different than following politics
because not a day goes by…
I don’t need to trust in God’s mercy myself!
I don’t know about you

but I’m also
relieved… to discover there’s a difference
in my judgmental
gut reaction to what David Garrett did…
and my ‘when-I-stop-to-
think-about-it-follower-of-Jesus-reaction’ [pause]

You know it’s likely the vast political majority… won’t allow David Garret… to be forgiven

no matter how much he changes…he’s unlikely to be invited back to the political table…

But that’s
not how Jesus’ story of the dishonest managerends… is it?
his moment of decision…he chooses…
to trust in the mercy of his
master…and turn things around.

And one of my favourite biblical scholars…Walter Brueggemann wrote … ‘if we see the “master” in Jesus’ parable as the trust worthy God… who is the only source of well-being in the world…before this master…we need not cringe in fear or hide’ when we mess up…

can turn things around…for he has come toward us in Jesus…and when we do turn back we find a place of forgiveness and grace…is always laid for us…
at our masters

Sunday, 12 September 2010

God of the aftermath

Pentecost 16 year C Sermon
Jeremiah and Luke

How has your faith fared… over the past week?
What kinds of
questions have you been asking yourself.. …about God…what doubts have been raised for you…
against the backdrop of destructive forces unleashed in creation… the earthquake in Christchurch…floods in Pakistan…fires in Russia and an American
pastor who threatens to burn copies of the Quran
Where do we look… for God in all this?

How do we harmonise Jeremiah’s vision of God’s role in destruction
Jesus image of the Shepherd…
who risks
everything to find the lost sheep.

Is our vision of a wrathful punishing God…
or maybe even a cruelly
indifferent God…
or is our
image of God… like the concerned Shepherd in Jesus story…who goes to any length
to locate the
stray… and bring them back. [pause]

In 1755… an 8 point 7 magnitude earthquake… struck Portugal…killing at least sixty thousand people, and triggering tsunamis that wrecked seaports in Spain and Morocco.[i]  
It’s often called “The Great Lisbon Earthquake” and certainly one of the greatest natural disasters in European history. At that time…Christians looked for God’s role in the disaster…. in several ways

Protestant clergy in
Northern Europe…
argued the
quake occurred because most of the people of Lisbon were Roman Catholic.
And among the Catholics, and especially in Lisbon, the clergy believed the shock was the result of divine anger…
at the presence of Protestants.

heretics were forcibly baptized
with the aim of preventing
more earthquakes.

But there were those who sought another answer. 
The philosopher 
Voltaire was one of them.
And he observed acidly… that while the Portuguese Inquisitors…had burned some fanatics,
earth…had swallowed holy men and heretics alike.

Even as a humanist…Voltaire was appalled by the twisted logic… that innocent victims were being punished for sin…by a just God? He wrote a poem… full of deep pity… for a world where innocent and guilty alike…are pawns of fate or victims of chance. It read:
And can you then impute a sinful deed
To babes who on their mothers' bosoms bleed?
Was then more vice in fallen Lisbon found,
Than Paris, where voluptuous joys abound?
Was less debauchery to London known,
Where opulence luxurious holds the throne?

poem reminds me of Jesus’ observations when the Tower of Siloam fell… 

‘…do you think they were guiltier than everybody else in Jerusalem?’[ii]

I tell you no! Jesus says…One way or another…
at some
time or other…everybody turns away from God and God’s way of justice and peace and compassion and mercy…Get your act together and turn your face back to God…[pause]

At lunch the other day with friends from my old television days… one friend commented when natural disaster strikes …if you believe in God…the buck has to stop with God. God has to take the blame. Because God either designed things badly or designed them cruelly.

My friend seem to be saying… there are only two possible ways… to see God in times of disaster.
One…like many did in the Hebrew Scriptures…
as a god who rains down
destruction as a punishment… or Two…as a clockmaker god… who creates and winds up the universe…and steps back…
to let things take their natural

But in today’s Gospel story… Jesus puts forward… another view of God. Instead of inflicting disaster or standing back indifferently
God is
involved… and active…in the restoration process and its clear Jesus sees his calling… is to act this out
by making
friends with rejects and outcasts.

You see
disaster has already happened in these people’s lives…perhaps it’s ruined their health or got them kicked out of the synagogue…and almost always… disaster has separated these people from their community.

The religious leaders accuse Jesus of wrongdoing… of welcoming and eating with sinners! But Jesus believes God is active in their restoration…and this makes the Pharisees mad.

So of course Jesus tells them a parable:
"Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them,

Doesn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness
and go after the one that’s lost until he finds it?
And when he’s found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

And when he comes home calls his friends and neighbours together, saying

'Rejoice with me for I found my sheep that was lost.'

Just so, Jesus says, there’ll be more joy in heaven
one sinner who turns back to God…
than over ninety-
nine righteous persons who need no repentance. [pause]

It seems to me …that as the one who reveals God to us in time and space… Jesus tells us to look for evidence of Gods activity
not in the
earthquake or the wind or the fire
but in the still small
that calls our
name when we are lost

And just as Jesus meets and eats with people after their disaster has struck…he invites his friends…invites us… to do the same... calls us to get active in the search…
as the good
shepherd does…to get involved in the restoration…
to provide healing and hospitality…work for justice and peace…extend compassion and show mercy …
when and where and to whom…disaster has struck

yes people may be lost in natural catastrophe like earthquakes and floods…but they may be lost because of the greed and cruelty or intolerance of others…or yes
maybe it’s their own
fault…or even their own choice

Maybe it was a bad choice for God to reveal himself through a human life …in a fragile human body…
inevitably succumb… to pain and death. [pause]

But isn’t the very incarnation of God in Jesus into the dimension of earthquake and wind and fire…
war and poverty and human

this… the ultimate involvement in restoration
Isn’t Jesus…the very message
that God comes looking for us…That God chooses life
with us… rather than death to us. And calls us to follow him in this…for the salvation of the world.

Let us stand and pray

Jesus, you ate with sinners.
Why did you tell us these long parables
ending with the Prodigal son?
Is that what
you are? A Prodigal, wasting your life on  us…hungry sinners?
is this about
a prodigal
lavishing compassion?
At the
first sight of our return, even
though we are a
long way off,
he runs to meet us, hugs us, kisses us,
and kills the best calf to have a
feast for us?
Prodigal Son, Prodigal Father and Prodigal Holy Spirit,
we are
filled with awe and wonder at the love you squander… on us.[iii]

[ii] Luke 13:1-5
[iii] thanks for Robin Lane for this prayer from the St Louis Liturgy Group