This was the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, 23 September 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 8: 19 – 9: 1, 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7, and Luke 16: 1 – 13.
in the despair of the moment, we wonder where we will find comfort and solace. Like those who used the balm of Gilead to soothe the aches and pains of their hurts, what shall we use to heal the wounds that we have suffered? And while the passage from Jeremiah that we read would seem more appropriate for last week, it is appropriate for now because we know that our losses are truly God’s losses and that He has shed the tears we shed. This passage for Jeremiah was read to people who felt abandoned by God, who felt that God had left them to suffer and die in the ruins that were Jerusalem.
The power of this text comes from what it helped the people of Israel to do. The purpose of this passage was to help them rebuild, to begin again. It was pointed out that this passage was read in the Temple while people who had experienced the destruction of Jerusalem sat in the pews. The passage helped them frame their own sadness, helped them deal with their own sadness about the loss of everything. Jeremiah recollected the people’s grief and gave them a way to share their pain and grief. In doing so, the people were given back the focus they had lost when the Temple itself was destroyed. In destroying the Temple, the central aspect of their life was destroyed. Jeremiah sought to find ways to give the people back their focus.
What we do from this point on must be done with a clear understanding of what our lives are about. We cannot be like the manager of the properties, content to lead our lives and hoping to avoid any accounting for mistakes that we have made. At first glance the Gospel reading for today suggests that the steward was stealing from the owner of the properties and seeking revenge for having been fired. But it is more likely that manager was either reducing the interest charge on the debt, which would have been illegal under the law at that time or simply reducing the amount of commission that was owed him from those with debts to the owner of the property. That the owner of the property commended the steward/the manager for his actions suggests that the latter two ideas were more appropriate. It is clear from the parable that Jesus was suggesting that action taken to benefit one’s self are not often the best action taken.
It is obvious from the parable and what we know today that the owner of the property was God and that we are the stewards of God’s world. Jesus wanted to make the point that it is never our own money that we are dealing with; it is always God’s money. All that we have comes from God and we are expected to give back to God that which is God’s.
The focus of our lives must be God. That is the central reason why Christ came to this earth. His function was to reestablish the connection between the people and God and to show the people that salvation was theirs.
Paul tells us that it is God’s plan for the salvation of everyone. It may be that God has chosen some people to be saved, as was written in 1 Peter 1: 2. Some may say that God has selected in advance those who would be saved; others would say that God knows in advance those who will come to know the truth and thus be saved. But this contradiction and the belief that all can be saved if they come to Christ is not for us to decide. When we begin to guess what God is thinking, we get in way beyond our ability of reasoning and thinking.
What is more important is that we, through our prayers and our actions, come to a better knowledge of the truth. In our acts of worshipful prayer, we truly become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We become agents for God’s plan of reconciliation.
It is by our prayers and our actions that we not only assist in the completion of God’s objectives but also bear the true nature of God. Paul reminds us, as he reminded Timothy in verses 5 and 6 that just as Christ’s function was to mediate between god and humanity, our call to reconcile is no different.
Evelyn Underhill wrote
"We are always praying, when we are doing our duty and turning it into work for God." He added that among the things which we should regard as spiritual in this sense are our household or professional work, the social duties of our station, friendly visits, kind actions and small courtesies, and also necessary recreation of body and of mind; so long as we link all these by intention with God and the great movement of his Will. (From The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill)
We are not members of Christ’s kingdom for our own sake. We are his disciples so that by our actions others will come to know Christ. We often overlook the fact that we make disciples by a number of ways, including praying for those outside our congregation and being agents of reconciliation in nature.
The healing process begins when we understand that God grieves with us. It continues when we realize that the responsibility for overcoming the evil in this world, that the responsibility for seeing that actions which lead to evil never occur begin with us. There are those in this world who will say that there can be no God because He would never have let this happen. But when we show, through our actions, our words, and our deeds that God still exists and that He still loves us, then we insure that such actions cannot take place. True, it takes time but then healing is never a quick process.