Trading Places

A sermon for Proper 21

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31

Randolph and Mortimer are wealthy beyond compare. Their commodities brokerage business is the envy of all. Which, to some, is a surprise because the brothers bicker about any, and everything.

Louis Winthorpe III is their managing director. By chance Louis runs into Ray Valentine a hustler who begs for money in the disguise of a blind wheelchair bound invalid; well actually Ray runs into Louis, literally. Louis insists Ray be arrested, and he is.

As it turns out the Duke brothers have always argued about whether nature or nurture determines a person’s behavior. They decide to switch Ray and Louis. So, they frame Louis for theft and drug possession, fire him, and with all his assets, including his posh downtown apartment, frozen, Louis is on the streets. Then they bail Ray out of jail, and arrange for him to be hired as managing director of their firm, with all the perks, housing etc. The great experiment is on.

By chance Ray over hears the Duke brothers discussing their $1.00 nature vs. nurture bet. He sets out to find Louis, and returns to the streets he came from. He finds a former fellow hustler, and together the search for Louis. They find him nearly dead from an overdose. After Louis recovers they tell him of the Duke’s bet. Then a chance TV news report gives them the opportunity to turn the tables, which of course they do, in classic Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd comic style. [i]

Here is what connects Trading Places with this morning’s readings. Randolph and Mortimer Duke treat both the high society Louis and the street hustler Ray with indigent contempt. They do not see either of them as a person. Both are mere beings, who, because of their extreme wealth, power and privilege, they can treat as they desire. In this respect they are very much like Dives, from Jesus’ parable.

Actually I must correct myself. There is no “Dives” in this morning’s parable. Though often used as a name ‘dives’ is actually Latin for rich man. And it is more important that you’d think. Lazarus, is the only character from all the Parables with a name. Throughout scripture names, naming, and changing names are key elements. So, it is critical to gleaning truth from this parable that the rich man remain unnamed, and that Lazarus be known by name. Without being judgmental that difference reveals something about the qualitative difference in their relationship with God.

Back to the Duke brothers, sort of. When Lazarus is in heaven, the rich man refers to him by name! Lazarus is no faceless, stranger, he is just a person the rich man ignored. Upon closer reading, we will notice the rich man continues to relate to Lazarus as a servant. He does not ask father Abraham to ask Lazarus for help, he asks Abraham to tell Lazarus to help him. Lazarus is still just a being, who, because of his extreme wealth, power and privilege, the rich man can treat as he desires, even from the torment of Hades. One has to wonder, if the yawning chasm between Lazarus and the rich man is of the rich man’s own creation. A colleague blogged about the foreshadowing of Abraham’s words: 

neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. [ii]

They are full of doom. However, he got me to looking at literary devices, and how Abraham’s words:

so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so,

is foreshadowing Jesus doing exactly that, in shattering the bond of death; these are words full of surprising hope.

All this attention to relationship moves us away from hearing this parable as a primer on heaven bound behavior, to a subtle hint to the importance of interpersonal relationship, with all people. The rich man did not, could not see Lazarus as a person worthy of his time, his assistance, because the rich man believed his wealth, power and prestige put him above others. Even from the depths of Hades he maintained this belief. In doing so he put wealth, power and prestige between himself and God. And that is exactly the lesson Paul is impressing on Timothy. Read closely, Paul never condemns wealth, power and prestige, he does speak the truth, they are fleeting and unreliable, the last 7 or 8 years has taught us that. Paul also says the rich are to: do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. All of those qualities relate to how we relate to others around us, especially those whom we perceive as different. You see, I think both Randolph and Mortimer got it wrong. It’s neither nature nor nurture that matters. What matters is that everyone is a beloved child of God, and that determines how we should relate to them, and that determines how they … well it’s like that old insurance commercial, where one person does a good for another, who does a good deed for another, who does a good deed for another, and on and on and on, each showing another a foreshadowing of God’s salvation. In this way everyone sees that the Kingdom of God is, that God’s will is done right here, right now.

[i] Trading Places, IMDB,
[ii] Draughting Theology, Steve Pankey,
Working Preacher,
       Craft of Preaching, On Stretching Parables
       Monday, September 23, 2013 10:35 AM | David Lose

       Commentary on Luke 16:19-31, Lois Malcolm
       Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Christian A. Eberhart

Sermons that Work, st-proper-21-c-2013/
Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz, 19 Pentecost, Proper 21 (C) – 2013, September 29, 2013
This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
       Luke 16:19-31,  Scott Hoezee
       1 Timothy 6:6-19, Stan Mast

5 – 2 = 5.

5 – 2 = 5. No, I have not forgotten how to subtract; it is simply the truth, that five days of stuff to do, less two days out of the office equals five days of stuff to do. And just because, it’s been a week of: acknowledging death, encroaching death, the needs, more needs, and abusive? needs of folks, who believe, who have lost their belief, who don’t believe, and of whom I’ve no idea about their belief.  All this has been melding together with bits of this week’s scripture readings like: stretching or being stretched, buying property when it makes no fiscal sense,  (i.e. on the eve of crushing military defeat) stuff getting in between ourselves and God, our relationship with Eleanor Rigby, and all the other lonely and or poor, and the edict   “as for you, man of God, … run.”  And although I haven’t followed the usual and customary, reading, studying and cogitation, I am confident there is a word from God in all this. It’s almost like walking by the kitchen as the first order of a marvelous baking concoction begins to wafer about. And it’s three hours and forty nine minutes before our dinner guest arrive.  5-2 is feeling like 6.

The love of money

Well said.

Draughting Theology

Can we clear something up?  “Money is the root of all evil,” is not an ancient proverb.  It isn’t an old saying.  It is just a bad paraphrase of what “Paul” actually said to “Timothy” toward the tale end of his “first letter.”  The actual saying that people are trying to recall when they ignorantly say “money is the root of all evil” is “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”  Yet, that isn’t even the whole sentence.  We’ll get to that in a minute, let’s look at this piece of text a little more closely.

Philarguria – the Greek word translated “love of money.”  Prior to looking this up, I assumed it was two words, but there it is, a single word that means “a greedy disposition love of money, avarice, covetousness.”  It is a pseudo-hapaxlegomenon, appearing in the Canon only here in 1…

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Seeing opportunity

I actually read this week’s lectionary Monday, then Tuesday was one of those days and so here it is Wednesday and what I have to  share with you is a link to a USA Today article about a wedding that wasn’t and a banquet that was.  Sunday’s Gospel parable is not the best fit;however, in terms of seeing abundance, in seeing opportunity, one speaks to the other.  There might even be an interaction between the USAToday piece and 1 Timothy.

No matter what, it is an inspirational story.

200 homeless people received a four-course meal at the wedding venue.

Act shrewdly, rightly

A sermon for Proper 20
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Psalm 79:1-9, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

Bob is in Africa on business. Not the usual and customary machinations of international trade. Nope, Bob is scouting sites that would be appropriate community service work projects for the college. There are lots of needs, but not all are appropriate or possible for college students, so Bob looks with, and sees with, discerning eyes.

As he makes his rounds through town, he notices a woman, who is always in the same place. He can tell something is not right, that she is not right. She appears to be significantly mentally ill. So much so that she is not aware she is pregnant, very pregnant. So pregnant, Bob decides something must be done, and approaches the local authorities. They agree, and they develop a plan to reach out to the woman, and get her to the hospital. The plan works, and the next day she is safely in the hospital. Three days later she gives birth to a baby girl. Three days later, there is knock at Bob’s hotel room door, it is the local authorities, they’ve determined the woman is unfit to be a mother, so ~ here she is! They leave. Three days later, there is another knock on Bob’s door. Here’s another child, thanks, bye!

The shock Bob experiences cannot be much different than that of the disciples, or most preachers, when they / we hear the story of the dishonest manager. For weeks we have been hearing Jesus totally disrupt all typical social norms, even the really good ones, like honor your father and mother. This morning we hear Jesus say:

his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

If it’s hard to make sense out of “Hate your momma.” what are you supposed to do with: “… make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.” when Jesus has pretty much been saying the opposite ever since, well ever since he started preaching.

It probably helps to understand this passage to know what it is not. NT Wright says:

The first thing to get clear about ‘parable of the wicked mammon’ is that it is precisely a parable. It is not advise. … [i]

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that this story is not an allegory, [ii] i.e. the master is not God, we are not the dishonest steward. Actually it was the inspiration to re-read the entire section of Luke in The Message that yielded the clearest understanding. Peterson translates the troublesome phrase:
I want you to be smart in the same way, but for what is right.

In other words: Act shrewdly, rightly.

Way on back in late April I went to a photography conference. I recalling saying that, in part, that I enjoy these conferences, because they remind me that when I look at the world differently, I will see the world differently. I will see what I would not otherwise see. It is not all talent, it takes intentional effort, actually it takes practice, lots of practice. Part of what we’ve heard Luke tell of Jesus teaching his followers, the last several weeks, is all about intentionally looking at the world differently, so that you will see the world differently. Bob’s task of seeking community service sites requires him to look differently so he can see differently. I’m speculating, but I suspect that is why he could see the mentally ill woman, who was not even aware she is 9 months pregnant. Today, we hear Jesus teaching, okay you are seeing differently, now what? Now what ~ is to act differently.

Acting differently is not to use different logic processes, but to start from a different value base, which means you will come to different decisions. The world’s values are mammon: money, power, prestige, wealth, etc. God’s values include loving mutual relationships; I know God loves you so I love you; you know God loves me so you love me.

So, what do you do when you are in Africa, and in 9 days you have three orphaned children? It is logical to find an orphanage in Africa, or even in the US and arrange to place the children there. Bob’s logic, and I believe it to be divinely inspired, Bob’s logic is to start an orphanage, and that is what he did.

Today, it is home to 30 + children. They are all enrolled in the best school in town. They have several local women who run the show, and are paid above wages necessary to provide for basic family needs. There are three or four businesses the older children are a part of, so they can learn practical trade skills. There are two guest houses, the rent from which pays a staggering power bill, and provides a place for visiting missionaries to stay.

How odd is it that missionaries requires light, running water, etc to stay and do God’s work?

Any how …

Current plans are to

  • emphasize education so the children can go to secondary school and University,
  • build a second building for orphans so more children can be cared for,
  • to install solar power system so they can have reliable, sustainable power.

The story of Malayaka House [iii  Web site] is inconceivable; unless you see the world differently: everyone is a child of God, unless you make decisions from a different value base: everyone is a beloved by God. 2000 years ago, a different vision, a different decision, sparked a fire of faith, that swept across and changed the world. Seven or 8 years ago a different vision, a different decision established Malayaka House which is changing the lives of 30 something children, and everyone who comes within it’s embrace. Today? who knows, all it takes is the faith to act shrewdly, rightly.

[i] Tom Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays, Morehouse, 2012
[ii] Walter Harrelson, New Interpreter’s Study Bible,

prioritize differently … live differently.

Well, I did it, I went back and read chapter 15 through 16:18, and peaked ahead at next week. I was inspired to set aside my usual and customary translation (NSRV) and read from The Message, in the hope that different words would yield insight. It helped.

So here is where I am. Beginning with NT Wright’s statement that this “…is not a parable.”Another commentator’s (sorry, I can’t find where I read it.) statement that it is not an allegory. So this is a parallel teaching, Peterson puts it: “I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, …” And that reminded me of John 9 and the story of Jesus healing the blind man, when the disciples ask who sinned causing the man to be born blind. Jesus answers “Wrong question. This man was born blind. Now see what God can do.” Which leads nicely back to Luke 16:10 ff and the whole teaching about how you act with little things reveals how you’ll act with big things, also applies to how / what you see. i.e. If you you God’s hand in little things, you will see God’s hand in big things.

In healing on the sabbath, debunking dinner seating traditions, in upsetting dinner invitations protocols,
in debasing family values, in celebrating the value of the lost and worthless Jesus has stripped away the values base from which moral and ethical decision are made. Here Jesus is pointing to a different set of values from which to make a different set of decisions.

Back in April I went to a photography conference. The sermon that followed challenged folks to intentionally to look at the world differently to see the world differently. A corollary here is challenging ourselves to prioritize our lives differently so that we will live in the world differently.