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,