Sunday, October 30, 2016

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

30 October 2016
Proper 26C

What do you see when you look in the mirror? 

I read a story once from a busy business woman in New York City, where on her way to work one day, she saw something unexpected. After she had entered her place of employment as usual, she went to catch an elevator up to her office floor. As she was walking up to the bank of elevators, she saw one was filling up and so she started running. Above the elevators was a line of mirrors and as she ran into the elevator, she caught a glimpse of someone she recognized as a friend but couldn’t place at the moment and she raised her hand to wave. After she was on the elevator on her way upstairs, she realized that the friend she had glimpsed in the mirror as she was running for elevator, was in fact herself. Her mind had recognized herself as a friend. 

What do we see when we look in the mirror? 

One thing I can tell you about living next door is that the Rectory has a lot of mirrors. There is a mirror right as you walk in the door, in the foyer, right over the front fireplace. There are mirrors in all the bathrooms, in some of the bedrooms, in the den, in the upstairs hallway, even in the basement! My favorite mirror in the house though is the mirror I brought with me. On my mirror I have written affirmations about life, reminders to connect with people, about who loves me, reminders to dance and be grateful. I have a little sign I found that says, “Objects in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty.” I, like many others, long suffered from trying to compare myself to how others look and finding myself lacking. With all these gentle nudges in the right direction, I have learned to see beyond what society says looking back at me in the mirror.

What do we see when we look in the mirror?

As I have been settling into my new life here in Franklin, into my new home and my new vocation here at St. John’s, I have been pondering this question. Churches are well known for their identities, their DNA. If you have ever kept up with Diocesan news, you’d probably be able to tell me the characteristics of the different churches in the area, whether one Episcopal church is a problem or whether one only has a contemporary service or is high church or not. If you keep up with Franklin news, you’d be able to tell me which church in town is most welcoming, or does the most for those in need, or is the strictest about their rules. But as I learn the rhythm of St. John’s, I have wondered, what would we see if we held up a mirror to our community? Does that line up with what others see in us? When I think of St. John’s, I think of a beautiful church with a community that tries hard to take care of each other and support each other. That is what I see, but is that what everyone else sees? 

What do we see when we look in the mirror?

In the gospel passage, we know what everyone else thought of Zacchaeus. He was short and disliked. He was a traitorous tax collector, dealing with the Roman oppressors, and making himself wealthy off the extra money he demanded of his constituents. I can’t imagine the names the people of Jericho called him behind his back! But what did Zacchaeus see when he looked in the mirror? Did he see the socially constructed ideas of who he was? Did he see himself as a traitorous tax collector? As someone who couldn’t be trusted? Did he see himself as a conflicted man doing his job to the best of his ability but upsetting lots of people? Was he proud of what he did? We do not know, but in any case, I imagine that whatever he saw in the mirror before he met Jesus changed after he had dinner with Jesus. Interestingly, the original Greek text is a little vague on the verb tense in the passage when Zacchaeus stands in front of Jesus and says, “"Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much." He could have been already practicing almsgiving and repayment. But even if he was already giving to the poor and repaying those who were defrauded, the experience of Jesus is a turning point in Zacchaeus’ life. Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as two different things. First, Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as lost. Second, Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham. These are two very important traits. 

At this point in the book of Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This is one of the last stories before the week of stories that encompasses what we know as Holy Week. The story of Zacchaeus ends at Luke chapter 19, verse 10. The story of Jesus sending his disciples to get the donkey that carries him during his triumphal entry we know as Palm Sunday starts at Luke chapter 19, verse 29. This is one of his last moments to make clear what he has been doing and saying across the Judean and Galilean countrysides. It’s all in that last sentence, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” 

Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as lost, whether he was already almsgiving or not. Zacchaeus was in a place in his life that he needed that connection with God, he needed to know he was found by God. Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham as well. As a member of the community of God and as beloved child of God. The words that Jesus says, sharing Zacchaeus’ identity as a son of Abraham, as a member of God’s kingdom, changed Zacchaeus, and probably all those who heard them. Zacchaeus was a traitorous tax collector, the vilest of the vile, and yet… the Son of Man, the prophet who walked around curing the sick and spreading good news, he recognized this poor excuse of a man as a lost, but beloved member of God’s kingdom. 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  

The most important view on any of our lives isn’t what we see in the mirror. It isn’t what our neighbors see or society sees when looking at us. The most important view on our lives is what God sees when looking at us. I think most of us stand with Zacchaeus before the Lord, knowing the yearning in our own hearts to see Jesus, knowing what we do and what we don’t do. And as Zacchaeus is known by Jesus as a lost but beloved member of God’s community, we too are known by God as lost but beloved members of the community. What God sees when looking at us is more than we could ever see by looking in a mirror. What God sees when looking at us is more important than anything we could ever think about ourselves. God sent Jesus to share with us what is seen, lost and beloved members of the community who need a good shepherd to reconnect them to the source of all creation. Thanks be to God for his point of view! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Practicing Prayer

23 October 2016
Proper 25C

There are a lot of sayings out there about practice, especially in the realm of sports. "Practice, practice, practice." "If you don't practice, you don't deserve to win." "If you think practice is boring, try sitting on the bench." "Don't practice until you get it right, practice until you can't get it wrong." "You play the way you practice." Then there are the longer ones written on gym posters and websites.  "Be patient, the results will speak for themselves." You have heard these kinds of sayings shouted out on sports fields, you have seen these sayings on tee shirts, you have said these things to yourself in the midst of challenges. These are normal parts of daily life, especially for anyone involved in any athletic endeavor. But I've never heard any of these applied to life in the church.

Yet, there are many things that we do in the community of the church that require practice. The first things that come to mind are probably things like being an acolyte or being on the Altar Guild. Those do require practice in order to put things in the right places, in order to get the timing right. However, what I am talking about is something we all do. What I want to talk about practicing today is prayer. Prayer requires daily practice. Why would we practice prayer? So that we will be transformed into whom God is calling us to be individually and as a community.

Transformation is a buzz word in the church. Yet, true transformation as a Christian is a hard path to follow. It requires time and effort and discipline and letting go of all the things that you could (and would) rather be doing. Transformation is a slow process, a growing process, a process over time which changes our hearts, our minds, and our behaviors. It reconnects us to ourselves and to God. In a nutshell, transformation means practicing the new behaviors that transform us. In the Christian tradition, the biggest behavior that transforms us is prayer.

One of the reasons practice helps in sports is that it builds muscle memory. Muscle memory is what keeps your body throwing or kicking or catching a ball properly when your mind is thinking about other things, like who is covering you or where the ball is going next. Muscle memory develops when you practice prayer as well. When I was in seminary, I attended Morning Prayer almost every day of the week. As I practiced praying every day in the morning with the rest of the seminary, I learned how to get into a head space for prayer, and it got easier over time to get up in the morning and start my day with Morning Prayer. When I moved away from the seminary and I was in a community that didn't do Morning Prayer together every day, I fell out of practice and I noticed that I stopped praying first thing in the morning. However, since moving here, to this community that does Morning Prayer together every day at 8am, I have started getting back into the practice of prayer in the morning and I have been grateful that my body remembers and is able to fall into the space to be able to pray more easily once again. Sometimes it is my body's muscle memory for prayer that keeps me being able to pray when I am having a hard time.

In the gospel passage this morning, we hear a parable about two men praying in the temple. Many of you have heard this parable so many times that it is not surprising anymore. However, this parable would be a serious surprise and shock to the people listening to Jesus share this parable. The first surprise would be the fact that a tax collector is in the temple praying! That is situational irony at play right there, it would be having a member of Hell’s Angels biker gang walk into our church. The suggestion that a tax collector was praying in the temple would have gotten some laughs. Yeah, right. And the fact that the tax collector's prayer was cleaner and more pure would have been shocking. As if the biggest, lifelong jerk had sincerely apologized. You would be taken aback. What? Come again? Then, we have the Pharisee and his prayer in the temple. . The Pharisee does put a lot of effort and gratitude into his prayer, despite the way it sounds. And that Pharisee is not supposed to be all Pharisees. This kind of behavior isn't normal. This would have been a shock. Throughout the centuries, we have loaded the word Pharisee so that this is what we expect, but this is not the kind of behavior that the crowd listening to Jesus would have expected. Interestingly, while we hear the verdict about these men’s prayers, neither of these men knew the verdict on their prayers. The Pharisee didn't know that his prayer did not help him be right with God, but the parable also doesn't say it was rejected. It just says that the tax collector was justified, he became right with God. It doesn't say that the Pharisee wasn't already right with God, although his behavior doesn't necessarily show that kind of relationship. The way the Pharisee prays in this passage is simply a self-comparison to other people. On the other hand, the tax collector doesn't compare himself to anyone else. He doesn't mention anyone else at all. His relationship with God is between himself and God. Somehow God was working in this tax collector’s life and he was beginning to be transformed.

As Episcopalians, Anglicans, we have a history of being the via media, the middle way. We seek to walk the line between liturgy and word, between contemplation and the world. Part of our inheritance is the tension of paradox that we have been given. It is not our doctrines or dogmas that bind us together, but our prayer life, especially as it is rooted in the Book of Common Prayer. This passage suggests that the kind of Christians we are is defined by our prayer. That how we pray reveals who we are, because prayer is the act of our relationship with God. Prayer is the substance of our relationship with God.

So we have to ask ourselves, how is our prayer life? How do we speak with God? How do we listen to God? For Luke, the author of this gospel passage, prayer is faith in action. We have to acknowledge our need for God's mercy, but also understand that God does not have to give it. That may seem harsh, but if we expect God's mercy, then we feel entitled to God's mercy. There can be no entitlement between us as human beings and God. We do rely on God and we do have to act in obedience, even if God has a tendency to give grace to those who haven't been acting properly. That is not our judgement. While the people in the crowd and the sharers of the gospel passage are judging the Pharisee and tax collector that is not our role. Judgement is not how Jesus teaches us to look at other people. Jesus teaches us that we are all God's beloved children.

"Not only does God see us as we truly are, not only does he love and accept us as we are – but he also challenges us to change and be transformed – to become that unique person whom God made us to be." (Br. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE)

So come, join. Pray and practice. Pray and be transformed.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

From Tiny to Gigantic

2 October 2016 
Proper 22C 

In 1927, the Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre proposed a theory about our universe 
being always expanding, trying to answer and give reason to some strange observations in 
astronomy and physics. Most of us know his theory these days as the big bang theory. In the big 
bang theory, a small singularity explodes into a huge and vastly expanding universe. 

This image, starting with something so small and creating something vast, is the same image that 
Jesus invokes today with the parable of the mustard seed. It is such a good image for us to 
understand when it comes to the work of God in this world. God always starts with something 
small, something ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary. We are part of the larger 
work of art, and yet, each of us is always a masterpiece of astounding value. We all started as 
something so small, and from that tiny beginning, against all odds, we have become interesting 
beloved human beings with connections, relationships, and legacies. God is in the business of 
transformation. Transforming the small and ordinary into the amazing and extraordinary. This 
process is going on around us all the time, but we have to be open to seeing it. We have to be 
able to look at something and say this is not just a conglomerate of color, texture, smell, taste, 
and sound. This is not just a physical object with a simple purpose, but this is a part of the larger 
work of art all around us. Part of God's grand plan. 

The disciples however, are not seeing it. All of the gospel passages we have heard lately, the 
corrupt manager parable, the story of Lazarus and the rich man, today's teaching about doing 
what we ought to do, its hard stuff. Its no wonder the disciples despair a little of living up to the 
task and being able to live the way that Jesus is teaching them to. But Jesus seems to think this is 
how they ought to be living and that it is simply what we are asked to do, not a beyond the duty 
kind of calling. “We cannot guess why the “apostles” ask Jesus to add to their faith. He has been 
teaching some very tough messages about stumbling blocks on the journey of faith and he’s been 
very direct with the religious leaders of the day. I can only imagine, especially after the message 
of accountability, that I, in their shoes, would ask the same thing. I might say, “Jesus what you 
say is hard. It is actually REALLY difficult. Give me faith to do these things … add to my faith.”
” Perhaps having more faith will help them. They don't feel up to it, they don't feel like they 
have enough to go the distance. 

But Jesus' response seems sort of discouraging and condescending and flippant. Because what 
they are doing is what they should be doing and they don't deserve anything extra for that. Yet, it 
sounds like they are barely managing to accomplish that which is regularly asked of them. What 
comes directly before the apostles asking for more faith in the gospel of Luke is Jesus telling 
them that “ if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven 
times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive." Seven times in a day! That is a lot of forgiveness. It 
would be so hard to practice that much forgiveness. Surely I would need some help with that as well. I mean, so much forgiveness would require a lot of faith in God to continue over and over 
again, right? Jesus does see their struggle and he seeks to guide them to better understanding 
through a comparison and a story. He tells them that if they had faith like a mustard seed, they 
would be able to do extraordinary things. 

The mustard seed is a small seed, but once a mustard seed has died and germinated and starts 
growing, the resulting mustard plant is huge and aggressive and takes over everywhere it can. 
What starts with a little bitty seed becomes a gigantic thriving plant. The metaphor then 
translates that what Jesus means is that no matter how small our faith might be, it can spread and 
grow and stretch out beyond what we thought possible. With a little bit of faith, what we do 
matters and our faith will impact the world. Through God, our faith becomes part of God’s work 
of salvation and transformation of the whole universe. 

We have to claim what we have, even if it is only a little bit. Because even that little bit can be 
used by God to do amazing things. Our power to follow through and accomplish our mission 
does not come from ourselves, but stems from God. It is a reliance on God that allows us to be 
able to move through all the hardships that come along with following Jesus. We have to let go 
of all the things we feel we should be doing on our own. Because trust does not mean that we are 
shoring everything up, that we are attending to all the details ourselves in order for everything to 
work perfectly. We cannot accomplish that. And when we try, we only lead ourselves into 
despair. 

We may feel that what we have in the way of faith is lacking. We may feel that our doubts 
outweigh and overwhelm our ability to trust the Lord. But we forget who we are dealing with, 
what we are dealing with. We are dealing with the God of all creation, who made the universe 
and set in motion the vibrations of atoms. God can work with the littlest seed, like a mustard 
seed. With the littlest amount of faith, because the amount does not matter. God, whose name is the breathing out and breathing in of all creation, has already given us everything we could ever 
possibly need within ourselves. It is us, it is our minds, our hearts, that build walls between 
ourselves and our potential. We already have what we need to do what we are supposed to do. 
When we pray, we tear down those walls inside ourselves, brick by brick, so that the abilities we 
have inside can shine out, so that when everything is stripped away, all that is left is God shining 
through. What we ought to be doing is not more than we can handle, because it is not us that is 
handling it. God is working through us. We need to let go of ourselves, our fears, our self-
awareness in order to be shown that God working through us can do more than we could ever 
imagine. We are working with God. The Holy One of Israel. The Lord who lead the Israelites out 
of slavery and through the desert. The God who gave the Israelites the Promised Land even 
though they misbehaved. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and 
Rachel. An awesome God, in the old overwhelming goosebumps sense of awesome. Sometimes 
in the busyness of our daily lives we forget this. Sometimes in the silence of what feels like 
unanswered prayer, this can seem trite. Yet, the God that comes to us through the bread and wine of Eucharist is a God that takes each of us human beings out of something so small, our walled 
off selves, and transforms us into the body of Christ, a new world of love and grace. 

Remembering the Mission

25 September 2016 
Proper 21C 

Please, stay calm. “Don’t let this story [from the gospel passage this morning] freak us 
out about hell and damnation. It is not about the afterlife and its conditions. It is a 
parable, a made up fictional story told to make a point, a point on how to live this life 
here and now.” (PreachingTip.com) 

If you were with us last week, you know that I talked about parables and how they 
challenge, humor, and teach us. The parable in the gospel passage this morning 
definitely continues that style of teaching. This parable is not as confusing as the one 
about the corrupt manager that we heard last week, but “The story is left opened ended 
because it points to us. We are opened ended. Remember parables are always about this 
life. This story is asking us if we will come around and change our ways.”
(PreachingTip.com) 

So in what way is this parable asking us if we will change? In order to discern this, we 
are going to use one of the most time honored ways of reading scripture. One of the 
most time honored ways of reading the scriptures is a practice called Lectio Divina. 
Lectio Divina requires reading a short passage over and over again and looking at it in 
different ways. Interestingly, this practice has been applied to many other things in the 
world. Lectio divina, meaning “divine reading” in Latin, comes out of the Benedictine 
tradition and typically has four parts. Reading, meditating, contemplating, and praying. 
However, the lectio divina model doesn't only have to be used for scripture. Recently, I
have been listening to a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. In the podcast, 
the hosts look at a chapter of a Harry Potter book through the lens of a chosen word and 
then randomly choose a sentence and go through a lectio divina practice of reading and 
studying the sentence in four ways, literally, metaphorically, related to ourselves, and 
action. The hosts of this show are very secular, but they are trying to find ways of finding 
value in the world through something that many people already consider very special. 
To a whole generation of young adults, along with other people, the Harry Potter world 
and story hold a special place. 

So in order to find the meaning and challenge in this parable, we are going to try out this 
lectio divina practice and look at one sentence of the parable literally, metaphorically, in 
relation to our community at St. John’s, and its challenge for action. 
The random, finger chosen, sentence for this morning is: "But Abraham said, 'Child, 
remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like 
manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony." 

First, what is literally going on here? The rich man, has asked Abraham to send Lazarus 
to give him some water because he is in agony after death. Abraham gives him this 
answer. The answer is interesting in many ways. Before we can look at the answer, we 
have to look at the request. The request is interesting in many ways as well. The rich 
man asks Abraham and not Lazarus, about giving him some water, which still shows the 
rich man as treating Lazarus badly. The rich man still believes in his own status and 
thinks he has the honor to ask Abraham. But Abraham puts him in his place. Child, he 
addresses him. Child, the rich man has no name in this story. Child, a lowly human 
being without any power. Child, remember. I think it is interesting that the first verb 
Abraham uses is remember. Because the rich man did not remember during his life time 
to follow the rules and spirit of the Jewish tradition and faith. He did not give alms to 
the poor. He did not remember. The rich man remembered who Abraham was, but he 
did not remember any of the rules. Remember your life and all those good things you 
received. This is also very much a story stuck in the clash between cultures. In Jewish 
tradition, after death all souls went to Sheol, which was basically a shadowy pit in the 
ground where nothing happened. There is no agony there. There is no delight there. But 
this rich man is not in Sheol, he is in Hades, the Greek underworld. In the Greek 
tradition, there is a Field of Punishment for those who committed crimes while living. A 
place of agony. There is a lot of counterpoint in this story. The rich man received many 
good things in this world and thus, to balance the story, must receive evil now. And 
Lazarus, who had received plenty of evil things in this world, now must receive good 
things. Also, Lazarus, the man with nothing and no dignity is given honor in this story 
because he is the one named. The rich man, who has everything, has no name in this 
story, signifying his lack of honor. Both the Jewish and Greek traditions had strains of 
high value being placed on balance which comes out in this story. 

Second, what is metaphorically going on here? Well, Abraham is balancing out the 
world. There is a sense of justice here, not just for the rich man and Lazarus, but also for 
all those who are poor and do not have honor. Abraham is putting the world back to 
rights. Straightening the world out again. There is also something about the choice of 
the verb remember in this sentence that grabs me. Remember. Remember the justice 
that you learned about rich man? Now it is here. Remember what you were supposed to 
do? Well, this is the consequence of not doing it. Not only is Abraham addressing the 
rich man, Abraham is also warning us. Abraham is reminding us. Jesus speaks through 
Abraham in this parable. Jesus has been discussing wealth and priorities, our 
stewardship, in the last few gospel passages and he continues those themes here. We all 
have been given gifts and what we do with them does matter. What the rich man did and 
didn’t do matters with the riches of his world gifts greatly in the situation he finds himself in. 

Third, how is what is going on here apply to us? In my mind the themes of balance, 
remembering, and stewardship all apply to us at St. John’s. Jesus through Abraham is 
challenging and teaching us. Jesus speaks about grace and love, but there is that kind of Fatherly love that requires correction and returning to the path. Repentance is only an 
issue if there is something to be held to. And Abraham is reminding us of what that is. 
There are things we ought to be doing. Another application is the understanding present 
in this passage of the balance in the world between having too much and too little. We 
cannot always control when we have too little, but we are able to control what we do 
when we have too much. We have great wealth here in our parish. We have wonderful 
capital. We have a faithful community who supports each other and the life of the 
community. But there was an attitude problem in this parable and Abraham seeks to 
change the rich man's attitude and ours as well. We cannot keep what we have to 
ourselves. 

Fourth, and naturally following the last section, we have to ask ourselves what action 
should we take out of this parable? The action in the chosen sentence, the active verb, is 
remember. What action do we at St. John's need to take out of this parable? Remember, 
remember that while we have good things in this world, we need to be sharing them. We 
have much that is good in this world in our community. And while we don't always share 
it, we need to be looking at how we share it. Remember can point to a lot of things we do 
in the church. Especially in a church such as St. John’s, history is a palpable part of our 
life together. I was poignantly reminded of our history as we rehung the pictures of the 
priests of this parish in the Parish Hall on Friday. As we look around us at the beauty of 
our windows, the brass, the mosaics, we know we have a rich history, filled with people 
who cared. Abraham, however, is not reminding us of our history. We do that enough as 
it is. He is reminding us of why all that history exists in the first place. It exists because 
we have a mission. A mission we must remember and act upon. Daily, weekly, monthly, 
seasonally, yearly, we are called to gather together in worship and then to go out into the 
world to share. To share the story, to share the gifts, and to share the love of God that 
has been abundantly given to us. Remember, Abraham tells us, remember the mission. 
Remember what you are called to do. 

Parables Humor, Challenge, and Teach

18 September 2016 
Proper 21C 

There once was a turtle that lived near a hare. The hare made fun of the turtle for going 
so slowly all the time. One day, the hare had a marvelous idea. He was going to 
challenge the turtle to a race! Then he could really make fun of the turtle for losing. 
There was no way the hare with all his speed wouldn't win! When the hare saw the turtle 
the next day he challenged the turtle to a race and surprisingly the turtle accepted. They 
set the agreed upon start and finish and got themselves ready. At the starting sound, off 
they went along the path. The hare bounded ahead and soon became so far ahead he 
couldn't even see the turtle behind him anymore. After a little while, he thought to 
himself, I am so far ahead, I have time to take a little nap. I'll wake up and still have 
plenty of time to finish. So he found a nice spot and sat down for a nap. The turtle 
however, had been steadily walking all the while. Soon he came upon the hare along the 
side of the road taking a nap. He shook his head and kept going. After the turtle had 
crossed the finish line, the hare came bounding up. What!? he exclaimed! He had lost 
the race! While he had been sleeping, the turtle had passed him. We know the story, we 
know the moral. Slow and steady wins the race. This is a parable and in this parable we 
see a challenge, both for the characters in the story, but also for us. We see some humor, 
situational irony, in that it is funny that a slow turtle would win a race against a fast 
hare. And we learn a lesson, something to help change the way we live our lives every 
day. 

This happens over and over again in our readings of the gospel texts. We run into 
parables that are meant to challenge, humor, and teach us. Sometimes parables don't 
always make sense at first glance, or even second or third. The thing about parables is 
that they are supposed to make us think. Yes, we are supposed to be thinking in church! 
Thinking about what Jesus means. Because Jesus knows one of those human being quirks about us that we don't always know about ourselves. We learn better when we 
think about what we are learning. The parables are one way Jesus makes us think. 
Parables are stories or sayings that are usually metaphoric. They illustrate a point in 
such a way as to be personal, in such a way that we connect with what is being said. They 
want us to think. They challenge us. Some of them are even meant to be humorous. 
Gasp! To think, Jesus probably had a sense of humor. Sometimes I have to wonder, 
which one of the disciples was the jokester of the group? I cannot imagine thirteen men 
wandering around the countryside without a few inside jokes. And while we joke about 
the humor of God and the humor of Jesus in modern memes, most of the time we don't 
seriously consider where the humor of Jesus might show up in our bible studies. Yet, 
when I think about the stories people most often share and the ways we teach our 
children through stories, all those lessons, morals, stories include a bit of humor. It 
stands to reason that the gospels also include a bit of humor. 

In looking at all these aspects of a parable we can come to understand more fully the 
point that Jesus is trying to make. Luckily for us, we have a system of looking at the 
gospel texts in such a way that if we are regularly attending church, we see the same 
passages over and over and over again. This is helpful because we can see each parable 
differently each time. We are given the time and perspective throughout our lives to see the parables in new ways. To allow the parables to challenge, humor, and make us think 
in new ways. There are countless stories across the church of people seeing a certain 
parable always in the same way until something happens in their lives and all of a 
sudden, a new understanding or way of seeing a parable occurs to them. Of course, 
sometimes a parable has to challenge us in the same way over and over again before we 
have learned the lesson. 

When we turn to the parable today, what we see at first glance is a very confusing 
parable. "Commentators routinely remark that the parable of the Dishonest (Corrupt) 
Manager stands among the most challenging texts in the New Testament, often
regarding it as the most perplexing of Jesus' parables."1
 
We have a shyster, a slick, no-good manager and a wealthy owner. We don't know much about them, but we get to see 
into this bit of their interactions. The no-good manager is accused of squandering 
property and the owner realizes that he needs to fire the manager. So he brings him in 
for a conversation and tells him this. Then, either before or after being actually fired, the 
timeline isn't clear, the manager goes and forgives parts of the debts owed to the owner. 
Which is very much both a tricky and compassionate act. He both makes himself and the 
owner look good, but he is really only doing it to save his own hide. When the owner
finds out about the forgiven debt, he calls the manager in for another talk... and then 
praises him for acting shrewdly! Whoa, where is the upbraiding chastisement we were 
expecting? To top it off, Jesus seems to think this is the way we should be acting. 

There are some clues here, some clues to the challenge that Jesus is putting before us. 
Some clues to the humor of Jesus in this situation, some clues to the lessons we are to 
learn from this parable. Of course, there are multiple ways this can be seen. 

Two of the challenges that are offered for us in this passage are in the acts of forgiveness 
and faithfulness. The manager forgives parts of the debts of those who owe the owner. 
In a way, he is praised for doing so. His forgiveness helps everyone in the situation. The 
owner looks good and his reputation increases. The manager looks like a good man and 
someone who can be invited in after his displacement. Those who owe, now have to pay less than they did before, meaning they get to keep more for themselves, to eat or sell for 
other goods. Forgiveness in this story is a win-win-win. Forgiveness is always a win. 
Even though one could argue that the manager does it for the wrong reasons. The 
importance of faithfulness is also shown in this story. Early in the story, we hear that the 
manager is squandering the property of the owner. He is not being a faithful steward 
with what he has been entrusted with. However, in his self-interested turn around, he 
does act shrewdly and is a much better steward of the land and the owner's goods. He is 
also praised for this change in his stewardship. 

The humor of this story is in how strange it is. This is not how people act! Now, it may 
not all be haha funny humor. You may be reviewing the parable for this morning and 
thinking, but I didn’t laugh... The parable contains situational irony, the irony of 
juxtapositions of situations and surprising actions. But Jesus was not asking his 
followers, his disciples to act in the same way as the rest of society around him. He 
wanted to show his disciples a new way of living. When it comes to figuring out the lessons to be learned from this parable, we can easily 
look at the series of rhetorical questions afterwards. He wants us to forgive, to act 
shrewdly, and with great faithfulness. “We are given as stewards all of creation and a 
tremendous number of relationships. What we do with them does matter.” (Bishop 
Andrew Doyle) 

As we look at this parable, no matter how you understand it, it presents a challenge to 
the way in which you are living your life. Not many of us are able to forgive in the way 
that has been done here, or praise another's actions even after they have hurt our own 
feelings. Not many of us act as shrewdly as the manager in service of the kingdom of 
God. Our shrewdness is held for our own survival and comfort. (The Rev. Whitney Rice) 
“Jesus is saying that we would do well to be just as shrewd for the things of God, like 
good relationships, justice in our dealings, and love for each other.” Jesus knows the 
difference a story like this can make in our lives. Something to get under our skin. I 
invite you to take the parable home with you. To read it out loud and ask yourself, what 
challenge does this story present to me this day? Where do I find humor in this story? 
What lesson do I need to learn from this story? The answers that come out of such 
contemplation bring us closer to God and move us forward in the way of following 
Jesus. 

Wandering Towards Joy

11 September 2016 
Proper 19C 

Have you ever been walking or driving somewhere, but not really paying attention and
ended up somewhere else? When I was a kid, my family went to the church multiple 
times a week and more than a few times, when my mom's mind was busy and she wasn't
paying attention, she would accidentally drive to the church instead of wherever she was 
trying to go. Sometimes she would realize it before she got to the church and change 
course, but sometimes we would pull into the church parking lot and us, the kids, the back seat drivers would ask, “why are we here?” and my mom would look around and say, “I wasn't paying attention.” We all wander off course sometimes. 

Some of us have the wandering off tendency more than others. Sometimes we have good 
reasons for wandering off. Sometimes we are looking for other things. Sometimes there 
is no good reason, but we feel the need to do so and off we go. Metaphorically, when we 
talk about wandering off, many times those are not good places, and then it takes 
courage to walk out of those situations. 

Many times when we figure out that something is lost, we either have to fight feelings of panic or apathy. They are two extreme responses to noticing something is missing, but I’m sure we all know both of them well. There are things that the moment we notice they are lost, we flip out about it and must find them. 

Then there are those things that go missing and we either forget about them or put off 
finding them because they are not worth the present moment. 

In the gospel passage, we see more of the first kind of response to the missing sheep and 
lost coin. The sheep quite literally has wandered off, while the coin has been lost, though 
not on its own agency. The shepherd and the woman care deeply about their lost item 
and go about swiftly looking for them.

As I have been trying to be conscious of paying attention to the many levels of things 
going on at St. John's, it strikes me that there is a lot of attention being paid in this 
passage. The tax collectors and sinners are paying a lot of attention to Jesus, despite the 
Pharisee's wish that they wouldn't. The Pharisees and scribes were paying attention to Jesus enough to be grumbling about what he was teaching and doing. Enough to be 
noticing who he was eating with every day. I like to pay attention to my neighbors, but I 
haven't noticed who each is having dinner with every day! With such an emphasis on 
paying attention to each other and going in search of what is missing, it almost seems as 
if Jesus is saying that God is incomplete when one of us is missing. (Don Armentrout) 

The shepherd was paying attention, otherwise he would not have noticed that one of his hundred sheep was missing. And then he had to pay attention in order to track down the sheep, to find where it had gone. The shepherd takes the risk of losing more sheep by leaving the ninety nine to go in search of the one. The woman was paying attention enough to notice that she was missing a coin, and then, to search her house for such a little object and find it. The woman cleans her entire house in order to find one little coin. The coins in this passage are each worth about a day's wage for a laborer. Even one coin was an important amount of money for a woman. Her attention to the details of noticing it was missing and being careful to find it shows her care in being a good steward. 

I have to wonder sometimes if we always recognize when we have wandered off course. 
In society we become very adept at hiding our lostness or our loneliness or our problems 
because we feel that we must always present a good face. However, I feel the call for us 
at St. John’s right now to be paying attention to those things which have been lost along 
the way. As a church, we have been walking with Jesus a long long time. Certain things 
have been lost and when we have figured out they were gone, were judged unworthy of 
the time or energy of the moment and then forgotten. Have we noticed what we are 
missing? Do we have the ability to track it down, to return to the path? As a 
congregation, we have lost some people along the journey. Both the shepherd and the 
woman offer us role models of what we could be doing in taking the care to follow up
with those who have wandered off, to clean up so that we can find the things that have 
been lost within our lives and our life together that used to bring grace and joy to our 
community. 

We have a lot we would have to pay attention to in order to find them. Finding the 
things, values, and people that have been lost along the way takes a bit of time and 
energy. In my time here so far, learning what it is to be St. John's, while there are many 
parts of our live together in which I have noticed that we are doing great at staying true, 
there are also a few places where perhaps we have wandered around a little. Luckily for 
us, we have a great good shepherd. We have someone who cares so much about us that 
no dirt or dust, no wandering tracks in the wilderness, would stop them from finding us again. We can be both the lost and the found. We can be both the ones being found and the ones doing the finding. One of the best bits about parables is that we can learn from every part of it. 

The best part of all though, is the part at the end. Did you pay attention to what happens 
at the end? The shepherd and the woman celebrate. They share their joy! They continue 
being role models for us in this way as well. When we are found, when we find what we 
are missing, we can share our joy in being reunited! There is inherent joy in finding, and 
joy is something that has to be shared, and we see that in the passage. The sheep and the 
coin are alone and lost, but when they are found, they are part of community again. 
There is an emphasis on sharing joy in this passage. Because the shepherd and the 
woman don't just find their lost items, they also rejoice and call their friends. They share 
their joy, in word and action. They throw parties, and parties always mean food. 

In a way, we could look at what we do here in church today as a party of joy after finding 
and being found. Some of us come here this morning, perhaps after having found something this week. Some of us come here this morning, perhaps after having been a 
little lost this week. But here we are all acknowledged as part of the community worthy 
being celebrated for! We celebrate our joy in being part of God’s community here in this 
place. We celebrate with food, with bread and wine. We celebrate our joy in being part of 
this community of those who have been lost over and over again, of those who have been 
found over and over again, and in being reunited with God.