Friday, 13 September 2013

What faith can look like.

The 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
Luke 16:1-13

This parable stumps rather a lot of people. Jesus seems to be praising a manager who plays fast and loose with his employer's money. I believe it makes the most sense when the character of the Dishonest Steward is set alongside the characters introduced in last Sunday's lectionary reading: a shepherd who has lost a sheep and must search for it. A homemaker of modest means loses a valuable coin and must spend her day looking for it because she is a poor. A king, who has committed himself to waging war, is outnumbered and outgunned by an opposing army and must sit down with his foreign minister and figure out what peace negotiations might look like. I can put this character of the Dishonest Steward shoulder to shoulder with these three individuals and make the greatest sense of this difficult story while squinting only a little bit.

Jesus seems to be plumbing the depths of human behavior in individuals facing threats. In a world where a thing of value risks being forever lost, the human organism works with great energy to face the threat. The shepherd combs the valleys, the woman sweeps out her house, the king sits down to settle his dispute and the Dishonest Steward fiddles the books. Faith's analogue, then, would be this rising up of the organism in the face of disaster - girded for action, thinking quickly on his or her feet and unwilling to take no for an answer. Jesus poses questions to his followers: Are you willing to follow me? Will you forsake family for me? Will you drink the cup which I drink? Will you leave the confines of your religious subset? Will you endure the scorn of your friends for doing so? If you are serious you will not allow the opportunity of following to pass.

What does the faith of followers look like? Well, he says, you find it in a plethora of ordinary human dynamics. Take this woman, for example - this shepherd, this King or this steward. See how ordinary people clutch this valuable thing like it was their last and only hope. Such a valuable thing is God's Kingdom. Such a clutching is the faith of the Church.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Who is the stray?

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
Luke 15:1-10

Over the years I have lost any number of clerical collars, Bic lighters, pens and pocket knives.  Some of them have gone overboard (the lighters falling from shirt pockets and the knives knocked out of my hand while cutting lines) but some of these have just disappeared into the ether.  They're all in unknown places because I never really bothered to look for them or, frankly, didn't care if they were lost because I could always get another one along the way.   

They were lost, or remained lost, because I just didn't care.

The Pharisees in this Sunday's Gospel reading had made their peace with the fact that a segment of the population was lost - outside the circle of righteousness.  And they grew steadily more disappointed with Jesus.   Unlike them, he didn't seem interested in consolidating the gains of Judaism in the lives of people who believed they were already on the road to righteousness. Rather than associate with the seriously religious, Jesus demonstrated a penchant for gathering around himself a community of people he referred to as the lost sheep of the house of Israel: the marginally religious, tax collectors and low lifes.  To make matters worse, Jesus seemed reasonably comfortable in the presence of such folk. The Pharisees grumbled about this in the hearing of Jesus' disciples.

Jesus then tells a story about two individuals who would not be satisfied until they had restored a lost element - the one missing coin out of ten and the one missing sheep out of a hundred - individuals for whom that missing portion was a painful reality.  They would search for the one even if that meant leaving to the side, for a while, the sheep who had not strayed.  The lost are like this he said: they are valuable and worth the energy of a search.  And God is like this: he will not make peace with the loss of his creatures.  What sort of Shepherd would?

That's all I wanted to say.  Among the list of "things I wish I'd said but didn't" has to be a line from Sarah Dylan Breuer's lectionary blog:

"If one sheep is with the shepherd and ninety-nine aren't, who's really the stray?"

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What do you want?

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C                                                                                   
Luke 14:25-33

The word “decide”, coming to us from Old French (and beyond that from Latin), means to cut something (caedare) off (de) - hence, decaedere. It means to fall on one side of an ambiguity by turning away from the other option. There’s that poem by Robert Frost you read in school about the diverging paths in a forest. If you are a truly decisive person, you will have any number of roads behind you which were not taken and travelled.

It depends what you want. As a salesman, in this week’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus seems not to want to make a sale at all costs. He reminds us, his hearers, that we can have what we want. If we want him, however, and to be a member of the Kingdom which he is ushering in, there will be a cost to that decision. Jesus does not cajole them (or us) with false promises. He doesn’t anesthetize them (or us) with respect to the risks and the costs. He wants us to decide.

Some of us spend rather a long time in those woods looking at the two paths and even attempting to place a foot on each without doing ourselves an injury. We will need to say our “yes” and our “no” to something if we ever hope to get anywhere. We need to come to terms with the fact that decisions are costly.

Being husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, members of a local church and members of God’s Kingdom requires of you a positive affirmation of the life that goes along with that. You might have been surprised at what these roles required - but you suspected all along that there would be a cost.

All your pursuits - your jobs, your family roles, your engagement with the world and your fellowship in this parish church - require, as a first step, not an immediate application of work and energy but, rather, the answer to that nagging question about what you want. Disfunctions may stem less from our lack of native ability than they do from a lack of positive desire. Do you want any of these things enough to walk out of the woods and follow the path?

Jesus puts it plainly: It’s up to you. What do you want?