Faithful in Little, Faithful in Much

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       Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. slide19So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 

     Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.”

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He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.”  Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 

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And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;

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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.

     ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 

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You cannot serve God and money or wealth.’”

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Other children were laughing, talking, and gluing colored pompons on pinecones–making Christmas tree crafts in Kids Klub.

 

But not one little girl, new to Kids Klub this fall, along with her older brother. They wore uniforms from ACA–the Christian charter school for special needs children here on our campus. The little girl was off by herself, staring at the glue on her fingertips with a blank expression. Her pinecone had only a few pompons.

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“Hello, I’m Karen, ” I said, then asked the little girl her name. “Jacey,” she said, shyly. I sat down and started gluing pompons on another pinecone, showing her how I put the glue on the pinecone — not the pompons, as she had been trying to do. I was hoping she would want to do more with her craft. But she stared at me and then back at her gluey fingertips. I asked, “Don’t you want to glue some more pompons on your Christmas tree?”

“No,” she said. “I want to wash my hands.”

Another child approached me for help, then, so I left Jacey and didn’t notice her again until she needed help gathering her things, when most of the other children were already lined up. A teen volunteer had helped her wash her hands. Yes, there was something special about the little girl and her older brother. But the specialness went beyond learning differences, their grandmother, Deb, told me after Kids Klub. Deb, with her husband, are raising their two grandchildren. While she and I talked, Jacey and Tyce watched the Fellowship committee lay out desserts for our Tuesday night supper. They stared longingly at the cupcakes, cookies, and ice cream before asking me what they were for.

   I invited them to stay for our church supper–for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, vegetables, and biscuits, and, of course, dessert. Deb hesitated before saying she didn’t have money for the supper that evening. Pork chops and leftovers awaited them at home. But the children continued to look longingly as the hot food trays were carried out from the kitchen. “Why don’t you stay?” I said. “Don’t worry about the money.” And so they did. We sat together, with other church members at a long table. The children ate. And ate. And there was plenty of food left over.

The following Tuesday, a similar scene played out. This time, it was their grandfather who stayed with the children because Deb had a meeting. A girl named Elly sat across from Jacey and called Jacey her “best friend.” They had only known each other from two afternoons of Kids Klub. The children ate. And ate. And there was plenty of food leftover.

I had a crazy idea last summer about the Tuesday night suppers. I asked session to allow the children and families of the childcare center to stay for our meals–without requiring them to pay. Some of them truly are struggling financially. The session first asked questions, such as where would the money come from to pay for the food? Then, they approved my crazy idea, which wasn’t logical in this world’s reasoning, but in Kingdom reasoning, it made perfect sense. The suppers are an opportunity for our church to reach out and share the gospel through friendship and a small act of kindness — revealing the grace and welcome of the people of God. Our hope is that more members will come to the suppers to greet and welcome new people and eat with them, too. And we hope that more members will want to join those who help serve the meals, truly embodying the warmth of God’s love.

By giving and actively participating in this ministry and other exciting ministry opportunities at our church, you are answering our Lord’s question, “Who do you love–God or wealth?”

If we are faithful in just a little, we are faithful in much!

 

***

“Who do you love?” is the question Jesus poses to his disciples, the Pharisees and all of us listening in. This is a “don’t be like the Pharisees” story because they are “lovers of money,” as Luke says in the passage immediately following today’s reading.

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After this parable, the Pharisees ridicule Jesus for teaching that we demonstrate faithfulness to God when we extend hospitality to the poor and use wealth and friendship to further God’s Kingdom.

Unlike the parables of the lost sheep,

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lost coin,

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and Prodigal Son,

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this one is not meant to be an allegory! Jesus isn’t telling us to take any of these roles–not the “shrewd” or “dishonest” manager, as Jesus calls him, and not the rich man. This parable is drawn simply from daily life; it is what Jesus’ audience takes for granted about the way the world works.

The wealthy man–is he good or bad? Not a very likeable guy, is he? He really is rich in that the quantities of the debts owed to him are large, reflecting a considerable olive grove with an acreage of 20-25 times more than an ordinary family farm.

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Jesus is talking to a Greco-Roman audience where friendships and economics are inseparable. Like The Godfather, the exchange of money created, maintained and solidified various forms of friendship.

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Like other places in his gospel, Luke doesn’t portray the rich in a favorable light in this reading. He pronounces misfortune on the rich in 6:24, on those who find their security in wealth in 12:16, and those who invite only their friends, relatives, and rich neighbors to their homes for dinner in 14:12, so they may receive invitations in return. Jesus says, in verses 13 and 14, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The manager is more interesting. Is he good or bad? Jesus calls him “shrewd” and “dishonest.” A “manager” in the Roman context is a slave or a freed slave, who acts as his master’s agent in his business affairs. Though a slave, he would have a high status because of his master’s wealth. Think of Joseph, from Genesis!

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People actually sold themselves as slaves to manage rich people’s wealth; it beat living in poverty, doing manual labor or begging– the manager’s choices when his master discovers he has squandered his property. Without his job as manager, a slave would have no home, no place to go.

After a brief moment of indecision and a soliloquy that reminds me a little of Hamlet’s, “To be or not to be…?” the manager hatches a plan. Are you surprised when the master, though his ex-manager has just cheated him out of more money, praises him for his “shrewdness?” For the manager has secured himself a home with his newly made “friends,” who will welcome him, despite their humble means, because he reduced their debts as much as 50%.

As the parable draws to a close, Jesus speaks directly to his audience, contrasting his disciples–the children of light–with those firmly entrenched in this present (“evil”) age. He encourages the children of the light to be as shrewd with their wealth as the “children of this age,” with their worldly pursuits. He urges us to use “dishonest wealth”–meaning “worldly riches”–to further God’s Kingdom. For everything we have belongs to the Lord. We are called to be stewards–caretakers, managers– of God’s gifts to us, using all that we have and all that we are to welcome, befriend and win souls for the Lord, securing for them “eternal homes.”

***

Deb, Tyce and Jaycee’s grandmother, called me a couple of days ago and I shared how I ran into her grandchildren while I was visiting their ACA classroom. Tyce’s teacher said he had been talking about the church supper ever since that first Tuesday night, telling all the other kids about it. Deb said she couldn’t believe how much her kids ate that night–especially Jacey, who gobbled down Carl’s meatloaf, but won’t touch meatloaf at home. She was sorry to miss the supper last Tuesday because of her meeting, but her husband thought it was great. She has been telling others about our suppers, though she attends another church regularly. She gave me permission to share her family’s story because she wants our congregation to know how grateful she is for our ministries to children and families, such as Kids Klub, which meets social and emotional needs for her special needs grandkids. She worried that because a large crowd hadn’t stayed for our first two Tuesday night suppers, we might think they were not worthwhile. For her family, she said, they are “an answer to prayer.”

Friends, we may not be a large congregation compared to some, but we are a church with a heart to love people and help those in need.

Through your giving of your time and talents, energy and enthusiasm –you are keeping our ministries going and growing–furthering God’s Kingdom purposes! Through your prayers and financial support, you tell all the world whom you love–God, not wealth.

You are faithful in little, faithful in much.

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Let us pray.

 

Loving Lord, thank you for your grace that covers all our sins! Thank you for giving so generously to our church–pouring out your Spirit so we would have an abundance of gifts, talents, and resources to use for your salvation purposes. Help us, Lord, to reach out to our near neighbors with kindness and compassion, welcoming and winning new friends so they may secure eternal homes. Stir us to give generously from all that we have and all that we are, not seeking anything but your peace in return. Bless us with your joy and laughter as we take creative risks with our ministries–seeking to grow them and your Kingdom, this day and forevermore. Amen.

Grumbling in the Wilderness

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Rally Day: Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

   “Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep

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and losing one of them,

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does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

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And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 

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Just so, I tell you, slide18

than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

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When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 

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Just so, I tell you,

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***

Friends, I am happy to be back with you, my flock, to worship and study God’s word together again! Jim and I have just come back from Montreat, NC, where we took a continuing education course for pastors and spouses called the “Art of Transitional Ministry.” I wanted to learn how to lead and support my congregation through the challenges of change–within the church and outside the church. I wanted to learn more about training, equipping and inspiring leaders to discern God’s vision and plan for our future ministry. I ended up learning a lot about myself–not just as a pastor–but as a person, a child of God. A beloved sheep of the Good Shepherd. Lost and found, but often needing my Good Shepherd to lift me up on His shoulders and carry me home!

On our way to Montreat, we encountered a roadblock. Literally.

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In July, a U-Haul driver attempted to exit the gate, despite signs that say, “No trucks.”

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The beautiful, old stone gate–owned by Montreat Conference Center– was severely damaged. They plan to restore the gateway using the stones from the original arch, along with new materials and methods of construction. Something old. Something new. Honoring the past. Serving the Church of the future, whatever form and shape the Savior leads us to be.

Jim and I easily took the detour loop around the gate and made our way through still lovely, serene surroundings to the Assembly Inn–a far cry from Montreat’s tent camping beginning in 1897!

 

The camp was founded to be a place of spiritual and physical renewal. And that is just what we needed! My physical therapy at Montreat included walking a seemingly endless number of steps!

 

I came to appreciate the padded benches whenever I saw them and took a rest now and then.

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Our conference was in Convocation Hall,

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connected to Assembly Inn by, you guessed it, more steps!

At the conference, we worshiped the Lord together, and I learned, once again, how quirky pastors are. When I saw a cartoon about the Church–with Jesus herding cats–

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I thought of the faculty as our shepherds and us pastors as the cats. I felt sympathy for the faculty, who struggled to keep pastors on task. They are always talking! They struggled to persuade them to follow instructions. The first night, the leader invited us to join her in the Call to Worship and half the room started speaking the ONE part instead of the ALL. The leader had to stop the liturgy and explain, when everyone didn’t immediately catch on, “No, I am the ONE and YOU are the ALL!” The second night, the same thing happened again!

We laughed together in Montreat, especially when one of our teachers, Susan McGhee, opened the daily announcements with what became a running joke about bears.

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Rev. Susan McGhee

Bears in Montreat, you say?!

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Don’t worry, they aren’t grizzly bears, she would say with a smile, just black bears

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but don’t go near the dumpsters! Don’t leave food in your car! And don’t hike up Lookout Mountain at dusk or dawn.

 

“Cause there be bears in those hills!” she would say, pausing for effect.

None of us expected to see any bears, of course. Then, one morning, we read an announcement by the dining hall,

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Next to the announcement, was a picture of a conference attendee, mouth wide open and hands raised in mock alarm. None of us expected that the next day, bears would been seen on the grounds–and that they had been searching for food in the dumpsters. “Don’t go near the dumpsters!” Susan said again.

Humor helped us persevere through our intense schedule of lecture and small group discussion and tasks as we sought to apply our learning to our own situations. The first night, my group of 6 was given a frustrating task–at least it was for me. It was late, I was tired, and we didn’t know each other well. Now we had 15 minutes to plan a series of worship services for a liturgical season. Pastors don’t usually plan worship with other pastors they have just met, first of all. And the series had to be a transitional ministry theme, using scriptures and focus areas the teacher supplied. Within minutes of the assignment, I strongly disagreed with two of my tablemates–one on either side of me– and the emotion that rose up in me surprised me.

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I was so upset, I was speechless. We sat in an awkward silence, before finally struggling through the exercise, finishing the task, but not to anyone’s satisfaction. I was relieved to go back to my room that night and collapse into bed!

The next day, God’s grace triumphed over human emotion and fatigue. I showed up a couple minutes late for group–not intentionally– and saw worry on their faces. They asked how I felt and gave me encouraging smiles. They gently restored me–a sheep who, the night before, was feeling more than a little lost and out on her own.

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***

I would guess that when most people who have been Christians a long time read this passage in Luke 15 about the lost sheep and lost coin, they identify with the 99 righteous ones, needing no repentance or the 9 coins that aren’t lost. The lectionary leaves out the third parable in the chapter, but all 3 fit together to complete the teaching–the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son. All are Jesus’ responses to the Pharisees and scribes or legal experts grumbling when the outcast and marginalized of the Jewish community — “tax collectors” and so-called “sinners” — are gathering around Jesus, anxious to learn from him, grateful for his kind treatment of them.

The Pharisees and scribes grumble loudly enough to be heard by everyone, but without speaking directly to Jesus. This is to emphasize their dislike and disrespect of him. Not “rabbi” or teacher, they call him, “this fellow,” or “this guy,” to use modern lingo. “This guy welcomes sinners and eats with them”–meaning Jesus has made the outcast his friends and even his disciples, as they are recipients of his teaching.

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The 3 parables have 3 main characters in common. The first is the one seeking and hoping for what is lost and rejoicing when it is found–the shepherd, father and “woman.” She is a village peasant, living in a house with no windows; hence, she must use a lamp and a broom to look for her coin. She lives in a barter economy, so 10 coins likely represent the family savings–not a great sum, but to her, it would be significant to lose even one. Ten silver coins are the equivalent of about 10 days’ wages. The 2nd main character is the one that is lost or goes astray-the rolling coin, wandering sheep or rebellious son. And the 3rd are the ones who are not lost–those who remain in the flock, with the other coins, or with the father, when his younger, rebellious brother takes off.

Of the 3 parables, the one that leaves me with unanswered questions is the lost sheep. Where does the shepherd leave the 99 when he goes to find the one that is lost? In the wilderness! To leave your flock in the wilderness is to risk losing 99 to wild beasts or thieves. Or they, too, could wander off. Why would Jesus leave His own flock to perish on their own? That isn’t the Jesus we know–who promises to be with us always!

The words “grumbling” and “in the wilderness” are important to our understanding of this parable. They would especially be meaningful to the original Jewish/Christian audience who would recall the story of Moses and the Israelites, led from captivity to wander 40 years in the desert wilderness–hungry and thirsty, tired and frightened, angry and emotional. But the wilderness is also a good place to be. This is where they are with God, relying on him for their faith and all their needs–to guide their every step. And the wilderness is where they receive the hope of a brighter future in the Promised Land.

Reading these parables in the context of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes grumbling about his friendship with the outcast, we see that Jesus is calling you and me– as he is teaching them–to be more like Him– the Good Shepherd, who cares about and seeks to rescue every person in need! He invites us all not to grumble or doubt but to rejoice with him — and all the angels of God–when what was lost is found!

You have already guessed that I often identify with the lost sheep. That tells you something about me! I struggle with my own high expectations for myself. Too often, I see only my failures and weaknesses–the times when I am tired or doubtful of a difficult task I must do–like I was that first night at Montreat. Maybe you struggle with these same unrealistic expectations for your own life of faith.

The truth is we are all lost sheep–and we are all found! — saved by God’s grace and not through the good things we do! So stop trying to be perfect! Just be who God has made you to be. We are His beloved! Today, and especially on Rally Day, we celebrate. Our Savior has found us and will be faithful to lead us. And when we are tired, he will carry us home.

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Let us pray.

 

Dear Savior, like a Good Shepherd, lead us in the way you want us to go. Give us joy for this wonderful journey we walk together. Thank you for loving us and promising to never leave us. Thank you for our congregation–your Church!– and the children you have brought to us to nurture in the faith. Bring us more, Lord, and more workers for the harvest, too! Thank you for all who have said yes to your call to minister to children and youth and their parents. Remind us that although we may feel scared, lost or alone, we are found and securely in your fold. Help us to reach out with love and kindness to people in need all around us, sharing the gospel through words and deeds, drawing people who don’t know you closer to you. Dear Lord, keep them and keep us in your tender care. Amen.