This past week the world has been riveted by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The Queen was the longest serving British queen on the throne for 70 years. Except for our very oldest, the vast majority of us grew up with Queen Elizabeth. She was the rock that held her nation together in the midst of dizzying changes, threats, challenges. During her reign Great Britain went from one of the world’s greatest imperial, colonial powers to its much-reduced status as a world power. The queen’s death signals the passing of a generation saw the rise of Nazism, World War II, the shifting of powers around the world, and the development of a technological era that saw a television, or televisions in every room of the house, computers, smart phones social media. Queen Elizabeth II’s generation is coming to a close, bringing into power a new generation whose strengths and weaknesses will lead us forward into a brave new world. The queen is dead; long live the king.
It is apropos that this week ahead happens to be the fall equinox: autumn begins. One season ends, a new one begins. And so also begins a new season in the life of the church. If I could hazard a guess, Most of us are still coping with tremendous change i this past year following on the heels of and the enduring presence of COVID – especially economic and political issues, and struggles with the trajectory our lives are taking. What do we have to let go of what do we have to look forward to?
Churches go through similar life passages. We are facing an evolving Church – but to what? So much has shifted, hasn’t it? Nowadays people still love their church – but there are competing obligations on Sunday mornings. Priorities have changed with two-income families and dwindling leisure time. Despite our commitment to our faith, we just can’t manage to get to worship or get involved in programs. How do we change this to a win-win situation where church and the demands of our lives?
Our passage from Luke, one of Jesus’s most unusual parables, is a story about profound change for someone – a loss of a job. Jesus is telling a tale about a crooked manager whose dirty dealings have come to light, and now this wily employee is striking deals with his boss’s distributors. He’s cooks the books so he will benefit and be taken care of long after he’s fired. Jesus sees the world of white-collar crime all too clearly. Even the master commends the dishonest manager for his ingenuity, sadly misapplied to selfish gain. Sadly, it is a common scenario. It’s the business tactic of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” I’ll cut you a deal with you cut me in on your doings. Thus, the world turns.
Jesus uses this stark picture to get us to think of the priorities of our hearts. Do we really want to live the way the world turns? So, Jesus talks to us about honesty, faithfulness, and loyalty. Our hearts are not created to be divided. We can’t participate in a dishonest system of personal gains, to blindly accumulate wealth (or possessions) and expect to able to walk with God. Seeking wealth has its own slippery slope.
Amos paints a vivid picture of how this corruption permeated his society. People are robbing the poor and needy. Leaders can’t wait for Sabbath to be over to return to cheating the helpless. Dishonest measures and scales are common. The rich enslave poor people for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals. Not much has changed over the centuries. It’s one area that we haven’t been able to change so well. Yet Jesus says, to learn from this dishonest, put as much energy into planning for good as they do in planning for evil.
So, our new season raises some important questions for us. As we move forward – what values will we teach? What principles will we stand up for? The world’s or God’s? What riches will we gather and share? How will we be faithful to God and be examples of faithfulness, loyalty and honesty that will continue to shape our church into the next season of life? Learn from the dishonest manager, Jesus insists.
Our Church is in the process of exploring how to be a vital congregation, how to Fall into Faith. The church needs to do this in order to transform itself. Ironically, Jesus says learn from this dishonest manager how the church should place the next page of the future. The dishonest manager knew what he needed to do, as his job was ending, and he knew he didn’t want to end up a digger, and he was too ashamed to beg. Knowing his weaknesses and wants, he had a vision for himself and he went after realizing it. Act like this shrewd manger, Jesus says. Not to obtain dishonest wealth, but to think clearly what the kingdom of God needs here and now in Merrick/Freeport. Take stock. Think through the sacrifices of time, of money, of talent that each of us can contribute to foster a spiritually healthy community. The dishonest manager aggressively pursued his future so that once out of a job, he would still have money, connections, and be welcomed into people’s homes.
Our Church has experienced cut from its past, like the manager who lost his job. The church has to contemplate its future, like the manager does. Jesus says, pursue our mission and ministries with the determination and ingenuity of the shrewd manager, not for selfish and dishonest pursuits, but to build the kingdom of God in our midst. Work for the future and the well being of the people of God. Learn from the efforts, the audacity, the ingenuity and insights of the mad manager, just apply it well. Serve God in this process not the gods of wealth and self-interest, as Jesus and the prophet Amos guide us.
Who knew we could learn about church growth from a crook? Let us get as ambitious for serving Jesus as the corrupt manager was in serving himself. Let us make friends and create positive circumstances of growth for the Church. Let us, as Jesus recommends, be wise as serpents, innocent as doves; wise children of light – so we can prepare adequately for the future survival of the people of God.