18 September 2022

If you’re intending to focus on the Gospel this week, you’re in for a tough one. The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is a difficult one to make sense of, and a rough one to apply. But, at the heart of all of the readings this week is the idea of inappropriate grace, and releasing our inappropriate devotion to money – which opens the doors to moments of both amusement and seriousness.

May this week’s worship teach us to be people of scandalous grace and generosity.

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1: Jeremiah grieves the destruction of his people, who insisted on worshiping idols, but for whom there is now no salvation.
OR Amos 8:4-7: A prophecy against the corruption and greed of the wealthy among God’s people who exploit the poor, and whose wickedness God will not forget.

Psalm 79:1-9: A lament for the land of Israel which has been destroyed by foreign nations, and for the temple which has been desecrated, and a plea for God’s forgiveness, compassion and restoration.
OR Psalm 113: A song of praise to the God who is over all nations, and who lifts up the poor and needy and includes them among influential people, and who removes the shame of the barren woman making her a mother of children.

1 Timothy 2:1-7: Paul calls for believers to pray for all people, including leaders, reminding them of Christ’s pleading for us with God – for which Paul has been called as an apostle to the Gentiles.

Luke 16:1-13: Jesus parable of the shrewd manager who wins social capital and his master’s commendation through the act of radical, inappropriate, forgiveness.

This is a week for lots of prayer and reflection – the Gospel reading is one of the toughest parables to preach, by all accounts! But, there are two clear themes that emerge when all the readings are placed together. The first is the obvious one – the subtle power of money to lead us into corrupt and exploitative practices. Jeremiah bemoans the people’s devotion to idols (of which money is a significant one according to Jesus in Luke); Amos speaks out against the corrupt business practices of wealthy merchants; Psalm 113 praises the God who uplifts the poor and needy. Clearly, how we use our money is a spiritual concern.
The second theme this week is that of forgiveness and undeserved honour. Jeremiah pleads with God for grace for God’s people, as does Psalm 79; Psalm 113 praises God’s grace toward those who are most vulnerable, giving them undeserved honour; Paul reflects on God’s grace in Christ, extended to all people, and embodied in the prayers of God’s people; And Jesus tells a story of a master who, about to be dishonoured because of his dishonest (incompetent?) manager, decides to fire him, but has to reconsider when, through radical, inappropriate, forgiveness, the manager wins honour both for the master and himself, and a connected and secure future for himself.
Put these two themes together and what emerges is the power of gracious, generous forgiveness to lift us to places of honour and connectedness.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: The immediate thought that comes to mind when thinking about this week’s theme is the issue of foreign debt and the corrupt system of international finance and trade regulations that has left so many third world countries irreversibly impoverished. The call of God’s generous, inappropriate grace can not be mistaken – there needs to be a rising up of God’s Jubilee people calling for these debts to be written off, and for effective aid to be offered where needed. But, it also goes further than this. For those of us in wealthy countries there is a tremendous responsibility to watch how we use our wealth and opportunity. We need to avoid anything that is exploitative, using our buying power to ensure that fair trade practices are employed and fair wages are paid to those who produce what we use, and that the impact on our planet is likewise just and sustainable. When we use our opportunity to accumulate wealth for ourselves, we are essentially “dishonourable”, but when we use it to uplift others, we bring honour and dignity both to them and to ourselves. As Rev. Dr. Mvume Dandala once said: “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It is dignity.”

LOCAL APPLICATION: In many communities, the Church is among the wealthiest organisations. But, unfortunately that wealth is often taken for granted and two important aspects of its coming to us are easily forgotten – that whatever wealth we have is attained through the generosity of our people, and that our wealth is not a sign of God’s blessing for us to aggrandise ourselves, but is a resource to share and use to uplift the least. This means that we need to ensure that we have not fallen into the temptation to accumulate money for its own sake. It means we must ensure that we do not engage in exploitative practices (think of how some prosperity preachers receive the offering!), and that we are quick to use our money for grace – forgiving, helping and uplifting the needy in our communities and neighbourhoods. If we take this call of the Gospel seriously, we may well find ourselves using our money in ways that “the world” would consider inappropriate, and we may find ourselves seeking connection with and offering grace to those who are considered to be undeserving. This may be a good week to do an ‘audit’ of your community’s use of money – and the priorities it reveals – and to make some gracious, inappropriate, and dignity giving choices.

Inappropriate Grace
Using Our Wealth

Hymn Suggestions:
Take My Life And Let It Be
Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult
Just As I Am
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Eucharist

Video Suggestions:
Consuming Culture
My Joy Is Gone