SERMON PREACHED AT St MARY’S, NORTH OAMARU
And St Martin’s, Duntroon
TWENTY FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (September 18th) 2022
Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 1
Psalm 79: 1-9
1 Timothy 2: 1-7
Luke 16: 1-13
Well here’s a thing. Every three years this little slice of Jesus-teaching comes up in our lectionary. It is one slice that can generate a few furrowed brows. It is, as my gospel conversationalists admitted during the week, a slice that has many of us choosing the Old Testament or epistle reading to preach on instead. Actually I looked back through my records and found that this Sunday three years ago I was preaching at All Saints’ Gladstone, and I did in fact preach on this difficult Jesus story. I spoke about the prickliness of some of the bearers of Christ truth, I talked about Greta Thunberg and mentioned Joan of Arc, Rosa Park, Malala Yousufzai, Rachel Carson, reminding myself and the parishioners there that God and God in Christ chooses unexpected people and unexpected stories to bear divine gospel truth.
Then I put that sermon away, because I have pledged never to preach sermons from the past. The world has changed too much, I have changed, and you are not All Saints’, Gladstone. But the point remains, God turns up in unexpected places and forms, and perhaps Greta Thunberg and Rachel Carson in particular are even more our prophets for today than they were three years ago.
But I won’t go back there, to that sermon. As Christ followers in the late first quarter of the 21st century we are – or should be – painfully aware not only of the vulnerability of our planet, but of the history of the church. For at least 1700 years our flawed human institution has revealed at least a tendency to produce from this Jesus moment not an icon of living for the benefits of others, but of learning simply from the corruption of the corrupt steward. That is not the takeaway of this passage. It is a sad thing if we allow ourselves to be better known for corruption and even predation than for the love that we can sing so glibly about when we sing that song “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Will they? Our track record isn’t all that good.
So what do we have here? I suspect we have a glimpse of Jesus’ divine sense of humour. I suspect strangely we glimpse a hint of the value of social capital. Perhaps Jesus knew the saying of his philosophical forebear, Plato, when the ancient Greek observed that necessity is the mother of invention. The steward of this Jesus story is crippled by the sheer desperation of his circumstances. But he is smart enough to realise that he can reach out and touch the lives of others to their benefit. Who knows what were the complex motivations of a Greta Thunberg, a Joan of Arc, Rosa Park, Malala Yousufzai, Rachel Carson? Is there such a thing as pure altruism? Is Greta Thunberg somewhere in her angsty adolescent and ADHD driven worldview motivated by something other than pure altruism, pure love for her planet and its species? Who knows? Who knows if even a Rachel Carson wasn’t driven by something other than pure determination to save the planet that in the 1960s was slipping into the horrors of a silent spring brought about by the DDT that Carson spoke out against?
In the last ten days we have seen a powerful example of social capital, as much of the world, and not just the English speaking world or British Commonwealth, has mourned the death of Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth of course hardly needed to purchase any social capital but we have seen that she gained it anyway by the sheer integrity of the 70 years in which she did her job.
Certainly I am not suggesting that Queen Elizabeth was corrupt. That was the specuiality of the steward of our Jesus story. I’m not sure that I want to allow the word corrupt to dwell in the same sentence as our former monarch’s name. I’ll let it rest there for illustration purposes only. But what we have seen in her life and death, and what we have seen in the lives and proclamations of those other prickly prophets that I mentioned in my All Saints’ Gladstone sermon three years ago, was the ability to bring benefit to the lives of others. It is, too, that that Jesus leads us in this strange and slightly comic parable. It is in the end an expansion of that other great parable that Luke alone records, the parable of the Good Samaritan. For in each of these stories a boundary is crossed, lives are touched, transformed even, and the love and resurrection hope that dwells in Jesus Christ is proclaimed.
Hopefully in a less corrupt way, and almost certainly in a less profound way than all the famous people I have mentioned, we too are called in our own small way to reach through the boundaries of silence and nonchalance and touch and warm the lives of those around us.