Sermon: 22nd September 2019

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Readings:  Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Luke 16.1-13


Stewards of the Earth

What did you do on Friday? Think about it for a minute…

Did you know that 100,000 people in 160 counties and 3,000 cities took to the streets to protest. Some of whom had never walked under banners before… On our Church of Scotland website you can see the 15,000 walking through Edinburgh to the Scottish Parliament building. All had gathered for one purpose to attempt to halt climate change.

For several reasons, Jeremiah seems the most relevant prophet of the Old Testament to our ecological crisis.

  1. He unambiguously clarified that a disaster such as the extraordinary drought in Jeremiah 14 is not natural; rather it is an unnatural catastrophe. Today we more and more frequently have to face weather-related catastrophes such as hurricanes, floods, or droughts. Do we recognise the roots of these in our unnatural lifestyle and environmental irresponsibility?

Jeremiah condemned consumerism when he spoke against idolatry, in chapter 8.  He put his finger on the problem of prosperity when he cried: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (v.20). Even if there was a good harvest with fruits, and even if the work had been done, the salvation had not been achieved yet. Put simply it means that prosperity itself cannot save the people.

It is not just a lament over the coming disaster, but it reflects on the distorted and technical view of Israel on salvation. Jeremiah earlier raises questions,

 “But where are your gods that you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you, in your time of trouble” (Jeremiah 2:28). We often think that one can be saved from the pursuit of profit through coining enough money. It is never enough, and the vicious circle of consumerism demands more resources from the earth, more energy from the worker, and more time from the personal relationships.

If I had to choose just one parable for Creation Time, this is it.

Isn’t this the sort of stewardship we are actually called to: lovable rogues, rather than grim rule-keepers?

This story is a gift for our day: both with Jesus invitation to reclaim craftiness as a Gospel virtue.

Too many congregations have a frail vision of Christian character as Children of the Light, who never dare rock the boat. Credit to Greta Thunberg and the children who dodged school to save the world. I applaud them all.

Jesus sent His apostles out like sheep among wolves, needing to keep their wits about them. To be both as harmless as doves, but also as wise as snakes. Whereas, in my experience most church folk have achieved their ‘dove’ badge. It’s time to go for the ‘snake’ award, as Jesus, makes clear.

The paradigm of indefinite growth at all costs has led us to this cliff-edge, with more frequent disastrous extremes of weather hitting many parts of the planet. It is not the answer for Scotland, Sri Lanka nor anywhere else, no matter what some learned economists say.

 Money and material goods form the subject of the greatest number of parables.

  • What is the purpose of wealth and how are we meant to deal with it?
  • Does the way in which God is depicted as turning over expected opinion (like overturning the tables of the money-changers) give us guidance for personal values or for public action? (like Mr Topsy Turvey in our short talk)?

The main thrust of this parable is clear:  

People of faith, look ahead. Be far sighted.

Where are we heading?   What lies ahead of us? If we have any inkling at all, the only smart thing to do is to get ready for whatever lies ahead. That includes the spiritual dimension.

Be as astute about the practice of your faith, as that amoral manager was. In particular, astutely use whatever worldly possessions you have for the glory of God, in the same astute manner as the unscrupulous manager did for himself.

A confession: I have a sneaking admiration for this rogue in the parable. I like the way he sums us the future. If the boss sacks him, if his present comfortable existence is to suddenly end, what is the reality?  What are the options in that reality?

He gets to the nub: “I’m too old to dig post holes or gardens, or ditches and I am too proud to beg.” 

This is not some impractical dreamer. He takes the shrewdest way to a more comfortable future:  He uses what is still in his control, to lay the ground for what is to come. This fellow alters the accounts of his boss’s debtors so that they will be grateful and show him hospitality after he gets the sack.

 I certainly don’t want us to follow his practice, yet we can learn from his frankness when dealing with himself. Aren’t we are called by Christ to be realistic, to open our eyes and to look ahead.

Yes, of course, our goals are different.

It takes us very high, and extends us very wide. The whole world and beyond it also.

Numerous interpretations of this parable…

Jesus seems to be speaking to me (us):

“Open your eyes. See where you are and what lies ahead.  

Be as frank with yourself and as clear headed as those astute operators in the secular world.”

What points did we cover today

 1) Jeremiah  Do not ignore world problems, you are part of them

  • Luke – Jesus words “Look ahead, be astute and farsighted as wise as serpents.”
  • With Greta T. and 100,000 others are also engaging with the future of our planet. We are also called by God to be Stewards,                                 

          stewards of the Planet Earth.

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