Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sermon - The Dishonest Servant

This sermon is based on Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the Dishonest Servant.



This morning, I want to ask the question: 'What is it in life that matters?' In many ways, this is a personal question for each one of us and there are no right or wrong answers. From another perspective, as Christians, our faith will have an important role in informing our values.

We all have points in our lives where we are given to contemplate - sometimes forced to contemplate - what it is that matters to us.

A friend of mine has just moved house to take up her first appointment as a minister. In making this move, the whole family has been consulted over a time period of about five years: husband as well as children. Although everyone in the family agreed to the move, one of her teenagers is finding life quite difficult right now: uprooted from school friends and, it seems, from a budding but fragile sense of identity. What is it that's important in this situation? No easy answers here. Certainly, my friend's child is one of the most precious and important things in her life.

Another friend became a grandmother for the first time last year. Many of you might recognise the scenario, but I was surprised at the effect it had on my friend. For the first few months after her grandson was born, she was walking around acting like a love-sick teenager. You couldn't have any kind of conversation with her without her telling you about the latest cute thing her grandson had done: 'We know it was probably only gas, but it looked like he was giving his mummy the biggest most wonderful smile. He's the most wonderful baby in the world!'

'What is it in life that matters?' What matters to you? What matters to God?

A Difficult Parable

Today's Gospel reading about the shrewd servant is probably one of the most difficult gospel readings for modern people to understand. I suspect that this is possibly because we are used to reading parables in a rather incorrect way. For example, we are used to reading the Parable of the Prodigal Son in a certain way. And no matter how the preacher jumps up and down trying to tell us how outrageous and utterly unthinkable it would be for a son to ask for his inheritance before his father's death, or how unthinkable it would be for a father to then forgive such an action, we still tend to read parables as if they were analogies. The son represents the ungrateful sinner, the father represents God, and so on and so on, and this is what the parable means.

But today we have a parable that is as outrageous to modern ears as many of the original parables would have been to Jesus' hearers and we don't know exactly what to do with it. If we read it in the manner in which we are used to reading parables, I think we get a message that is something like verse 11: 'If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?' To which, I think, we can only
say: 'Huh?'

And that's why I am posing the question, 'What is it in life that matters?' I want to suggest that one thing the parable might be saying to us is something about the importance of relationships: the importance of God's relationship with us and our relationships with other people.

To give a quick defence of this approach: this parable comes directly after the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the parable of the Prodigal Son. It comes before Luke launches a denunciation on those who make money their priority, which culminates in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, which is next Sunday's Gospel reading. Like the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost Son, God longs to draw all people into relationship with him. God will do whatever it takes to form a relationship with human beings: he will search us out and he is even prepared to forgive some pretty outrageous behaviour.

Relationship & The Body of Christ

What is it in life that matters? To love God and to love our fellow human beings and to be in relationship with them. Life is about relationship and, for Christians, all our relationships are fundamentally grounded in the love of God. However feeble or misguided our energies and efforts (and we know that most of our human efforts are feeble and misguided) it is advisable to direct them toward things that will last rather than toward things that will pass away.

Relationship is, I think, at the very core of what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to enter into a community via baptism: the universal Christian church, the Body of Christ. In that baptism, we symbolically die to our Self and we rise to become one with Christ in his Body here on earth. We enter into the life of Christ: a life that looks outside of our own private concerns to other people, to the community and to the world.

St. Augustine said that to be baptised is to be baptised into a life of sacrifice, which he defined as 'loving God and loving one's neighbour as oneself'.

With Christ we also enter into the life of the Trinity: into a relationship with a God who is a force for creation rather than for destruction; into a relationship with a God whose nature is - as the prayer book says - always and everywhere to have mercy; into a relationship with a God who empowers us through himself to reach outside ourselves and to manifest his love to those around us.

The Church is the Body of Christ here on earth and we are charged with Christ's on-going mission until the Kingdom of God has arrived. In entering into the life of the Trinity, we benefit from God's creative energy, from his mercy and his strength; we hopefully grow in our own capacity for love and for reaching out to others. Relationship and community are the essence of human life as God created it to be.


It's my hypothesis for this morning that however far away the Dishonest Servant might have been from the will of God, he did at least understand the importance of relationships. Despite all his faults and all his mistakes there was something inside him that told him what was of ultimate worth.

The Dishonest Servant was bumbling and inept and we might imagine that the relationships he formed by buying friendship would not have been terribly satisfying until they were transformed, but at least he had a tiny inkling of what's important.

We can imagine that perhaps, just perhaps, the God who leaves the 99 sheep to look for one in the wilderness might have mercy. We can imagine that perhaps the God who sweeps everywhere looking for the lost coin might have mercy. We can imagine that perhaps the Father who rushes to meet the son who wronged him might have mercy.

In a few minutes, we will come as the Body of Christ to meet with the risen Lord at his table. I pray that, as we do so, we may enter more fully into the life of the God who loves us. I pray that our hearts may be filled with love of God and love of neighbour and I pray that we each find what it is that is important in life. Amen

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