I have said over and over that most parables begin with either the words, or the inferred words, the Kingdom of Heaven is like.... and then we have this from Luke. What does the preacher do? A parable has multiple interpretations, a parable has layers of meaning, a parable allows the listener to access it from many entry points. So this preacher finds these verses terribly vexing, but there is one thing I know about the gospel of Luke, and that is besides being the gospel of hospitality, one of the other prominent themes in Luke is the proper use of wealth. Except that it’s not just the use of wealth; it’s more like Luke is concerned with our relationship to wealth and how that affects our relationships with others. With this in mind, we sense a profound change in the rather interesting, if not terribly admirable, character of the dishonest manager. For while he once acted in a dishonest way to enrich himself, he now acts to enrich others and thereby establish a relationship of mutual benefit.
Wealth itself is not assigned a moral position, like good or bad, wealth itself is neutral, although there are better and worse ways to use money. Luke seems to be concerned with relationship and how wealth affects that. So, lets talk about wealth and money and stewardship and consumerism today, and see where it gets us. Most likely, talk about wealth and money put us right on that slippery slope ethicists and theologians and politicians talk so much about.
But today I want to talk about my theology of stewardship and generosity. Wealth is a word, in scripture, that is much broader than money. Wealth describes everything God has given, and we, God's creations are commanded to be stewards of all of that. We are commanded to build relationships that enriching. And yet, like the characters in our story today, that is not clear or easy, and the slippery slope may get us anyway.
Some of you have asked about my family and my mom in Minneapolis, and I have responded with a little story about the household in which they live. My mom continues to live in the house in which we all grew up, and my sister with her husband and children have purchased the house and are committed to caring for our mother there as long as possible. This is where I smile, and continue, my sister has an overly generous heart, and has taken in a little homeless family that they know, who are now living in the basement, and oh yeh, our son Willie is living there as well. The house is a bit crowded and uncomfortable right now. And some of you will nod and remember, not unlike her sister who took in a homeless family who lived in the basement here at St. Andrew's for a time. Sometimes a theology of generosity is the beginning of that slippery slope, but to err on the side of generosity is the error I choose to make. Thankfully Willie has a place to go, actually Rick's brother and sister-in-law are having him live with them for awhile. We continue to work to find a place for the little family in my sister's basement.
So part of stewardship is generosity in all things, and part of it is about consuming less. In the last couple of years of tightened budgets I have noticed news programs doing little spot stories about how to spend less. I tend to talk to the television when I watch, and I say to it, "so which rock have you been living under all these years, those are practices that have been a part of my life, forever, and now they're trendy." Once again, it is practicality that gives birth to great ideas, but consuming less whether it is a result of less income or whether it is a result of a commitment to stewardship, is a good thing. Years ago, as a spiritual practice, I made a commitment to myself, as much as possible, to buy clothes and household goods that had already been used. And that is entirely related to my commitment to the St. Andrew's Rummage Sale as a spiritual practice. Collecting the stuff that we no longer use, and getting it to people who will use it again, and getting to know one another better in doing the work, is important and spiritual work. The king of reuse is my husband Rick, I've never met anyone who can see an object and imagine that object's next use better than him, ahh, the slippery slope.
I tell you these stories because I think sometimes we believe that stewardship and giving are up to someone else, and that other people are so very generous, and yet each of us is already doing this very important spiritual work. But we also need to continue to make our commitment to greet the world with a spirit of abundance and generosity. Each one of you has so much to give, each one of you is so very talented. And the good news is that we are not all talented in the same way. Sometimes I lament my complete and utter lack of art skills, I can't draw to save my soul, but I can replace the zipper in a jacket so that the jacket can be worn again and again.
Here at St. Andrew's we see stewardship as more than simply contributing money to the church; it’s also about contributing time and talents, and volunteering for ministry and mission. It’s about reaching out to build relationships from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity. So today, as we begin our new Sunday school year, and as we begin Bible study, and Education for Ministry, and Adult education, and youth group and everything else, we will commission each of you in your chosen ministry of generosity. And, I ask you to imagine something new for yourself. How can you be generous in a new and different way, how can you give of the gifts God has given you?
Thanks be to God.