A Sermon for Covenant
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
September 22, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Once upon a time, inside your psyche, there was a kingdom. Inside this kingdom, there ruled a king, a king named Fear, but the inhabitants of your psyche knew him as King Perfectionism. King Perfectionism had many subjects and he ruled them with a heavy hand. He rented out the landscape of your psyche to many serfs, and these serfs slaved under high expectations and crippling taxation. King Fear/Perfectionism had unyielding policies by which he ruled his debtors Time, Emotions, and Activity.
It was a lot of work for King Perfectionism to manage, so he hired a Bookkeeper, otherwise known as Will, to orchestrate the affairs of Time, Emotions, and Activity to ensure they were all paying their dues and keeping in line with the kingdom’s agenda. At first, Bookkeeper Will, frightened and intimidated by King Perfectionism, really strove to make sure all subjects toed the line. But as the Bookkeeper grew into his position, he slowly learned he wasn’t that afraid of the King after all. In fact, Bookkeeper Will was a tiny bit mischievous, a little bit slanted toward deviance, and somewhat cunning. He took pity on the subjects and began to cut them a little slack. Every now and then he shuffled the funds around and threw a party for the serfs.
It wasn’t too long before the King took notice of the books and began to feel the slack of his subjects. Time looked a little lazy. Emotions, a little crazy. Activity occasionally left the grounds. Things were no longer perfectly under his control. That defiant Bookkeeper had betrayed him! The King immediately called in Bookkeeper Will to fire him. Forget this business, Will! I shall rule by compulsion—I know longer need you to mediate for me! You are dismissed!
Bookkeeper Will hung his head in shame and scurried out the door, BUT viola! then he had an idea. He visited the houses of the subjects and he told Time, you don’t owe the King as much as you think you owe him. And to Emotion he said, you don’t have to pay such allegiance to the King. And to Activity he encouraged, go have some fun on company time!
When the King learned of this, he was somewhat taken aback. Really, nothing in all the lands of the psyche had ever defied him like this before! That Will was a powerful, courageous fellow! King Perfectionism went to confront the Bookkeeper, but there he was, wining and dining with all the King’s subjects, the object of their affection and loyalty. The King realized his reign was over and all he could do was commend the wily fellow who stole his reign and started a party.
Once upon a time, there was a group of Pharisees who loved, loved, loved money. (Generations later, they would reincarnate as Americans.) Anyway, they loved, loved, loved money and this love got them into a bit of conflict, scuffle-if-you-will, with a man named Jesus who loved, loved, loved humanity instead of money. He told these crazy extravagant stories about a shepherd with a hundred sheep, who lost one and left the ninety-nine to find the one, and about a woman with ten coins who lost one, and upon finding the one lost coin, promptly threw a party to celebrate its recovery that cost her more than the worth of the coin, and a story about a father who welcomed back into his home with a fatted calf the son who squandered entirely his inheritance. This was not a business-savvy man, that Jesus. Not really the type you wanted to make treasurer, but the type who set treasurers like Judas on edge by wasting perfume that could have been sold to feed the poor. The only economically advantageous thing they could remember him doing was turning water into wine, but that upset the teetotalers, who also happened to be the accountants, go figure, and so Jesus was just never impressing any of the money-handlers who rubbed shoulders with him.
So finally, Jesus told a story he thought the Pharisees would like, a story about a rich man who fired his manager for mishandling some funds. Then the mishandler of funds got even cleverer, and turned things on their head in his own favor, and while his actions may have been dishonest, he saved his own skin, and this was just the sort of maneuvering a savvy businessman could appreciate. So go right ahead and make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, Jesus encouraged, that way, when the wealth is gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes. Of course, once you bring eternity into the picture, this advice doesn’t make a lick of sense, which left the disciples and the Pharisees and especially poor Luke scratching their heads. Even money-lovers know their bank accounts won’t do them a lot of good in heaven. Was the Son of God capable of sarcasm? Nobody was too sure about that, but if you compared this parable to the last three parables, well, none of it added up.
If the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son demonstrated the extravagant wastefulness of God’s Kingdom and the magnanimous generosity of the Father and the unrelenting forgiveness of God’s people, then maybe this parable about the dishonest manager and the children of this age who are more shrewd than the children of the light serves as a contrast to whom we are meant to be. Our kingdom ways of doing business will seem foolish to the shrewd of heart and wasteful to the tightwad, nonsensical to the practical-thinker. As children of light, we follow a radically different way of being in which faithfulness counts for everything and riches count for nothing. In which fidelity, not efficiency, is the measure of success. In which simple generosity is valued over shrewdness and hospitality wins out over personal advancement.
In other words, Jesus put it this way: Those who are faithful in little will be faithful in much, while those who are dishonest in little will be dishonest in much and if you are being unfaithful in small matters and in matters of money, then God will not trust you with anything more significant and if you are serving money, you are not serving God at all, and suddenly the Pharisees aren’t liking this story any more and they begin to sweat.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Jesus who was always, always, always telling stories. Some people would have preferred straight-talk and simplicity, a lecture perhaps, even a little hell-fire and brimstone—anything more concrete than a freakin’ story. But Jesus was stubborn in his own way, and he just kept telling these stories. Stories about life, about seeds and farmers and widows and coins and sheep and rich men and poor men and all kinds of men and women in between.
Over the years since he walked this earth, we’ve attached tidy little meanings to each of Jesus’ stories to try and help ourselves out because stories by themselves are too vague and slippery unless you are an Aesop who adds a moral, which is the way we like a story, if it’s going to be religious one. Moral attached please; we don’t want this to get too messy. We need a story with handles, something we can hold onto and digest and walk away knowing what it was we heard and how we are supposed to change from hearing it.
But every once and awhile we hear a story that refuses to be moralized. It doesn’t fit into a box; we cannot tie it up with a bow. Luke tried to tie this one up for us, but you’ll notice he first tried this bow, then that—there’s a whole series of sayings after this parable trying to make sense of it, and with each saying, the meaning of the story seems to shift under our feet. This makes us uncomfortable—this is not the way we wanted our Bible to treat us. We prefer a clearly defined relationship with our sacred text, thank you very much. None of this shifty business.
Whether Jesus told his stories because he was shrewd or because he was simple, we may never know. But we do know the challenging texts aren’t just there as an intellectual exercise. They aren’t there so we can play a mental game or debate amongst ourselves. They are there to unravel us. To worm their way inside us and make us think, but then, make us more than think—to make us repent, make us see, make us attempt to retell the stories for ourselves until the stories become our own.
Here is a story you could tell a hundred times in any number of ways and never be sure if you got it right and maybe that’s the point. To be drawn into it and see what it draws out of you this time.
Once upon a time, the people of God gathered for worship and in their gathering they entered the befuddlement of faith, and it was in the mystery rather than the clarity that they came to know God. Amen.