September 18th, 2016: "The Real Authority!"

Text: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79;    25th Sunday in Ordinary Time                           Sandy Nuernberg

1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13           18th Sunday after Pentecost                              Pastor

Title: “The Real Authority!”         Theological Education/Seminaries Sunday

1st Presbyterian Church            Sunday, September 18th, 2016                          Pardeeville, WI


Please pray with me, Lord, we give thanks that you take us in to be your own, especially when we don’t deserve to be loved, comforted, or strengthened by you. In thinking about your words to us now, fill us with your grace and Spirit to accept each other, as we are and as you look upon us. We are those lost and found, and yet for whom you sacrificed your life—for all of us.   AMEN.


            I don’t know about you, but for me, over time and reading them, I must admit that I’ve thought the parables of Jesus were stories of common experiences that contain some kind of meaning. Further, I think they are to be read and understood as ‘notions’ of God for all of us as God’s followers. In other words, we try to interpret God’s Word to us as an example of our life to live through the nature of God, knowing who God is for us.


            Truth be-told, we might also admit that most of Jesus’ parables we’ve encountered lately in Luke’s Gospel are not ordinary stories—they kinda wake-us-up with their surprise endings; and why? Because Jesus does some of the interpreting for us, but not necessarily to our liking, or in words we understand---like in last week’s stories of the lost and found (15th Chapter of Luke). Other parables we’ve learned from this summer might include: the cheap vs. costly discipleship in following Jesus (Ch.14: 25-33) the dinner where Jesus said to invite all, including the outcasts/misfits (Luke 14:1,7-14), or the greedy farmer who needed more of God, not Self (Luke 12:13-21), or the friend who couldn’t lend help to his neighbor and Jesus says to him, “Ask and you’ll get; seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open”(Luke 11:1-13, The Message), just to review a few.


Guess what? The more popular (memorable) parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son we skipped; yet this parable of the dishonest (crooked) manager is difficult for the pastor as well as the ‘pew-dweller’ because Jesus confuses and confounds us more than he enlightens us with his examples in life. At the same time, during these hot summer weeks, I hope you have grasped, as I have, the wisdom, strength, and grace that God brings to us with new understanding.


For me, our worship together on Sundays is what I enjoy; as Christians, Presbyterians, we are quite serious believers that God is in our midst as the sovereign Creator God, who blesses, leads, and calls us to be God’s people. We believers are also quite humble, I think, about allowing God to be first in our lives, aren’t we? We worship in our prayers, music, and hearing God’s Word not catering to being self-centered, selfish, or materialistic in our ways of living. Or are we?


I remember at seminary (MTS-Chicago) we were taught, encouraged, given confidence in being able to do one thing in public; no hesitation, just do it, when we were asked, sometimes when we were not asked, and that was to pray. I am never hesitant, as I’ve learned at home (my Mom loved to pray—sometimes too long!) and from hearing, being with many theological professors, pastors as friends, and mentors. Yet I had a ‘first’ in my ministry a few years back during worship service at a facility in west-Madison where we said the prayer of confession together. Like today, as pastors we carefully, sensitively engage each other (Call to Confession) in making our personal confession to God and to each other; our honesty touches our lives and we do it publicly, as Presbyterians.


We’re familiar with the words from 1 John (1:8-9), “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…” A Presbyterian gentleman I knew from my church was in the back and blurted out, “Who says we are sinners; I’ve never been told that before?” As he proceeded to leave, I was a bit shocked; he left but kept passing by the entry-way during our worship. He came back and cautiously waited, then walked over to get his wife in her wheel-chair and stopped to thank me for coming to be there.


We might ask why Jesus talks in Luke with his disciples using completely opposite depictions in our ways of living; the dishonest manager is shrewd, self-centered, saving-his-own-skin kind of guy, yet not named—neither is the rich man, for that matter! How can a crooked-manager get along with his boss, anyone, much less God? First, he gets fired in giving his account, then, after protecting himself in cheating, he gets praise because he watched-out for himself. What the hay, here?


There are two parts to this parable; dishonesty in the story and honesty in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus allows us to look in the mirror at ourselves, I think. He asks us to renew our vision in how we see ourselves connive against one another; what is our behavior and actions towards others?  Yes, let’s call it sinfulness. To the end of this story we are shaken by Jesus’ words, “You can not serve God and wealth (‘the Bank’, The Message).


We hear similar words in 1Timothy in a different way, simpler, prayerfully, where we are set free by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our lives in being God’s people. Paul tells his best friend that the plain and simple truth of faith is in going ‘quietly about our business of living simply and in humble contemplation (The Message, p. 1641).’ He probably is saying it because he, Paul, is proof of this same simple faith and plain truth.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t get this idea of living a ‘quiet and peaceable’ life in our kind of world where we know differently! Isn’t there anything but quietness and peacefulness around us? How about the fears, frustrations, fighting in our imperfect world—9/11 and its 15th anniversary (ie..ISIS, terrorism), our city police-forces in un-rest, a national election-year full of negativism, job-security, heroin and drug-abuse rampant in our nation, and many churches wanting young people and membership increases.


We may be shocked at the outcome of this parable, indeed, as dishonesty, wealth, and greed seem to win out—what is the lesson here for us to learn? I think, when the smoke clears, the Real Authority’s response in all of these is serving, trusting One Master, God alone, nothing more! Where we get lost is in our thinking we have to somehow protect and save ourselves. It’s like a game of “Who do you trust?” or least of all, do we dare trust God? It seems we’ve lost, as God’s ‘children of light’ the sense of what God’s vision is for us. But you know what? We humans are in 2nd place; God is the Real Authority!


There is a call here for us to be the children that God has asked us to be. We are asked to ‘make friends’ with dishonesty so that we may know it, (claim it, if need be) and be able to, as God’s people, discard it, relinquish ourselves of it. We are to recognize places we need not idolize; people, time, wealth, clothing, food or drink, and that we aren’t consumed by any of them.


Most of all, our good news is that we keep in front of us the Real Authority, who our God is and where our relationship with/toward God is in our faithful Christian living. As sinners, we ask in our confession, for God’s grace and mercy to become whole, to be new once again. Christ indwelling in us allows us to make wiser decisions, well-intentioned actions, and prayerful communion with others as friends and neighbors; we  support, strengthen, and trust each other in our stewardship of faith and practice in God’s world now, and in God’s Kingdom to come.


                                                Thanks be to God.                         AMEN.
























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