Sermon by Revd Henriette Howarth
Let us pray,
Creator God, we pray that by your Holy Spirit you will speak to us afresh this morning, open our hearts, our minds and our lives as we reflect on your word. Make us channels of your Peace. Amen.
It is an honour to be with you. I was already on the rota before it was known that this would be Mandy’s last Sunday. Of course it was suggested to Mandy that she might like to preach instead of me. But no, she was happy for me to speak. When I looked at the gospel reading for this Sunday, understood why.
Luke 16, the parable about the ‘shrewd manager’ has been described by scholars as very difficult to understand. Paula Gooder, a NT theologian says:
This has to be one of the trickiest and hardest to understand of all the parables. So hard in fact, that there is almost no agreement at all about what it means.
So thank you Mandy for this opportunity.
Engaging with a text written almost 2000 years ago is difficult in any case. Jesus was a story teller who didn’t just narrate but also expressed energy, and humor. Jesus brought God’s love to everyone he met so this love would have been present in this parable as well.
Mandy is a story teller too. A person with warmth, energy and humour. And I am sure her teaching, her missional and pastoral work here over the last 7½ years have conveyed much of God’s love to you. You may not remember every word she spoke from the pulpit or in pastoral encounters, but you will remember her warmth, love and care.
A story teller wants people to sit up straight away.
The start of this parable makes you sit up:
‘There was a rich man who had a manager (or some translations call it a steward), and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So, he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.”
We are drawn into his story.
The manager is in crisis. He is going to lose his job. What is he going to do next?
This is us. We are in crisis. We are not doing well on this earth.
As a world population, we have been squandering resources. We have wasted opportunities We are maybe not doing well in our personal lives. Especially the poorest will be facing the cost of living and the fuel crisis this autumn.
What are we going to do?
We are all managers or stewards.
We find the word ‘steward’ in the creation story: in Genesis 1:26
God said: let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. Let them be stewards of the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle and the wild animals.
Humankind was given one job: to be stewards, to be responsible, to care for the earth and the animals and we have failed.
We are called to account by God, in the same way the manager was called to account by his boss. We are in trouble.
In the parable the manager does a quick calculation in his mind: what are his options: digging? Not strong enough. Begging? Too shameful.
He will have to find a creative solution.
At this point we find out what the manager was managing for the rich man: a massive amount of land.
The rich man was a landowner, renting out his land to tenants who in exchange had to pay the him with oil and wheat. And, possibly because the rent was so high, some of them got into huge debt.
The manager sits down with all the debtors, asks them what they owe and then makes a deal with them in a shrewd way to both his and the debtors’ advantage. So that when he indeed loses his job, he at least will have some friends who will invite him into their homes.
And then we read the verses which make this a difficult passage.
And his master commended the dishonest (unjust) manager because he had acted shrewdly (or wisely is another possible translation).
The master doesn’t get angry but it is almost as if he laughs out loud with delight because the manager has found such a creative solution. Maybe he thinks, yes this is why I employed you in the first place because you are shrewd and clever.
Jesus then applies this to his listeners and says something along the lines of: as children of light, you can learn something from the children of this age.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unjust wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
This is the real crunch of the parable. Why is Jesus saying: make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest or unjust wealth?
It seems that Jesus understands that we live in a world with unjust systems, a world of transactions and compromises.
We can’t withdraw from money, but we also should not serve it. We can only serve one God, not mammon. So we need to deal with it creatively and justly in order to make friends so that when the stuff of money is gone (which is inevitable) at least we have friends and eternal homes. In the process we help other people as well to deal with their crises.
When we think of dealing with the crisis our world faces in terms of the climate emergency Bradford cathedral is very creative. Mandy has been a champion of the Cathedral Woodlands Project and also has been instrumental, with others in helping the Cathedral to earn Eco Congregation status. She leaves quite a legacy and will be missed for it.
When we are faced with crises, the other recommendation in the Bible is to pray. In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes to the new Christians in Ephesus:
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
He is urging them not to withdraw from society but to pray.
For most of us this is not hard: We have faithfully prayed for Queen Elisabeth 2nd and we will pray for King Charles III.
But imagine being in a hostile regime, persecuted as a church, under an emperor like Nero, who claimed to be God and wanted people to pray TO him and give him the highest honour.
Paul puts the emperor, or king in his place by stating in 1 Timothy that the highest power belongs to God himself.
5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus…
The reason we need to pray for all people including the King and those in high positions: so we can live in peace, and with dignity.
So we pray for the king, our government, our society, our world and for people personally.
As we see the millions of people expressing grief and sadness, we know that in most of these people’s lives, deeper grief is going on. Public grief can trigger our own private grief for those we have loved and lost. Prince William said to someone in the crowd: she was everybody’s grandmother.
Jesus commends that in a time of crisis and change, like the manager we need to be creative and get stuck in.
Paul commends that we pray.
Creativity and prayer. Mandy you have brought these gifts to the cathedral. And you will be missed. You have left an amazing legacy. We know for sure that you will bring these gifts to the Diocese of York as well.
As we go into the next few days and weeks dealing with crisis in our nation, and our personal lives, may we be wise, creative and may we pray.
When we pray we trust that God is our sovereign and his kingdom of peace is an eternal kingdom that will never end.