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09.18.22: Proper 25

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  • If you've ever been involved in any major fight in an institution (churches included), I'd argue more often than not, they're about means and not ends.
  • When we argue about ends, we often do it under a shroud of "visioning" - it always feels a little bit more sacred, more liturgical. We have process when we explore ends.
  • But means? The gloves are off. Politics in this country is predicated on this - both parties can say "God Bless America" and want the best for the country and its people, and will go about it in very different ways.
  • Why is it that we focus so much on the conflict of means?
    • There could be a lot of reasons one could suppose, but perhaps more than any I think it's because it's the closest one to our control.
    • But, over time, ends get backgrounded - more noise than motivation, it sits at a distance, so instead of a straight line to the ends, we meander in the wilderness of means as we continue to make overtures to power and control.
  • All to say then it feels strange when Jesus gets right into our faces about means.
    • Now, before we dismiss Jesus here, let's not forget that this isn't the first time he's argued similarly:
      • When Jesus send the disciples as sheep among wolves, he encourages them to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves
      • When the disciples saw someone performing magic in Jesus' name and they wanted to stop him, Jesus reminds the disciples "whoever is not against us is for us"
      • Taken together, we can see that Jesus is unafraid of strategic thinking to get to the goal.
    • But here, perhaps more than others, in his praising of this dishonest manager, he's tugging at a lot of our sensibilities, and it seems even his own if you put vv 10-12 in conversation with the rest.
  • Let's hear some of this again but with Eugene Peterson's touch from the Message (v 8-9): “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
    • There's a lot of truth here! The manager here seemed to be laser focused on his end - existential self-preservation tinted by his own self-differentiated honesty. The dude knew he was weak and prideful so he had to figure out another route.
    • And whether he abandoned his own cut in order to make himself look better, or he cut out some of the rich man's bills is uncertain, but he definitely found a way to maximize his potential - to the point that his former boss tipped his cap to him.
    • Jesus then turns it back to us - it would be good if we were street smart for the right things.
  • ...because the truth is, people are going to continue to do what they want for their own ends...
    • Here's why Amos makes an appearance in the lectionary today
    • These are God's chosen people, by the way, and they are literally doing the opposite of what God called them do to.
    • This is the height of economic injustice, as people are actively manipulating the weights and measures to maximize profits at the expense of the poor (not that that happens anymore, of course).
    • This is street smarts for the wrong ends. In fact, you could see this shrewd manager perhaps doing something similar in order to keep himself safe.
  • Jesus refines this a little for us in the back end of the passage - integrity and honesty act as guardrails for means, but beyond that... it's pretty open field.
  • So how do we deal with a passage like this one?
    • We need to treat the ends of the gospel as though it is an existential end
      • The world Jesus Christ creates is one of justice, right living, and flourishing for all.
      • This gospel, when put into practice, can be difference between life and death many more people than we may give it credit for.
      • And certainly, while we can argue (and should) about particulars, the generalities - a circle drawn wide, invitations to the center, the encouragement to let the past go and reorient towards God's equal footing - are not up for debate, because they are what is truly life-giving for a world desperate to be told there is something other than nihilistic cynicism.
      • And anytime some part of the gospel is strategically worked against, it should be resisted even if it means transgressing our normal affiliations, because this is life and death we're talking about.
      • Our entire structure, way of operating - every brick, every dime - should be working towards bringing life to what was thought to be dead.
    • We must realign our energies towards focusing on the end, and realizing that there are many means on the table.
      • It is not in everyone's constitution to do everything - after all, the manager could have worked the fields (but wasn't strong enough), or could have begged (but was too prideful).
      • That self-reflection should help us see that there are different people with different strengths and weaknesses who, having found a home here, will work towards the ends of the gospel.
      • It may mean some of us our activists, or politicians, or prophets. Some of us will do caretaking and healing back home.
      • The only problem here may be not to acknowledge that "If they're not against us, they're for us"... even to the point of discomfort.
    • We must be unscrupulous about monitoring whether the ends actually are being looked toward
      • If I were to give advice to anyone looking for a church, that would be my #1: check to see if the church seems to be putting its money where its mouth is.
      • Does it seem like they're making efforts to serve their community, draw the circle wider, and can you actually see it consistently over time - even if it's small.
      • If a church says they love everyone, does it actually look like it? Is everyone there, being loved? Or is it just a feel-good statement?
      • Are they willing to stick their neck out when the gospel demands a response - if the stranger needs welcomed, do they open their doors, or are the too fearful of a political statement from a transitory authority hellbent on its own selfish gain?
  • If we do this, I imagine that it will both be scandalous at times, but also life giving, just as the gospel is today.

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