Homily for Proper 20 Year C
Amos 8:4-7. Psalm 113. 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Luke 16:1-13
The trouble with Bible readings in church is that they’re usually from a translation that may be accurate, but doesn’t sound like the way we speak today. It is somewhat stilted and therefore the meaning is not always as obvious or forceful on first hearing as it should be.
Here is part of the the Amos reading in a modern American version, one that I think quite wonderful, The Message by Eugene Peterson:
Listen here, you who trample all over the weak, who treat poor people as less than nothing, who say, “When’s my next paycheck coming so I can go out and live it up? How long till the weekend when I can go out and have a good time?” Listen here, you who give little and take much, and never do an honest day’s work. You exploit the poor, using them—and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.
And they say that religion should have nothing to do with politics. Ha!
“Ah but,” you say, “that’s from the Jewish Scriptures, not Christian. “Well”, I respond, “Jesus was a Jew. Furthermore he was well capable of being narky, rude, abrupt and provocative. As I said last time I was here, he was not an agreeable man”.
Here is the essence of today’s gospel as if from The Message.
The rich man realised that his manager was on the fiddle. He’d used his position to siphon off money for himself. So he sacked him and said “before you go I want a complete audit of your books.” The manager said to himself, “What am I to do? I’ve lost my job. I’m not strong enough for labouring, and I’m too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I’ve got a plan.”
One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his boss. When someone said he owed a hundred jugs of olive oil the manager told him to write fifty. When someone else said he owed a hundred sacks of wheat the manager told him to write eighty. And so on, the crafty guy making friends for his new life.
Note Jesus’ comments. He commended the crooked manager. “He knows 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 survive, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behaviour.”
In short, if only we put as much effort into working for the Kingdom as we do into trying to avoid the washing-up, or ironing, or hoovering, or cheating the taxman …. Today’s Gospel tells us to be crafty:
- Use the ways of the world to further the cause of right.
- Take risks like the steward—he was commended for his audacity.
- Don’t be lazy, or take things lying down.
- Make good use of what comes your way. Don’t moan because it’s not what you expected or wanted.
It’s a call to action, and to shrewd action, planned action, cunning action. Use your brains and think before acting.
Amos gives us a focus for our craftiness: to wage war against oppression. Isn’t Amos just wonderful? He is utterly blunt, never minces his words. Quite un-Anglican. In my ministry I have been incumbent of two churches that particularly need to hear Amos. But they didn’t and won’t. They are little more than social clubs for the respectable, for many of whom church is treasured because it reminds them of the security of childhood and a life gone by. What church is really for, of course, is to stir people up—excite is the word—to fight injustice. Instead so often it’s about cosy complacency and gossip. That’s the trouble when Christianity becomes respectable. I’ve done my best to bring it back into the gutter but people don’t listen to me any more than to Amos.
So: be crafty for Christ. Work for the kingdom. And for this church community, working towards cooperation with St Paul’s under one incumbent, this command has particular immediacy.
It would be easy to come together in a way that requires minimal change: the odd tweak here and there, this a bit later, that a bit earlier, and things can continue more or less as now.
The trouble is they can’t. This generation, our generation, is dying off and each loss is not matched by a gain. There is no steady state, and soon there will be no critical mass of people for all the tasks.
If you take the gospel and Amos seriously you will stop trying to keep things much as they were. It’s like a dying patient on life support. You will instead try some imaginative thinking. Jesus laid into his disciples for not reading the signs of the times – and this is exactly what you need to do.
- What will this part of Burton look like in 10 years time?
- How many C of E churches will still be open, and how many will have weekly services?
- What are the likely forces that will shape society?
- How can we build a church community to serve this part of Burton?
- Is it right that decisions about the future are taken largely by people who won’t be around to see it?
- Why do you need a mass in each church every Sunday? Why not one in each church alternate Sundays with non-Eucharistic services on other Sundays?
- Is holy communion the right hook to grab people? Weekly mass is a fairly recent feature of the C of E.
- Will people be attracted by the music on offer? the welcome of strangers?
- Is the church warm and are the seats comfortable?
- In short, is church worth getting out of bed for?
If you treat church as a private club, then it will die, and it deserves to. If you heed Amos and as a church community love your neighbour as yourself by fighting injustice, I suspect people will come.
Jesus said he wanted us to be smart like the man on the fiddle—but for what is right—using every means possible to stimulate us to work for justice and the common good.