Sermons That Work

Oh, the Cleverness…, Proper 20 (C) – 2004

September 19, 2004

Oh, the cleverness of this fellow in today’s Gospel! OK, so he wouldn’t have scored well in the honesty department, but you must admit he was quite clever.

It seems that he was dishonest many times over. He worked for a rich man, managing his property. Probably he was well enough paid for this service, but not being quite satisfied with his salary, he had been squandering the property, property that was not his but belonged to his employer. Finding out about it, the employer quite naturally decided to get rid of him. He gave his employee something like the classic “two weeks notice.”

The employee had evidently been living it up on his ill-gotten gains. Now he was really in a pickle! He didn’t know what to do. How was he to continue to live in the manner to which he had become accustomed? He had lost his job, and now he had to give his employer a final accounting. It was not bad enough that he had been cheating his rich employer for some time, but now he proceeded to cheat him some more, destroying the old bills and writing ones for lesser amounts for his employer’s debtors.

This, of course, was also dishonest, but it was clever, as even the rich man who had been cheated admitted. Probably this dishonest manager thought that when he left the rich man’s employ he might find work with one or more of those whose bills he had altered. “I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine.” One does wonder, however, if they might not have thought twice before putting him in charge of their property!

Nevertheless, those debtors must have been delighted. Who wouldn’t like to be told that they owed less than they thought they did. It would be like getting a letter from the IRS saying that they were going to get a break and they would only have to pay a portion of the taxes they thought they owed. But those things don’t usually happen in real life, do they?
But let’s change this story a little. Let’s suppose that, instead, it was the rich man himself who called his debtors in and handed them their bill. Let’s suppose that instead of writing a new bill for a lesser amount, he wrote, instead, “Paid in full.” Let’s suppose, further, that he even forgave his dishonest manager, and gave him another chance.

Does that remind you of anyone you know? It should! Because that is exactly how our God deals with us. If the bill for everything we owe God were taken away and we were given a new one for a lesser amount, it might be like having a bill for a hundred trillion dollars reduced to a mere hundred billion. No matter what kind of break God gave us, it would still be impossible for us to repay our debt. What would be the bill, after all, for our life and the whole world and everything in it—not to mention the entire universe? So God did the only thing a loving God could do that would make any difference. As an old hymn puts it, “Jesus paid it all.” And if that sounds too easy to be true, well, no, it wasn’t easy at all. Take a look at the cross if you need to be reminded how “easy it wasn’t.”

So where does that leave us? Home free, you say? Well, yes and no. Our “legal” debt is canceled, thanks be to God. No bills, not shut-off notices, no insistent phone calls. The debt of love, however, isn’t one that goes away. What can we give back to this God who loves us so much and has given us so much—“who made heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them; who keeps his promise forever; who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger; who sets prisoners free; who opens the eyes of the blind…” The list goes on forever.

What can we give back? Nothing, for anything we could give is as nothing in the face of so much generosity. On the other hand, everything—for that is all we have to give, and it is also just what God wants.

Yes, God wants us to come to church and worship. Yes, God also wants us to give to the church and for the relief of those in need, out of what we have been given. God wants us to spend time in prayer and in reading the scriptures. And, yes, God wants us to reach out to each other and be kind and honest in our dealings with each other; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and so forth. God wants us to live as one family, to work together for justice and peace on earth. But more than that, God wants it all. God wants our hearts.

Think about it. This God, so almighty, so all powerful, all knowing, compared to whom we are less than a speck of dust, passionately desires a loving, intimate relationship with each of us. There will, however, be no bill. It has to be a gift. You can design your own gift card: “To God. Love___________.” You fill in the blank.

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Christopher Sikkema


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