Sermons That Work

There’s a T-Shirt…, Proper 20 (C) – 2007

September 23, 2007

There’s a T-shirt that perhaps you’ve seen. It reads simply: “Love is for losers.” Now probably to the wearer, the phrase is only a humorous expression of teenage angst or rebellion. But set next to today’s gospel reading, it suggests a different view of love, friendship, success, competition, and worth.

If what we value most is wealth and prestige, then love is at best an idle pleasure, and at worst a distraction or an impediment to our struggle to succeed. On the other hand, if what we value most highly is love itself, particularly the godly love that we are to show to all our neighbors, we will be willing to risk, and indeed even to lose, everything for the sake of love.

The steward in Jesus’ parable is after wealth, in any way he can get it. Not content to be a trusted steward managing the household of a wealthy man, he sets out to skim off an extra share of the wealth for himself. Not surprisingly, his employer puts an end to this as soon as the wrongdoing comes to light. The steward, now deprived of his source of income and prestige, runs one last scam in order to buy some goodwill with a few households that are in debt to his former master.

This operation, too, is completely at the master’s expense, and you’d expect him to be doubly furious. Instead, the master commends his dishonest steward for his craftiness. We can only suppose that the master, being a wealthy man, understands only too well the rules of cutthroat business dealings. He doesn’t like being stolen from, but he can still admire the artistry of the crime.

Now there’s no reason to assume that the wealthy man has himself been dishonest. It seems clear, though, that he lives in a world where wealth and prestige are the primary goals. He’s used to a system based around competition for a finite set of goods, so he understands the motivations of his crafty steward, and applauds his cleverness, if not his dishonesty.

That system is the one known to the generation of the “children of this age,” as much now as in Jesus’ time. But what is the alternative that Jesus offers? What new view of the world is illuminated for the “children of light”?

He encourages his disciples to make friends who “may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

In place of the worldly system with its assumption of scarcity, competition, theft, and loss, Jesus proclaims and lives out a new paradigm. The new society of the kingdom of God is a seemingly paradoxical system in which the more that is shared out, the more abundant the source becomes.

A recent issue of Time magazine featured a cover story about Mother Teresa and her long struggle with a sort of spiritual dry spell, one that lasted for many years up until her death. Her confidential letters to her spiritual directors have now been published (against her stated wishes, by the way), and they reveal that she felt, in her own words, “darkness and coldness and emptiness … so great that nothing touches my soul.”

At the same time, Mother Teresa continued to speak and to lead and to teach about serving Jesus by serving the poor and the sick and the downtrodden. In her book Loving Jesus, she wrote:

“If we nourish our lives with the Eucharist,
it will be easy for us to see Christ in that hungry one next door,
the one lying in the gutter,
that alcoholic man we shun,
our husband or our wife, or our restless child.
For in them, we will recognize the distressing disguises of the poor: Jesus in our midst.”

Even as holy a woman as Mother Teresa has not been without her critics, and some have been quick to accuse her of hypocrisy, of preaching a message of love and God’s service in public, while feeling no presence of God in her heart and mind. To “the children of this age,” this seems like crafty duplicity, speech about love while the feeling of love is absent.

Mother Teresa’s continued faith and continued work with the poor and downtrodden, however, speak volumes about her truest convictions and her patience in doing God’s work without hope of personal reward. She treated each person she met as a reflection of Jesus himself, Christ in a “distressing disguise.” In turn, she and her sisters became the image of Christ to those whom they served.

Other critics have suggested that the money donated to the Missionaries of Charity might better have been spent building hospitals, or working for social change to tackle poverty as a whole. The children of this age don’t easily perceive the value in tending to those who are already at death’s door, and who can offer nothing in return. They perceive only a loser’s love, given to losers.

Mother Teresa lived as a child of the light, however, and she was able to offer something that could never be bought, earned, saved, or protected, only given – the sense of dignity and value with which God sees each person. Surely these are the “true riches” of which Jesus speaks. If you “have not been faithful with what belongs to another,” if you have not loved them as an infinitely precious child of God, “who will give you what is your own?” Who will return to you the reflection of your own dignity and worth?

Mother Teresa shows us a new and better way in which love can be for losers. By giving up everything to serve Christ in the poor, she was rewarded by a superabundance of Christ’s love. Perhaps she no longer received the consolation of Jesus in prayer because she had Jesus constantly before her to touch and to tend. And so she lived in a superabundance of love, seeing Christ in all people, and showing forth the image of Christ to all people.

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Christopher Sikkema


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