Sunday, September 18, 2022

Proper 20C

Church of Peace

Michael Swartz

“…casting all your cares on Him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

Spoiler alert, I will be talking about Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.  And I refer to the conclusion.

Center of Gravity of faith.

Kinship, as Children of Abraham.  Treat all like family.  How far does this kinship extend?  “Through you shall all the peoples of the earth be blessed.”

Giving of the Law, 10 Commandments.  Moses.  Ethical standard under the sovereignty of God.

Kingship, create a just society under the Sovereignty of God.  David.  A nation among others.  Gather at Festival and major shrines.  Temple.  Build cohesion.

People of the Book. People of Torah – Study the Scripture and study together.  This was adapted to the dispersed community.  This was the Synagogue movement.

By first century Palestine the center of gravity was reduced to “Keep Kosher.”  A matter of Personal Piety; keep all the rules.  Have a separate identity.  Pharisees.  This was an accommodation to being under Roman imperial rule.  Scrupulously keep Sabbath.  It was a tidy arrangement.  They did not smoke or drink or chew.  And they certainly did not dance.  At least this is how it is characterized in the New Testament.

“The Kingdom of God at hand.”  Jesus.  Incarnation.  Love your neighbor, get close to God.  Embody God’s love.

Jesus was in Contention with the Pharisees.

Jesus healed a woman on Sabbath.  Jesus told the Pharisees, “You treat animals better than this woman.”  Jesus put people before rules.

Jesus told the Pharisees that they strained gnats and swallowed camels.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward is also contentious, and a little complicated, but not impossible for us to understand with our modern sensibilities.  In the ancient world, and certainly for the Pharisees, it was against religious law to lend money for interest.  It was exploiting a person when they were down on their luck.  The notion was that one would borrow when desperate and then not have the means to repay and thus fall into slavery or loose their essential personal property.  Whatever the reason, to lend money for interest was against religious law.

At the same time there was the notion that if your neighbor came to you to borrow a cup of sugar they should not be turned away.  To borrow a measure of a commodity – like flour, or olive oil, or wheat – and agree to return it in the future was permissible.  Neighborly.

So one way that supposedly observant people would get around the religious law against lending for interest was to borrow fifty units of a commodity and agree to pay seventy-five or one hundred units of the same commodity at a specific time in the future.  And the borrower could exchange the units of the commodity for money.  And then could return money to the lender and say, “Well, you can just go buy the commodity if you want.”

Hypocrisy.  Lenders could appear to the public, and maybe even to themselves in their own mind, as piously adhering to the religious law while undermining it completely.  What do you think?

So when the steward is telling the master’s clients to write another amount in the ledger, the amount that he is telling them to write is probably about the amount that they had actually borrowed.  By subverting the system the steward is actually adhering to the religious law about usury, but to do so he is flagrantly cheating the master.  It is a scandal when someone actually obeys the religious law.

This is a sophisticated story.  But Jesus’ hearers got it immediately, and the Pharisees were held up to ridicule.  And Jesus was being subversive.

This is the connection to the book, Where the Crawdads Sing.   To get to the righteous outcome the system is subverted.

And while my immediate reaction to both the movie and to the parable was “You go, girl!” at a more serious level I find both troubling.  I want to do the right thing.  I want the system to be just.  I want ethical life to be straightforward.  I do not want to see vulnerable people exploited and abused.  I want things tidy.  I am uncomfortable with moral ambiguity and conflict.  How about you?

This is NOT the way a sermon is supposed to end.  We want to be encouraged, not confused and confounded.  We want “all things bright and beautiful all creatures great and small.”  We want “God’s in his heaven all’s right with the world.”  I know I do.

I believe that our German ancestors, particularly those 1848ers who had fought a revolution and then seen it go on the rocks were disillusioned as they came to the United States for a fresh start.  Things had not turned out as they had hoped.  They were ready to start over, and this sanctuary reflects their religious vision; I call it “all Jesus all the time.”  It is a vision for confusing and difficult times.

Consider the side window, Jesus praying in the garden.  He is alone, facing a painful dilemma.

Consider Jesus knocking at the door of our heart and our life.

Consider the Good Shepard mural.  The kindly, very human Jesus is the shepherd.  And look at the sheep.  One needs a ride.  My favorite sheep looks like she has had a very bad day and is a little dazed.


Last summer my brother-in-law Tom was visiting from Kentucky and were we sitting on the patio and I was waxing philosophical about American life in general and Christian faith in our nation.  And the numerical decline of the church in our United States, and the challenges of the particular church I had recently served.  I said, “Tom, in my old age I have come to a moment where it is, “Jesus take the wheel.”  Jesus take the wheel, you’ve got to take over.  Jesus our center of gravity.

Maybe that is where I should have been already, these last 50 years.

“Cast all your anxious care on Jesus, because he cares for you.”

Amen and amen.

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