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15 Pentecost - Luke 16:1-13

After the council meeting, which is often when the real conversation happens, the topic

turned to the developing plans for video screens in our sanctuary if and when our

Shepherd of Tomorrow campaign reaches enough of our goal to include them.

One thoughtful council member asked if I would ever use the screens during sermons.


Let's experiment today and see how it goes.

Here's a short story about passengers on a train:

The moral at the end about kindness is not the only possible conclusion.

For me growing up, the more likely takeaway would have been, the woman who

gave up her seat is a liar and a troublemaker.

She lied to the old man and led him to cheat the system, then convinced the ticket agent

to cover it up, compromising his integrity too.

He could lose his job and the trust of the train company by allowing this.

Why does he reward her rule breaking with a free seat?

Doesn't this open Pandora's box and send us down a slippery slope to customers exploiting the train and threatening its success?

Don't let bleeding heart sentimentality or the small scope of the offense obscure proper

judgment; whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

They should all be punished for breaking the rules.

This is the mindset of much of religion, which Jesus regularly resists.

He doesn't just chip away at it, he detonates it.

If his healings on the sabbath won't do it, maybe his explosive stories will.

Right after his classic trilogy of Lost and Found stories in response to the moral

cops who caught him eating with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus ramps it up with today's parable, which my preaching professor in seminary (sixty years ago)

called "the nastiest text in the canon."

It has flummoxed well meaning, rule following Christians for centuries.

Even Luke doesn't seem to know what to do with it, judging from that pile of

unmatched sayings at the end.

Why would Jesus, God's perfect Sunday School teacher, tell this story?

It seems more like a mafia movie than Scripture.

A guy gets canned on hearsay, and just as you begin to feel sympathy for him, he whines

that he's too proud to beg and too weak to work.

He then undercuts his old boss by cutting deals with money and authority that aren't his.

The former boss he has just cheated smiles and praises him for being so clever.

Why can't the children of light be more like this?, Jesus wonders.

I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when

it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

When the money runs out, the people you help cheat others can hook you up in heaven.

The gospel of the Lord.

Now wait a minute—what are those people doing there?

Why are mortal cheaters allowed in eternal homes?

Something is wrong with this picture.

And Jesus smiles, because the light bulb is going on.

Jesus, like Picasso, has painted a scene so bizarrely that we can begin to see the world

with new eyes and realize that something is wrong with the picture.

Losing money is no big deal, unless you worship it; it will all be gone eventually anyway.

Cutting deals might be cheating, or it might be justice.

How were the debts structured and calculated?

Does the old man deserve to stand because he couldn't afford a ticket with a seat,

and is that because he was irresponsible or because the price was too high?

Do you side with management or labor, with corporations or customers?

Both are capable of goodness, and both are capable of greed.

Fairness is an illusion in a compromised world, so following the rules might not always

be the best thing to do.

Knowing this only too well, religious folks flock to Jesus, hoping and trusting that he will

prove more reliable.


Fairness is an illusion in the kingdom too.

Thanks be to God.

The gospel of the Lord is that salvation is a corrupt operation.

No one can pay what they owe, no one deserves the eternal homes or the goodwill

and good standing with God.

Jesus, the unjust manager of our accounts, cuts deals for us and dies.

God unscrupulously and joyfully accepts them and praises his work.

Forgiveness isn't fair.

Grace isn't good business.

God cooks the books and cheats the system to give us all more than we can afford or


Money and status aren't worth the paper tickets they are printed on; don't worship them.

The real God, who gives up her seat and breaks the rules and sacrifices everything

for us, is much more interested in something else.

How will this God inspire us to treat others on this long train ride we share?

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