September 23, 2001
The Gospel reading we have just heard from Luke is one which has given commentators fits for as far back as we have records.
Part one speaks of a very sly person who was going to get audited and probably fired by their employer and so set about reducing the fees to the employer's creditors in order to get on their good side. Jesus commends this sort of skulldugery and suggests we all need to be on the lookout for such weasel-ly opportunities.
My sense is that the one who has done us the best service on this is Lesley Weatherhead in his little book, The Humor of Christ . This story told by Jesus fits well into an extravagent tale, very much like the coyote stories of native people's. We are intended to laugh at this set up where the trickster comes through.
Our tradition, however, is to take the Bible equally seriously in all its parts, even when the word-play and descriptions lead us to laughter which becomes a laughter of self-recognition. We have forgotten to laugh. A part of my prayer is that we will remember this gift of laughter, even in the middle of disaster and atrocity.
If nothing else, we are a resurrection people and the resurrection is a great big thumb-nosing at fear and death. There is something rude about resurrection which causes us to laugh at fear and death. With resurrection under our belt we can can be rude enough and crude enough to laugh in the face of danger.
Part two speaks of an important principle of being consistent in our values. This consistency is to operate in good times and in bad times and is to operate in large public matters as well as small personal ones. We finally hear those famous words that no one can serve both GOD and money.
In today's atmosphere this is an important reminder. I take very seriously our constitutional emphasis upon liberty and freedom and equality and due process. I take very seriously our religious emphasis upon resurrection and forgiveness and new life and mercy and peace and community.
There we have it, part one and part two.
We are called to make wicked wealth our friend-maker and we are warned not to make wicked wealth equivalent with GOD.
It is this difference between part one and part two that is being talked about in our nation and church these days.
Those in our midst who hear part one more clearly than part two let us know that we have been affronted so badly by people intending to scare us that we have to be wise in the ways of the world and strike back fast and hard.
Those in our midst who hear part two more clearly than part one let us know that no matter what the affront, even the death of thousands, we cannot give up on that which identifies us -- our values of openness and freedom and trusting GOD to see us through.
We have both voices in our congregation this morning, as we have had them before September 11th and as we will have them long after any resolution of the issue of terrorism.
The Bible lesson for today puts us at an important point of choice about how we will continue. Do we simply turn this matter of response to abuse over to the authorities and whatever they decide will be alright? Do we simply keep talking about and trying to live from an idealistic point of view?
This is yet another time when we find ourselves caught in how we process information.
Let's look at some other issues recently in the news to ask about their part one and part two, about the way in which practicalness rubs up against ideals.
If you think about the debate regarding Veteran's Stadium and Roger Harring Field who is being practical and who is being ideal?
If you consider that we have two Teams working on two different projects which will require the expenditure of a couple of thousand dollars each -- roof repair and a new sign -- is one of them practical and the other only ideal? If you decide that is the case does that mean we should only do one? If we have a roof but don't invite people we find that short-term practicality turns into long-term impracticality. If we have a sign but don't care for the building we may get folks here once but they won't come back and our ideal becomes un-ideal.
We haven't gotten there yet, but traditionally carpet decisions divide folks. At the very least we get those who want maximum wear setting up against those who want maximum design.
Are we practical people? Are we idealists?
Well, we are probably both and we need both.
Today's Bible lesson does not clear things up very much? Should we grab some allies and go get terrorists in such a way that more terrorists will be born (remember how Waco, Texas turned into Oklahoma City)? Should we focus on simply living by our ideals and taking this to the world court instead of taking things into our own hands and run the risk of murders taking advantage of a long judicial process?
It seems there are dangers whichever way we go. There are no guarantees about outcome. This is not an easy exam with true-false answers. This is one of those difficult essay exams where the professor takes their job quite seriously and expects more than bull but facts and reasoning.
From last week you heard me speak as clearly as I could about our ideal of following Jesus who said, "Put up your sword for those who use it will find it used against them" and who reached out to heal those who were trying to bring terror to his life.
I still think this is a great challenge to us who are called by his name and claim to be his followers.
I am not going back on that judgment when I say that none of us live up to our ideals. But we do need to hear Jesus praise this dishonest servant and ask us to learn from him.
I hope we can get some perspective or some humor into our serious talk about war against persons rather than nations and our dualistic thinking that we can wipe out bad behavior forever.
One quick example of our need for humor. We have just set ourselves to a task requiring several billions of dollars and yet I don't know of anyone asking us to rethink our recent decisions about tax relief. I hope I am not the only person who wants to laugh at our behavior of saving the rich a buck and sending the poor off to fight.
As you listen in on today's scripture and hear Jesus tell a tall tale to make a point and bump up against a call to be consistent in your values -- may you use the gift of humor to help you sort out the better way.
Let us pray:
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.