The text for the sermon is below the audio, and the audio is of the early 8am service not the later 10am. Hearing both (!) I am intrigued about the ad lib differences in content… maybe this says something about me waking up and/or about the needs and aspirations of those present.

I was so sorry not to preach on the Jeremiah passage with its emphasis upon “lament” and is poignant existential cry, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” but I could not resist what I consider the pull of the Holy Spirit whispering to me, “Preach on the Gospel” so here we go.

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI;

Sunday September 22nd 2019 

The Reverend Alan Neale;

“Now here’s a surprise…”

Luke 16:8 “8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly” or (Message Translation) “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager!” “Now here’s a surprise…” – you think?

A few days ago I said to my wonderful new friend, Bishop Jim, “In 42 years I have never preached on the Luke 16 Dishonest Steward parable… and I do not intend to break that tradition.” He smiled kindly, spoke sympathetically and we moved on.

But here I am… lured by some invisible temptation, attracted by some psychic power… trying, by God’s grace, to preach on Luke 16!

Many parables occur in more than one of the Gospels but this parable occurs only in Luke and… do not tell a soul, I wish it had not made Luke either. And yet the parable with its surprises, its reversal of what is considered the norm, its espousal of the despised and its straight talk about money… all this is so commonly Luke. By the way, the church was once such a place of surprising reversals (maybe that’s why Luke wrote the Book of Acts, the story of the early church?); all too sadly many (most?) churches have become havens of the norm, worshippers of the status quo, bastions against change.

Today’s parable is preceded by the story of the Prodigal Son (he also “squandered” – the same word in Luke 16) and is followed by the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It’s almost as if Luke is presenting his reader with a spectrum of the way in which money can corrupt but not necessarily destroy… the young son, squanders all but repents and finds a home; the dishonest steward comes to his senses and acts shrewdly so that he may also find a home but the Rich Man remains resolute in his self-satisfied complacency and his is not a pretty end… no home for him! But then these are parables.

And they interpret parables best who look first and always to the teller of the parable and Luke 16:8, when Jesus takes a sharpie and underlines, the truth, here is where we must begin:

“8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”.

Maybe the parable is not so much, or only, about the dishonest steward but also, maybe primarily, about the master?

In this story the master acts with grace, deals with realities and honors the intention.

1. The master acts with grace. Many of us find it difficult to act with grace. We feel that someone has gone beyond the point of forgiveness; we feel that somehow we have been blessed with the knowledge of what really is the “unforgiveable sin”; some of us have become too firmly entrenched in the conviction that once a line is crossed it cannot be reversed. The master has been cheated probably by a friend whom he trusted, whom he chose to appoint to a high place of honor. Forgive the foray into psycho-babble but sometimes we are more hurt because our image has been damaged than someone else has acted badly.
The Master turns all this upside-down and he acts with almost unimaginable grace and loving condescension to someone whom the world would at best ignore, at worst vilify and exile.

2. The master deals with realities. This is how the Pharisees, the religious bigots, view the teaching of Jesus (Luke 16:14 “When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch.” To act with grace is not to be a social ingénue, to act with grace is not indicative of some frontal lobotomy, to act with grace is not (to use a phrase once used by a young friend of mine) “rude, crude, impolite and socially unacceptable”. The master has his eyes fully open, he is not fool and yet still he acts with grace. Sometimes our own realities we try to hide from the One who made and loves us, but the delightful transformative nature of grace is that the Lord sees us we are are… and loves us. “Just as I am, though tossed about With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fighting and fears within without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come”.

3. The master honors the intention. At some point in this story the master steps back, reflects and realizes the intention of the corrupt manager. His intention now is twofold “to make friends” and “to find a welcome”. What will man and woman in all honesty not do in order to make friends and find a welcome; what will man and woman in all honesty not to in order to step out of crippling isolation.
In a sense, rather like the prodigal son, here the corrupt manager has come to his senses, he realizes that life is profoundly deepened by friends and by welcome. The master honors this intention. I happen to believe that this is a profoundly Anglican belief… we honor and uphold and seek to bless the intention of others… forgiving them wretched lapses on the way.

Friends, this Master in the parable is only a faint shadow, a mere outline of the Master, Jesus. Here is the one who constantly sees us as we are and loves us regardless; here is the one who knows what are our deepest heart’s desires no matter how buried they are by fear and dread, sin and carelessness; here is the one who constantly rushes to meet us with grace abundant.
Centuries ago, the prophet Jeremiah laments with heart heavy, tears streaming “Is there no balm in Gilead?”.

The spiritual says it all:

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my hope again.
If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

Don’t ever feel discouraged,
‘Cause Jesus is your friend,
And if you lack for knowledge,
He’ll never fail to lend.

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin-sick soul.