Saturday, September 18, 2004

Sermon: Stewardship Conquers Evil

Stewardship Conquers Evil

Sermon for The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September 19th, 2004
By Father John R. Smith

This morning I’d like to start with a story about a man who collects pearls. One day, while walking through the downtown of his city, he sees in a store window the most beautiful, the largest, most magnificent pearl he has ever seen. Instantly he knows he must have it. So he enters the store and an old guy enters from the door to the rear of the showroom.

The man addresses the storekeeper, "I want that pearl. How much is it?"

The storekeeper says, "How much you got?"

"Well, I have $300 in my pocket."

"Good, I’ll take that. What else you got?"

"Well, I have a Chevy Suburban , low mileage, about two years old, paid off."

"Good, I’ll take that too. What else you got?"

"Well, I have two CDs worth about $18,000."

"Good," says the storekeeper, "I’ll take those too. What else you got?"

This goes on and on. That man gives away his house, his property, even his family. Until finally the storekeeper says, "OK, here. The pearl is yours."

The man turns to leave the store. But as he is walking out the storekeeper stops him and says, "Hey, you know what? That family of yours? I don’t need a family. So I’m going to give them back to you. But remember, they are mine now, not yours. You must take good care of them. And that house in Connecticut, well, I don’t need a house so you can have that back too. Although it does belong to me, I just want you to care for it. And as for the CDs and the stocks and the Suburban and even this $300, you can have it all back too. But remember, it is all mine. Take it. Use it wisely. Care for it for me."

So the man left with everything he had when he walked into the store--plus the great pearl. But there was a big difference. He walked into owning everything he had. He walked out owning nothing. Instead, everything he had before was now a gift.

This story teaches the foundation of Christian stewardship: everything we are and have is a gift to be cared for and used to multiply the love of God the Giver. I like the way St. Vincent of Lerin put it: Do as much good as you can, to as many people as you can, for as long as you can.

Do you think you and I have ever played fast and loose with these gifts? Could we ever be accused, as the Gospel puts it of squandering the rich man’s property? What if an account was made of our stewardship and we heard a Donald-like figure say "You’re fired!"

Quick thinking passion would be put in high gear. Like the fellow did in the Gospel we would sacrifice our own gain (typical 100% mark-up commission) to do everything possible to make our former boss well thought of and endear ourselves to everyone he’s been doing business with. "You owe a hundred jars, quick, make it fifty." "You, a hundred bushels of wheat? Take your bill, make it eighty." The result of this fast action? Everyone realizes the great generosity of the Rich Man and thinks the dishonest steward is a really fine fellow. He’ll never have to dig a ditch or beg for a dime.

When the rich guy returns and sees what’s happened, instead of scolding the former squanderer of his property, he praises him for his shrewd behavior. More people than ever love and respect the Rich Man and so many people in the land have had the burden of their debt lessened dramatically, especially the poor and needy who consistently get trampled on by those having the most.

So the manager is praised for his resourcefulness in dealing with the crisis that came upon him--a crisis like the sudden coming of God’s Kingdom. And the Kingdom is already present, confronting evil on many fronts, so Jesus urges his hearers to action, to do what needs to be done with courage and decisiveness: If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants your coat, give your shirt as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go the second mile.

Now when we hear these words we might think that Jesus is teaching us to be passive in the face of evil, pious doormats trampled upon in silence, and suffering for the "good" of our souls. So we dismiss these words of Jesus as completely impractical, though well-meaning. Deep down they are even dangerous, since they seem to say that evil should be allowed to have the upper hand with no thought of taking any countermeasures for the cause of good. These thoughts and misgivings would be justified if that is what Jesus meant.

Jesus does not teach passivity in the face of evil. On the contrary, Jesus teaches us to respond actively to evil--in courageous and imaginative non-violent ways. These ways have a power in them to stop evil in its tracks when we, the victims, refuse to play by evil’s rules. When you offer the other cheek, and say "Go on, hit me again!" Further insulting slaps have no power to take away dignity and honor. The hitter is shown for what he is- clearly in the wrong. Evil is revealed and disarmed by this creative response. Jesus knew that dignity and honor would be sacrificed when responding to violence with violence.

Same with the giving of the cloak- go ahead expose my nakedness- it is you who have lost and been shamed. Here, Roman soldier, I’ll decide freely to carry your pack a second mile- I’m a human being, not the pack animal you think I am. Jesus knew that actions like these counter evil at its source.

I think Bishop Tutu tells the story of South Africa in the days of apartheid of a black woman walking with her children down a narrow lane and was confronted by a white man going the other way. When she refused to step aside as she was "supposed" to do, the man spit in her face. She looked him in the eye and said, Now, will you please do that for the children, too? The man, ashamed, stepped aside and let them pass. That day the evil of apartheid began to crumble in his heart.

It’s time for us to be shrewd. Let’s put the prophet Amos and the Gospel’s dishonest manager together. The evil that tramples around in our world can best be dealt with by us becoming better stewards, devoting all of our life and everything we have to the Kingdom where God is loved and the lowly are lifted up. Stewardship: personal, corporate, and national is the way to conquer of evil best and make a truly peaceful world. Willingness to give away some of what we think is ours, but is really God’s, makes us, the church, holy and our ministry strong against evil within and without. This is shrewd. This is God’s way. It has to be our way. God will be with us for sure! Amen!