If there is one thing you should not do, it is ever preaching from a text other than the lectionary. At least this is what my seminary professor for preaching and liturgy loves to remind us. (About three or four times per lecture.) Well, if there ever was a day to feel tempted to do so, today would certainly be the day!
Let us look at the texts: Amos is prophesying against rich merchants who steal from the poor. But when I look around our congregation here today I don’t see any of us selling corn and grain at the farmers market. And we don’t use the ephat or the shekel, goodness knows what they even might be! So the text hasn’t even anything to tell us. Unless maybe asking us how we live our lives. Do we have a weekday life and a Sunday life? Do we support charities, partly because we really want to help - and partly because we look for an easy and cheap way out of helping our neighbors in need?
Do we worship God on Sundays but don’t serve our sisters and brothers on Mondays, or Tuesdays or any other weekday? Do we have divorced our worship and love of God from the service and love of our neighbors? Do we tend not to care what consequences our own actions might have because we know that we will be forgiven on Sundays? Do we constantly do the right thing and the unjust thing at the same time? Do we try to help those suffering from the unbearable lot of poverty but then buy the cheap clothes or the cheap food because we are not able to afford much more? (Even though we know that the cheap food and cheap clothes were produced by exploiting the poor!) Are we struggling to be just and still make a living and have some fun in our lives?
See, I told you, Amos has nothing to say to us today!
And then there is Timothy. This text is a bit tricky for a female preacher. And we are only saved from embarrassment by the folks who left out a few verses in the letter. If the epistle had been just two or three verses longer (and usually our epistle reading is longer than mere 7 verses!) I would standing here in silence. Because the writer admonishes Timothy to never let women preach or teach in the church and to make certain for them to be silent, obedient and servile. Maybe I should take the writer’s advice. At least it would get me out of trouble with having to preach on our gospel lesson!
Because if you have the feeling after hearing today’s gospel lesson that you have no idea what Jesus (or Luke) is talking about, well, you are in good company. This text has managed what all councils, meetings, retreats and convocations have failed to do: to unite the Christian church.
Because no matter what scholar, which commentary or which denominational preaching tool, they all agree: this is a difficult and obscure text. And a lot of people even invite us preachers to do what our professor so sternly tries us not to do: ignore the lectionary readings and preach on some of the texts that we love but which didn’t make it into the lectionary! OK, why not preach about 1 John 4:16…
But no, before we go there, let us look once more at this obscure and difficult text. Jesus is telling a story about a manager who is accused of being unfaithful and who looses his job. So far so good. And now the manager decides that it might be a good idea to secure his future with other people since his boss has just told him he isn’t welcome anymore. And so he calls all the debtors of his boss to himself and invites them to cheat on their debts.
The manager hopes to secure a new future with these debtors. So far, so good.
And now we expect Jesus to condemn this manager and move on to condemn us in our unfaithfulness as well. But…
Instead of condemning the manager Jesus congratulates him for his cleverness. And Jesus goes even further and invites us to follow that manager’s example.
Really Jesus? You want us to be unfaithful and cheat? On purpose? Somehow this cannot be the moral of the story.
So maybe if we understand the gospel through the lens of our first reading. Maybe this manager had abused his power and had exploited the poor and needy. And now that he has lost his job because of that, he tries to make up for his abuse. Because he knows that now, without the protection of the authority his job, he is lost and maybe even in danger of loosing friends or family.
And so by telling this story Jesus would want us to remember that if even an unfaithful manager can get it, it being that community is more important than money, we Christians should get it as well. And therefore the lessons ends with the judgement of “you can’t serve God and Money at the same time.” Sounds good. Sounds like a lot of other stories we have heard from Luke over the course of the last few weeks. But…
Why is Jesus congratulating the manager for his cheating behavior and is even encouraging us to do the same?
So maybe it is something totally different instead. When the manager is calling the debtors he is calling people that are from a lower class than he is. The people he called were slave farmers. People who worked for the boss and owned a part (or a lot) of their harvest to the boss in order to pay for the seeds, the land and the machinery.
And when a debtor wasn’t able to pay, the boss had the right to kill that person and sell all the family as slaves. So these are not people that seem to have power, or strength or weight in that society. But still, the manager is reaching out to them. Because he has realized that his only help can and will come from the place the least expected.
This is also true for us! Our only hope for life comes from the place the least expected. It comes from the pain and shame of the cross. There from the cross, the shameful torture tools used by the Romans only for the lowliest people, comes our hope and our salvation! God does not come in power and might. God comes to us as a small and vulnerable child. And Jesus does not live his life as a king, even though he is a descendant of the mighty king David, but he lives as an poor itinerant preacher on the street!
And in his death, he suffers through the worst shame imaginable at that time. A life, not worth talking about; if it wouldn’t be God’s life on earth! God comes to be with the poor and oppressed. God knows the feelings of pain, cold and despair. And God also enters into our deepest feelings: the feelings of loss, pain and death. But loss, pain and death do not have the last word, neither in Jesus’s life nor in ours. Yes, Jesus died. And we died with him. All our pain, our despair, our hopelessness and our sinfulness died there on the cross. And together with Christ we rose to new life on Easter morning. We have been given new life and new hope through the most unexpected event and through the most unexpected person.
And God invites us to do the same. Our church is in need of new life and new hope. God invites us to leave our comfort zone and reach out to those just like Jesus: on the edge of society, homeless, poor, marginalized. From those will come new life. Maybe even for our church.
We can be open for and to all, because God is open for and to all. Even to sinners like us!