May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Lately we’ve been getting lots of parables from Jesus.
Stories that Jesus tells to make some sort of point to either his disciples, or
some of his enemies, or sometimes even both.
These stories that Jesus tells are fictional.
They didn’t actually happen.
But at the same time, they acknowledge real truths.
Today’s story from Jesus is no different.
Jesus mentions a rich man, who is not named.
The rich man is feasting sumptuously every day,
And wearing purple (which was a color that was reserved for someone of
especially high status: like rulers and kings.)
There’s also a poor man in this story:
And the poor man is named:
Now, this Lazarus should not be confused with the Lazarus who was Jesus’
The one that he raised form the dead.
We can assume that Lazarus was a somewhat popular name at the time,
sort of like the name “Mary.”
The fact that Jesus gives the poor man Lazarus a name,
And the rich man is not named,
Perhaps as a sign of how God would honor Lazarus in his afterlife.
In the story,
Both men die.
And this shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Death is just a fact of life.
No matter what you have:
No matter what you do:
It can’t save you from that most basic fact of human life.
But it’s after their death that the story gets interesting.
The rich man is in agonizing flames,
And the poor man Lazarus gets to hang out with Abraham near the water.
The rich man begs Abraham to give him some relief.
When Abraham refuses,
The rich man asks Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead to warn his
brothers of the agonizing afterlife if they live the way he did.
How should we read this story from Jesus?
It’s a fictional story:
But we generally take Jesus’ fiction very seriously.
We try to live the Parable of the Good Samaritan;
We try to live the parable of the lost sheep, and the lost coin,
How should we live this parable?
It generally helps us to put a sort of analogy in the parable:
Placing ourselves within them.
We are the lost sheep:
God is the shepherd:
We are the person who helps the Samaritan.
We usually extend some meaning into our lives:
We are lost, God found us:
Now we should live and love like that Good Shepherd and accept
hospitality from Samaritans.
Who are we in this parable?
Are we the rich man who is ignoring the poor man?
Are we the poor man, Lazarus?
Are we the great chasm that has been set up that keeps Lazarus and the
rich man eternally divided?
Like with some of the other parables we’ve been hearing lately,
We could probably find ways to fit ourselves into many of the characters in
At least at one time or another.
But I’d like to point out a particular analogy,
That was suggested by one of my favorite preachers:
Joshua astutely points out that we are not the rich man.
The rich man, after all was VERY rich.
Jesus explicitly tells us that he is dressed in purple:
A color reserved for someone more rich and powerful than we could even
And we’re not Lazarus either.
Most of us have some sort of economic something.
We have homes and food.
So if we’re not the rich man,
And we’re not Lazarus,
And we DEFINITELY aren’t Abraham:
Perhaps we are the rich man’s brothers.
Remember: In the story:
The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to the world:
To warn his five brothers of the potential torment that awaits them if they
don’t turn their lives around.
Abraham replies by saying of the brothers:
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,
Neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
I love this analogy that we are Lazarus’ brothers.
I love that in this analogy,
Jesus comes off pretty funny and playful (even with such a dark story!)
Because someone DOES come back from the dead:
To certify the kind of living that God described through Moses and the
And that somebody:
Is Jesus himself.
We are the brothers:
And Jesus was sent back to warn us.
And Lazarus is at the gate.
The truth is,
As Jesus tells us elsewhere:
The poor will always be with us.
Lazarus will always be at the gate.
But what makes Lazarus LAZARUS,
Is that the rich man does nothing for him.
We have an opportunity to un-write this parable.
We, at this moment,
Can undo what Jesus describes in this parable, right here.
There’s an old rabbinical saying:
That darkness does not end when the sun rises:
Or when someone lights a candle.
Instead, darkness ends when you can look into a person’s eyes and see
When we look at another person and know that they are God’s beloved
That’s when the darkness will end.
We must see others not for what they’ve done,
Or what they can become,
But for their unbreakable status as a child of God.
That’s how we can undo this parable.
All the social improvement plans,
All the money we can give:
None of it will make any difference if we don’t understand this fundamental
The ones we dislike,
The ones we resist,
The ones we argue with:
Are God’s beloved children.
I was struck: in all of the media around Queen Elizabeth’s funeral:
Of something pretty amazing:
Particularly about the liturgy of most mainline churches:
Nomatter who you are:
Nomatter what you’ve done:
We all die.
And should we receive Christian burial in the church:
The same sort of prayer is said over every single person:
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, a sheep of
your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the queen of England,
Or the Poor Man Lazarus.
Or anyone in between.
We are ALL:
A sheep of the fold,
A lamb of the flock:
A sinner redeemed.
We are the rich man’s brothers.
Abraham somehow agreed to the rich man’s request:
As God himself rose from the dead:
And came back to our gate to warn us:
So that we might be brave enough to look at those who are calling for our
And now is our opportunity:
To see them (and ourselves) as the children of God that we all are:
Sheep of the fold:
Lamb of the flock:
All of us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Today’s Gospel tells of a dishonest manager.
That’s literally what the story is known as in Christian circles:
“the story of the dishonest manager.”
It’s a story that Jesus tells to his disciples.
And in true Jesus form:
It’s a story that’s hard to follow in one reading:
So let’s sum it up.
The dishonest manager convinces all of the vendors who owe his employer
money to falsify their invoices,
So that it appears that they owe the master less than what they do.
He’s thinking ahead:
If he does the vendors a favor now by making it seem like they owe less than they
Then maybe they’ll be more likely to do him a favor:
Like give him a job once he gets fired for corruption.
This could totally be a story in a news headline today.
A guy, who schemes out others, to make himself look better.
But here’s where it gets weird:
Jesus: the Son of God:
Praises this corrupt manager!
He even says:
make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone,
they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
So, is that it? Is the point here that Jesus wants us to be deceitful?
Are we called to cheat others when our own neck is on the line?
What is going on here?
There are a couple of possibilities.
First, at least part of what Jesus is trying to say is that just as the Body of Christ is
not only about hands and feet,
So too the body of Christ is not only about the heart.
It’s also about the brain:
It’s about thinking and thinking critically.
Without the ability to think critically and share our expertise with others,
no amount of passion or money or creativity will bring our goals to a reality.
In praising the manager, Jesus is not praising his dishonesty;
he is praising his shrewdness and creativity.
He’s praising the manager’s ability to utilize his capacity for critical thinking as a
tool for building up the Body of Christ and bringing about the Kingdom of God.
And you know, that’s hard to hear,
Jesus praising a man who committed a fraud.
But here’s another piece of Good News:
Towards the end of the reading, we hear Jesus say this:
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much;
and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,
who will entrust to you the true riches?
And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is your own?
No slave can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This is kind of confusing stuff.
At first, we might want to use these words to indict the manager for his
He has been dishonest in his dealings.
He obviously cannot be trusted with true riches.
But perhaps there is another possibility.
For every reason that we have to condemn the manager,
there is an equally important reason to forgive him.
The manager is:
To use Jesus’ words:
“dishonest in a very little,”
but can we really be so sure that he is not also faithful in very little, too?
Are not we all a complicated mixture of faithfulness and frustration;
of dishonesty and determination?
Perhaps the manager was a good father;
a faithful and loving husband.
Maybe he took care of the yard for his aging neighbors and shared fresh
vegetables from his garden with the widow across the street.
When we find ourselves caught off guard by someone’s immoral or unethical
especially when we’re on the receiving end of it--
we have a tendency to second-guess the sincerity of every single word they’ve
and doubt the intentions behind every single action they’ve ever done,
in an effort to insulate ourselves from the pain of being wronged.
Then after agonizing over and second-guessing every last detail of a relationship,
we begin to think of the person who committed the immoral or unethical
not as a person who made a mistake,
but as a bad person.
And when we change the conversation from being about questionable behavior
into a conversation about personhood,
when we reduce them to being a bad person,
they become disposable—unworthy of our concern,
and certainly undeserving of our forgiveness.
Jesus’ praise of the manager is not an endorsement of unethical behavior;
his praise of the manager is an affirmation of his personhood;
of his identity as a beloved—although broken—part of the Body of Christ,
and a builder of the Kingdom of God.
So perhaps what Jesus is teaching us is that words matter.
Perhaps he’s reminding us that critical thinking is a part of Christian life.
And at the end of the day, perhaps Jesus is calling us to second-guess ourselves;
to re-evaluate our presuppositions and judgments.
Because when we do that--
when we err on the side of mercy and forgiveness--
the Kingdom becomes just a little bigger,
and the Body of Christ becomes just a little stronger.
It’s not every day that we read nearly an entire book of the Bible in church.
And today, we do:
The book of Philemon:
Almost the whole entire thing.
And it’s a book that you might not have even heard of!
It only appears once in our three year lectionary:
And many often skip over it.
And while I usually preach on the Gospel:
It seems worth it to take a closer look at Philemon:
And do a sort of mini-bible study,
Since we get the whole book today.
And this little tiny book packs a pretty real punch:
That we, the church, need to hear.
Even I didn’t know that much about Philemon.
I had to do some serious research on this little book:
And I learned a lot that’s worth sharing.
Philemon is one of the shortest books in the bible, only behind the letters of first, second, and third John.
This little book, is one of Paul’s letters.
But it’s unique, because it’s written to an individual.
In most of Paul’s letters, he’s writing to a community, a church:
Like the churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus….
But Philemon is an individual person.
And like the rest of Paul’s letters:
We just have one side of the conversation.
Paul’s letters are a little like overhearing a person’s phone call:
Just hearing one side:
Where we can make out the main point of the conversation,
But we don’t know what the other person is saying:
And we might not even know why the call was made in the first place!
There’s a lot about the letter to Philemon that’s a mystery.
But at the same time, we can learn a lot with a careful reading.
First, we see that Paul knows and loves Philemon.
We can also see that Philemon has a church in his home:
(and most churches in the first generations of the church were house churches.)
Since Philemon even HAD a house, we might guess that he was fairly wealthy.
And then, as we read further,
We learn that Philemon actually is wealthy, because he owned a slave.
That slave’s name is O-NEE-si-mus.
And the meat of this short letter is about Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus, and their relationships to one another.
Paul writes to Philemon:
Letting him know that Onesimus is with him,
And he asks Philemon to take Onesimus back, and welcome him as a brother rather than a slave.
Now, at the time of this letter, Paul is in prison:
And how Onesimus got to Paul is unknown.
Historians have suggested a few scenarios:
The first is that Philemon, the slave owner:
Sent his slave Onesimus to Paul who was in prison for greetings or supplies.
Maybe even with a letter!
The second, is that Onesimus escaped from Philemon:
Maybe in search of Paul,
Or maybe in search of freedom.
In this letter, we see that Onesimus has made his way to Paul:
He’s been converted to Christianity:
And now Paul is sending him back to Philemon:
As a brother in Christ:
No longer a slave.
And with Christ:
Our relationships change.
Just like in today’s Gospel.
Those difficult words from Luke:
About Hating mother and father, sister, and brother, wife, and children…
Jesus is describing the cost of discipleship.
The cost of discipleship that changes our relationships:
Changes our allegiances:
Because following Jesus means we must renounce other allegiances.
As we read the letter to Philemon:
We see those allegiances change:
We see family dynamics change.
We see ownership of slaves and masters, fathers and sons, change:
We see that the only dynamics and allegiances that matter:
Are those of God and the Christian family.
In reading the letter, it’s clear that Paul has great affection for Onesimus.
He says that he has become Onesimus’ father.
The relationships are changed.
And it’s interesting because it seems that Paul is also something of a spiritual father to Philemon as well.
Paul even alludes to the fact that he brought Philemon to faith.
The relationships are changed.
SO: Being the sort of Christian “father” of both Philemon and Onesimus:
Paul urges Philemon to receive the returned Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother.
The relationships are different now.
Whether they like it or not:
They’re a family.
A family in Christ.
A family in baptism.
And their relationships to one another are totally changed from before.
Paul, through the relationships that have been forged through Jesus Christ:
Is overturning slavery for Onesimus.
And we see in this letter to Philemon,
Three people in a new relationship because of Jesus Christ:
A relationship that moves across the seemingly insurmountable barrier of slave and master.
We don’t know if Philemon obeyed Paul or not.
But we have the letter:
Which means that the church:
Guided by the Holy Spirit:
Thinks that what this letter has to say is worthwhile:
And even descriptive of what a Christian life should look like.
It’s too bad that we don’t have the next letter from Philemon back to Paul:
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.