The Parable of the Daring and Decisive Steward

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Click here for the Gospel Reading

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, we hear an odd parable about a steward, or estate manager, followed by three challenging sayings about mammon, or wealth. All relate to the topic of money, either directly or indirectly. Now, chances are that Jesus did not deliver all these teachings at the same time. Scholars think it more likely that Luke did a little editing and lumped them all together, since they shared a common thread. But the resulting juxtaposition can be a bit confusing.

Let’s look at the parable first. I have always heard this parable called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. But the title doesn’t really suit the story, since the dishonesty of the steward isn’t really the point at all. Perhaps a better title would be the Parable of the Daring and Decisive Steward.

The story starts out with a rich absentee landowner acting on a malicious accusation against his estate manager. The English translation doesn’t bring out this nuance of the Greek— that the accusation is, in fact, a slander. The rich man doesn’t wait to investigate the truth of the matter. Instead, he presumptuously fires his manager and demands that the account books be handed over. The estate manager realizes that he is ill-suited for hard labor and that he would be too ashamed to beg in the streets for a living. So he cooks up a little scheme! And ironically, the idea for his little scheme comes right from the malicious accusation that got him fired in the first place. So what does the manager decide to do? He calls in his boss’s debtors and asks them to falsify their bills by lowering the amounts that they owe. In other words, he decides to actually do what he had been falsely accused of—dispersing his boss’s property. The purpose of his scheme was to make friends fast, so that he would have some place to go after he was kicked out onto the streets by his boss. Now, somehow the boss finds out what’s going on. And we might well expect him to be furious and have his manager sent to the pokey. Instead, the rich landowner actually praises his scheming manager for his prudent and sensible action. The parable then finishes with Jesus’ comment that “the children of this age are more clever with regard to their own generation than are the children of light.”

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The Value of One

A sermon preached at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on September 11, 2016, by Christopher L. Webber.

On a crystal clear September morning fifteen years ago today, two airplanes full of people like you and me plunged into the Trade Towers in lower Manhattan where nearly 20,000 people were at work. Another plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane plunged into a field in Pennsylvania. When the day was over some 3,000 people were dead.

So 9-11 has become a date to remember and this year it falls on a Sunday when the Gospel reading talks about the value of a single life. Jesus asks, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? … Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

God places such value on one.

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The Demands of Discipleship

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, wrote these words in 1937; a few years later, he was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer knew the cost of discipleship, and he was willing to pay the price.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus speaks of this cost in words that are both startling and intimidating. He enumerates three demands of those who would be his disciples: 1) hate your family, 2) carry the cross and follow him, and 3) give up all your possessions. Jesus goes on to tell two parables, one about a builder and one about a king, the point of which is “Don’t even start what you can’t finish.”

If we wish to call ourselves Jesus’ disciples, it behooves each of us to consider these three demands and to ask ourselves, “Can I finish what I have started?”

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Pride goes before destruction…

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

There is a common thread tying together the first reading from the book of Sirach and the Gospel reading from Luke, and that commonality is human pride, one of the so-called seven deadly sins.

Sirach, a book of the Apocrypha, was  written by a wisdom teacher, someone we would probably call a “life coach.” His purpose was to teach young men how to get along in life without forsaking God. He teaches that human pride is a sinful forsaking of God our Maker and results in ruin.

Jesus, speaking at a dinner party, comments on the guests’ scramble for the best seats at the dinner table by telling a parable. The moral of that parable is “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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Pride is clearly considered problematic. For English-speakers, the very word is problematic. Pride can mean “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect.” When we see parents displaying bumper stickers about their kids’ being on the honor roll, it doesn’t seem particularly sinful. When San Francisco hosts a Pride Day Parade, it is not meant to promote a deadly sin (though some might disagree with me there!). The kind of pride that is condemned as sinful is the state of mind in which a person lives as if they are the very center of Creation, that their accomplishments are unique, and that everything in this world matters only in so far as it affects them. Such a person forgets that everyone, and I mean everyone, is a beloved creature of God, and that every gift and every accomplishment ultimately derives from the Creator. But there is another way of looking at pride. One writer on patristic spirituality says, “[Pride’s] essential quality is not found in having too high an opinion of oneself so much as too low an opinion of everyone else” (Roberta Bondi, To Love as God Loves). I kind of like that!

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Opera Gala and Reception: Saturday 08.13.2016 at 7:30 p.m.

Postcard Front

2016 Sunset Music & Ats Opera gala returns with artists from the San Francisco Opera Chorus: Aimée Puentes, soprano; Sally Porter Munro, mezzo-soprano; Colby Roberts, tenor; Frederick Matthews, baritone. Dr. Bryan Baker accompanies on the piano. This popular annual event will feature songs and arias from opera and musical theater. A free reception follows the concert.

Date: Saturday August 13, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco
Tickets: $30 General, $25 Seniors/Students
Buy tickets online. (Tickets available at the door if not sold out.)

For more information visit http://sunsetarts.wordpress.com

Artists:
Aimée Puentes, soprano, has sung leading opera roles including, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Despina in Così fan tutte, Micäela in Carmen, Sister Constance in Dialogues des Carmélites, Pamina in The Magic Flute, Musetta in La Boheme, Nannetta in Falstaff, Valencienne in The Merry Widow, Paquette in Candide, and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. She has performed with the San Francisco Opera, Arizona Opera, Pensacola Opera, New Orleans Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Opera San Jose, Opera Southwest, West Bay Opera and Sacramento Opera.

Sally Porter Munro (mezzo-soprano) is a native of London, England and a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, England. While living in England she sang with the English National Opera, Royal Opera de la Monnaie in Brussels, and as an oratorio soloist in Europe. She also performed with the BBC Singers on radio and television. She is a full time member of The San Francisco Opera Chorus and has covered and sung a number of small roles. Ms. Munro has sung as a soloist with Pocket Opera, Berkeley Opera, North Bay Opera, San Francisco Lyric Opera, and Lake Tahoe Festival.

Tenor Colby Roberts has sung with opera companies throughout the country, including Orlando Opera, National Grand Opera, Connecticut Grand Opera, New York Grand Opera and New Jersey State Opera and has been part of the chorus with San Francisco Opera for over 30 years. His concert performances have taken him across the United States, and to Europe and Israel. Bay Area credits include performances with San Francisco Lyric Opera where he sang Alfredo in La Traviata, the title roles in Werther and Andrea Chenier, Rodolfo in La Boheme, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and Cavaradossi in Tosca.

Frederick Matthews (baritone) has been praised by audiences and critics alike for his appearances on the operatic and concert stages. International recognition came while on tour singing the role of “Jake” in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, when it was reported that he “projected evenly balanced singing and left an exquisite stage impression.” (Neue Presse – Augsburg, Germany) Now residing in the Bay Area, he has been seen in a variety of solo and bit parts with the San Francisco Opera.

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Greed: A Deadly Disease

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings for July 31, 2016

Years ago, when my cousin Leah was three or four years old, my mother was babysitting her. And Leah noticed a Snickers bar on the counter. She asked if she could have it. My mother explained that it was the last candy bar and that she would split the bar 50/50 with her, each getting exactly half. Now, my mother wasn’t about to hand a paring knife to a child. Instead, she took the knife and asked Leah to point to the exact middle of the candy bar. She said she would cut where Leah pointed. Now, the bar was about five inches long, but Leah pointed about half an inch from one end. My mother asked her, “Leah, are you sure that is the middle, that both halves are exactly the same size?” Leah nodded. Then my mother cut the bar at that point and quickly snatched the larger piece. Leah cried, but she learned a lesson about greed. Now, this story of my cousin is charming, but it is also instructive: we learn that greed infects us early on!

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The ACTS of Prayer

A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on July 20, 2016.

Lectionary Readings

Years ago we had a quiet day at the church where I was serving. We had a member of the Order of the Holy Cross to lead us and her theme was prayer and she told us a story I still remember. She said she had been re-assigned at some point by her order to another convent and it was quite a while before she saw some of her friends again. Then she happened to be at a meeting where there was one member of the order whom she hadn’t seen in quite a while and they greeted each other warmly and the nun who was telling the story said, she began by saying: “Oh, it’s so good to see you you look wonderful, I’m sorry I haven’t made more of an effort to keep in touch but I do appreciate the Christmas card you sent. And listen, now that you’re here, I wonder whether you can do something for me . . .” And she told us that she stopped at that point because she suddenly realized that she was going through the basic forms of prayer.

One handy way of remembering the various forms of prayer is a mnemonic device: the word ACTS – a-c-t-s – ACTS. There are four basic types of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. She had used them all: Adoration: “You look wonderful.” Confession: “I’m sorry I haven’t kept in touch.” Thanksgiving: “Thanks for the card. And Supplication: “Could you do something for me.?”

So that’s a full life of prayer and I wonder how many Christians have that full a prayer life. I’m sure lots of people get the “S” word taken care of: supplicating, asking God for things. We get in a mess and we cry for help. And that’s OK, that’s the S word, supplication, and we ought to use it. We need help, we know God can help, so we pray.

But I wonder how many ever get beyond supplication: asking for something for ourselves or for daily breadothers. Prayer often does begin that way and that’s alright, but it’s only a beginning and it’s not a very complete relationship. We all begin there. We begin there with all our relationships. A baby is hungry and cries for milk. That’s basic. But as we grow, we get more sophisticated in our inter-personal relationships. We learn about the C word: confession. Somewhere along the line, we get taught to “Tell your brother you’re sorry you kicked him.” So we learn, reluctantly, about confession.

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It’s OK to be Mary!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

This week a preacher is presented with an embarrassment of riches. We have the great Old Testament story of Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord in the form of three travelers, a famous proof-text for the doctrine of the Trinity. We have the reading from Colossians, which begins with an awe-inspiring hymn about the Cosmic Christ. And we have the familiar, but disturbing, story of Martha and Mary, found in Luke’s Gospel. Well, taking into account the overwork that I regularly witness in this parish, I have decided to focus on those five verses from Luke.

The story is short. The details are sparse. And most annoyingly, the point of the story is not readily apparent. The result is that biblical exegetes throughout the last two millennia have offered a wide variety of interpretations.

Our early Christian ancestors were fond of so-called “spiritual” interpretations. One Church Father by the name of Origen explained the story of Martha and Mary as an allegory contrasting the contemplative life (represented by Mary) with active life in the world (represented by Martha). While not excluding some value to a more literal interpretation, he thought that this story was included in the New Testament to encourage Christians who wanted to advance in spiritual attainment to abandon the world for either life in a monastery or life in a cave. St. Augustine, another advocate of allegorical interpretation, taught that Martha represented our current life in this world, where we suffer worry and distraction, and that Mary represented life in the Kingdom of God, where our carefree life will be focused solely on God.

My sense is that we here today might benefit more from a literal interpretation of this story. So let’s take a closer look at this story of a dinner party gone wrong.

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Proclaiming the Good News—Let Us Not Grow Weary

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Lectionary Readings

Today’s Gospel starts out with Jesus’ appointing precisely 70 evangelists to go out ahead of him preaching the Good News, for Jesus knows that he can’t do it all alone. Why 70, you might ask? Well, it turns out that in the book of Genesis, 70 is given as the number of Gentile nations in the world. So, there is a symbolic and prophetic reason for Jesus’ picking this exact number of evangelists; it represents the extension of his mission to the Gentiles—in other words, to people like most of us! I say it was an extension of Jesus’ mission, because in Luke 9, Jesus had already sent out the twelve apostles to spread the Good News among the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke tells us that Jesus sends out his evangelists to the Gentiles in pairs. And there are several possible reasons for this. One obvious reason would be mutual support. But another might have to do with the fact that in Jewish law, valid testimony requires two witnesses. And these evangelists, we are told, will be testifying for the Kingdom of God, as well as testifying against those towns that refuse to accept the Good News of God’s Kingdom. (As an aside, the Episcopal Church also encourages sending out home visitors two by two, but in this case it is to prevent misbehavior during home visitations.)

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Set Free to Love

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Lectionary Readings

On April 25, 1993, Mathew and I attended the LGBT March on Washington. That Sunday, we worshiped at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, the so-called “church of the presidents.” Some 800,000 people were gathered right outside the doors of that church. Yet, the preacher never once mentioned the event. And the only hint that anything was going on outside was in the Prayers of the People, where there was a brief intercession for “those who struggle for justice.” I left dismayed and disappointed by that particular Episcopal church. While today’s sermon is not exactly a Pride Day homily, I don’t intend to repeat the mistake of that preacher in 1993. About one million people will line Market Street today to celebrate Pride Day. This celebration will remember the advances made in the 47 years since Stonewall, as well as the tragedies along the way, such as the massacre just two weeks ago in Orlando. Undoubtedly, there will be a continuing reminder that the AIDS epidemic is still with us. I am proud to say that our bishop will be marching in the parade, and Episcopalians will be marching alongside other Christians to spread the message that God’s love is more inclusive than we can even imagine.

But enough about Pride Day! Let’s take a look at today’s scriptures. The reading from First Kings is about the calling of Elisha to be an apprentice prophet. It’s helpful to recall the context. Elijah was tired to the point of despair, and he had been sentenced in absentia to death. So, he sat down under a tree and prayed for a swift and painless release from life. Instead, God gave him a mission: first to anoint new kings for Israel and Aram, and then to anoint a successor for himself. Elijah obeyed…sort of! Instead of anointing the two kings, he sought out his successor first and ordained him as his apprentice by placing his cloak over him. The anointing of the two kings would have to wait—for Elijah needed his helper!

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