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The Parable of the Daring and Decisive Steward

By the Rev. Darren Miner

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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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A sermon preached at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, by Christopher L. Webber on November 8, 2015.

Lectionary Reading (Track 1)

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The last mail about the election on Monday came on Monday: “Vote for Proposition Q; Vote against proposition Q;” and the first Christmas catalogs showed up on Tuesday. It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Who knew there were that many companies selling through catalogs? And you don’t see some of the catalogs I see because I get more Bible-themed, church-oriented catalogs than most people. One catalog I received advertised a “widow’s mite” bracelet – which brings us to today’s gospel and the story of the widow’s mite. To make the widow’s mite bracelet the catalog people take genuine coins and set them in silver and sell them for $99.95. The widow in today’s gospel wouldn’t have been able to afford a “widow’s mite bracelet.” I went online also and found a widow’s mite pendant for $660. Earrings are priced at $485.

But let’s limit ourselves to the bracelet. What occurred to me was this: if every member of this congregation would put just one – not even two – just one of those widow’s mite bracelets in the offering each week, we could almost double our budget and do wonderful things. Is that impossible? Well, $99.95 (call it $100) is a tithe of an income of $1000 a week or $50,000 a year which is slightly less than the average household income in the United States and maybe not everyone here earns that much, and some of those here are couples with only one income between them or maybe married to someone who contributes to another church but some surely earn more. The average household income in San Francisco is $83,000 and I know that includes some very wealthy people – but also some who are homeless and unemployed. We can’t be that much below the average, and the tithe is the officially adopted standard of giving in the Episcopal Church.

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“Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you. . . ,”  A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on the Feast of the Dedication        September 21, 2014.

I have been asked to preach this morning about stewardship – and that’s easy. IncarnationChurch

I remember the bishop who used to say, “Just give until it hurts.”  He also used to say, “You can’t take it with you; you never see a Brinks truck following the hearse.”

Stewardship is easy.  Did you know that the Episcopal Church years ago adopted the Biblical tithe as the standard? I think it’s one of our best kept secrets!  But tithing makes stewardship easy: no worrying about how much to give: just put down your income and divide by ten and fill in your pledge.  Actually it’s not that easy because some think you should tithe before taxes and some afterwards and some think the whole tithe should go to the church and other charities afterwards and some think the tithe should be divided between the church and the Sierra Club and Red Cross and et cetera.  But the tithe sets a standard.

I’m always amused by parishes that resolve to elect no one to the Vestry who isn’t “tithing or working toward tithing.” “Working toward tithing” provides a lot of room to grow. Is that a five year plan or fifty?  It’s one thing if you are already at 9% and another if you’re at 1%.  The easy way to do it is just do it.

I like the story of the widow with small children and hardly any income who tithed to her church and it concerned the elders of the church that she was giving so much when she had so little so finally they went to her and said, “We’re so concerned for your situation that we’ve agreed you shouldn’t need to tithe.”  And her eyes filled with tears and she said “You are taking away the one thing that makes my life worthwhile.”

I also like the story of the man who began to tithe as a child. He made a commitment to God that he would tithe whatever he had.  When his allowance was a dime, he put a penny in the plate and when he got an after school job and earned a dollar a week he put a dime in the plate. When he got out of school and went to work for a hundred dollars a week (at MacDonald’s?) he put ten dollars in his offering envelope. And he did very well.  He got better and better jobs.  When he earned a thousand dollars a week he put a hundred dollars in the plate and when he earned ten times that he wrote a weekly check for a thousand dollars. But he kept doing better and better and finally he went to his pastor and said “When I was a child I made a commitment to God to return a tenth of whatever I was given but now I’m earning so much that that tithe is just way too big and I want you to ask God to excuse me from that commitment I made.” And the pastor said, “Well, I don’t think I can ask God to let you break your promise, but I can ask God to reduce your income back to where you feel you can tithe.”

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