Tag Archives: wealth

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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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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Conjugating God: The Past, Present, and Future Tenses

By the Rev. Darren Miner

For a printable pdf version click here.

Gospel Reading

✠ In the Name of him who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.

Today is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, and Christmas is right around the corner. (But I bet you already knew that!) The Gospel reading we heard today is a familiar one. We hear the first part each year at the feast of the Visitation, and we hear the second part at the feast of St. Mary the Virgin. On those feast days, the focus is quite rightly on Mary. Today the focus is on what God has done in the past, continues to do in the present, and will do again in the future—and what that means for us!

The story takes place right after the archangel Gabriel has announced to Mary that she has been chosen to bear the Son of God. Her response is to visit her elderly cousin who is miraculously pregnant. The Church Fathers assure us that Mary does not visit her cousin Elizabeth so as to verify what the archangel had told her. Mary is not a doubter. But perhaps she just needs to share her joy with one who will understand it.

At the moment that Mary enters Elizabeth’s house and greets her cousin, the child in Elizabeth’s womb, the prophet John the Baptist, recognizes the presence of his Lord in Mary’s womb and gives a mighty and prophetic kick. At that same moment, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and with a mighty shout, she prophesies the message that her unborn son cannot yet proclaim: namely, that Mary and her child are uniquely and supremely blessed by God.

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Vanderbilts, Refugees, and Us

By Christopher L. Webber

Gospel Reading

Click here for a printable pdf version.

A few years ago I read a book called: “The Power of Their Glory: AThe Gilded Agemerica’s Ruling Class: The Episcopalians.” It was published long before I read it, almost forty years ago, and I remember that when it first came out I read reviews of it but I didn’t think I could stand reading it so I didn’t. And then, ten or fifteen years ago, I decided I needed to read it because of another project I was working on, so I did.

Don’t bother. It’s a basically silly book – and boring. After a while you get tired of the name dropping, and there’s no real point to it: What it tells you is that a lot of silly people had more money than they knew what to do with and many of them were Episcopalians. But so what? Did you know that Cornelius Vanderbilt had a yacht with a crew of forty, formal dinner china vanderbllt yachtfor 108, and eight kinds of crystal glasses in the bar. It cost $7,000 a month to keep the thing in dry dock and a lot more to take it out. And that was in the 30s when a thousand dollars was still a lot of money. Did you know that Grace Vanderbilt spent five million 1900 dollars to build a “cottage” as she called it in Newport, RI.?

Do you care? None of that has much to do with you or me and the current crop of zillionaires make the old ones look like amateurs. It doesn’t have much to do with you and me but it does have something to do with the Gospel which talks again and again about wealth, and about riches, and about poverty, and about those in need.

It sometimes seems as if, every Fall, as we gear up for the annual stewardship campaign the Gospel comes back to this theme of wealth and poverty. I think in fact that it’s a theme that comes up year round, but we are especially aware of it in the Fall because we’ve just begun to plan about stewardship and it makes us more aware of what the gospel is always saying and what it told us this morning: “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.”

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Poverty, David, and Us

A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on August 2, 2015.

The story of David and Bathsheba  is not a love story. In spite of Darryl Zanuck and Cecil B DeMille it’s a story of moral values  in conflict with human passions,  It’s about biological urges,  not love. I said last week  that marriage is an evolving institution. The Bible tells us of wives being purchased,  of multiple wives, of wives and concubines. Love is an occasional aspect of Biblical marriage but not primary, not necessarily expected. And nowhere do we find  the language beloved of conservatives that marriage consists of one man and one woman.

In all the long story of David,  forty-some chapters in First and Second Samuel and the First Book of Kings  love is mentioned maybe a dozen times but never with David as the subject.  David, so far as the Bible tells us, never loved anyone. Jonathan loved David,  and Saul’s daughter Michal loved David, and Judah and Israel loved David, but we are never told David loved anyone.  He didn’t even know Bathsheba’s name until the day he saw her and wanted her.  He wanted her and as king, he got her,  but it was not about love.

We talked about that story last week  and how lust led to murder, but don’t get distracted by the love angle  or even the sex angle.  Yes, this is a story of moral failure  but I think we miss the point if we put the focus on the adultery. That may be more interesting, it may make a better movie or headline, but I think the emphasis is on property  – property and robbery –  and we don’t see it because adultery is more interesting.  But we have to think ourselves back  three thousand years to a day when women were property first of all  and love was an occasional bonus.
What we heard today is the prophet Nathan’s indictment of David and it is put in terms of property.  Nathan indicts David for robbery, not adultery.  David had done his best to cover his tracks  but a king can’t hide. A king is a public figure  surrounded by courtiers and word gets out. Word got out and Nathan knew he had a job to do: because someone needed to call David to account and because no one, not even the king, maybe especially the king, can flout the law of God. Someone needs to call the sinner to account.  Someone needs to call the sinner to account  no matter how much power or money they have. But it isn’t easy to speak truth to power. It’s not easy to get past  the third assistant secretary.

It’s also dangerous to speak truth to power.  Power insulates.  We have separation of church and state not because the church has no role in the state but because it does and can only fill that role effectively  if it is separate and unentangled and free to call the state to account  in a way an established church can’t do. There were priests in Israel  but they were paid to serve the state not to criticize it. Nathan the prophet was free with nothing to lose but his life. David had dealt with Uriah and he could deal with Nathan if he had to.

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The Problem of Wealth

A homily given by Christopher L. Webber on August 19, 2014.

Bible Readings: Ezekiel 28:1-10 and St. Matthew 19:23-30

The two readings this morning deal with wealth, the problem of wealth, which may not be the problem most on your mind this morning – there’s said to be 1% of the population that has a wealth problem and most of us are more like the 99%. But wealth is one of the major themes not only of the Bible as a whole but especially of the Gospels and especially of Jesus’ teaching and it should be our concern because whether you and I are wealthy or not we are members of a wealthy society.

Let me give you a few statistics to put that in perspective: average household income: US – $53,000; Norway and Switzerland and Luxemburg do better and Germany is close at 45,000 and England at 39,000 but Mexico is 10,000 and Haiti is 860 – less than three dollars a day. No wonder there are illegal immigrants.

The Old Testament reading speaks directly to this situation. The prophet Ezekiel is denouncing the prince of Tyre and what’s interesting about that is that the experts tend to doubt that Ezekiel was ever in Tyre or even near it. Ezekiel was born in Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon in the 6th century before Christ and Tyre is in modern Lebanon north of Israel. In those days it was an island with two of the best harbors in the eastern Mediterranean which were the source of its wealth – and it had great wealth. Alexander the Great came along three centuries later and built a causeway to the island to capture it and its wealth. But Ezekiel is holding it up as an example, a city of legendary wealth, whose people imagine that all that wealth came to them because of their godlike wisdom.

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