1 Timothy 2. 1 – 7
Luke 16. 1 – 13
We’re celebrating our feast of Dedication today, the anniversary of the foundation of our beautiful church 143 years ago. But I decided to keep the readings set for this Sunday, rather than the ones we have for the Dedication each year. Having just heard the Gospel, you might be wondering why on earth I’ve done it!
We’ve just heard one of Jesus’ most difficult parables. Or so the Bible commentaries tell us. But I think it has something profound to say to us in the situation we find ourselves in today: as a community of faith, in a dislocating period of national mourning, and facing an uncertain and difficult winter.
People find this parable so difficult because, morally, it seems to put Jesus in a rather concerning light. Is he really commending dishonesty and deceit?
But the key thing to remember about parables is that they are not moral tales. They exist rather to tell us about the nature of God, and the work of Christ.
Because if you drill right down to the core of this parable, what does the so-called unjust steward do? He swaps material gain for friendships. He invests in relationships.
Because he knows that the money could soon be gone, when the master delivers his judgement and throws him out on his ear. There’s no security there. But the relationships – the friendships that he has made through his generosity – are where the true security is to be found.
In short, generosity is the best investment. And that’s because generosity is the investment that God has made in us.
He has invested in the closest of relationships with us, in sending his Son to become one of us. And not just to become one of us, but to save us from our sins; to reduce our bill of sinful debt to God, just like the steward cut the huge burden of the debts of the tenants.
And it shows us even more about how God deals with us. We find this parable difficult because we would expect the master to be even more disgusted with the steward after cutting these deals with his tenants.
But he surprises us all by commending him – by forgiving him, and withholding judgement. And that’s how God deals with us. Despite our falling away from him time and time again, he welcomes us back, and forgives us: he surprises us with his mercy, when all we might expect is condemnation and judgement.
I said just before that this has something to say to us in our period of mourning, as we prepare for the late Queen’s funeral tomorrow.
Jesus’ last lines of the parable point to a tension that runs throughout the text, and indeed throughout our experience of life.
The tension in trying to live the life that God calls us to, in a world that makes it very difficult to do so. ‘You cannot serve God and wealth,’ Jesus says. And yet, in this challenging and complex story, Jesus acknowledges that this tension is a part of our life on earth. It’s how we navigate it, that matters.
And I think The Queen was a great example to us of how to live in these two competing ways.
It’s hard to see it at the moment amidst all the great ritual, and the outpouring of love from the nation on The Queen’s death. But the monarchy in this age is actually an extremely fragile institution.
The Queen has had to be a very shrewd operator over her many long years – there probably hasn’t been a day that’s gone by when she hasn’t had to think of what’s best for the institution – what’s going to preserve it for generations to come.
And we know she has gone through terribly difficult times. There were moments in the 90s when it seemed the days of monarchy were well and truly numbered.
And this immense pressure and fragility could’ve turned anyone into a selfish figure, focussed solely on their own security.
But it didn’t do that to The Queen. It didn’t do that, because she always sought to live the life that God called her to, even though, in many ways, her role made it very difficult for her to do it.
In her speeches, she always pointed us to something greater than the crown – she always pointed us to God, and the power of living in his way.
And because she strived to live this way – because she knew the great love and strength that God had invested in her – she invested in the relationships.
She always sought to bring people together; whether it was the commonwealth of nations, or the people of our own nation divided over racism, or political issues, or whatever it was. She took such care over meeting ordinary people, and took an interest in their concerns. Right til the end of her life.
And I think all of this can give us some hope, and a way forward in the uncertain and difficult months to come. It will be tempting for us to batten down the hatches and preserve what we have – to try to keep some personal security in material things.
But we have to hold on to the life that God calls us to – we have to remember that generosity is the best investment. Only by coming together as people in relationship will we be able to navigate the difficulties ahead of us.
So on this feast of Dedication today, instead of just celebrating the foundation of our building: let us dedicate ourselves anew to the commitment we made at our baptism. That we will strive to live the life of God, and not the life of the world. That we will invest in one another in this community – in our time, in our prayers, in our giving.
And that we will always point to something bigger than ourselves, and bigger than the complicated world we live in – God, and his surprising and wonderful forgiveness. Amen.