Luke 16 1-13
I have here a kaleidoscope-made of clear glass. (Invite the congregation to look through the viewfinder, and make the point that no two sightings will be identical)
Everyone will see a different picture.
So it is with parables, and this particular one today of the Dishonest Steward is extremely difficult to interpret.
Many have tried to do so; many of these interpretations, theories and speculations might bore us silly if we were to read them all.
As Christians, we pray to be inspired by the Holy Spirit as we read scripture, so it follows that no-one really has a monopoly on the actual meaning of them, as God may have a different word for each of us.
Christians can only pray for understanding of God's word for the present moment.
The amazing thing is that everyone is able to take away something different from such simple stories.
The parable itself:
Let us try and see right into the heart of what is happening…
A Steward is being commended by his master for being sharp-minded and quick witted!
He is an 'engaging rascal.'
He knows his time is up as steward; he assesses his situation, takes an audit!
He sees quite clearly in his future, before him is an impending disaster his own 'doomsday', and decides to take action, and lessen the pain of it all.
He has a determined attitude; he is resolute and takes immediate action.
He does not sit around fearfully 'waiting for the chop'; he doesn't just sit there depressed and irritable and devoid of all hope.
No he has what we call 'nous'. He acts before it is too late to do anything at all!
It's his whole attitude that is commended by his master.
And so he makes friends in his community, through his deeds; by remitting a large bulk of their debts, and so he places himself in their affections forever.
OK so now we've some understanding of what is happening… but applying it to our own situation is even harder.
Let us just say for a moment that the master, as in most parables, is God.
Also let's imagine that the character of the steward represents our church today as it looks towards the future and hopes it will survive!
Our own Church of England's figures, quoted in the Times this week, show a further decline in average Sunday attendance, falling by 4% between 2001 and 2002, to just over a million. There has also been a steady decline across both adult / child categories.
How long can this go on until OUR church as we know it, is non-existent?
What about an audit? a serious look at our own facts and figures, say in the last five years.
Let's do a graph, and see if our own figures are full of doom?
Could our church situation be likened to the impending disaster that hangs over the head of the crafty steward?
Perhaps we can learn a lesson today from him…and his methods.
Let's ask ourselves how will the church face reality, redeem itself, resource itself, and become renewed, if it is true that its days are numbered?
What did the steward do?
I believe we have to get realistic, just like the steward did, and not hide our heads in the sand.We need to face up to certain facts.
The first being that we, as a church in general, have a bad reputation, even if we don't personally don't deserve that label; it seems that before we even open our mouths to witness or encourage others to join us, the door has already closed.
the media take us to pieces…
quite rightly, for our divisions, our disagreements, our judgemental attitudes, some denominations more than others…) our depravity in some cases and our liberalism on one hand and on the other our immovability.
But to be fair… in all families, there are those who break laws, who come over heavy handed, there are those who are lax, those who give the family a bad name and so on.
It doesn't mean the entire family is rotten or guilty, does it?
There is no more beautiful a faith than Christianity, we have to show this in our lives and in our words and actions!
There is no more beautiful a Lord and Master as Jesus. He cannot be faulted!
Secondly the steward was prepared to do an about turn.
Whether we like it or not, the younger generation, think that we have a stranglehold on worship, on the prayers we pray, the hymns we sing; they think our traditional ways are as if set in stone, and they say in a report in the Times this week, that they want spirituality, but not church; that they would even find a quiet church attractive.
The difficulty to church leaders is how to make those church doors seem less intimidating and dull!
How about getting resourceful, and taking an audit also of our strengths, and what IS going well for us, where our strongest gifts lie, and in whom will look to for strength, we must learn to use and encourage our visionaries, and encourage and support these who dare to act before it's too late? ‘Fresh expressions’ needed! (new movement within the church)
But we can all play a part in going where the people are.
We each have access to the most unique circle of friends.
How can God use us to reveal himself to them? Are we brave enough to take action or chat our faith?
We must also go where the glory of God is revealing itself in our churches and learn to look around us and see what IS working and go with it. We will need to become engaging rascals, with nous, and be ready to put into practice the RADICAL REFORMS our leaders (or future leaders) think necessary.
Over the years we have been encouraged to play our part, attend regularly, as long as we are right with God, and we've made our communion, what else matters? Many think this way. This is an individualistic approach to faith, but it is certainly not a Christian one. I believe we will have to give account of ourselves before our Maker, for the fields of harvest which were sadly laid to waste, rather than be harvested.
And so we reflect today on a very crafty servant, who probably enjoyed the end task far more than his original brief... and who probably found he enjoyed making others happy for the first time in his life~ releasing other's from their burdens and setting them free-er. He became the bearer of Good News, he became a people person~approachable~merciful~ a friend to all. I'm sure we can all achieve this.
And so we ask ourselves this:-
Will OUR quick thinking, sharp minded, heartfelt actions and attitudes, be commended by our master, when He comes in glory.