Rev. Jon Greene, Deacon
Grace Episcopal Church, Radford, VA
September 22, 2019
Proper 20, Year C
1 Timothy 2:1-7
May change bring hope, may hope bring love, may love bring change.
Sometimes a sermon just jumps onto the page.
Sometimes it does not.
This week’s sermon, for me, falls in the latter category.
You see preaching on the Parable of the Dishonest Manager is tough.
In preparation for this sermon I did a lot of research looking at a bunch of bible commentaries. I found a lot of not so reassuring comments such as the following from the experts:
· this parable is difficult to read and difficult to preach.
· It defies any single satisfactory interpretation”
· None of the parables of Jesus has baffled interpreters quite like the story of the dishonest (manager)”
Suffice it to stay I was struggling and a bit intimidated.
I felt like I had an angle to write a sermon, but I was not really sold on it.
As part of a routine email exchange that my deacon school class maintinas, I sent an email to my classmates lamenting my situation.
I ended the email with the entreaty, “Come, Holy Spirit. Come!”
And She DID!
A gift of God’s grace came from an unexpected direction.
I’ll share that with you, but first I want to tell a story.
Two proud grandparents had taken their adult children and their partners out to the local pancake house for breakfast.
The first and only grandchild was just starting to eat adult food and they were looking forward to her experiencing pancakes for the first time.
They ordered every kind of pancake on the menu and had them served family style. The toddler loved them and they were having a grand time.
Then the grandfather noticed an elderly man eating breakfast by himself and frequently looking over and smiling at the toddler as she entertained the table.
So the grandfather snuck over to the waitress and asked to pay the man’s bill anonymously and that, instead of the bill, could she please give him a card that he carried in his wallet that said:
Smile! You’ve just been tagged. Experiments in Anonymous Kindness is the name of the game, and now—you’re it!
A challenge to pass on the gift of kindness.
The waitress came over a short time later and informed the grandfather that the man had passed on the smile card and paid for another table when he left.
Then that second table paid for someone else.
Then the third.
Before they left, half of the restaurant had their breakfast purchased by someone else.
Now, our friend, the dishonest manager, has been caught by his boss, the rich man, as a result of his dishonesty or incompetence or both.
He is freaking out.
He can’t do manual labor and he refuses to beg. How will he live?
He is desperate and out of options. Things look grim.
He comes up with a plan…he will cheat his master, who is going to fire him anyway.
So he offers his master’s debtors to write down their accounts.
And these are not minor write-offs.
Writing off 50 measures of oil (a measure is about 9 gallons) means he wrote off 450 gallons of oil. At today’s prices, that’s worth about $9000.
The 20 measures of wheat is about 240 bushels. At $5 a bushel, that’s about $1000 today.
The plan is that these folks will now owe the dishonest manager and will “welcome him into their homes.”
And it works…but not in the way intended. For the master, the guy he is ripping off, commends him.
Then Jesus concludes with the “moral” of the parable when he says, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Now there is A LOT to unpack here. And, clearly, our relationship to wealth, to money, is central to this parable, but I want to talk about something else.
I want to talk about Grace.
Meriam Webster defines “grace” a number of ways, but the one that is germane here is “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”
The manager does NOT have pure motives, but he gives the debtors a gift, unmerited assistance…Grace.
And even though this grace came from the dishonesty and darkness of his heart, the fruit of that grace was more grace: from the debtors and, most importantly, from his Master.
Grace begets Grace.
Like the name of this parish: Grace Church.
Now I’m not sure why that name was chosen, maybe one of you have the story; it might be directed toward another definition of Grace, maybe a “state of Grace”.
But I’d like to think that whatever the original intent, we might take on the mission of providing “unmerited divine assistance for people’s regeneration or sanctification.”
I would hope we would think of ourselves as instruments, as agents, of God’s Grace.
You know the world is a mess these days…everywhere you look there is bad stuff going down.
I’ve learned a new term: “Deaths of Despair;” these are deaths associated with drugs, alcohol or suicide—last year in the United States there were about 200,000 deaths of despair.
The Church is struggling too, average Sunday attendance for the Episcopal Church was down 4% in 2018.
Our nation is divided politically, and our political leadership can’t seem to do anything but bash the other side.
Our planet is groaning under the weight of the burdens we humans have placed on it.
Things are bad. As bad for us as they were for the dishonest manager.
What can we do?
Well, we have a small group here at Grace that is called, The Way of Love: Joining God.
They are in the midst of a prayer- and data-based discernment about how we can join God in the community and live the Way of Love.
To act as instruments of God’s Grace in a broken world.
The very name of our parish implores us to do so.
The House of Bishops is meeting this week. When Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gave the opening sermon, he said:
the way of love… seeks not one’s own self-interest, but the good and the well-being and the welfare of others. That is a way of love that can save you and save this world.
The Way of Love, being an instrument of God’s Grace, can save you, just as it saved the dishonest manager (in spite of himself).
And it can save this world as Grace begets Grace.
As a little snowball can grow into an avalanche, as it did in the pancake house, small acts of kindness can, and will, grow into an avalanche of God’s Grace.
As I researched this sermon, I probably read 20 different analyses of this passage and found none of them really spoke to me.
In response to my entreaty to my deacon school classmates, one of them, Reverend Karla Hunt from Richmond, shared with me a discussion she had with one of the patrons of their food pantry on the passage that very day.
This person observed that the dishonest manager “has mercy on his master’s debtors so that they will have mercy on him. By this he learns how to serve the correct Master….”
I pondered on this thought and went from there to “mercy begets mercy” and to “grace begets grace”,
And here we are, with a gift offered by a patron of the food bank to my friend, Karla, which she in turn offered to me and I now lay before all of us to ponder.
Grace begetting Grace.
This is how the Holy Spirit works. This is how the Way of Love works.
So I lay a gift of Grace before you. A gift presented to me by a friend, presented to her by a friend.
The question, the challenge, before us, is how will we collectively pass it on.
That is the Way of Love.
That is being an Instrument of God’s Grace.
That is our name.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Kindle Location 3428). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 Jon Bloom, Jesus Commends Shrewd Money Managers, Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-commends-shrewd-money-managers , retrieved 9/16/19
 Bartlett and Taylor.
 Stories of Kindness from Around the World, Pay-It-Forward Chain Reaction at a Restaurant,
KindSpring: Small Acts that Change the World. https://www.kindspring.org/story/view.php?sid=18183 retrieved 9/19/19
 Jack Wellman, Parable of the Shrewd Manager: Summary, Meaning and Commentary,” Patheos, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/11/17/parable-of-the-shrewd-manager-summary-meaning-and-commentary/ retrieved 9/16/19
 Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop’s sermon at opening Eucharist of House of Bishops’ fall 2019 meeting, September 18 2019, Episcopal News Service, retrieved 9/19/2019 from https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/pressreleases/presiding-bishops-sermon-at-opening-eucharist-of-house-of-bishops-fall-2019-meeting/
 Karla Westfall Hunt, email Sept 18, 2019.