Proper 20C (OT25)

image: Balm of Gilead by Deror_avi (wikimedia)


342: September 22, 2019

185: September 18, 2016

Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Voice in the Wilderness: Sean Andreas

Featured Musician: Whym

Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Initial Thoughts

  • Strange passage- engage, don’t run from it

  • Comes in the context of the three parables of lost things - sheep, coin, son. These were told to an audience which included sinners, tax collectors, and grumbling Pharisees. Then he tells the three parables (first two were last week, but lectionary skips ‘prodigal son’). “Then Jesus said to his disciples…” (16:1).

  • Context of Parables of lost sheep, coin, and son are important to understanding this perplexing parable and accompanying sayings.

Bible Study

  • Parable

    • Immediate connection to prodigal son - story of the prodigal Steward/Manager

      • “Squanders” - same word in 15:13

    • Manager is faced with getting fired, so he cuts the debts of two men, one 50%, the other 20%

    • The master, who was about to fire the manager, commends him for “acting shrewdly”

    • Squandering wealth

      • Do not be bound by the desire to keep wealth

      • Steward squanders wealth to “buy” the favor of the debtors

      • Relationship is always more important than wealth

    • Repeatedly cheating the rich man?!

      • Not necessarily- the steward may have reduced the amount owed by the amount his (the steward’s commission), therefore sacrificing his own profit in order to gain favor with the debtors.

      • “When he reduced the payments, the steward may have been simply forgiving his own cut of the interest. Or he may have been doing what the law of God commands, namely forgiving all the hidden interest in the contracts.”  (Barabara Rossing, Working Preacher)

      • Having relationships is more important than money

    • Historical Context (Barabara Rossing, Working Preacher)

      • “Rich landlords and rulers were loan-sharks, using exorbitant interest rates to amass more land and to disinherit peasants of their family land, in direct violation of biblical covenantal law. The rich man or "lord" (kyrios, v. 3, 8), along with his steward or debt collector, were both exploiting desperate peasants.”

      • “When he reduced the payments, the steward may have been simply forgiving his own cut of the interest. Or he may have been doing what the law of God commands, namely forgiving all the hidden interest in the contracts. As Richard Horsley describes, "To ingratiate himself with the debtors, he had them change the amount they owed on their bills to exactly the amount they borrowed, eliminating the hidden and prohibited interest."7 If the rich landlord was not a Gentile, but a Jew (the text does not say), he would know the Torah teaching against interest. The rich man, "suddenly recognizing that he needed at least to appear to be observing convenantal laws, commended his steward."

    • Why is the manager commended? He uses  what was entrusted to him for a higher purpose - his purpose may have been selfish - what is our purpose?

      • How do your finances, gifts, and talents serve your greater purpose?

      • What is your church’s purpose? What is your individual purpose?

      • “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18)

  • Sayings

    • “Makes friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you in eternal homes.” (16:9)

      • The steward uses dishonest money to secure a home (oikos)

      • Jesus does not promise homes (oikos) in vs 9, rather tents (skenas) 

      • This “draws from the story (use your wealth), but it counters the story (make friends for yourself). Instead of employing your money to create a group that owe you favors, make friends with your money. Friendship involves commonality and equality, not indebtedness. Halvor Moxnes comments, ‘To “make friends” by “unrighteous mammon,” therefore, was the opposite of enslaving people in need. To “make friends” by giving to those in need had a liberating effect. It meant to put people on the same footing.’” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 526)

  • “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (16:10-12)

  • “No slave can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and wealth.” (16:13)

    • In older translations, the greek Mammon is kept, where newer translations use “wealth” or “riches.” Mammon is a personification - or even deification - of wealth. Barbara Rossing suggests that “But perhaps we need to retain the personified idol named Mammon, as a reminder of how a financial system itself can function as an idol or "religion,"”

      • This idea of naming “Mammon” as the opponent of God shows reveals the dangerous idolatry that can so easily seep into our relationship with money.

    • Wealth is not evil - the worship of wealth is.

Thoughts and Questions

  • Many Churches are looking ahead to stewardship campaigns - what is the purpose of the Stewardship campaign? To what purpose will the church use the gifts entrusted to them?

  • If all we have is actually God’s (a very different view than many truly believe) - how are we using the gifts entrusted to us?

  • Articulate the vision.

  • Wealth is not bad- the worship of wealth is. How can wealth be used to build the Kingdom?

  • From The Fat Pastor blog: “

Perhaps the level of confusion that this parable stirs is evidence of how remarkably important it really is.  This one blows our mind, because it seems to go against all of our common understanding of fairness. 

And that’s just it. The Kingdom of God has little to do with fairness.  It has little to do with keeping proper ledgers and making sure that everyone gets what is their due.  The Kingdom of God is about relationships. It is about reconciliation. It is about forgiving our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  It is not an easy story to hear. It is sometimes an even harder story to live. It doesn’t make good economic sense. Jesus had a funny way of not making  sense.

It doesn’t make sense to plant a weed in a garden.  It doesn’t make sense to ruin a whole vat of flour with some leaven.  It doesn’t make sense to turn your other cheek, throw a party for people that can’t invite you to theirs, leave behind a flock because one sheep strayed, or throw a party for your good-for-nothing son who finally came back home with his tail between his legs.

It doesn’t make sense that God would come to earth and take on flesh.  It doesn’t make sense that God would claim me as his own, or invite me to the Table of Grace.  It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would do all he could for a people that responded by nailing him to a cross.  It doesn’t make sense that tomb was empty, or that disciples have been able to experience Christ in the breaking of bread for centuries since he was said to be dead.

This strange parable is a doozie.  It is a challenge. It is a challenge to look at what cancelling debt really looks like.  It is a challenge to take a close look at how I serve wealth over God. It is a challenge to look at how I spend money, how I save money, and how I treat others.  It is a strange one, all right. Maybe that’s how God intended it.”

Jeremiah 8:18 - 9:1

Initial Thoughts

  • The weeping prophet

    • Weeping and Strength - Healthy Masculinity

Bible Study

  • Power of Lamentation

    • “Too often as Christians, we edit our prayers to God. We speak frankly to friends, advisors, and paid professionals, but we don’t speak frankly to God. Jeremiah holds nothing back from God and models a prayer life of both praise and lament.” (Garrett Galvin, Working Preacher)

    • This prayer has been edited in our hymns. United Methodist Hymnal #375 “There is a balm a Gilead.” Listed as an “Afro-American spiritual,” it transforms the question into an answer.

      • The balm in Gilead is the love of Jesus.

    • Image of the summer over, harvest past, and not saved. A terrifying future lies ahead. Without a good harvest, starvation in the winter is a probability.

  • Good News of Lamentation

    • Prophet’s words are also God’s words.  “Much of the power of this text lies in the fact that, as we read the words that convey the prophet’s hurt, we suddenly realize that these same words are describing the hurt of Israel’s God.”  (James Newsome, Texts for Preaching, Year C)

    • The weeping and suffering of God implies that there is another way.

    • Lamentation can spur movement and change.

    • Repentance seldom happens without the pain of lamentation. As long as people are pretending everything is okay, nothing will change.

  • Is there a balm in Gilead?

    • For grief, there is no balm but time.

      • Rush to make things better, or to get people to cheer up is not helpful.

      • People cannot plan their recovery from grief.

      • Even if there are stages, there is not a clear ascending line through them.

    • For injustice, the only balm is justice.

    • Part of the problem of the people is that they look to God only when times were tough instead of keeping faithful through the times of comfort.

      • “Time and again, in response to dire warnings of impending doom, the people of Jerusalem tended to ask not, “What have I done?” but, “Where is God?” But that’s way too easy an out! It is too easy for us to blame God when something goes wrong in our world. If there is no ‘balm in Gilead,” no restoration of peace and justice in our world, no healing from the wounds of violence and greed and selfishness and dishonesty, it is not for lack of compassion in God!” (Alan Brehm, The waking dreamer)

Thoughts and Questions

  • You be the balm in Gilead

    • "Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice in the world, when He could do something about it...but I'm afraid He may ask me the same question." Anonymous

    • The balm in Gilead 

      • Awareness

      • Education

      • Activism

      • Faithfulness

  • “Jeremiah forces us to confront idolatry in our own lives. We can easily laugh at the Israelite worshiping wooden idols, but what really controls our life? Are we obsessed with the latest technology and consumer goods? We can see Israel’s unhealthy obsession with Zion here, but what do we fail to see in our own lives? I was recently at a children’s soccer game with many parents on the sidelines, but then I noticed about half the people were looking at their smart phones instead of their children.” (Garrett Galvin, Working Preacher)

1 Timothy 2:1-7 

Initial Thoughts

  • Check out conversation with Deb Krause- Abe Books

  • See last week for more on 1 Timothy as a letter

Bible Study 

  • Everyone - pantas anthropos

    • Possible reaction to gnosticism - everyone as opposed to those who have attained a certain knowledge (gnosis) Mitchell G Reddish, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ)

    • All means all - God in Christ erases the dividing lines and unites us, prayer practices and reinforces that belief (Thomas Oden, Interpretation: First and Second Timothy and Titus) :

      • All people should be prayed for (v.1)

      • All people should be saved (v. 4)

      • God is God of all people (v. 5)

      • Christ died as a ransom for all (v.6)

      • “Paul” proclaims this truth to all (v.7)

    • Doesn’t really mean all

      • “All men are created equal” - written by a slave owner in 1776

      • “Liberty and justice for all” - written in 1892 during Jim Crowe laws and women didn’t have the right to vote

      • “All are welcome here” - what many churches proclaim, but there is usually an implied asterisk: *except for conservatives, gays, people of color, people experiencing homelessness, people experiencing mental illness, children who are loud, etc.

  • Prayer - Stephanie Mar Smith Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ)

    • Pray for everyone because God wants everyone to be saved

      • "No one can feel hatred towards those for whom he prays.” John Chrysostom

    • Christ is the mediator between us and God - God hears our prayers because Christ vouches for us

    • Prayer transforms us from anger and division (v.8) to peace and quiet (v.2)

  • Pray for those in authority because they have the greatest sphere of influence

    • At the time of this letter most in authority were oppressing and persecuting Christians

    • The writer of Timothy is not suggesting rebellion but transformation

  • Godliness and dignity - what does this mean in today’s Christo-centric context?

    • What does Godliness and dignity look like?

    • Is it quiet pacifism? Or is it outrage and rebellion? Or the truth spoken in love?

  • Salvation - Stephanie Mar Smith Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

    • v. 4 God desires everyone (pantas anthropous) to be saved

    • Who is everyone?

      • Calvin - the elect will be chosen from all classes of people

      • Arminius - salvation is possible for all, but only some will believe - God knows which ones and they will be saved.

      • Exclusivist - salvation only in Christianity

      • Inclusivist - Christinanity is objectively true and the only way to salvation, but the grace of the Christian God extends salvation to non-Christians

      • Pluralists - the truth about God can be found in all religions and there may be many paths to salvation- though what salvation is may not be the same for every path

Thoughts and Questions

  • What is salvation? Who may be saved? What do we mean when we talk about salvation? Is it for all people?

    • Arminius and Calvin, for all their disagreement still believe non-Christians would go to hell.

  • What does it mean for us to pray for all people - especially those whom we don’t consider to be part of us? What does it mean to pray for those who persecute us, annoy us, oppress us, work to silence us, hurt us, frustrate us?

    • How might we engage in authentic prayer with our political, theological or cultural “enemies”?

  • Listen for the missing voice and expose the hypocrisy of this letter: The author calls for everyone to be prayed for and for everyone to be saved before going to to tell women to be submissive and silent and slaved to respect their masters

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Miserlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.