Eighteenth Weekend After Pentecost (C/RCL); “Clever for Christ! Savvy for the Savior! Gung-Ho for the Gospel!”
September 17-18, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
E-mail forwards…. Depending on how busy the day is and how quick e-mail inbox-triage has to be, they only get a few seconds of my time before I hit delete. BUT I got a memorable one this week from my sister, entitled “Good People.” It caught my eye and interest because it was a series of photos, the first of which was a toddler holding a tissue up to a large flatscreen TV, trying to wipe the tears from the eyes of a man crying on the news. Another picture was of a fireman holding an oxygen mask over the face of a kitten he had just saved from a fire. Still another showed a motorist who had pulled over to the side of the road to give a drink from his water bottle to a dehydrated koala. (Let’s trust he didn’t then seatbelt the koala into his front seat and transport it anywhere!) My favorite, though, was a photo of Spiderman outside a window, sitting on a seat dangling from rope rigging, Squeegie in hand, cleaning the glass. The caption was: The employees of a cleaning company put on superhero costumes to cheer up kids in the hospital. After I read that I noticed the photo was taken by someone inside a room filled with medical equipment, and it included a child sitting up in bed and taking a picture of the superhero outside her window! How wonderful is that?! How creative and delightful is that?!
On the other end of the moral spectrum, sometimes we notice and even kind-of-marvel-at out-of-the-box creativity, initiative, hard work on the part of criminals, right? How about our South-of-the-Border friend, El Chapo, “Shorty,” Joaquín Guzmán? He’s a Mexican drug lord, head of the Sinaloa cartel, who escaped last year from a Mexican maximum security prison, exiting through a mile-long tunnel dug over 30 feet deep by his minions. Quite an engineering feat, it included lighting, ventilation and a motorcycle on rails, used to carry away the dirt of the excavation. ‘Must have been pretty noisy, digging a 2 foot wide hole beneath the shower in his cell, but the bad guys succeeded, right under the noses of the authorities. Okay, somebody or somebodies must have been paid off, but it’s still pretty amazing, isn’t it? This is the same guy who escaped from another Mexican maximum security prison in 2001. They’re still not sure if he was whisked away in a laundry cart or walked out to freedom dressed as a prison guard. To keep him behind bars this time they’ve multiplied by ten the number of cameras in the prison and they’ve reinforced the cell floors. They also keep Guzmán on the move, changing his cell location anywhere from every few hours to every few days. They realize they’re up against a smart cookie.
Which leads us to today’s parable, about which Jesus says, “…the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” (Luke 16:8b) The bad guys sometimes outwit the good guys! This is because sometimes the bad guys are more ingenious than the good guys! Terrorist attacks that succeed despite gargantuan counter-terrorism efforts are an example. (Thankfully the pipe bomb that went off in Seaside Heights today did not injure anyone, apparently thanks to a change in the start time of the race.)
It’s a tricky parable. Someone has said it is “the most difficult of all.”1 It can give me a headache. The point is NOT that we should all be dishonest! We may not like to think of Jesus being sarcastic but we really have to conclude Jesus IS being sarcastic 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.” (Luke 16:9)
We have to remember that a parable isn’t an allegory; it’s not a story in which everything stands for something else. The main point and one of the only points of this story is that we should use all our wit, all our intelligence, all our creativity, all our energy, to share the Good News! It’s news that’s too good to keep to ourselves.
Some folks might think: it’s enough of a draw for our faith family to exist, for this church building to stand here. But it’s not enough. More people than you might think have had no religious upbringing at all. Others have had a poor experience that turned them off so completely they’ve decided never to go back. Our experience is that this community, this liturgy, is where we connect with God in a unique and life-giving way. I truly believe that participation in this faith family can mean the difference between despair and hope in some folks’ hearts. I also believe that if more people knew the “Good People” who make up this community, if more people came into contact with us, more lives would be transformed by the Holy Spirit, more endings would be followed by beginnings, more burdens would be lightened and more Christ-light would shine in the darkness of this world. Do you think any of that?
And so we publish our Fresh Winds insert in the Asbury Park Press and get ourselves delivered to approximately 23,000 households 4 times this year. We had 3 people join us for our anti-Semitism conversation this past Wednesday because of our advertising in the paper. We’ve been publishing Fresh Winds for years. With the help of the proceeds of the Tuscan Dinner this spring, we’ve now expanded to an ad in Coffee News, available for free in about 63 local restaurants, diners and bagel shops. Our newest venture? We’ll be advertising on the circular taped to every pizza box that leaves a local pizzeria. What will we say? In big caps: THANK GOD FOR PIZZA! Underneath, once we have their attention, we’ll say, “Now that you’ve thanked God for that, how about joining us this weekend to thank God for your other blessings? ” We’re using the light touch as we Ninja-sneak ourselves into all those households. It’s a little corny – but it’s also being clever-for-Christ, and meeting the people where they’re at – sitting at the kitchen table enjoying pizza on a Friday night.
I was reminded today of a clever intervention by Christians that “brought to church” a Jewish child and so saved her life. Helena Pflaum is an elderly friend of our congregation who spoke here a couple years ago. She shared the story of how she became a Holocaust survivor. She was a teenager in Poland when the Jews in her town were being conscripted into forced labor. It became clear that deportation would be next. A Gentile friend of her father’s warned him that no one who left would return. That man implored her father to save her by any means. He knew a priest in another village, who gave him the baptismal certificate of a 12 year old child who had recently died. Her name had been Katherine. That became Helena’s name; she assumed Katherine’s identity to survive. She had many Christian friends, so she knew how to bless herself, prayers were familiar, and she knew how to act during Christian worship to blend in. She was the only one in her immediate family to survive the war. She credits the ingenuity and courage of her father’s friend and the priest she had never met.
May the Holy Spirit open small and big doors for us to walk through, inspiring us, en-courage-ing us to be “Clever for Christ! Savvy for the Savior! Gung-Ho for the Gospel!” We can’t simply wait to welcome folks once they arrive; we need to go forth and find them. As “children of light” may we be shrewd, creative, and wise in dealing with our own generation. Amen
1Peake’s Commentary, Volume XVI, p. 836.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham