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Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 / Psalm 79:1-9 / 1 Timothy 2:1-7 / Luke 16:1-13

First, some thoughts connected to the reading from Jeremiah. Following the tragic bus crash and deaths of two UVic students on the road to Bamfield last weekend, the Multifaith centre (the new name for the Interfaith Chapel) was open for students and others as a place to gather, to  talk or sit quietly, light a candle, have some tea or something to eat, be alone or with others. All of that happened on Monday, with small groups of students, a few who were on the bus, a mother of one of the students, faculty and others. The University Chancellor, Shelagh Rogers, was there for almost three hours meeting students and others (She is wonderful.) other chaplains were there for parts of t her day. Two therapy dogs were there, Ian the basset hound who’d lay o his back for anyone to rub his belly, and a huge Newfoundland who put her head and drooled on anyone who wanted or didn’t want the attention. I spent some time there later Monday afternoon , as some students came and went, one student who came by themselves, asking where could they go and what could they do to remember, and stressing that they didn’t know anyone on the  bus, but just wanted to come and be there in the quiet for a while. Others came for yoga and “learn to meditate” programs. Many embraced as they arrived, and it was evident there was a different intent in their being there given the tragedy and loss. It was a good and safe and secure place to be together. What an important resource for the campus community, the place, the people and the spiritual/interfaith programs. It’s a reminder of how important Multifaith Services along with Health and Counselling and other student services are at these, and at all times.  

On Tuesday afternoon there was a University sponsored gathering in the BiblioCafé at the entrance to the Library. The paper said there was about three hundred people from the Campus community there, to hear a few words form Indigenous Elder May Sam, Shelagh Rogers, a student representative from UVSS, and the University President, speak about community and caring in response to the deep sadness and loss. Counselors and Chaplains were present and visible for anyone who wanted to talk. The family of the young woman who died were there, the weight of their grief so evident, but surrounded with support. And again, there was a different intent in the conversations and embracing, hopefully everyone feeling a sense that they were not alone in the shock and grief.  

On Wednesday, we gathered for Wine before Supper, our ecumenical Communion and meal for students. Laura Kavanaugh, the Presbyterian chaplain, led worship and chose this Sunday’s reading from Jeremiah, rather than the Gospel that we typically use. She sensed rightly that the prophet’s lament would be fitting for the students and everyone who gathered. And they were, hearing the prophet’s sadness for the people, our grief and sadness together, and God’s hurt for God’s poor people, and the prophet’s and God’s longing for a balm of healing in Gilead, and here and now, for a spring of water, a fountain of tears for the slain of God’s poor people. One student shared it was the anniversary of their Dad’s suicide, and later in conversation that Jeremiah’s lament and being together was a word of grace for them as well. The grace of God’s lament with God’s por people, in words and being together, in bread and wine, and good soup and conversation after; there is a balm of healing in Gilead, and at UVic, and here in these same gifts; and we pray also for so many others who suffer, in so many other circumstances and parts of the world, a balm of healing and hope, by God’s grace.

The words of the gospel for this Sunday are a story and sayings from Jesus that are difficult to understand. Jesus’ parable of the rich owner and a dishonest manager is tricky, but also fun, in its telling. The dishonest manager, found out, and self admittedly too weak to dig and too proud to beg, continues the dishonesty by inviting the owner’s debtors to reduce what tey owe, in hopes of gaining their favour and maybe a welcome into their homes. And what happens? The owner commends the manager for shrewdness! What?  

And here’s another interesting surprise. Do you know or can you guess what Jesus story in Luke’s Gospel comes just before this one? The parable of the man who had two sons, the prodigal and the gracious father. Interestingly, there are significant parallels between the two stories. The younger one ‘squanders’ his inheritance as the manager ‘squanders’ the owner’s property. We hear the younger son and the manager think to themselves what they need to do to get out of their situation, and both come up with a plan. And both are met with the graciousness of the Father or master, who embrace or commend them, but for different reasons. The first story is one of the most beloved of Jesus’ stories of God’s surprising grace, (that the older sibling cannot accept). But this Sunday’s story remains strange and difficult to understand, despite the parallels between them.  

It is likely that today’s story of Jesus originally ended with the master’s commending the manager. And what follows are various sayings of Jesus or the early church to try to explain what the parable means. It may be comforting that the early Biblical writers struggled with what this story means as I think we do and offer various ideas and explanations. Is it to commend acting shrewdly as others in the world do? It is making friends with dishonest wealth? Is it being faithful or dishonest with a little or what belongs to others, as proof of being faithful with true riches and what is your own?  Or is it about not being able to serve two masters, God and wealth?  

I wonder if Jesus’ story, likely told to peasant folk, but with the Pharisees with their power and riches listening in, doesn’t in part mock the systems of ownership and management and the dishonestly and shrewdness that are so much a part of them, and all of it so far from the reality of those who are without such power and privilege? Jesus’ first hearers, might have smiled broadly at the struggles of the owner and manager, laughed at the manager’s writing down the owner’s debt, but whooped and hollered at the manager being commended by the owner for the dishonesty of it all. I wonder.  

And I wonder if the various sayings don’t suggest, to us at least, the real issue is the failure of any attempts to serve two masters, specifically God and wealth. And the shock of God’s graciousness in the end is what equals us all and frees us for a different relationship with wealth, ownership and stewardship, and the indebtedness we all share, and the forgiveness of debts we can all generously give, by God’s grace.  

As a person with wealth and privilege, do I see the possiblility and responsibility to live and act in ways that treat all others as equals, and seek to see others lifted up and that all have enough, turning the way the economics of this world and ownership and indebtedness operate now, completely upside down for good, for God’s good purpose. Wouldn’t that be a healing balm for the world’s and our communities’ and nation’s poor and disadvantaged, and so also, privileged and powerful?  

And a brief reference to the second reading and its call to pray for everyone, including leaders. God knows our leaders need prayers, but first for those who are harmed by the actions of a prime minister about which much has been said and written, that this is a symptom, indicative of the racism people face daily in our nation and communities, and that first our prayers and actions are in truth and solidarity with and for those who are harmed, and for the healing balm of systemic and our own transformation as people and a church and nation against racism in all forms and in equality and reconciliation together.  

And a prayer also for young people and their leadership, staging sit-ins and die-ins and calling the world to respond now to the climate crisis. Jennifer Henry, Director of Kairos, an ecumenical justice and peace coalition of which the ELCIC is a member church, offered the following prayer:

Creator, Giver of Life, Divine Love

In these days young people speak the prophetic word - ‘life’ - to all the world.

Crossing borders and languages, cultures and traditions, they unite in a growing movement to preserve life on this planet, our common home.

As we engage in a Week for Future,

We claim Your spirit in strikes and marches;

We claim Your wisdom in teach-ins, die-ins, and vigils;

We claim Your transformative power in system change and change of heart.

As the youth of this world lead us to a living future, may we follow with courage and determination until Your loving dream of right relation in and with all creation is made real in or the name of all this is holy, a healing balm for all creation, let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.