The Gospel of Inclusion by Brandan Robertson, Book Review

There are many books available on the market that explore what it means to be part of the LGBT+ community in the Church of Christ. Those that are opposed to full LGBT+ inclusion often use scripture to make their point known for all that will hear. In the process they often neglect that everyone is created in the image of God.

Brandan Robertson presents a well-researched proclamation as he advocates for a full inclusion of LGBT+ people in the church today. He brings to the forefront that we are all called to be in relationship with God and it is of great importance how we live out that relationship in the rest of our lives. He addresses the six “clobber” passages that have been used time after time to berate the LGBT+ community. These passages have always been taken out of context when used in this manner and as people of God, we have learned a lot as we grow into relationship with one another. Robertson writes, “Any relationship centered on a consensual commitment to sacrificial love for the good of another is a holy relationship, and any attempt to break that commitment is seen as less than God’s desire for humanity.”

This resource compliments his previous offering, True Inclusion, which discussed what it truly meant to be a welcoming church in the world today. Doing such, requires change among our thought patterns and the denigration of those that we see as different. This is not just true for the LGBT+ community, but also for immigrants, gender, race, and any other way that we as broken people decide to divide.

This is not an easy step for the church to take, because of the damage that has been done over time. The Gospel has been co-opted by humanity to use to its own advantage in various times and places. It is time to speak up and be bold in our proclamation. Robertson shares, “We must know that our silence is being complicit in oppression. Silence is opposed to the gospel. We must, in Christ’s name, speak up. We must be willing to sacrifice our positions of privilege, power, and comfort in order to lift up the oppressed and give the voiceless back their voices.”

There is redemption to be found in Christ and we are not called to get in the way of the Holy Spirit working among the people of God. We are called to love and inclusion. Brandan Robertson’s book shares this in a way that is full of wisdom as well as from a full heart that has experienced many things. It speaks boldly and calls us forth in love.

Being Drawn to Jesus

 

priest holding hostia
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

August 12, 2018

John 6:35, 41-51

When I was getting ready to enter fourth grade, I asked my parents if I could play football. I had played baseball for a couple of years and decided that I wanted to try a new sport. It didn’t take me long to realize that I did not like running as a fourth grader. Although, I would come to look forward to it as I got into my late twenties.

I begged my mother to let me not play because I disliked all the running and it seemed that whenever I did something wrong, the coach would make me run around the practice field. I remember the sobbing that took place in the back of the car and my mother’s words that I would finish what I started. I am proud to say that I did finish out the season and that I never put on a football uniform again!

This could also explain my fear of physical education in junior high and high school. I was not very good at team sports and when we would line up to be picked my anxiety would rise because I knew that I would be one of the last ones to be picked. This truly hurts when you are that age and did not do much for my self-confidence. I would focus more on academics and look for other ways to be part of something. This could be why I chose to play tennis in high school because at the most you were only on the court with one other teammate. While we may feel left out, Jesus draws us into himself, to love us and so that we can begin a relationship with God that will direct and guide our life.

This morning, it appears that Jesus is on the outside looking in. The Jewish leaders that have gathered turn hostile in our lesson as we work deeper into the sixth chapter of John. Unlike the other gospels, Jesus has no problem declaring that he is the son of God. He expands that image even more in this chapter by declaring that he is the bread of life. A bread that fills one for all of eternity.

The gathered leaders reject this notion. Jesus is the last one that they would choose to be on their team. His mother is Mary, and his father is Joseph. They know where he came from. It is ludicrous for him to say that he comes from God. However, Jesus does not let this detour him. He continues to say that those who are drawn to him will know God and will learn from God.

Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue is one that not only troubles the leaders gathered but it also speaks counterintuitively to their understanding of the Torah. This is not what they are expecting, and it is not what they are ready for. If Jesus is who he says he is, that means their authority is in question and that they must hand it all over to God. They are threatened by Jesus and do not understand how they will be drawn to him to get to know God. In their minds, they know who God is and for them, God is not in the image of Jesus that is standing in front of them. Things just are not adding up!

It is nice when everything adds up to a concise answer. Isn’t it?

Just ask an engineer or a mathematician. Everything must add up and be precise so that the answer is clear for all to see. For safety’s sake, we would like everything to add up, so planes stay up in the air and cars stay safely on the road. Because of this, we like the answers given to us. When we are confronted with the mysterious words of Jesus in this morning’s lesson, we are left scratching our heads. We too, like the Jewish leaders, are wondering how we are going to be drawn to Jesus. Some of us may get it. More power to you. Some of us catch glimpses of it and yet thirst and hunger for more. Did you know that for most of her life, Mother Theresa was constantly searching for God and felt at a lost? Some of us may just go along without attempting to further our spiritual journey and become complacent where we are.

We reject the things that are right in front of us. We reject those that try to help in times of need. We reject words of acknowledgement. We reject common sense. Now, I am not saying we all do this, but I am sure there are times that we could agree we hedge in that direction. Through our social culture, we have been told that we must be strong and independent. We have been told that it is weak to turn to others for help. Therefore, we crack under the pressure and respond in negative ways to our environments when faced with adversity. We are disturbed and threatened when we are told that we will be drawn in regardless.

In light of my experience in Phys. Ed. during junior high and high school, I would have loved to be drawn in. I would have loved the opportunity to not have to worry about when I would be picked to be on someone’s team.

This is what we find in Jesus! He comes to us willing to break down any barriers that may be in our way to knowing him in a fuller and deeper way. A way that leads us through any troubles and challenges that we may encounter. A way that leads to the foot of the cross and the waters of baptism where we experience a new birth. A birth that is like no other. A birth that washes us clean and sends us out into the world to proclaim the good news!

The notion of this is counter-cultural. The teachings of Jesus do not always coincide with the practices of this world. This is radical! In this radicalness, we experience a love that breaks us free from the chains that hold us back. The chains of our own sinfulness that we are called to repent of daily. This radical love meets us where we are.

Being drawn to Jesus Christ should provide a sense of comfort and fulfill the gospel promise that is given to us through our ancestors. We are drawn to Jesus not once though; we are drawn over and over again as we are reminded of his saving grace that was brought into the world to remind the world of the love that God has for all of creation. It is a love that knows no boundaries and a love that draws all of creation into the loving embrace of a God that knows where we are.

Being drawn to Jesus and learning from God is grace at work. It is a grace that walks with us in our journey to fully being in relationship with the creator whose image we reflect. It is a grace that meets us at the table and offers the body and blood of Christ so that we may encounter Jesus in the most intimate way possible and be filled so that we may share with others.

Let us pray. Drawing God, enable us to put down our guard and welcome your presence into our congregation, our families, and our lives. As you draw us to yourself, may we be open to encounter you in new and meaningful ways that gives us life and hope for things to come. Amen.

God’s Promise of Community

community-144653342

Exodus 20:1-17

I don’t know about you, but the weather that we have had this past couple of weeks has lifted my spirits and fostered the notion that it is about time to start some spring cleaning. A chance to get rid of those things that are unnecessary and distract. A chance to focus on the things that truly matter in our lives.

Jesus does his own spring cleaning as he enters the temple and turns over the tables. He chases all of the livestock out with a whip. He empties the money changers bags. It is a call to keep the temple a holy place and not be distracted by those seeking personal gain.

God calls Moses to do a little spring cleaning as well. The people of Israel are reminded that they are God’s children when Moses is called upon to consecrate them. This prepares them to encounter God through Moses and the Word that he will share with them after speaking to the Lord on the mountain. This third covenant that we encounter during Lent is God’s promise of community revealed to us in the Ten Commandments. It is the promise of Community, showing a way for us to live in relationship with God and our fellow sisters and brothers.

When we read past our lesson in Exodus, we read of the trembling and fear that grips the people of Israel.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21)

God knows the way of the people, and God knows how easily humanity can be tempted and turn away from their faith. It is in the law that is given to them at this point that they shall live their days. There will be constant reminders for them as they continue on so that they will not forget the Lord. It has been easy for them to do that in the past and God knows that they will easily fall into the same trap in the future. Hopefully, these laws that are given will be a sense for them to remain faithful and seek righteousness. Yet, the reality is that God, knows very well that every single one of these commandments will be broken sooner rather than later. The breaking of these commandments leads to a lack of community. The very thing that God is hoping to instill.

We witness a breakdown in community when we fail to be open to conversation with one another. When we fail to listen to one another or choose simply not to hear the other side of the story. We easily do this by surrounding ourselves with friends that are like minded and write off those that we disagree. We listen halfheartedly and then continue on without truly stopping to contemplate what we have heard. Our society fosters this way of interacting.

When we have individuals that step in to question the status quo they are chastised and berated. This drives us even farther from community. A community in which God is encouraging us to live into. The Ten Commandments, we take as nice suggestions, but truly we are not suppose to adhere to all of them, are we?

As we focus less on living into community and more on our personal lives, we forget what it is like to embrace the other. To embrace our sisters and brothers that are different from us. Instead of becoming worldly, we become self-centered.

In the Ten Commandments, the Israelites, now have a road map, on how to live into relationship. That relationship starts with God as we can witness in the the first commandments. That is just the foundation, because the rest direct them how to be in relationship with one another. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The commandments might be taken not as a series of rules, but as a proclamation in God’s own mouth of who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ by this community of liberated slaves.”

The commandments come with no judgement attached to them. The people attach their own judgement. The onus for following the law is on the individual, not on any outside source. Now, of course in a civilized culture, we have attached punishments that align with many of the commandments.

The commandments are actually given with a reminder that the Israelites are saved people. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  It is in this redemption that God now calls the people into a relationship that begins with the Divine. The relationship with God, or the Divine, then extends to the rest of humanity.

In the spring cleaning, God reminds the people that their way of being in conflict before should now be focused on relationship and living into community.

This same promise of community flows down for us today. The Ten Commandments are part of Luther’s Catechism and he deemed that they were a necessity for us to know and practice. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes,

This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.

God desires to be in relationship with us. We are created in the very image of God and thus as we foster and grow our relationship first with God, our relationships with others will begin to blossom as well. The way that we attend to our relationship with God is the model for which we attend to our relationships with our neighbors.

Lent is a opportune time to focus on our relationships as we take the intentional time to be in prayer. We can choose to do our own internal spring cleaning as we repent of those sins that we have committed against God and our neighbors, both known and unknown. Like Jesus in the temple, we too are encouraged to scatter those things that deter us so that we can focus on our relationship with God. Those things that distract us from living into community. Those things that give us a false sense of hope.

As we get closer to approaching the cross on Good Friday, we are reminded that to do so as a community only strengthens us and our relationship with a Christ that is willing to be crucified to show us God’s love. On the other side of the cross, we know that we are a redeemed people whom God’s covenant continues for us today. One part of that, is that in God, we will ultimately find community. A community that loves and supports one another. A community that not only celebrates one another’s joys, but a community that lifts each other up in the brokenness and suffering.

Let us pray. Welcoming God, you call us into community with the Trinity. A community in which we are surrounded by love and grace. May this relationship and community we foster in you, be the starting point for community with our neighbors. Amen.

Just Sit in the Boat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mark 1:14-20

Living in Michigan, we quickly become aware of the number of lakes that we have and the beauty and sport that they offer. It is nearly impossible to live by large bodies of water or be surrounded by many lakes and not be a fisher or know someone that is.

As a young child, fishing was one of the activities that I remember doing with my father. Since my father worked the midnight shift, we would find ourselves in the morning out in the fishing boat on one of the local lakes during the summer or out on the ice in the shanty and trying to stay warm in the winter. I was taught at a young age that patience was very important while fishing and you could not be too loud, or you may scare the fish. There is a skill that goes into fishing, and possibly even a little luck. I learned over time that you have to be dedicated to fishing because of the patience that is required.

It is not surprising, that as Jesus begins his ministry, some of the first disciples that he calls are fishermen. The four we hear from this morning, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, were found either in the sea, or preparing to go fishing. I wonder if these four were doing what they really wanted to be doing, or were they simply following the path that had been laid out in front of them by their father’s, grandfathers, and so on. It was a way of life that they were expected to fulfill as they were old enough. Were they longing for a different way of life?

James and John were quick to leave their father, Zebedee, behind in the fishing boat to mend the nets by himself. Perhaps, Zebedee gave his blessing to the boys before they went to follow Jesus. We do not get to hear that part of the conversation.

All four of the disciples that decided to follow Jesus in this lesson understood what it meant to be a fishermen. They knew what hard work it entailed. They also knew that there could be days that they came home with empty nets and full of disappointment. Hoping that the next day would go much better. Jesus promised them that if they followed him, he would make them fish for people. Surely, to catch people would be much easier than it was to catch fish at times.  Yet, the beginning of the lesson points out that Jesus began his ministry after John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned. Once they begin to hear more, the thought had to cross their mind that the same thing could possibly happen to them as they learned to preach a good news that was counter-cultural at the time. Would they have been arrested and imprisoned out in the sea fishing? Most likely not. Now, they decide to follow Jesus and put their lives on the line.

We have learned how hard it is ourselves to fish for people. If it was that easy, our sanctuary would be bursting from the seams.

  • Have all of the fish in the sea already been claimed? Not likely.
  • Perhaps there is a hole in our net and they are just slipping away.
  • Just maybe we are using the wrong type of bait.

More often than not, we have to think our actions through. Many of us are not as spontaneous as the four disciples that got right up to follow Jesus. We have to make sure everything is aligned before we jump right into the deep end. Usually, we just dip our toes in first. The disciples do not seem to hesitate. They are bold and ready to follow Jesus where ever he leads.

Our society has created an independent nature which people feel more empowered to push out on their own without taking the advice or lead of someone else. We begin to feel that we do not need anyone else around us when completing a task because we can do it on our own. When operating in this manner, we forget about everyone else; or at least not put any stock into them. We fall into a sin of arrogance when we do this. God does not intend for us to go alone. The gospel is one proof of that.

Did you notice that when Jesus called the disciples, they came to follow him in pairs. It wasn’t just Andrew, or just James. It was Andrew and Simon. It was James and John. The good news that Jesus is calling them to involves being in relationship. The willingness to drop what what they are doing and be with God. The relationship that they had with one another when they were fishing is a reflection of the relationship that Jesus is inviting them into as children of God and as disciples to share the good news.

Jesus knows that he has a tough road ahead of him and he wants to surround himself with a community of disciples that are going to be present and open to the calling that God has placed on their hearts. He knows that he cannot go it alone because he needs others to learn from him and to carry that good news forward. The good news of Jesus born into a world that is broken and willing to make his presence known so that the love of God can be poured out through the relationships that are formed. This is the good news that Jesus wants them to believe in. The lessons that he is going to teach them are for all of humanity. Not a select few. Or simply the chosen ones. The kingdom of God is going to come to all of us whether we are ready for it or not.

That same good news that Jesus wants the disciples to believe in, is there for us today. Jesus just didn’t come to share tidbits of wisdom here and there. Jesus came into this world to show us that God has not finished. The creation is on-going and in the midst of it we are called to live a life of repentance and love. It is in Jesus that we find out that we are not alone. The presence of Christ is within each and everyone of us, whether we are aware of it or not. We are called to live in community and be in relationship.

We could easily go about our days and sleep in on Sundays. However, there is something that draws you here. Something within you that knows that you should be present. Something within you that seeks to be in relationship with one another and to support one another through times of struggles as well as times of joy. Sometimes those relationships are built organically and at other times it has to be intentional. It may even require getting to know those that we disagree with so that we can come to a mutual understanding.

Can you think of those relationships that you value? The ones that draw you closer to others and hopefully closer to God. I have been blessed for the last year and a half to be part of a mentoring group with three other pastors that provides a chance for reflection and renewal. Being a Franciscan and being a part of the Order of the Lutheran Franciscans provides an opportunity to be with brothers and sisters that have many of the same passions when it comes to social justice and simple living.  Where do you find relationship?

Christ is present with us as we are gathered into community. Even in those times that we are alone, Christ is present to listen and provide the light for us to follow. As the disciples are called to fish for people, we can do the same. If you have been fishing, you may know that sometimes the act of fishing is just being present for one another. Present to listen and share stories. Sometimes, you just have to sit in the boat and listen. Listen to each other or possibly in observing the silence, you may hear God. It is through our interactions with one another that we begin to attract others. It is in this attraction, that we can begin to fish for people.

Let us pray, God that draws near, we give thanks for the relationship that we are drawn into with Jesus Christ. May our relationship with Christ be a guiding example as we return to you and proclaim the good news to all we encounter. Amen.

Be Reconciled

be-reconciled-2

February 12, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but if there was any other day that I really wanted to focus on another text, it would be today! Luckily, there are two other lessons that have been read, as well as the Psalm. While there is plenty of valuable insights to mine from Paul’s letter and Deuteronomy, I also realize that I am stubborn and know that my aversion to today’s Gospel, means that we should probably sit with it for a little while longer and see what good news it has to say to us.

Much of the gospel lesson seems to be strict instruction from Jesus, even a clarification per se of the Ten Commandments as Moses gave them to the people of Israel. While it was easy to look at the Ten Commandments and follow them, Jesus’ clarification seems to tighten the law a little more. Personally, I am left wondering, how can we expect to live up to this teaching of Jesus in our sin and brokenness.

Let us remember that the Ten Commandments were given to the people as a gift. We can all appreciate the rules and laws within our own lives that we have to follow. This is what a loving parent does for her children. She sets out rules and guidelines, certain expectations, to live by. In these rules, we are able to live into relationship with one another. By being in relationship with one another, we experience the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

Let’s be honest though. It is not easy to be in relationship all of the time. We each have our own characteristics and personalities. We each have our own little quirks that can irritate the pet peeves of others. Yet, despite this, we need each other. We need to be connected with one another so that we can accomplish wonderful things and make a difference in the community around us. While many of us insist that we are very independent people and do not need anyone’s help, there is still a strong sense of dependency that is part of our beings that require us to work and live together.

In the midst of Jesus’ words concerning anger, adultery, divorce, and making oaths, we find a call to reach out to one another. We are called to reach out to one another in mutual respect and love, so that we may be reconciled to one another. Within this reconciliation, we must first honor the need for forgiveness. Not just an empty forgiveness, a forgiveness that brings us back into right relationship with one another. A forgiveness that welcomes God in so that we can move forward in faith.  This forgiveness is the first step towards reconciliation. In Jesus, God is revealed for us and in this we can see God’s desire to be reconciled with all people. As we work towards reconciliation, we are living into God’s intent for humanity, living into loving relationship with one another.

Sometimes we wonder why we do certain things as Lutherans. We wonder why our worship service takes on the shape that it does. We wonder about the various aspects and parts of worship. Each part has a biblical and liturgical component to it. We practice forgiveness and reconciliation every week during our worship service. Were you aware of this?

Every week after our prayers of the people, the peace of Jesus Christ is shared. It is in this sharing of the peace that we have the opportunity to seek out those that we have harmed, or those that have hurt us, and begin our steps to reconciling. We reach out our hand and offer the peace of God. It could be for those things that we know we have done, those things that we are not aware of, or those things that we have left undone. The sharing of the peace is not meant as a time to catch up on the past week. It is a time to be in relationship with one another, reaching out and sharing the peace, just as Jesus would have shared it with his disciples and everyone that he encountered. In that peace is the foundation of our reconciliation with each other and ultimately with God.

It is fitting that we do this before we come to the altar, because at the altar we are all equals. At one time in England, there was a movement to return to the church. It was known as the Oxford Movement. One member of the movement was quoted as saying, “The Holy Eucharist is the only truly democratic moment in life when we are willing to come together to the altar, offer ourselves completely, and receive in return all that we need, not just to survive, but to live, then we have experienced something remarkably different and essential.”

There is no greater time for us to come together and be reconciled with one another. As we do so in the church, let us pray that our message of love and hope spread beyond our communities. In Jesus’ message in Matthew’s gospel, we are reminded that he did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfill the law. Through him we are witness to the grace of God that is for all people throughout the world.

As you leave here this morning, who is it that you are called to forgive and be reconciled? May all of our single steps of reconciliation lead to the reconciliation of the world.

 

Are you Ready?

areyouready_000013893201_dny59-680x452

For those of you with children, you may be able to commiserate with me for a moment here. How many of you have had the experience of telling your children that you are going to be leaving by a certain time and when that time arrives they are not ready yet? Now, let’s not just blame the children, because there are some adults that do this as well. There are still bags to be packed, coats to be found, and shoes to put on before we even get out the door.

If we cannot even expect to be ready when we are told what time we are leaving, how can we expect to follow the directions of Jesus this morning? Jesus instructs us that we do not know what time the Son of Man will return. Therefore, we should keep awake and be ready at all times. Are you ready?

Most likely we are not. We are caught by surprise as many things happen around the world. In a perfect world, we would like to live where everything goes just the way that we want it to go. We want everyone to be healthy. We want everyone to have what they need to live. We want peace. In the midst of our hopes and dreams come disruption!

Jesus is aware of the disruptions that we encounter. He shares the story of Noah to highlight this point, everyone was “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark.” They were not prepared or ready for the flood of water that was about to cover the world and therefore only Noah and his family survive. They were caught up in themselves. Our lives too are disrupted when we least expect it, and often times when we appear to be least prepared. Our lives are disrupted by natural disasters that we have absolutely no control over. The people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina that occurred over 10 years ago. Families are disrupted on daily basis around the world as wars are fought and lives are lost. The lives of Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose’s family were disrupted as he was shot and died earlier this week.

The disruptions that enter our lives are a lot of times beyond our control. They can tend to disorient us and we become loss. Not all disruptions are necessarily bad though. This morning we find ourselves in the midst of the first Sunday of Advent. Advent breaks into our lives in the church year to disrupt our comfortableness that has come to us since Pentecost. It breaks in to remind us of the coming of Christ. We raise it up at times as a beacon that leads us to Christmas. Christmas comes and goes. Christ does not. God continues to be with us in the midst of the disruptions as Christ comes to lead the way.

In the midst of this, are you ready? Karoline Lewis comments that, “”Are you ready?” is the question usually asked by people who are certain that they are and even more certain that you are not.” I am sure that you can think of certain people that believe they have it all right, and perhaps you may have it all wrong. This is not the point of view I am coming from.

I believe that part of the are you ready question ties into our families, friends, and neighbors. Are you ready to be in relationship with those around you and to reach out with love and compassion at all times during the year? Not just during the season of Christmas. Being ready may mean being with people that you are at times not comfortable being with. This includes reaching out to those that are less fortunate that may need a place to lay their heads at night or a meal to fill their hunger. It may even mean sitting down to have a Thanksgiving dinner with family members that have differing political viewpoints as yours.

Are you ready to be in relationship and enter into dialog with those whose viewpoints may be different, and yet through listening, you may come to understand? We are all created in the image of God, and as we are, God wants to have a relationship with us. Entering into relationship with one another prepares us for the Kingdom of God that is coming.

In this season of Advent, we are disrupted. We are startled awake by those things happening around us. We are disrupted by the story of Noah and the devastation of the flood. Yet, today we are also reminded of the power of water in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We are called to attention and encouraged to reorient our lives toward Christ. Jesus coming, being named Emmanuel, is a promise that God is with us in the midst of it all.

And as Paul writes in Romans, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Jesus Said What?

maxresdefault

Luke 16:1-13

After being around sales representatives you begin to learn a thing or two. You learn how to sneak a thing or two past the managers or owners of stores and you learn how to help yourself in the long run. After graduating from college I spent close to five years in the grocery industry as a manager and some of those sales reps pulled some quick ones on me and at other times I caught them in the act and called them out on it.

It was kind of ironic to find myself on the other end when I became a sales rep for a beer distributor. It was my responsibility to call on large grocery chains and small party stores in my given territory. I learned some tricks along the way on how to meet my quotas and product placements so that I would get paid and support my family; since the majority of my pay was incentive and commission based. I got praised for my shrewdness and was one of the top sales reps. I was not necessarily proud of this because it just felt wrong as I took advantage of my accounts so that I could benefit in the long run. Does this story sound familiar? It honestly is not much different from the parable that Jesus shares of the shrewd manager. In both cases, there is injustice occurring and in the long run relationships are damaged. Our God is a God of justice and when injustice occurs we are led farther from God’s righteousness and ultimately our relationship with God.

Our parable this morning is one that I struggled with. If you were left reeling after I read it, you are not alone. For as many commentaries that I read on the lesson for this morning, I got just as many interpretations. My first thought was, Jesus said what? What is Jesus trying to teach in this parable?  It appears that the manager, who acted in shrewdness in dealing with those that did business with the master, is commended for his shrewdness. He is not condemned for his improper handling of money, but is commended. The amount that those who borrowed from the master most likely included a large interest rate. It was not uncommon for interest rates at this time could range anywhere from 25-50%! Think about that for a second. This is injustice and far from the righteousness of God.

In reality, the bible instructs us not to charge interest to anyone. We should give willingly and freely as we have the means to. The master himself is acting outside of the Judaic laws. This is the way that business is done though, isn’t it? This is the way that we do business today. Nothing is free, and their is a cost associated with everything, including money. So, is there injustice happening when we buy our house or a car and get charged interest? It probably depends upon whom you ask. In our society it is common practice that we have come to expect.

Corporate greed is something that we have become accustom to in our society. Recently we have seen this greed in numerous places, including the pharmaceutical industry. Where profits appear to be all that matter and the consumer will just have to pay up. If you remember last year the big story was Martin Shkreli increasing the price of an important AIDS drug 5000%! Within the past couple of months the news has been around the increase of the cost of an EpiPen. It has increased from $200 four years ago to over $600 today. And now, the company that produces is trying to shift the increase cost off on to others. Another example of injustice and not caring for our sisters and brothers.

I truly believe that it comes down to the fact of how we live into relationship with one another. We can not be in relationship with one another when we take advantage of one another for our own personal gain or that of shareholders. St. Augustine has been credited with saying that, “God gave us people to love and things to use, original sin manifests itself when we confuse the two.” As our reading ends this morning, Jesus reminds us that, “you cannot serve God and wealth.” The best way to serve God is by being in relationship.

More than likely we have all taken advantage of a relationship from one time or another. For some we may be able to look back recently, and for others we may have to look back farther. You all should have pieces of paper in the pews in front of you. I encourage you to take a piece and write a name of a person or relationship on one of those pieces of paper as a reminder that you want to deepen this relationship and make it stronger.

Our relationship with God may be one that we can improve upon. However, remember that it was Jesus that died on the cross for us so that we could experience his abiding love and the grace that welcomes us in. We are already forgiven, he is just waiting for us. It is in this that we should work towards justice with one another and learn to love.