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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for Ordinary 25 - Proper 20 - Year C
I Timothy 2:1-7; Psalm 79; Luke 16:1-13
"Changing The Bottom Line"



READING:  I Timothy 2:1-7; Psalm 79; Luke 16:1-13 
SERMON :  "Changing The Bottom Line"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or25sesn 442799

    The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
    for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
    found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
    SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
 

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)
   
            
* WORDS OF WELCOME & CALL TO WORSHIP   (based on Psalm 113:1-4)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Praise the Lord!  Give praise, oh servants of the Lord
P  Praise the name of the Lord.  
   Blessed be the name of the Lord 
   from this time on and forevermore.
L  From the rising of the sun to its setting 
   the name of the Lord is to be praised.
P  The Lord is high above all nations 
   and his glory above the heavens.


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Loving and Gracious God - Holy one of Israel - Tender one to all who call
upon you with repentant and believing hearts -  bless us, we pray, with
your presence this day.  Teach the little ones who have gathered to learn
your ways, inspire those who seek your wisdom, energize those who are
exhausted, comfort those who grieve, and strengthen those who are weak. 
Indeed, O God, fill all of our hearts with your praise and lead us in
holiness and righteousness in this hour and in the hours to come.  We ask
it in Jesus' name.  Amen.


* HYMN:  "Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness"                            - VU 375


CHILDREN'S TIME
Theme     Praying for Everyone
Object    flip chart - pen
Source    Self

Today I want to talk to you - as did Paul does in the scripture reading
today - about prayer - prayers of thanksgiving, of intercession, and of
supplication.  Jesus - and all the prophets talked about prayer a lot -
and they prayed a lot.  Prayer was very important to them - and they said
it was very important for us as well -- So today - I want us to make up a
list of the kinds of things we can - or should pray for -- I would like
your help. Can you each name me one thing you pray for - something that is
different from what ever the previous person says:

Make List!

The Apostle Paul said that all of us ought to pray - and that we should
always remember to pray for our country and our rulers - so that we might
lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  He also
says that we should pray for everyone we can - because God wants everyone
to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Lord God - we pray for the things we have listed ----.   Dear
   Lord God, bless us in our prayers - bring to yourself all people. 
   Save them and  give them your truth.  - Bless our government and
   our leaders. - Give us all good lives - full of dignity and peace.
   - Amen

   And in the words Jesus taught us....  Our Father who art in heaven,
   hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth
   as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive
   us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and
   lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine
   is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Tell Me The Stories of Jesus"                            - VU 357


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements  
- Birthdays and Anniversaries   
- Special Matters   
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AND INTROIT FOR THE WORD (v2 of 371) 
 Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear 
 and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear. 
 Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see. 
 Open my ears, illumine me. Spirit divine! 

 
A READING FROM II TIMOTHY 2:1-7
   (NRSV)  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers,
   intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings
   and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and
   peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  This is right and is
   acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to
   be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is
   one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ
   Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all --this was
   attested at the right time.  For this I was appointed a herald and
   an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the
   Gentiles in faith and truth.

L  This is the word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE PSALM READING:  Psalm 79 (VU 783) and Gloria Patri (sung)

   Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. 
   As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
   World without end.  Amen 


A READING FROM LUKE 16:1-13
   (NRSV)  Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who
   had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was
   squandering his property.  So he summoned him and said to him,
   'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your
   management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.'  
   
   Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master 
   is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, 
   and I am ashamed to beg.  I have decided what to do so that, when I 
   am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' 
   
   So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 
   'How much do you owe my master?'  He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive
   oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it
   fifty.'  Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 
   'A  hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and 
   make it eighty.' 
   
   And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted 
   shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with 
   their own generation than are the children of light.  And I tell you, 
   make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when 
   it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 
   
   "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?  
   No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one 
   and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. 
   You cannot serve God and wealth."

L  This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "Lord, Speak To Me"                                       - VU 589


SERMON: "Changing The Bottom Line"

   Lord of light - shine upon us.  God of love   fill our hearts with
   your wisdom.  Holy Spirit, bring yourself closer to us in my words
   and how we hear them, in our thoughts and how we think them.  Use
   this time - and use us to accomplish your good will.  Amen

There are rascals , rogues, and scallywags aplenty in the scriptures, and
today's gospel reading features  one of them most prominently - a manager
or steward of an estate who is so poor at what he does that eventually,
when he is called to account by his master, he cooks the books.

You have to picture this now - this fellow - knowing that he has done a
poor job and that he is going to get canned changes the bottom line on all
the debts that are owed to his master.   Some he drops by 20%, some by as
much as 50% - his theory being that the debtors of his master will be so
happy to get a discount that  they will gladly welcome him into their
homes and feed him and care for him after he is fired.

Pretty far out reasoning,
with maybe just a grain of truth to it.

I imagine if the manager of the Bank of Montreal called me up and told me
that she was going to reduce my debts by 50% with a stroke of her pen that
I might welcome her into my home after she got fired - but still - I would
be a little uneasy about it - wouldn't you?  

Uneasy because the police likely wouldn't be far behind her 
- and with good reason...

Yet what happens in the parable when the master finally hears the story
and calls the manager before him....

Well - you know... 
the master commends his manager because he had acted shrewdly,
because he had showed some intelligence in doing what he had done.

Pretty far out eh?...
Where does one begin with this story?
What in the world is Jesus trying to tell us?

First of all - let us not imagine that Jesus is commending the dishonesty
of the manager.  

It is quite clear that he is not commending the fact that he was a bad
manager, one quite willing to cheat his master, but rather that he is
commending the shrewdness - the forethought of the manager in looking
after himself - in doing good to those who in turn may be expected to do
good to him.

Jesus often uses people who are scoundrels  to illustrate what God is like
and what we should be like:
   - think of the judge who would only give a poor widow her due after
   she bothered him over and over again,
   - or the example of the person who would not budge from his bed to
   help welcome a stranger until his door was beaten on repeatedly,
   - or the example of the fellow who found a treasure in someone's field
   and went out and bought it so that he could get the profit.

Each of these examples tells us something important about how we should
live our faith and something important about God - but none of them tell
us that God is unjust, or that he is annoyed when we call upon him late at
night, or that we should cheat someone on a business deal.

Rather we are meant to understand, in a humorous and interesting way that
if the reluctant judge can still give justice to widow - or the grumpy
person can still get up and share his bread in the middle of the night,
then how much more will God help us when we appeal to his mercy?

And if a man will expend every effort - if he will even cheat - just to
obtain a treasure which he has found in someone else's field, then how
much more ought we expend every effort to enter the Kingdom of God?

The life issue in today's parable has nothing to do with the manager's
honesty or dishonesty  - rather  the issue is: "just how shrewd, clever,
and committed are the children of light when it comes to their faith?"

Do we really look after ourselves?  
Do we really use what we have at hand,
- in whatever proportion we have it 
to the best advantage?

Are we as anxious to ensure our future with God as the dishonest manager
was to ensure his future  in this world?   - are we willing to change the
bottom line so that when the time of reckoning comes there will be a place
that welcomes us?

Indeed, the issue at the very root of the parable of dishonest manager is:
are we, as Christians, as people who profess belief in the living God,
really committed to Him and his way?

Are we??  Are we, who sit together here today, 
   really committed, really full of faith??
   Really committed to God and God's purpose for our lives and the life
of the world?

Well -how can a person tell if we are committed??  
What signs help to prove the case one way or another??
What shows us whether we serve God or Mammon?

Today I am going to share with you a couple of signs that helps us answer
this question.

The first sign is quite simply - how we feel about and what we do with
money.

Perhaps you haven't thought of it before - but did you realize that over
1/3 of Jesus' parables  and sayings concern the relationship between
faithfulness and money?

Jesus talks so much about money because ,when push comes to shove,
loyalties are revealed by what people do with their money and how they
feel about it..

Recall the rich young ruler - who left Jesus because he was rich?
Recall Levi - who left everything and followed Jesus?
Recall the sermon on the mount - and the lilies of the field which do not
    spin or toil?
Recall the camel and the eye of the needle?
And the Widow who gave everything she had to the Temple Treasury?

Stories about loyalty and about what is important to people and what they
seek - God or Mammon.

Jesus ends the parable of the dishonest manager with these words:

   "the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own
   generation than are the children of light..  And I tell you, make
   friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when
   it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."

And to drive his point home - Jesus goes on with what is perhaps one of
his most famous sayings concerning  faithfulness and money - he says:

   "No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the
   one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the
   other.  You cannot serve God and wealth."

The children of this world are more shrewd than us at times - like the
dishonest manager, the children of this world will do all that is required
to look after themselves - they will use all their money and all their
power to get more money and more power.

Better yet, 
- if they can 
- they will use other people's money and other people's power to get these
things, to ensure their future, to change their own bottom lines.

Yes - the children of this world show a savoy that the children of light
often lack - and it seems to me that they seem to have this savoy not
because they are any smarter than you or I,
   but because they are more committed - they are only serving one master
   - their efforts are not divided, not confused, not lost in the gap
   that always exists between two masters.

We in the church often do things badly - we do them poorly - because we
attempt to serve two masters - to serve both God and mammon - God and
wealth.

I think this is one of the big reasons why so many people in the church
hate hearing about the problems the church has in raising money, getting
volunteers, and doing work that, on the face of it, only benefits others.

They hate to hear it because it guilts them out -
   it reminds them of their own torn loyalties,
   of their attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

So often we Christians - we who speak of life as God intended it,
   we who talk about the quality of life and the depth and breadth and
   power of love, and of how each person can live well, with truth and
   beauty and peace,
so often we settle for the most mediocre things within our sanctuary, our
Sunday School, and our practice of Christian mission.

Many churches are full of elders who never exercise their office,
   of stewards who give far less than the widows mite,
       of teachers who use antiquated texts or fill in the blank
       techniques,
and all because the rest of us, and indeed they themselves, do not expect
any better and are not willing to pay for any better.

We do not make friends with others with the wealth that has come to us -  
instead we are stingy in how we use it -
 we horde it and protect it for ourselves and our families
rather than being generous with it and serving our Lord and Saviour with
it

Mediocrity and friendlessness are the results.

Indeed it is still true, no matter how you interpret the message of God's
grace, that we reap what we sow; and if we sow sparingly, then the harvest
is a sparse one.

Switch for a second.

I'm sure you have all heard that expression that a person ought to give
until it hurts....

Well - it strikes me that if one is supposed to give until it hurts 
then the "average" Christian has a very low pain threshold!

Low, because we regard the wealth we have as our own rather as a trust
from God - a trust given to us by which we might make friends for
ourselves and for the Kingdom which we are supposed to be serving..

I said I would give you a couple of signs that indicate where our loyalty
and commitment really lie - quite briefly lets deal with the second sign -
that of time and energy - briefly because it has, already been dealt with
in much of what has gone before.

A Lutheran minister by the name of Leslie Conrad says this of today's
gospel lesson:

   I am always amused at how seriously some church members take their
   politics around election time.  Gung ho, they can devote hundreds
   of hours ringing doorbells or making phone calls for their
   political party and its candidates.  Yet they wouldn't walk next
   door to invite a neighbour to attend church with them.  Yes, Jesus
   was correct.  The children are wiser in worldly matters than they
   are in churchly matters."

Much the same can be said for the zeal we bring to sport's activities
Or to our involvement in the fine arts,
Or to our own personal recreation times.

Where do we put our efforts?  
What do we do with our time, energy, and our money?
Who or what are we really serving?

Think of those who promise to help out with the work we do together to
witness to God's love and do so, but only after everything else they have
in their life is taken care of.
--
Of the board members who always arrive late to meetings,
Of the teachers who prepare their lessons at the last moment,
of the singers who can't be bothered with a full practice,
of the worshippers who never pray for others and themselves as they
   prepare to worship that God may be present to them,
of the volunteers who must be begged for an hour of their time,
of the members who never give an hour at all to the work of God.

If you are wondering 
why things are not working out as well as they ought to, 
why so many churches seem lack lustre in their work and witness,
maybe it is because they haven't been making any friends lately 
   that their members have been unwilling to use the resources that God
   has given them to make themselves more welcome guests in the world
   out-there.

Maybe you yourself are not serving God, or at least not serving God with
the all the shrewdness and effort and resources that you put into other
things in your life.

Let me end by saying that a manger who is finally approved by the master
is the one who is unafraid to invest time, energy, emotion, and money so
that the work that he or she is entrusted with succeeds, the one who is
unafraid to change the bottom line in the way that God intends for us to
change it.

God has told us the way in which we should go - make friends for
yourselves by means of the unrighteous mammon so that when it is gone you
may be welcomed into the eternal homes. 

And if Jesus has said that with regard to money, then how much more will
God welcome us when we make friends with the world by showering upon it
the love and the care that he has entrusted to us for that very purpose.  

Blessed be God, day by day.  AMEN


* HYMN:  "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"                          - VU 664


THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Let us pray -- Lord, bless us in our thoughts at this time - help us to
realize the great privilege - and the great challenge - that you have
called us to.  Grant that as Jesus said - we may have the shrewdness of
the serpent and the gentleness of the dove - that we might truly seek, as
members of your church - as the body of Christ, to minister to your world. 
Show us - each one of us - in our hearts and in our minds - the way we
should be going.  Help us to be faithful stewards and managers of what you
have entrusted to us.....  Lord hear our prayer.....

Today O Lord, we recall those individuals and those events that our
brothers and sisters have asked that we remember before you....


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

   Lord, it is with joy and gladness we dedicate our treasure and our
   hearts to celebrate Your Kingdom within us and in the community of
   your faithful people.  Reshape us in Your image and use us, we
   pray, to extend Your love to all we meet by every means that you
   give to us.  We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "O Jesus, I Have Promised"                      - VU 120


* COMMISSIONING (unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go
   forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the
   body of Christ.


* BENEDICTION & THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Jesus,   
Go, knowing that God is watching over you 
- and knowing too that for those who live by faith his blessings are ever
abundant.  
- And may the love, the joy, the mercy, the truth, and the strength of God
abide within you 
both now and forevermore.  Amen.


CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace"                                 - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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