Rev. George Miller
“What Do We Owe?”
March 17, 2013
A few months ago I shared a prayer written by Judy Vekasy. It goes like this:
Loving, gentle, holy one
Dreamer of dreams
Who dreamed me into being
Help me to realize the dream
You have dreamed me to be
I recently came across this prayer and it got me thinking: the thing about dreams, not the inspirational kind, but the ones we have while asleep, is that they don’t make sense. Ever notice how our dreams have no real beginning and no clear resolution?
They seem to always start in the middle, featuring an array of people and physical locations that don’t always make sense.
Our sleepy-time dreams are usually murky and ambiguous. Yes, they can be filled with symbols and ways in which our unconscious is trying to work things out, but the more you try to explain your dreams or figure them out the more convoluted they become.
There are the dreams we have that linger with us long after we awake. They give us something to mull over, to think about.
What do they mean? What were we supposed to learn from them? What are we to do?
Today’s reading is very much like a dream. It feels fragmented, non-sensical, and unexpected.
Who are these folk? What’s really going on? Where is this exactly taking place?
Add to the fact that since quotation marks were not used during the time this was written, no one really knows what Jesus said, what the gospel writer wrote as an aside, if all these things were said at the same time or are they bits and pieces from others sermons, kind of like a greatest-hits compilation.
But if we let go of all those things, if we are comfortable cherishing ambiguity, then we can step into this reading for today and experience it like a memorable dream.
Today’s scripture can stay with you, linger, give you something to mull over, to think about.
What does it mean? What were we supposed to learn from it? What, if anything, are we to do?...
…Over the course of 3 weeks we have touched upon 3 topics:
-turning weapons of death into music of life
-dying so we can be born into new life
-not judging people by one season alone
I believe those themes can also be found in today’s reading.
We have the rich man who holds the fate of both the manager and the debtors in the palm of his hand. They are either his employee or they owe him much, either way he can do with them whatever he pleases.
He does not have to worry about Fair Labor Laws or anyone filing Chapter 7 or 13. So he can jail them, torment them, take their property, make them homeless.
He can use his position to be a weapon of death or an instrument of life.
Then we have the manager. He has squandered his opportunity. He had a job that didn’t require physical labor or making minimum wage. He may not have been rich but he was not poor.
He can continue to squander his life away or he can step into a kind of new life in which he can do something, anything, to help out another and himself.
Then there are the debtors. Each of them clearly is in a particular season- a season of not having enough. One owes 100 jugs of oil. Another owes 100 containers of wheat.
Who knows why they aren’t able to produce what they promised. Are they stupid? Lazy? Not willing to pull their own weight?
Did it not rain enough that year, or perhaps it rained too much? Maybe they had a loved one who was ill and all their resources went to caring for them, or perhaps they were sick themselves.
Either way, are they to be ultimately judged for the particular season they are in?
So in some ways, today’s reading is a bit like a dream. We step into it, unsure of just what we are actually being told and shown.
But because this is a story supposedly being told by Jesus, there has to be some Good News; there surely is an easy-to-distinguish moral to be told, right?
Maybe the debtors will hit upon a stroke of luck- a leprechaun, a magic bean, a fairy god-mother, and in the end they will come through it and they will all be saved and live happily ever after!
Or, maybe the manager will see the light of his squandering ways and he’ll hold a town-hall meeting in which he gives a moving, motivational speech which encourages everyone to work together and pool their resources so their town will be saved and Opie and Andy Griffith will come whistling along to have a Mayberry-ific time!
Or maybe, just maybe the rich man will be visited by three ghosts while he sleeps- the ghosts of past, present and future and he will awaken the next day forgiving everyone of their debts and buying Christmas geese for all!
But guess what? None of that happens in this story. In fact, I’m not really sure what does happen.
It seems like the manager comes up with a plan to cook the books, the towns-people are all too happy to go along, and the rich man gets a kick up of all their gumption…
…And by telling the story, Jesus seems to be telling us that it is all O.K…
So what is the Good News? There has got to be Good News.
In the past three weeks we celebrated how weapons can be turned into music, death can lead way to new life and God sees all our seasons of existence.
What is something, anything we can glean from this dream of a tale?
Maybe it’s my theology coming through, maybe it’s the building excitement of the kitchen remodeling, but one thing I see here is the notion of relationships. How people in this story interact with one another.
How the rich man calls forward the manager and asks for an accounting. How at the end, he commends the man for acting shrewdly.
How the manager goes to each debtor and works out with them a plan to satisfy everyone he can.
Did you notice why the manager does what he does? He knows he’s squandered his opportunity and is about to be fired.
But he works out a deal with each person so when he’s in his season of dissolution he will still be welcomed into their homes!
Here is that notion of hospitality and fellowship raising its dreamy head again.
Hebrews 6:35 says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. For by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
The manager may not be a stranger, and he certainly is no angel in the literal sense, but you know what? Neither is anyone else in this story.
The manager is not perfect and the people may not be completely debt-free, but somehow, someway, they live another day to fellowship together: to dine together, to welcome another in, and to break bread.
In other words, through the shrewdness of the manager he gets to maintain some type of relationship with the people around him.
And who knows how those relationships will unfold, what music would emerge, what new life experiences will come to be, what seasons will arrive.
Will the manager have to eventually dig ditches? Will he get a better job? Will he perhaps be offered his old one back?
Who knows? The dream ends there, with the possibility of relationships being…real.
In conclusion, our God dreams dreams.
God’s dreams aren’t always clear to us and they may not always make sense.
Who? What? Where? When? Why?
But I do believe that some of God’s dreams involve:
-turning weapons of destruction into instruments of life
-leaving behind that which is killing us to be born into new life
-not judging people according to the season they are currently in.
I believe God’s dreams involve us finding ways to work together, live together, dine together, and not in a fairy-tale, Mayberry, Christmas-Carol kind of way,
but a way that allows for imagination, diversity and the cherishing of ambiguity.
A way for all of God’s dreamers to lead the way.
Amen and amen.