by Correne Murphy
Good morning, St. John's! You never know what you are going to find when you come to church on Sunday mornings, do you?
I just have to say to you this morning how good it is to see you! It is so good to see you every Sunday morning.
So here we are. This morning we will spend a few moments looking at what Scripture has to teach us this 18th day of September, 2022.
In the reading from Jeremiah he asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Is there no healing in Gilead? Gilead is an area east of the Jordan River. Today we ask, “Is there no healing in Florida? In Arizona? In Wisconsin? Where do we look? In St. Louis? We pray in Psalm 79, “Remember
not our past sins; let your compassion be swift to meet us; for we have been brought very low.”
Timothy brings us back to the center: “There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
Frequently throughout the Gospels, Jesus reminds us that he and the Father are one. Where do we fit in this picture? Are we, and Jesus, and the Father one? A lofty aspiration and a worthy goal. It is not “You and me against the world.” It is you and me with the world along with God as our constant companion.
So far, so good. We can relate to the Psalmist, imploring God’s mercy on our misunderstandings, our misdeeds, our
human weaknesses. It is comforting when Timothy brings us back to our center. And then the Gospel throws us a fast ball, right down the center. The rich man commends the dishonest manager for his misdeeds. What is the correct response? Do we let it pass for strike three? Do we swing with all our might for a homer out of the stands?
Putting the analogy aside for a moment, how do we respond to the actions of the manager? How do we respond to the actions of the rich man? Without inserting any “what ifs”, “maybes”, or “unsubstantiated guesses,” how do we react?
On the part of the manager, do we judge? He has apparently mishandled his responsibility of managing the property put under his charge. Was he incapable? Was he purposefully trying to undercut his master?
In your life and in mine, we react to this story on its face value. Would we, you and I, without question, commend the actions of the steward? Or of the rich man?
The big question, the elephant in the room, can we look at this story without passing judgment?
That is the thought with which we will spend some time this morning: judgment.
Some of us feel we grew up surrounded by judgment. Society has not always been understanding. In the home. In the classroom. In church. “What did I do now?” Did you ever utter that as a child? Even as an adult?
After all, we do have to answer to others: children to parents, employees to employers, individuals to society. And let us not forget, we must answer to ourselves.
And, children, adults must answer to you, also. Adults are responsible for your care. Parents and big brothers and sisters share their love and wisdom to guide you to a life well lived.
Everyone: does our responsibility end with the family? As you surely know, no, it does not. Your nextdoor neighbor; the elderly couple across the street; the children in your neighborhood who need a playground. And then those in your community whose health is your - our - concern.
Yes, this can all be overwhelming. Why are things as they are? Is there weakness? Ignorance? Indifference? Incapability? Probably all of those things.
So, back to an earlier question. Judgment. Judgment is not a bad thing. We make a judgment not to stand in the middle of I-270 during rush hour, or at any time for that matter. We make a judgment not to eat spoiled food. We make a judgment to wear a safety jacket when boating on a large lake. Judgments are good when based on fact. We make a judgment to forgive, and to act mercifully, when a situation calls for it. When we can “justify” it. We count on God and society to act mercifully toward us when passing judgment. And therein, society finds healing, finds “a balm in Gilead.”
One learns to forgo judgment when we find ourselves in a situation of our own making, or not of our own making,
but nevertheless affecting us. We then see with an open mind “the poor among us” as Jesus said we would. And then what?
Jesus said the rich man not only failed to condemn his manager for mismanagement, but commended him for his shrewdness.
In trying to make some sense out of this parable, I asked some friends in the Community of Hope how they understood Jesus’ teaching. The response was immediate: “God forgives unconditionally.” That should take a load off our shoulders.
Scholars have written pages on this parable. Herzog cites references to times contemporary to the lives of the disciples, including the scribes and pharisees, Roman oversight, and local laws. And then there is the Final Judgement.
Another commentary by R. Alan Cullpepper leaves one with the concept that it pays to be shrewd: shrewd in the practice of spreading God’s mercy and love, shrewd in managing the riches of a life of incomparable blessings.
Easier said than done? To be sure. Foregoing judgment takes the fear out of taking chances with our own aspirations. Walk with God. Go for it. What is your gift? Follow your heart (with a touch of common sense on the side... or maybe not.)
Some of you are familiar with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and, in particular, with The Hobbit. In The Hobbit, Bilbo celebrates his birthday by throwing a big party and giving his guests wondrous presents. Last Sunday, September 11, I celebrated my 86th birthday.
Part of my celebration was with the homeless downtown. We shared cupcakes, sodas and chips. It was great fun.
Today I would like to share with you some prayer cards I have put together. They may set the tone for the day, or bring together a moment of peace after a long day. They are on the table in the back of the church. There are enough for everyone, including the children.
And so I say, "God bless us, everyone!" Amen.
Correne Murphy is a member of St. John's, and serves on the Vestry as Junior Warden.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at email@example.com
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