Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, the source of truth and love, keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practise deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Give praise, you servants of the Lord,
O praise the name of the Lord.
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord,
from this time forth and for evermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
let the name of the Lord be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations
and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God,
that has his throne so high,
yet humbles himself to behold
the things of heaven and earth?
6 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ashes,
7 To set them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
8 He gives the barren woman a place in the house
and makes her a joyful mother of children.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should 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 Saviour, 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.
1 Timothy 2:1–7
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 account 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.’
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 14
We all know there are variable parts of the liturgy. These changeable elements are the Collect, the two readings (OT and NT) and the Gospel. Then there is this part, the sermon, homily, address, whatever you want to call it, and that is never the same, even on the same day. (Probably the most variable of the variables.) Up to this point in our worship, most of it has all been variable and they focus our thoughts for the day.
In the Collect we have petitioned our Almighty God to “give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship [Him] in spirit and in truth.” When the philosopher in me hears those words he becomes distracted by their import. He asks me a lot of questions –
Just how do we realise that such gifts have been presented to us? How do we manifest the pure heart? How would people know we had that steadfast heart? How do we worship God in spirit and truth?
An interrogation by the philosopher is not what I expected and I am sure you did not expect it this morning, is it! Or was your inner philosopher’s interest piqued by the Collect as well? The Collect sets our expectations about the readings we were about to hear.
I was assured that there are links between all these disparate variables and so I looked high and low for them. Here are my thoughts the philosopher aroused.
I suppose the Psalm does reflect the request which Paul makes – “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone.” And it points to our worship in spirit an truth from the Collect, doesn’t it? After all from the beginning of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, psalms have been sung and prayers for self and world have been recited and groaned by congregations and individuals, haven’t they? Yet the epistle’s exhortation to prayer goes further. It directs our prayers to God on behalf of the leaders of this world, so that we can enjoy “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” It is not just a quiet life – it is not just a peaceable life – but it is a life in “all godliness and dignity.” We don’t normally think about life in those terms, do we? The sort of life we want to lead is one of riches and power. I don’t think we ever consider dignity as the character of our lives. I think we are preoccupied with the things of this world, more than the moral quality of our lives. Certainly, the people we pass on the road do not consider their life as manifesting “godliness”, do they? I know that such an epithet is never cast in my direction – well, not in my hearing anyway. But how does all of this talk about worship in spirit and truth relate to our reading from Amos. In that reading the world is being cut to pieces by the prophet’s tongue, he attacks that world which puts deals and profits before what is truthful and honest. He castigates the despicable merchants. – I suppose merchants have always wanted to make a lot of profit, just like the Ferengi in Star Trek. That overweening lust for money has blinded so many to the humanity which commerce can foster. After all, if England were not a trading nation, the printing of the English language bible may not have happened when it did. We wouldn’t enjoy Cadbury’s chocolate which began with a quaker’s vision of what a factory should be. But I digress.
Amos talks of merchants as they really are. Some show their greed with skimpy measures and large bills. Others can be seen, if we read between the lines, to be the opposite, allowing generous measures and always a discount. Some merchants are eager to trade and make deals only for their own benefit, some perhaps trade on behalf of their shareholders, or a few may have an interest in affording others a better life. Profit takes a back seat to the service offered by those happy few, those whose service is dedicated to the other person’s humanity.
As a gardener I am a tradesman. I offer my services to whomever would hire me. In the end I hope I will make lives better, and as a by-product I can pay all my bills. I remember speaking some time ago about the letter to Philemon where the author begs the thief to give up that wretched life and take up productive work, for he argues that the creation of goods is a joy in itself. Don’t we, in fact, agree with him and even sometimes say “Work is its own reward”? – I am sure we all know the truth of that saying, even if we don’t say so.
But isn’t this message at odds with our parable from the gospel? Why does Jesus praise this steward for feathering his own nest? This doesn’t sound right, does it? But what if we read this in tandem with the parable about inviting people to out parties who cannot return hospitality – does it make a little more sense?
When you invite the homeless to your banquet, you don’t expect any reward from the beggars and indigents who roam the roads sleeping rough without a penny to their name. But the steward, when he discounts the arrears of so many, expects some recognition in the future. It is not in heaven that he expects his reward for his largess, but it is in this life – after he loses his position and is wandering around looking for another job when his dealings come to fruition. He wants those people to whom he handed a bribe – sorry, discount – to remember him! This is very different to offering some poor traveller food and lodging for the night, isn’t it? Jesus says the dishonest steward who cheated his master has acted like the wise serpent of this world.
It would seem that Jesus commends sharp practice in this life, but I have to ask, does he? I really don’t think so. I think he contrasts the two ways of living most starkly.
“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.”
Jesus contrasts the children of this age with the children of light. Dishonest wealth will benefit in this age, but what about in the eternal home? Will filthy lucre benefit us there? No, I don’t think so. When this dishonest wealth has all been spent in this world, what is left? I think Jesus is telling us – Make friends! Make those friends here and now and they will ask us in when we pass their doors in this world and perhaps even in eternity. The poor to whom we have offered hospitality with no hope of reward will remember us in eternity, Jesus says, for they will count us amongst the righteous. If we have made friends, perhaps it will stand us in good stead in this life, and may even count for something in the next.
So that is how I have made sense and linked all our readings on the sheet. It is rough, but I think it is ready enough to allow us to consider it for the rest of the week.