Harrowing Of Hell
September 18, 2016

God is Surprising

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

Proper 20C
Luke 16:1-13

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God surprised me this week. I’m not sure of the last time that happened, but this week it did. God does that sort of thing. God catches us off guard, behaves in unexpected ways, flips things upside down and backwards. That’s kind of God’s M.O. which we forget.

The surprise happened as I was reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my kids.We came to the scene in which Susan and Mr. Beaver are talking about Aslan, the great Lion, and Susan asks, “Is he quite safe?” And Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

What a curious thing for a child…or an adult to consider and of course as always, C.S. Lewis is spot-on. God isn’t safe, but God is always good. God is always loving. God is not always secure, or just, or fair, but God is always good.

This surprising, good, and loving God shows us over and over in this section of Luke, through one parable after another that lost things are worth seeking, sinners should be forgiven, that love, grace, and mercy triumph every time even when it’s surprising.

Surprising. That brings me back to today’s parable. How about that one? A rich man, a manager, some debtors…Did you stay with the twists and turns of the story Jesus tells us or did you check out somewhere along the way when it stopped making any sense? How about when it trailed off at the end with the series of one liners that seem loosely connected to the story?

This story is about a common set of characters, archetypes in any community; a wealthy landowner at the top, the property manager in the middle, and their assorted clients at the bottom conducting daily transactions. The middle manager does something to get himself fired, but before it’s finalized or maybe just before word gets out, he calls all of the clients in and chats them up, schmoozes with them. This whole scene feels shady and underhanded to me. The manager has said outright in the text that he is too weak for manual labor and too proud to beg, but clearly not above manipulation.

He reduces the debts of the clients, forgiving a portion of what they owe. Some would argue he makes a smart business move by collecting something rather than nothing on these lines of credit in exchange for a small relational bump on his way out the door. It’s all in how you spin it…

And don’t forget, don’t forget the other thing he said before meeting with those clients. He said, I’m going to do them a favor in the hopes that when they hear I’ve been canned, they might welcome me into their homes.

Now, fast forward, the wealthy landowner is reviewing the audit with him. The text says he commends the dishonest manager because he has acted shrewdly. So, the boss commends this behavior. It’s insane. Baffling. Surprising. At least, that was my first take on the story.

God surprises us. For some reason, there is something in here for us to learn. What is it? The whole exchange – gifts with strings attached – shady business deals, It feels gross, and yet God sees something worth redeeming in this man. Even Jesus commends him. Jesus agrees with the rich man.

Let’s run through it again and try spinning it a different way, perhaps through the lens of the sometimes scary, but always good, loving God who surprises us.

Imagine God as the rich man and we are the dishonest managers about to be fired for misappropriation of company funds. Same story, we’re not interested in a lifetime of manual labor and begging sounds humiliating. So, we go around to all of the clients who owe our employer money and reduce our own commission and cut their interest rates. It’s the least we can do, right? It’s generous, kind, and just maybe this small favor will pay out down the road in some way we can’t even anticipate. You never know. At least someone is benefiting from this awful situation. The debtors will catch a break and it doesn’t really hurt anyone.

But you know what, this strategy, actually builds relationship. It creatively builds relationship between us and the clients instead of simply conducting business transactions. It takes things one step further. We’re just working with what we have, using the tools of this world, to bridge distance, to build relationship, to seek a new and secure future. Surprisingly, our employer, God, in this scenario, commends us for this behavior, for our initiative and ingenuity.

There God goes again, turning things upside down and always full of surprises. The religious people of Jesus’ day were shocked. They didn’t sign up for this and perhaps neither did we.Do you want a God who is just and fair? Do you want a God who is predictable and follows the laws? Well, that’s the not the God of whom we seek. Because those are the constructs of the earthly realm. Those are creature comforts, social patterns and norms that work for most, but not all.

The good God who is not always safe, and often surprising, flips those things on their head. Instead, what Jesus points to is the realm of a God who seeks the wanderer, celebrates the lost, forgives the proud and repairs broken relationships.

Throughout the Bible, and especially in this parable, we are confronted with a God who takes our norms and expectations and tosses them upside down. Jesus praises the manager’s insane behavior and urges us to act more like him! You see, Jesus wants us to use the tools of this world, be it money, privilege, voice, opportunity, whatever it is, to flip things on their head, to build relationship, to make the earthly realm a better place for all.

And the ways in which we do that might be unconventional, might appear shady to some. People might question our motivation for being kind, or generous, or giving and that’s okay. Because it’s counter cultural to care for someone other than yourself or your family. It’s counter cultural to give away your money. It’s counter cultural be in relationship with people who don’t look like you. And in Seattle it’s even counter-cultural to come to church.

As believers in a God who is full of surprises, we are called to look past the surface, beyond the first glance, and into the souls of those whom God deems worth commending, worth searching for, worth saving.

Early in the story, the manager says he is seeking the security of home, but later in the text, Jesus promises him welcome into the eternal homes, where the word is actually tents.

The God of surprises doesn’t promise the stability and security which we seek. But God does promise transformation of the soul and an eternal tenting. The eternal tenting is an everlasting dwelling place in which one is received not into a 4 bed/3 bath with a view of the mountains, but into a life with God that is ever on the move, always good, and often surprising, but probably more than a little scary and seemingly unsafe.

Our God is a God of surprises – a God who lifts up the life of the wanderer, the giver, the bridge builder, creative entrepreneurs who use the stuff of this world to bring about the kingdom of heaven.

The house that the manager seeks may not ever be there, but the eternal tent of God’s dwelling will always be there, as tenuous, unsafe, ever-changing, and transformative as ever.

Sermon Questions:
When was the last time God surprised you? How? In what way?
Where do you see yourself in this parable?
How can you use the tools of this world to build up God’s kingdom?