Sept. 18, 2022

Prayer of the Day

God among us, we gather in the name of your Son to learn love for one another. Keep our feet from evil paths. Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.


Jeremiah 8:18–9:1

18My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
  my heart is sick.
19Hark, the cry of my poor people
  from far and wide in the land:
 “Is the Lord not in Zion?
  Is her King not in her?”
 (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
  with their foreign idols?”)
20“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
  and we are not saved.”
21For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
  I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

22Is there no balm in Gilead?
  Is there no physician there?
 Why then has the health of my poor people
  not been restored?
9:1O that my head were a spring of water,
  and my eyes a fountain of tears,
 so that I might weep day and night
  for the slain of my poor people!

Psalm 79:1-9

1O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have profaned your | holy temple;
  they have made Jerusalem a | heap of rubble.
2They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the birds | of the air,
  and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts | of the field.
3They have shed their blood like water on every side | of Jerusalem,
  and there was no one to | bury them.
4We have become a reproach | to our neighbors,
  an object of scorn and derision to | those around us. 
5How long will you be an- | gry, O Lord?
  Will your fury blaze like | fire forever?
6Pour out your wrath upon the nations who | have not known you
  and upon the kingdoms that have not called up- | on your name.
7For they have de- | voured Jacob
  and made his dwell- | ing a ruin.
8Remember not our past sins; let your compassion be | swift to meet us;
  for we have been brought | very low.
9Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory | of your name;
  deliver us and forgive us our sins, | for your name’s sake. 

Luke 16:1-13

1Then 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. 2So 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.’ 3Then 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. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then 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.’ 8And 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. 9And 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.
10“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. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No 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.”

Parable of the Unjust Steward

Andrey Mironov
Oil painting, 2012

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Today we continue the Season of Creation with the 2022 theme of listening to the voice of creation itself. I had been committed in my planning to incorporate various authors into my sermons but wondered how scientist Rachel Carson would fit in. Then I read our passage from Jeremiah 8 and gave a little prayer of thanks to the Holy Spirit.

Carson lived from 1907-1964 and was trained as a marine biologist. She pursued careers both as a specialist in commercial fisheries and as a writer. Her most influential book was Silent Spring, published in 1962, in which she demonstrated the harmful effects of pesticides on the health of the environment. The book’s power comes in its combination of hard science and its descriptions of the devastation of wildlife in forests and streams.

Her writing is a call for action, but first it is a lament, a call to listen to the voice of creation. She writes, “As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life – a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways. These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task no “high-minded orientation,” no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.” 

No Pollyanna, Carson knew that pesticides were here for good, but she lamented the cost that came with no moral deliberation, ““It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge.” 

Like parts of Silent Spring, Jeremiah 8 is pure lament. Who is speaking is not always clear, but the tone of the message is crystal—lament. God is the primary speaker, but we also hear from Jeremiah himself. Hear again v. 18 and 19: 18My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. 19Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”).

In v. 18 God through Jeremiah expresses grief and the loss of joy or pleasure at the events. God’s heart is sick and so is Jeremiah’s. In the next verse we hear divine lament. We also get to hear God ask “why!?” All of this is an expression of divine suffering, something we do not talk about much, but a suffering because of what has happened to the relationship between God and humanity.

As we consider longer fire seasons, a global water crisis, barges of trash in the ocean, and other environmental tragedies I think this passage from Jeremiah reminds us that God today suffers both because of human actions and also with human beings. It is clear in our passage from Jeremiah that something similar is going on. God and Jeremiah suffer because of the people; the people have provoked God with their images and foreign idols. God is not coolly unaffected by the rejection but as one deeply wounded by the broken relationship. 

God does not view what has happened to the people with a kind of detached objectivity. There seems little satisfaction that justice has now been done, however much the justice was deserved. God does not leave the people then, nor us, along to wallow in the ill effects of their own sins. God turns from the role of judge to that of fellow sufferer. Jeremiah chapter 8 may remind those of us gathered here of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

Lament is a faithful response to much in the world and knowing that God suffers with us may give some comfort, but my goal on a Sunday morning is to ultimately leave you with good news. For that we will turn to this most strange and hard to comprehend parable from Luke’s gospel.

The parable begins with some nameless informant telling a certain rich man that his steward has been wasting his money. The master does not inquire. There is no trial. Instead, he simply reads the steward the riot act. “What’s this I hear? You are a disgrace!” the master says. “Turn in your books! You are fired!” The steward comes out of his master’s office with none of his old life left at all. It is over.

But that’s not where the story ends. Watch. “So the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do now that my master has taken away my managership? I’m not strong enough to work as a laborer. I’m too proud to be a beggar. Aha! I’ve got it! I’ll use my brains and ace out that unforgiving tyrant. He would like me to turn in my books? Well, I’ll do just that—after I’ve made a few adjustments.

And so he calls in his master’s debtors and settles accounts with them at considerable write-offs. He knocks the bill of one of them by half, the bill of another by a fifth. This might at one and the same time make him look bad to his manager and good to the debtors. The master might remember the original amounts so cash on hand won’t matter. But the debtors might think kindly of the steward’s write-offs and “receive him into their houses” after he is fired. 

In the end, we read that “The Lord praised the unjust steward, for children of this age are wiser in their generation than the children of light. One pastor wrote that “somehow, between verse 2 (“What’s this? You’re fired!”) and verse 8 (My beamish boy! You’re a genius!) the master of the steward has turned from unforgiving bookkeeper to happy-go-lucky celebrator of any new interest that comes along. 

In a way, the steward had died. He was freed to think things he could not have thought before. He then becomes the agent of life for everybody in the parable. He gives life to his master. Somehow the sight of a loser pulling off a scheme like this in the thick of despair loosens up the master. 

More importantly, the steward gives life to his master’s debtors. Would they have ever approached the master directly? No. The debtors would never have gone near the steward if they had not been convinced he was dead to all the laws of respectable bookkeeping. 

This parable speaks for Jesus’ own life. Jesus himself was not respectable. He broke the Sabbath rules. He hung out with crooks. He died as a criminal alongside other criminals. The church has always had trouble leaving Jesus looking like the character he actually was in first century Palestine. The church cannot resist the temptation to gussy him up into a respectable citizen. 

Parables are not meant to be allegorized. They are not supposed to be fit into an algebraic equation. Resisting this temptation is very hard for our post-Enlightenment minds I will readily admit. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson once accurately described parables as narrative time bombs. 

Today’s parable is about stewardship. Whatever we have now is no more than a temporary management, but an important one. The parable invites us to be like this wise steward. He was ready to cheat the present order for the sake of the new order he knew was coming. Jesus concludes the parable with a moral that recalls Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.”

I could not help but be reminded of the steward’s craftiness and Jesus’ own lack of respectability when I read about something that took place Wednesday evening up near Luther Heights. First some background. In 1992, a sockeye salmon returned to Idaho waters from the Pacific Ocean. His journey included navigating 900 miles and 6500 feet of elevation gain, something salmon have done for millennia. But rather than returning with thousands of others, upon entering Redfish Lake (his native spawning ground), he was discovered, alone. Nicknamed “Lonesome Larry”, local fish biologists were able to harvest his sperm and fertilize thousands of eggs. This was done to rebuild and reestablish the local population of sockeye salmon. 

Wednesday, Kurt Tardy from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ fish and wildlife sockeye recovery project, invited forest and fire personnel to witness and assist with the release of 102 adult sockeye salmon into Pettit Lake. All are genetic descendants of Larry. The release will allow for natural spawning in Pettit Lake and, it is hoped, many more returning salmon in the years to come. The Forest Service reported that it was a beautiful representation of new life and hope for this area. 

Lonesome Larry, the salmon, went literally against the water. And he was unconventional in his spawning journey. To me this is a reminder that as we human beings work to heal God’s good creation, the natural world itself may be one of our greatest sources of inspiration and teachers. Then we witness the humans. In the midst of Ross Fork fire, something beautiful happened. I’m not sure if the Forest Service broke its own rules or even bent them, but the rangers did make room for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe to continue its inspiring sockeye recovery project. It’s clear to me that the Holy Spirit has been opening hearts and minds all over the place.

There is a great deal to lament as we scan environmental destruction in this country and globally. Since Silent Spring was published, we have learned some things and helped heal various places. Meanwhile, population growth and unchecked Capitalism have created new problems. Amid this seeming chaos, we are called to be stewards of the land and of all God provides. Today we give thanks for a Savior who was like no other and who might inspire us to follow him in unrespectable and unconventional ways as we try to heal this planet we all share.

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

As scattered grains of wheat are gathered together into one bread, so let us gather our prayers for the church, those in need, and all of God’s good creation.

A brief silence.

God our Savior, you keep your church in faith and truth. Accompany those preparing for baptism or affirmation of baptism. Enlighten preachers, teachers, seminarians, and all those who share your good news with the world. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Divine teacher, you instruct your children to be responsible stewards of your creation. Show us how best to care for the earth and its resources, and guide those who work to develop sustainable practices. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Ruler of the nations, you direct those in authority. Give leaders wisdom and compassion so that all may live in peace. Inspire public servants to follow the example of courageous leaders (especially Dag Hammarskjöld) and safeguard the dignity of each person. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Helper of the needy, you lift up those who are oppressed. Breathe justice into economic and social systems that perpetuate poverty and hunger. Sustain food ministries, clothing banks, and emergency shelters (local outreach may be named). God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Sustainer and giver of life, you bless this congregation with abundance. Instruct us in the proper and faithful use of wealth and resources, that we share generously. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

God of glory, you gather your saints around your throne. Keep us thankful for the witness of those who have gone before us (especially), and bring us with them to the heavenly feast that has no end. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Gathered together in the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit, gracious God, we offer these and all our prayers to you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.


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1 Response to Sept. 18, 2022

  1. Linda McQueen says:

    Meggan, Thank for this sermon message; the passages are complicated, and your explanation and interpretation gives me a much better understanding. I especially appreciated the references to “Silent Spring.”

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