September 18, 2022
Today’s readings lament the state of our world, but find hope in God, whose values are radically different form the world’s.
Jeremiah 8.18 – 9.1 is a lament, an expression of anguish, but also of hope, and not despair, for God’s grace always prevails. Jeremiah laments the ruin of his people, because they are not faithful. Is there a balm, a source of healing, in the land?
Psalm 79 laments that God’s people are subject to injustice, and cries out, “How long, O lord?”
1 Timothy 2.1-7 invites us into prayer, trusting that God really want us to share in God’s love and see the truth clearly.
In Luke 16.1-13 Jesus tells about a manager who is about to be fired. He cooks his masters’ books, reducing the amount others owe him—and the master commends him.
“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.” It’s ambiguous whether this is Jeremiah or God talking, but since the prophet speaks for God, it’s both. God is not mad at us; God grieves for us that we can’t seem to get it right. God is not one who punishes us, but who lets the consequences of our choices fall where they may. We are not being destroyed; we are self-destructive. The image here is not one of God bent on vengeance but a God who laments. “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears…” Again, is this Jeremiah or God? It’s both. What brings us back from the hell of our own making is not God’s anger (which only pushes us farther away) but God’s deep grief for us, because God loves us.
Yep. Weird story. Jesus has a few. A little background helps. Jewish law prohibits charging interest. But Jew or Gentile, rich landlords charged exorbitant rates, often hiding what amounted to interest in other “fees,” padding their income in many ways. Jesus’ audience would assume this would be the case in this story, and also that the steward probably added a cut for himself. When he reduces people’s debts, he might simply be eloiminating his own cut; he might be cutting out the (prohibited) interest, which the landlord can’t really argue with; or he might actually be reducing the principle owed. Jesus doesn’t specify. In any case, the steward is surely reducing his own take as well as that of the landlord. But in reducing the debt of the poor, he’s not just using shifty bookkeeping to make friends; he’s enacting justice. He’s helping out the poor. It’s an odd sort of Robin Hood kind of help, but it does favor the poor. Jesus might be engaging his hearers in a critique of an economic system that habitually preys on the poor.
When Jesus says “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,” I don’t think he means to be sly or greedy for your own benefit; maybe he means the opposite: to use money in ways that benefit other people. A lot of our wealth is “dishonest.” Will we use it for selfish means or for the benefit of others?
This is also a story about forgiveness of debts. From the beginning (see Luke 4.19) Jesus has preached and practiced the Old Testament principle of Jubilee in which debts are forgiven and slaves freed (Leviticus 25). From “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors” to “Father forgive them,” Jesus emphasizes forgiveness of every kind of indebtedness. In the Realm of God nobody owes anybody anything. Maybe this is a story about someone working toward that, even in a compromised situation.
Let’s turn this into an allegory about God for a moment. All of us owe God a lot. Everything, in fact. But Jesus comes along as a steward of God’s grace and says, “What do you think you owe God?” Well, change that. You don’t owe God. It’s a gift. Jesus commends stewards of God’s grace who go around declaring forgiveness.
Call to Worship
Leader: Creator God, for your infinite grace we praise you.
All: We praise you!
Loving Christ, for your amazing love we thank you.
We thank you!
Holy Spirit, in your life-giving power we worship you.
We worship you! Alleluia!
Leader: Over the chaos of the world, God, you reign in peace and grace.
All: You who are the foundation of the world, we turn to you. Mercy!
Into the pain of our lives, Christ, you come with healing and redemption.
You who are our wholeness and our hope, we turn to you. Mercy!
Amidst suffering of this world, Holy Spirit, you bind us together in one Body.
You who are our unity and our compassion, we turn to you. Mercy!
Leader: In this world there is beauty, and there is injustice.
All: Brokenhearted God, you weep for us.
In this world there is selfishness and greed.
Generous God, you forgive us.In this world there are people who lift up holy hands in prayer.
God who desires all to be made whole, we join them;
we offer our supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings;
we worship you in trust and gratitude. Amen.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Creator God, you speak the world into being. By your life-giving word you heal us and make us new. Speak your word to us now, lead us in the way of your grace. Amen.
God of love, you weep for the hurt of your people, for our injustice and greed. We are broken but you desire our wholeness. We bind one another with indebtedness of many kinds, but you proclaim forgiveness. Speak your Word to us, that we may see not as the word does but as you do: with mercy and grace. May we be good stewards of your love. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Leader: God, the Holy One, the Compassionate One, cries out:
“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
Listen, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land.”
All: We lament our selfishness, our hate and our greed.
“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt;
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.”
We lament our violence. Our injustice breaks the heart of God.
“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?”
God cries out for justice and healing yet we do not respond.
Yet there is a balm in Gilead. The grace of Christ still lives among us.
We cry out for your grace, O God.
We open ourselves to you: heal us, forgive us,
transform us, and fill us with your light.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
We give our hearts to God, Creator of all that is, who holds all things in her heart, whose faithful compassion is infinite.
We follow Jesus, our brother, our teacher and our friend, who embodies God’s love, who taught and healed and gathered a community of compassion for the world. For his love he was crucified, and on the cross he shared the pain of all humanity. But in love God raised him from the dead, and he lives among us still, accompanying us within divine grace and redeeming even our darkest suffering.
We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s love in us, in whose grace we weep for the world, serve the hurting, and live as signs of God’s mercy. We live as One, the Body of Christ, in the power of forgiveness, the mystery of Resurrection, and the gift of eternal life. We devote our lives to bearing the heart of God, that we may make this wounded world more gentle and hopeful, in the Name of Christ. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
God, you desire that all be made whole,
and that we come to the knowledge of the truth.
We open ourselves to your presence,
your Word, and your healing.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Send us into the world as messengers of your forgiveness, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.