A Reading from the Book of Jeremiah (8:18-9:1)
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, 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?”) “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O 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!
1 God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
they have profaned your holy temple; *
they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
2 They 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.
3 They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem, *
and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a reproach to our neighbors, *
an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
5 How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
will your fury blaze like fire for ever?
6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you *
and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob *
and made his dwelling a ruin.
8 Remember not our past sins;
let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
for we have been brought very low.
9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; *
deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.
A Reading from First Letter of Paul to Timothy (2:1-7)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings 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 Savior, 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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (16:1-13)
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 accounting 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
A week and one-half ago, late on a Wednesday afternoon, Mark and Micaela came home early from cross-country practice. The reason was simple: one of their coaches had checked her phone and had found that the temperature was 95⁰, and the heat index had reached 106⁰ — not a day to be running perimeters or doing a trail-run! Just two and one-half days later, on Saturday morning, when we arrived at the meet for which they had been practicing, the temperature had dropped to the low 40s, with a wind-chill dipping into the upper 30s. It didn’t take a meteorologist – or any other kind of “-ologist” for that matter – to know that summer was coming to an end, and autumn was on its way. It officially begins for us at 4:44 this afternoon.
Autumn is a beautiful time of year. The oppressive heat and humidity of summer is gone. The harvest reaches its peak. The leaves begin to change color. And schools, church programs and other activities that have been on summer hiatus begin anew.
But autumn can also be a melancholy time. The warmth of summer days fades, and, with it, the laid-back atmosphere of the summer months. The sun begins to rise later and later and to set earlier and earlier, as the hours of darkness supersede those of the light. And all of nature heads toward the inevitable bleakness and starkness of winter.
Poets and composers have long seen in autumn a metaphor for the endings of all things, sometimes viewing it as a fit image for approaching death. All things in creation eventually have their autumns. American theologian David Tracy has written about what he calls the “finitude, contingency and transience” of all things. The old saying has it that “all good things must end”; but that is equally true of all not-so-good things as well.
Whether we want to admit it or not, that finitude, contingency and transience is the reality of the world in which we live and of which we are a part. The question is not whether all things will come to an end. The question is only what will we do when they do come to an end.
This morning’s first reading and gospel reading explore people’s responses to endings.
Over the past few weeks, we have heard readings from the prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the end that was coming upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their oppression of the poor and helpless and their rejection of God’s call to repentance. While in earlier readings, Jeremiah let them know that there was still time for them to change their lives and so to change their fate, by now it was too late. The end was inevitable. During the coming weeks, he will begin to deal with the question: “The end has come. So what do we do now?”
That is the same question faced by the manager in Jesus’ parable. His boss has caught up with him and is demanding an audit. The manager will certainly be fired. The end has come. What will he do now?
That is the question that we face over and over again in life for endings both great and small. Whether we are talking about the loss of a significant material possession, the end of a relationship, the end of a career, the death of a loved one, the loss of some physical ability that we once had, or any other find of loss – we come to a point when grieving over the past has to be put aside for a while. We have to acknowledge our loss, our ending, and we have to ask ourselves “So what do we do now?” Sometimes, it’s hard to see any way forward.
We face that reality of finitude, contingency and transience even in the church. One new job that I somehow picked up recently was being part of a small group that plans our diocesan, semi-annual clergy days. For the one coming next week, the bishop has brought in consultants to help us grapple with the endings that we and our churches face due to changes in society and in churches over recent decades: drops in attendance and in income; the deterioration of some of our grand, old church buildings; the necessity, in an increasing number of parishes, of moving from full-time clergy to part-time clergy; and, as a consequence, uncertainty and anxiety among younger and middle-aged clergy themselves as to whether or not they will be able to find the full-time positions in church work that they need to support themselves and their families.
An old platitude has it that “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” That sounds nice; but the truth is that there are many times in life in which we find ourselves in windowless buildings. So where do we turn?
In 1982, South Africa was still struggling with the oppression of apartheid; Nelson Mandela languished in a prison on Robben Island; and hope for deliverance seemed to have died. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to his fellow citizens: “Nothing could have been deader than Jesus on the cross on the first Good Friday. And the hopes of his disciples appeared to die with his crucifixion. . . . And then Easter happened. Jesus rose from the dead. The incredible, the unexpected happened. Life triumphed over death, light over darkness, love over hatred, good over evil. That is what Easter means—hope prevails over despair. Jesus reigns as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Oppression and injustice and suffering can’t be the end of the human story.”
That is the message that we find throughout the scriptures and especially in the resurrection of Jesus. It seems to be at the times of greatest loss and of total despair that God does God’s best work. It was only after Judah and Jerusalem had been completely destroyed and the people led into exile that God brought about a rebirth in Israel – not a restoration of what had been, but something totally new and unexpected: the beginning of Judaism as it has lasted through the ages. And it was only after Jesus had died and his disciples’ hopes had died along with him that God again did something totally new and unexpected: God raised him from the dead and, in the power of his Spirit, began transforming the world in a way that no one seems to have imagined.
This is the God who repeatedly brings new life where there appears to be only death. God doesn’t usually restore things to the way they were before. The past remains past. But God is constantly at work making a new creation.
This is the same God who is with us in all of our endings, weeping with us, grieving with us, sharing our sorrows. But this is also the God who transforms winter into spring, despair into hope, and death in all its forms into new and greater life.