Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
In the name of God: our mission, our means, and our support. Amen.
From time to time, this meme floats around social media channels, and every time I run across it, it makes me smile. It says, simply, that when God gave you some kind of calling in this life, your “stupidity” (their word) was already factored in. It’s an oddly comforting thought, isn’t it? So often when we’re faced with following God’s will in our lives, we hold ourselves up short – who are we to do something so bold as to act for God? Who are we, in the midst of all of our failings and shortcomings, to think we can help bring God’s will into reality?
It’s a problem about as long-standing as people’s interactions with God at all. Even Moses, when encountering God and being called to bring God’s message to Pharaoh, questions God, saying, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” But God says, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”
God already knew Moses’ limitations. But God also knew Moses’ ability.
And when, in his visions, Isaiah first met God, he was consumed with fears of inadequacy. He said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” But it’s through a closer relationship with God that he finally realizes his abilities and summons the courage to say to God, “Here am I; send me!”
God calls us into service knowing full well our inabilities. Our inadequacies. And still, we are good enough. Still, we are exactly what God is looking for.
From time to time I’ve talked about my fondness for movies and TV shows and books where the heroes of the stories are complicated characters that in most other contexts would be seen as villains – the mob boss, Tony Soprano; the illicit drug manufacturer, Walter White; the serial killer, Dexter. Perhaps it’s because I can recognize my own failures and shortcomings that it gives me comfort to see these “bad guys” as redeemable.
But I do believe that’s how God sees us. When I was growing up, there was this huge Pentecostal church in town that had an annual theatrical spectacle around Easter each year retelling the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I’m sure if I were to see it today I’d recognize some theologically questionable concepts, but growing up, I just loved it for its theatre and music. There was one song that I’ll always remember that was a part of the show – sung by the pastor’s wife. The lyric that sticks with me to this day is where it says, “Not what I was, but what I could be, that’s how Jesus saw me.”
The passage from Luke that we read today can be sort of troubling. In the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, we hear a story like those shows that I like so much – a man has mishandled his boss’ wealth and is about to be fired. So, in preparation for that, he goes around to all the people who owe his boss money and makes deals with them to ease their burdens, in the hope that that will earn him favor in the community so his needs will be met when he’s no longer employed.
He’s a “bad guy” that emerges as the hero in the story. Rather than being rebuked for that kind of shady dealing, his boss actually praises him. He admires his shrewdness. Though it’s never explicitly stated, in my mind, the manager was forgiven and redeemed. In my mind the boss kept the manager on, recognizing his gifts, however dishonest they may have been.
While it’s not the cleanest example of Jesus’ teaching – the story doesn’t wind up how we might expect it would – it is in line with what we know of Jesus. Jesus is the man who stood between the angry crowd and the adulteress and said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus is the one who met the Samaritan woman at the well, and despite her sexual sins and her foreignness and her gender – despite all these things, Jesus was able to see the good in her, and make her a disciple.
Here’s the good news in this parable that may not make much sense: God can see the good in us. Even when we are blinded by our failings, God can see the promise we have, and through our promise – not through our shortcomings – God calls us onto the team. God calls us to take a share in this faith and this community and this mission.
We may not think we’re enough. God knows I often don’t feel like I’m enough. But with God, we are. We are not just enough, we are exactly right. We are exactly what is needed. We are perfectly made for the mission we’re called to, even in our imperfections.
Think of that the next time your invited into ministry and feel like you may not be right for the task. Think of that the next time you see a need and expect that you couldn’t possibly impact it. The problems of the world are significant. And the ministries and missions that God has in mind to meet them are also significant. But so are our abilities. We can do more through God than we could ever imagine on our own. When God called you, your shortcomings were already factored in. You can do it. You are enough, and more. Amen.