Looking Ahead

I wonder if you have ever thought “Christianity is pretty confusing sometimes?”
If you have I wonder whether it might have been after you read the Gospel story we had today, or something similar.
Sometimes there even seems to be conflicting guidelines about it all.
A few weeks ago we skipped over a section of Luke 12 in which we are encouraged not to worry about what we will wear and where our food will come from.  These words are very similar to the words Matthew records in the Sermon on the Mount – and they are good words for us, aren’t they?
It is indeed clear to us all that we spend far too much time worry about things in the future over which we have no control, and it is a good idea to simply trust that God will sort it out.
This is an idea that St Francis took very much to heart, perhaps even to an extreme.  Franciscans live very much for the moment.  They practice the art of being focussed very much in the present without worry about what has passed or about what will come tomorrow.  A story is told of an example of the extreme to which Francis took this “rule”. 
When you are living on peasant rations, as Francis did, an important part of your diet will inevitably be dried beans or lentils.  Those of you who cook will know that all such things need to be soaked overnight at least before you try and cook them – otherwise they will be neither palatable nor digestible.   However, Francis took the view that putting the beans into water to soak for cooking tomorrow was contravening this rule of not worrying about what you will eat tomorrow.
I suppose we could do the same to any sort of rule, really, but I think most of us get it, that we in our time are surrounded by inordinate causes of anxiety and worry about things over which we have not control, and the idea of shedding those worries and focussing right in on exactly what is happening now is a good idea.
So, we are encouraged to stop and smell the roses.  We are encouraged to put aside the things from our past that cause us to be bitter or revengeful towards others.  We are encouraged live in this moment.
The Gospel story we have before us today seems to be telling us something of the opposite – at least it does if that is the right way to interpret it.
I am sure all of you hearing it this morning would have been puzzled by the possibility that Jesus was commending someone for being dishonest and encouraging us to do likewise if we really want to get ahead.  I know that I did, when I first looked at it earlier this week in preparation for today.
One of the things we have to remember when we read parables is that the content of the story is far less important than the point of the story.  Indeed, if we think the content is the story we will be misusing it.
The story of the Good Samaritan is not about Samaritans and Jews or priests and Levites – it is about how to behave in a neighbourly fashion.
So, in a similar way this story is not about behaving sneakily or even dishonestly with the things we might be entrusted with.
I think the key thrust of this story is Jesus telling his listeners that they would do well to make preparation for their own wellbeing in the future – ie with God. 
The shrewd manager is commended for taking steps to ensure he had some “friends” who would look after him when he was finally disgraced by losing his job.  He knew what was coming and he took steps to protect himself from it.
His wisdom in taking steps to protect his future, I think, is the thing that Jesus is calling us, the “children of light”, to make sure we pay attention to.  Of course he doesn’t want us to be a sneak or cheat with other people’s money; but he is throwing down a challenge – And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? “
This, I think is the nub of it.  If we can be wise and astute about all the responsibilities we have in this world, then it is a shoe-in that we will handle our sacred trusts well, too.  This is the idea that is embedded in the COLLECT for today and which I will echo in my blessing for you at the end of the service.
The focus of our lives should rightly be the things of God and in this area of life we all have a responsibility to nurture our life in God, to always be growing and developing;  and a good way to ensure we make good choices there is to practice making good choices in the other areas of our lives.
So, a question worth asking ourselves is:
“What are you doing today that is laying good foundations for your tomorrow?”
The kinds of things that might weigh in on this could be:

  • Cultivating those gifts of the Spirit in your life – faith, hope and love etc. 
  • Nurturing your spiritual life by simple daily practices that keep you focussed on God 
  • Practising trustworthiness and wisdom in all areas of your life 
  • Ensuring you remain connected to that community of believers in which you are accepted and loved 
  • Find some small way in which you can give to others that improves their welfare – maybe as a donor but maybe as a volunteer 

I don’t know what will be right for you, but I do know that the work of the Spirit of God involves prompting us about one thing or another like this, and if you are feeling such a prompting, listen carefully to it and see how you can take it up in ways that will show that you have understood what Jesus is commending in this seriously strange but very helpful parable.

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