JEREMIAH 8:18 - 9:1
Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon
Focusing Scripture: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Luke 16: 1-13
The Prophet Jeremiah speaks for the people and for God when he says about this season “The harvest has past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” Here we are, on the cusp of summer and fall and as always, none of us are saved from the perils of being human in an earthly world. The people of Pakistan are not saved as the floods continue to rise and demolish their homes and their harvest. The people of Afghanistan are not saved as this endless war brings a continued loss of life to an already demoralized nation. The people of Gainesville Florida are not saved, even as some of them build fires with Muslim Holy Scriptures in an attempt to burn off what they fear. Open the newspaper, turn on the computer, listen to the prophets of our day weep “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick….Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?”
It is an old story writ new every day; suffering brought on both by nature itself in a torrent of wind or rain or fire, and even more so by human hands doing violence to our brothers and sisters at home and abroad. When we allow ourselves, to really pay attention to the suffering, we too cry out as Jeremiah did in his day “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt. I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” And we are called to ask, where do I fit in here? What is my responsibility? What am I called to do and to be in these hard times.
In today’s lectionary we are faced with a strange and challenging story about losses and responsibility and the twisted ways that we humans go about trying to save face when caught in our own webs of lies. Jesus tells his disciples about a manager, who it appears has been squandering the property of his rich master. Somehow the truth came out and the manager was found to have been skimming the top. Called upon to give an accounting he got scared and tried to save himself and in doing so brought more people into the deceit by buying them off. It is an odd tale, more a parable than a morality play. It is a tale like most tales of people like us who get our priorities messed up and then do everything we can to cover our tracks. It is a story of faith and value (both true and false) and devotion. But it also a story about what really can save us when we have fallen flat on our faces.
When called upon to account for his actions the manager does not talk directly to the master but instead says 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.” This reminds me of someone who once said that spiritual practice is not only about discerning what we are called to do. It is also about doing exactly that, and then when life turns out differently than the way we thought it would, rather than losing faith in God, turning around and listening again to the new question which is “Now what?” The manger was in a “now what?” moment and instead of going back to his master and telling the truth, kept talking to himself. He thought that he was too weak to dig deeper into his life, and too embarrassed to come up empty, holding a begging bowl that might have been filled with forgiveness and renewal.
It has been my experience that digging not only takes strength but also builds strength. Digging down into my heart and soul, hitting hard pan and rocks and roots before, with luck and grace, finding a new spring. While it is embarrassing to be proved wrong or incompetent, devious or hurtful, sinful and sorrowful, begging for help and forgiveness can restore me to health and even salvation. Digging deeper and being humble enough to own up to my humanity turns me toward what is ultimately more worthwhile. What saves us from our own devious selves? Practice digging down deeper so that your own chatter fades away and you can hear God giving you yet another chance. Stand on the corner of your life and hold your bowl, knowing that whatever falls in will sustain you for at least another hour. There is a balm in Gilead. May it fall on us, in times of hurt and times of calamity. May it fall on your soul and on the soul of the nations.
Gracious and Merciful God, you who are endlessly dispensing a saving balm even when we cannot feel it falling on our heads, be with us when grief is upon us and our hearts and souls are sick. Help us learn to dig deeper, listen more closely, speak from the heart rather than from a state of fear. Our hands are empty and reaching. Save us from ourselves so that we might be there for each other.
Amen and Blessed Be