Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sermon Year C Pentecost 17 Proper 20

10 mph

My husband Tom and I watched a movie this week,
one we rented from Netflix,
and the title of this film is 10 mph (ten miles per hour).

It’s a documentary,
the true story of two young upwardly mobile software engineers
who realize that life
in their little well paying corporate cubicles
doesn’t mean much to them any more.

They decide to resign their jobs, cash in their savings,
and make a cross country trip across America.
That is not such an unusual story—
because cross country trips across America
have been going on since the days of Lewis and Clark,
and before and beyond.

What is unusual
is that they decide to make this journey on a Segway.
Segways are those motorized scooters that you ride standing up.
They are economical, environmentally sound
and funny looking.
They are actually becoming quite popular with police departments
as they can go anywhere—
at 10 mph.

These two restless young men,
Josh Caldwell and Hunter Weeks,
travel from Seattle to Boston in 100 days.

And my favorite part of the film is the wonderful, generous and good people
they meet on their journey.

Now there is one police officer in Illinois
who is rather a stinker,
a Barney Fife gone very, very bad.
This police officer is about to arrest these cross country travelers,
because he says it is illegal to go 10 mph on any highway in Illinois.
Just as they about to be arrested and their journey ended,
another police officer arrives who sees beyond the letter of the law,
and wishes the young men well on their continued Segway journey.

I don’t think the uptight policeman was dishonest;
not like the manager we hear about in Luke’s gospel this morning.
But I do wonder if he didn’t begin to see himself a little differently
when this movie came out.

Sometimes we don’t see what we are doing,
how we are behaving,
until someone tells us the blunt truth,
gives us a painful snapshot of how the world sees us,
captures us in our dysfunction, our dishonesty, our denial--
and won’t let us wiggle away.

The dishonest manager in Luke’s gospel
is stopped in his tracks—
because he is caught --
and told by his Master,
you cannot be my manager.
The manager knows that losing this job is bad news.
But rather than wring his hands, whine and moan
or set out to seek revenge against the Master--
this manager jumps into action.

He quickly begins to renegotiate some debts.
How much do you owe ? 100 jugs of olive oil?
Make than 50.
And how about you—what do you owe? 100 bushels of wheat?
Oh, just make that 80 and let’s call it even.

The manager knows he’s been dishonest.
He just didn’t know others knew.
The manager also knows he is going to need friends
after he loses his job.
So he sets out to make friends in the only way he knows how--
by adjusting his profit margin.

To most of us this gospel reading is puzzling
because someone dishonest receives praise.
In our eyes, the manager, even when he tries to make amends,
still seems self-serving —
he only does it
because he doesn’t want to wind up a ditch digger or a beggar.

Yet in this parable the Master comes in and commends the dishonest manager,
Good going! You’ve acted shrewdly.
And we wonder, why would the Master congratulate
someone who is dishonest and manipulative?

Maybe there is something
about reconciliation,
about repentance,
about change,
about generosity--
even when it does not spring from the innermost part of our souls,
even when it is not our own original idea to head down that better path,
even when it is not an enormous mountain top conversion.

Maybe doing even something small--
something small which is good and generous and kind--
maybe even that small change
helps us begin a transformation
that only God can see as possible.

Maybe our own feeble actions
have a mysterious way of connecting with God’s grace
and opening a door we had pulled shut long ago.

Maybe beginning to say we forgive someone who has hurt us--
even when we aren’t sure we totally feel it--
maybe that small drop of forgiveness
is the way we tap into the deep well
of God’s forgiveness and mercy.

Perhaps if we give,
we really will become generous.
Perhaps if we laugh,
we really will become joyful.
Perhaps if we give thanks,
we really will become grateful.

Sometimes doing even something small
is the beginning of total transformation.

Maybe the Master,
maybe God, sees that we all stand
on the brink of transformation.

Sometimes it takes a shock
to make us spring into action.
Sometimes bad news—or just the threat of bad news--
losing a job, waiting to hear from the doctor about a medical report,
finding ourselves in the midst of an ugly family conflict--
can make us take steps for healing
that should have happened long ago.

It is hard to begin.
All we can do is start where we are.
That’s exactly what the dishonest manager did.
He knew how to negotiate and to strike a bargain--
only this time he struck bargains
that benefited more than just him.
It was the only place he could start.

So often we want to speed towards perfection,
when really all we can do is start out at 10 mph.
Sometimes we don’t even have a Segway to stand on—
just our own two feet—and our heart and our mind and our prayers—
and a big helping of God’s grace.

If we can be faithful in a little,
we can grow to be faithful in much.

The good news is
God cheers us on
with every step we take,
with every mile we go.

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