Sunday, October 21, 2007

Reflections: Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures - God and Mammon, Part 3

Here's my last set of reflections/notes from the Drew Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures:

Dr. Jouette Bassler was on again, this time as Bible Study leader, and she focused on Luke's Parable of the Shrewd Manager. I really wished I had attended this talk before preaching on this tough text a few weeks ago!!

Introduction:
- what are presuppositions we bring to text? Ie, we bring "different Jesuses" to the text

- Jesus’ intent when he spoke. – may have modified this in multiple tellings, probably not only time he spoke this parable. (My thoughts: This had never occurred to me before - how likely it is that Jesus shared parables more than once, in different places. Don't we do this with our stories and tales and illustrations and arguments? We focus what we say over time and tellings. Never even crossed my mind, but it makes sense, doesn't it?)

- Luke’s intent in writing it/including it.

C.H. Dodd – “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from native or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought."

Parables are not allegory – rich man does not equal God, not necessarily or not at all. Poor = God? No.

A manager is one who is in charge of the household/estate – a slave or freeman, but there is a power differential. Jesus’ audience identifies with the manager probably. Person you identified with is being charged with a crime.

(Book Recommendation: Scott – Hear Then the Parable – a Commentary on the Parables of Jesus, more recently retitled as Reimagine the Word)

Someone else must have brought charges against the man.

“Bring charges” – diaballein – diabolical, the devil – the slanderer. “discredit, misrepresent, slander, deceive by false accounts.”

“squander” – diaskorpizein – “squander” – also “scatter” like seeds.

Manager has no opportunity to give his account.

People would think – What’s wrong with digging and begging (asking)?
Other commentaries – like he was eliminating his commission. If this is true, that was really a lot of interest. And the text doesn’t point us in that direction.

Huge debts forgiven – who do you identify with? The forgiven ones! Or Jesus who is disrupting the whole economic system.

***

James Hudnut-Beumler – Dean of the Divinty School

“The failure of pilgrims to progress. God and Mammon now.” John Bunyon’s Pilgrims Progress. Vanity Fair. We’re in Vanity Fair more of the time these days.

What’s so interesting about money?
Never goes away. In contemporary culture – Dale Bunker, when someone says “it isn’t about money,” it’s about money.

Breaking a modern taboo
Money and material things are necessary, powerful, and most of us give too much power relative to other values in life. Most dangerous practice of church is making discussion of money a taboo. Not to discuss it. If one central value, people guard it carefully and surround it with mystery, lest it be taken away. Therefore, it is an idol. An idol can hurt us if we displease it. Money is an outward sign of an inward state (our state.) Our checkbooks and bank statements say things about us that we can scarcely confess. How does our money situation relate to love of God and love of neighbor? The difficulty of acting out around money by clergy. We can never have enough money, love, health. But death is certainty. Makes us insecure.

Is the church supposed to be a bartender, or a therapist to its members? To contemporary churchgoers want to be just heard, or healed? Healed with or without being asked for repentance?

Charity is what you give out of love and pity. Justice is what you would want if you were in that situation. Charity holds back for a rainy day. Justice flows down like an ever-flowing stream.

Car salesman knows more about our finances than pastor. One place we can be known for who we are instead of how fast we can pay and how much we have.

Typical American church projects a veneer of niceness. Exception: personal health and health of loved ones. We won’t share with others when moral blame is attached to struggles we face. Our tendency – moral superiority to those who prosper.

Abundance by the grace of God
Do we dare minister in the midst of Mammon?
Our tradition says yes and no to material life. Isn’t life more than these things?
Knowing the price of everything and value of nothing.
Not even God stands a chance if people prefer Mammon.

Survey: Should religion affect daily life? Yes. Make be nicer? Yes. Affect sexuality? Yes Politics? Under half. Jobs? Small minority.

God, whose transcendence has been domesticated. So useful that God is no use at all.
At best, people of God know something others don’t – our worth comes from God and not money.

***
Closing worship followed the last lecture. I sang in the seminary alumni choir, which I always enjoy, and got to help serve communion. Dean Beach preached on Jubilee. She encouraged us not to wait for Jubilee, to instead work for that kind of world-change right now, however we can.
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