Sermon Archives

Sunday, September 18, 2016
The 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20, Year C)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Dishonest Manager and Christs Living Water

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In her sermon two weeks ago, Areeta introduced to us a tale told by David Foster Wallace:

“Two young fish were swimming along one day, and along came another, older fish, swimming the other way, who nodded at them and said, “Morning, boys, how's the water?” Well, the two young fish continued to swim on for a bit, before one turned to the other and said, “What the [heck] is water?”[1]

Now, over the coming weeks, in the Catechumenate this fall and through the a forum series in October on Baptism, we’ll be hearing this story again and exploring together the fundamental questions that Wallace raises through the ensuing address he made at Kenyon College.

For the sake of brevity, however, I’ll cut to the chase today, as Wallace himself did in his commencement address, saying:  “The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.”

There are parts of our lives and world that are so fundamental, so ordinary and pervasive, and yet so essential as to shape the way we live, that we entirely forget that they exist.  We live immersed in a world so filled with decisions that we have made independently or that we have accepted without question over a life-time of our formation and maturation, that we forget that these choices were ever made.  They become for us the air we breathe; or as Wallace makes evident in his fish story, the water in which we live . . .  and yet, we forget what water is.

At the heart of it, Wallace’s’ fish story is about how we see the world; about what sustains us day in and day out.  It’s about what gives buoyancy and support to our lives.  It’s about what principals are so fundamentally true for us, individually, that they shape our lives, our decisions, our goals and our aspirations, our values and our priorities, and even our interactions with one another.

With his witty story, Wallace places at our feet a critical question:  What is the air you breathe?  What is the water in which you live?  What do you take to be so fundamental true, that it forms the ground of your being and the ultimate concern of your life?

Now, to ask such questions is immensely difficult – not only because these questions get to things in our lives that we take so for granted that we have become unaware of their very presence (“What the [heck] is water?”), but because they get to things that are so essential and so personal in our lives, that ask them is also threaten the heart of who we are.  These are existential questions about our being and our worldview, and so they are naturally conflicted, naturally challenging, and naturally frightening.

But they are also, the questions of our faith. 

In many ways, Wallace’s question is the same question that Jesus himself asked over and over and over again of his disciples who followed him, of the Pharisees and of the chief priests who challenged him, of the Roman soldiers and officials who came to him, of tax collectors and adulterers that he received, and the crowds that he welcomed.

What the [heck] is water?  What is the water in which you live?  And even more pointedly, is it living water?

And this is at the heart of his parable captured for us today by Saint Luke.

Fearing that he might lose his position in his master’s house, a manager went about reducing the debt his master’s debtors owed.  One he cut in half, another he trimmed by 20%, so that they would be indebted to him as well as his master.” 

In so doing, he revealed the water in which he lived, and the air that he breathed.

  • There are only three classes of people in the world:  laborers, debtors, and lenders.  It is best to be lender and worst to be a debtor.
  • Dishonesty for one’s self is OK; put another way, the ends justify the means.
  • Relationships of safety are built on debt and wealth, not generosity, sacrifice, and care.
  • Wealth, however it is achieved, rules

Now, of course, this is not the world as Jesus sees it, nor is it the living water that Jesus proclaims.  The world Jesus knows is completely and utterly different – he is swimming in an entirely different body of water!

In Jesus world, there are not 3 classes of people but one:  beloved of God.  In Jesus world, there are not faithful and unfaithful people, there are only people redeemed by God’s grace.  In Jesus world there are not chosen and unchosen people, there are only one people – God’s children, sisters and brothers of one another.  In Jesus world there are not blacks and whites, immigrants and non-immigrants, “Jews and Gentiles, or even male and female, for we are all one in Christ.”[2]

In Jesus world, an individual’s safety and sustenance are not the result of his or her own wealth, or strength, or indebtedness, but the generosity and sacrificial offering of those who possess more than they need.

In Jesus world, our wealth -- not 1% of it, or 5% of it, or even 10% of it – but all of it is merely a means to fulfill God’s purpose.  So, too, our lives – not 1% of it, or 5% of it, or even 10% of it – but all of it is a tool to show God’s mercy and love to the world.  We are not called to be kind, loving, and merciful just 1½ hour each week, or just 1 hour per day, or even just 2 hours per day.  We are not called to be kind, loving, and merciful to just 1% of the people we meet, or just 5%, or even just 10% . . . but to all!  We who bear God’s image, we who are Christ’s body, are called to transform our entire life, to reshape and reform ourselves, so that all that we say and all that we do becomes a window through which God is seen, and that we, ourselves, become servants through whom God’s work of healing, justice, mercy, and love become real in the world. 

Similarly, in Jesus world, poverty, weakness in whatever form, and unhealth, are not a reflection of sin or failure, but always an opportunity to show mercy and kindness and love, the same mercy and kindness and love that we have first received from God.

Seen from the perspective of one’s worldview – defining the water around them – I suspect we can all quickly see why the master of the house would praise a manager such as this – they lived by the same principals.  While the master may not have agreed with the specific actions taken by his soon-to-be-former manager, he cannot dis-avow them because they uphold the very principals about which his life is sustained.

But Jesus does not.

The closing verses of today’s lesson put the disciples on notice – faithfulness matters in all things, big and small, and wealth cannot be your goal, it must always be only a tool to a greater end, service of God, service of Christ.

What is the water of our life?  We must ask ourselves this question.

Is the water of the world that the manager and his master drink?  A water that leaves us parched and thirsty day-in and day-out?

Or is it the living water that Jesus freely offers?  A living water from which we will never thirst again?


[1] Paraphrased from a sermon preached at Christ Church Grosse Pointe on September 4, 2016 by The Rev’d Areeta Bridgemohan.  Original source of story:  http://www.metastatic.org/text/This%20is%20Water.pdf  - you can also watch a youtube video where it’s been put to footage at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tIk4IOOeco

[2] Galatians 3:28