Friday, September 20, 2013

God's gifts are no gamble

Image found at Virtual Tourist

Dan Dan the shoe shine man approached us in a crowd. He said, “I’m Dan Dan the shoe shine man. I’ll shine your shoes. I bet I can guess where you got your shoes.” From his demeanor and appearance, Dan Dan the shoe shine man seemed street smart and determined. He spoke quickly and smiled wide. He implored to my husband, “You need a shoe shine! I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes. $10.00 a shoe if I tell you where you got them!” My husband smiled waiting for Dan to tell us where his shoes were from as he bent down to spray and buff his sneakers. Dan stood up tall and proud and said, “You Sir has your shoes on your feet! That will be $20.00!”
As soon as my husband handed Dan Dan the shoe shine man his $20.00 he was gone into the crowd. Dan was a few dollars richer and we both were a little more street smart. Dan Dan the shoe shine man (and his muscular buddy who was watching from a few feet away to assure he got his payment), were devoted to their task of making money – even if trickery was needed to get the job done.

The manager in the lesson in Luke 16:1-13 is not getting his job done. He wanted to keep his job, be liked by the people that he had to collect money from, and make profit. This manager was being stretched in too many directions and has too many masters. He was caught behind the eight ball between his job, his boss and his clients. The land owner wanted what was owed to him, the people in debt wanted to be free from their burden, and the manager did not want to lose his job or place in society.

Jesus ends this parable with this statement: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

All of the people in this parable owed something or were owned by things. The landowner had to keep on top of his possessions, the manager had to answer to his boss and collect from his clients, and the clients owed everyone everything. What was possessed or owed was a source of slavery.

Serving things leads to slavery, but serving God leads to freedom. No matter our role in life, we all are in a position of needing God’s grace and forgiveness. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has covered our debts of sin and allows us to live life in his abundant grace and forgiveness. This Gospel lesson calls us to evaluate the “masters” that direct our lives, but does not stop there. In this space of God’s grace and forgiveness we are also called to be wise and generous with our God-given gifts, talents and resources. We, who have received much, have much to give.

When my youngest child was born twenty years ago, she was required to stay in the hospital for about five days. While her condition was not life-threatening, I was determined to stay by her side until she was released from the hospital. When the nurses noticed I was greatly distressed in being discharged three days before my baby, they informed me that there was an onsite parent “hotel” where I could stay for a small fee. At that point, I did not have extra resources to pay the hotel fee, but by the encouragement of the nurses, I picked up my bag and moved just down the hall to the parent “hotel”. Days passed and my daughter was discharged in a few days. I was happy we were on our way home, but continued to worry about the “hotel debt” that was owed. Once again, the nurses told me not to worry and to go home and enjoy my new, happy and healthy baby.

A bill never came for the “parent hotel”. To this day, I don’t know who paid it. But in a time of great stress and challenge the fact that my debt was paid was a great comfort. A person, who had some, gave some to help me.

In our world, we often expect to be caught off guard by tricks like the one Dan Dan the shoe shine man played on my husband and I. Street corner shell games become what we expect to encounter. From a human perspective, shells are used to hide a prize in a gamble. At baptism, a shell shaped bowl is used to pour water over the candidate. The shell of baptism reminds us that God is not playing a shell game with us. God gives good gifts and calls us to share ours as well.

For the parent hotel patron – their gift was compassion. For the landowner – his gift was resources. For the manager – his gift was ingenuity. For the tenants – their gift was hospitality. For Dan Dan the shoe shine man – his gift was wit and charisma. The gifts God gives can be used shrewdly for personal gain, but as “children of the light” we are called to use our gifts to extend grace, care and freedom to all people. May God help us to be faithful in what we are given, because giving His gift is no gamble at all.

Image found at Creepy Pasta

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