At Week’s End: Rain, Birds and Saving Your Own Skin
After 10 days of smoke and haze from nearby wildfires, it’s a beautiful clear day. The key? Rain. The great gift of glorious rain on a dry and thirsty, and fiery land. We’ve had several days of intermittent showers, which have tamped down the fires and cleansed the air. It almost feels like some sort of rising from the dead.
I got out for my first bike ride in two weeks. One of the things that seems to happen when we are under a blanket of smoke and haze is that wildlife becomes quite still. The deer stop wandering through. There are no foxes playing tag in the fields. No bears lumbering across the road. And the birds disappear.
But today the birds are back in force. The robins are getting drunk gorging on the orange berries of the mountain ash. The flickers are gadding about in pairs. The blue jays, who miss my peanut distributing grandchildren, are scolding me. And on my bike ride a whole lot of red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks and red-tailed hawks. How many hawks can you spot in the photo at right? Correct answer below.
As resurrectional as it all feels, it isn’t spring. It’s autumn, and as the saying goes, “Fall is in the air.” Down in the low to mid-thirties at night. The sun retreating south, its rays at a very different slant than in high summer. No one, certainly not me, jumping in the Lake to cool off. Splotches of yellow and rust on the hillsides.
I’m preaching again this Sunday, this time at the Methodist Church in nearby Joseph, Oregon. Last time I preached there I made a bit of deal about being a “lectionary preacher,” i.e. preaching on the assigned Scriptures for a given Sunday. A little bit of pride at work there, as I wanted the congregation to know I wasn’t just reaching “into the barrel.”
My sinful pride has been noted and now appropriately recompensed as this week’s lectionary text is the most difficult of all of Jesus’ parables, generally termed, “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward” from Luke 16. One of the things that I hadn’t noticed, until now, is how different are many of the parables in Luke (in contrast to Matthew and Mark). The central characters in many of Luke’s parables are a mixed bag. Like the judge who gives into a widow’s cry for justice not because he cares about justice, but in order to get her off his back. Or this week’s manager who cooks the books to provide himself a first century version of “social security” when he is out of his cushy job. Not only that but Luke takes us inside the thinking of his characters. So the “dishonest steward” thinks to himself, “What will I do? I’m not strong enough to dig and I’m too ashamed to beg.”
The other evening I watched a movie that came from the stock market collapse era of 2008 – 2010, “Margin Call.” It takes us into a firm where a junior employee has figured out that the whole company is hopelessly over-extended. The strategy is basically to sell off all assets just as fast as possible, before everyone realizes they are worthless. Meanwhile, various down-the-totem-pole employees are trying to figure out where they stand. They ask more senior employees, “Am I going to get fired?” The kind ones say, “yes.” The prospect of losing their jobs terrifies them. One young broker says to his manager, “This is all I ever wanted to do.”
The movie is a good companion to the parable, should you be looking for sermonic material. Watching the film led me to a different title for the parable. I’m calling it, “The Parable of a Desperate Man.” Desperation can be quite the teacher. I expect I’ll post the sermon here on Monday next so you’ll be able to see what I’ve done with this troublesome text.
Many people have the idea that Jesus’ parables are homey illustrations of simple moral truths drawn from ordinary life, sort of like Aesop’s Fables. As such, they are more or less “common sense.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus’ parables do start with something or someone familiar, but then turn the world upside down. If Jesus’ parables were only simple homespun moral wisdom, it’s hard to fathom how they would have gotten him killed. Which they did. So, if I don’t post the sermon, you’ll know what happened.
Answer to the photo quiz is 3 hawks. Three hawks in that tree.