September 18, 2022, Sermon Preached By Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year C; FB.Proper 20; 9.18.2022

Luke 16:1-13

            I fell in love with a spider three weeks ago. How many people have fallen in love with a spider! Aren’t they wonderful? It was the Friday before Labor Day and I took Dory out for her morning walk around the yard. I opened the door to the deck and walked right through a spider web that had been strung across the door outside during the night. After spitting out the strands that had caught in my face, I kind of felt bad that I had ruined such a delicate habitat.

            The next morning, another web was strung across the door. This time, I stooped to miss it. But after I returned with the dog to come inside, I forgot about the web, and slid the screen door across and ruined it, again. I was starting to feel bad about ruining two spider webs, and I vowed that if it was spun across the door again the next morning, I would honor it and leave it alone.

Sure enough, another beautiful web was woven across the door the next morning and the sunlight was coming in on it. This time the spider was at the center. She was about half an inch at her center. She was magnificent! We had just celebrated Labor Day, and so I named her Frances after Frances Perkins, the Labor Secretary who invented the Labor Day Holiday.

            The next morning, I came downstairs with Dory to go out to the yard, but there was no spider web. I was kind of let down. I was beginning to really love this spider and the beautiful gift she was giving me each morning. We were beginning a relationship. Would I ever see her again?

And to my delight, the next morning, she had spun another web across the door. For another 2 weeks or so, she greeted me each morning with her web. Then, one day, she didn’t show up. She didn’t show up the next day and the next. I felt sad about it. I missed her. But one morning I went to the kitchen to fill the teapot with water. I happened to look up, and there, in the middle of the kitchen window was Frances my spider, my friend! I felt such joy! And I felt protective of her. So, I took a jar, scooped her up carefully and put her outside in safety. Well, I hope in safety.

            Last week, I learned from a Buddhist colleague, the teaching of Indra’s Web. He explained that in Buddhism, the many intersections of the spider web contain the interconnection of all things – every creature, everything that exists and existed, every idea that can be thought about, every person and everything are contained in the spider web intersections. This was a consoling teaching as I had just said, “Good-bye” to my spider friend. My Buddhist friend helped me understand how truly interconnected I was to her.

            The parable Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel this morning is about the financial interconnectedness of owners, managers, customers, wealthy and poor people alike. The manager in the parable whose job was threatened because he squandered the owner’s wealth, beats a quick retreat to all his customers, reducing what they owed. Perhaps he was reducing the unjust high interest he was charging. His goal was to make his customers more indebted to him and save his job.

This is a hard parable. Let me just say that not one scholar agrees with what Jesus was calling his followers to do based on the manager’s behavior. In my reading, the manager was a self-serving individual that cared for nothing but his own personal influence and gain. Forget any idea that he understood the interconnectedness of his community and his God.

And yet, Jesus suggests to his followers that the “children of light be shrewd like the children of the world”- like this manager. Frankly, I don’t want to be called “shrewd,” to be like the manager, a self-centered “survivor.” Doesn’t the world have enough of these folks?

            On the other hand, acting shrewdly in order to influence those who are entrusted with great wealth and great property, in order to care properly for the environment is not such a bad designation. Speaking up to protect our planet, adjusting our ways of living to have a smaller footprint on the earth and saving spiders, might be the very behavior Jesus would call “shrewd.”

Listen to the hard news Jesus gives us at the end of his parable, “You can’t serve God and wealth.” The parable is indeed bewildering. But these words are the take-away. Jesus turns the focus of the crowd, the Pharisees and his followers to what is most important: serving God and God’s treasures. Jesus is calling his followers to live shrewdly in service of these treasures.

I remember just after John and I moved to North Carolina where I took a job in pharmaceutical marketing, we were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner of long-time friends of my parents. The father-in-law was visiting from Pennsylvania where he was the president of a coal mining company. He had brought a video that his PR department had just released. He was excited to share it with us.

The video opened with beautiful scenes of mountains and clear skies. The music was inspiring and the voice-over was soothing. The objective of the video was to convince consumers and leaders that coal companies could manage their own environmental regulation without government interference. Even in my days of pharmaceutical marketing, during which I hadn’t examined my environmental moral responsibilities at all, I saw the video as manipulative and phony. But I said nothing. Instead, I lied and said, “Oh, yes, the video IS beautiful.”

Maybe a shrewd comment of truth directing us all to protect and honor all God’s treasures might have jolted the Thanksgiving Day crowd that day to think again about whether or not a coal company could honestly look after its own regulation. But I was silent.

I thought about that experience after I fell in love with the spider. What happens to a spider and her web when the environment is stripped for the sake of environmentally hostile energy sources, or bigger, better cars, or the myriad of consumer needs we all crave?

If we care about the nature of our relationship with God and our relationship with God’s creation, and, if we care about darling spiders, what does it mean to deepen our connection with these treasures and each other on a journey to care for the earth?

            Pope Francis is our model of speaking shrewdly to the world about care of God’s treasures. He always speaks with deepest love in his heart.

            “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift; it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude….May the relationship between man and nature not be driven by greed, to manipulate and exploit, but may the divine harmony between beings and creation be conserved in the logic of respect and care.”

Surely, we are called to shrewdly manage the way we live for the sake of God’s treasures, even spiders and their webs.