Sunday, September 18, 2016

God's Middle Managers

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
September 18, 2016

Year C, Proper 19: The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

God’s Middle Managers
            I’ve never really worked corporate but I know that any business of significant size has a group of employees - sometimes a pretty large group of employees - known as “middle management.”
            Obviously, the “middle managers” don’t run the company but they’re responsible for overseeing other employees or maybe even a whole department. The middle managers are responsible for making sure that the company’s resources are being used wisely and efficiently.
            And, of course, middle managers answer to a higher authority, what’s called “upper management.”
            And, it’s not just businesses and corporations that have middle management.
            Schools usually have lots of middle managers, vice-principals and deans and department chairs and committee coordinators and all the rest.
            And, actually, in a way, I’m kind of middle management in the church. The Bishop is responsible for the whole company, the diocese, and I’m responsible for this “department” we call St. Paul’s.
            (Personally, I’m glad to be middle management – being responsible for the hundred or so churches in our diocese seems like a total nightmare to me! One church is plenty, thank you very much.)
            So, yes, it can be comfortable to be a middle manager – we have some responsibility but not too much responsibility.
            But, there are dangers, too.
            First of all, in the business world middle managers are sometimes seen as expendable. They’re often the first to go when a company starts laying off employees, right?
            But, an even greater danger for middle managers is to forget that they are middle managers, to somehow start thinking that they’re upper management, that they’re the ones ultimately in charge.
            There’s the danger that middle managers start thinking that the company’s resources are for their own use and benefit – so sometimes they abuse the employees under them and sometimes they steal small and sometimes not so small amounts of company money.
            We’ve all seen it a ton of times.
            Well, in today’s parable Jesus introduces us to a middle manager who seems to have really messed up.
            The parable is a little tricky and we’re not told everything we’d like to know but there’s a rich man who has a manager and this manager has been “squandering” the rich man’s property.
            The rich man confronts the manager and demands an accounting of what he’s been responsible for. It sure looks like the manager is in big trouble and is about to lose his job.
            But, the manager acts quickly in a way that’s not really clear to us now and doesn’t really matter. The point is that, under pressure, the manager acts shrewdly and cleverly to save his job.
            Thanks to his quickness, shrewdness, and cleverness, he remains a middle manager.
            Well, you know, perhaps unwisely, God has made us all middle managers.
            We’re definitely not upper management – that would be God – but each of us is responsible for own little department, our own little corner of God’s good creation.
            And, like some middle managers in business and like the manager in today’s parable, we can mess up and start thinking that we’re the ones in charge and that all of these gifts and resources that we’ve been given are for our benefit and not for the glory of God and the good of God’s people.
            Like the rich man’s manager we can squander God’s good gifts.
            We can squander God’s good gifts by only taking an interest in ourselves and those close to us who we love and like.
            We can squander God’s gifts by piling up tons of stuff in our homes, stuff we don’t really need and probably don’t even want, while so many people right here in our own city go without.
            We can squander God’s gifts by filling our bellies until we’re ready to burst and then, maybe, giving some crumbs to those who aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from.
            We can squander God’s gifts by despising and judging people who are different from us, people who have different ideas or views – there’s a whole lot of that going on during this tense election campaign, right?
            We can squander God’s gifts by treating our beautiful planet as an open sewer, as a giant dumpster, wasting precious oil and water, not even bothering to recycle, looking away as the Earth gets warmer each year, ruining the future of our children and all of God’s creatures.
            We can squander God’s gifts by not giving God our best efforts.
            And, like the rich man in today’s parable, occasionally God holds us accountable, asking us, “What’s that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management...."
            God does this by pricking our conscience every now and then.
            At last week’s 10:00 service we baptized two beautiful little boys. And, as you know, there’s not much I love more than baptizing people. And, I love baptism for lots of reasons but one is that it's a great way that God holds us accountable, demands an accounting of our middle management.
            Baptism is a way for God to remind us middle managers that our job is to pray together and pass on the Good News to others.
            As middle managers, our job is to resist evil and ask forgiveness when we mess up.
            As middle managers, our job is to see Christ in everybody and love our neighbors like we love us.
            As middle managers, our job is to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of absolutely everybody.
            It’s a lot. This middle management is a big job. And, of course, as middle managers we can only do our job with the help of upper management, only with God’s help.
            One last thing: in the parable the manager is clever and shrewd – and Jesus calls us to be just as clever and shrewd at our job.
            So, you know how rich people use every trick in the book so they pay as little tax as possible?
            You know how so many of us study the supermarket circulars and take the time to clip coupons and use our PricePlus card to save as much money on our food bill as we can?
            Well, we’re called to be just as clever as we strive to do our job, just as shrewd as we love and serve and give, just as clever and shrewd as we do our best, with God’s help, to be God’s middle managers.
            May it be so.