A sermon preached by Andrew McKearney at St Mary’s Iffley at 8am on 18 September 2016
At the beginning of today’s Epistle, we heard Paul write to Timothy and say
‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.’
Saint Paul’s words of course come from a different era to our own, but nevertheless they still seem very apt. In good times it’s tempting to opt out of the political process and play down the importance of the role that politicians have in our lives. In more turbulent times the need for them becomes much more apparent with the decisions they take being critical:
How can we tackle the funding crisis in the NHS?
What is the best way to educate our children?
What is Brexit going to look like?
These are huge decisions that affect us all.
One of the surprising things is that when Saint Paul wrote these words he was living under a corrupt, pagan dictatorship that was soon to persecute the Christian church! Yet elsewhere Paul can even call those in authority ‘ministers of God’ because they have such an important, God-given function.
No matter what we may feel about them, our politicians play a vital role in all our lives – to preserve stability, to protect the weak, to seek the common good, to defend us from our enemies and to ensure justice for all.
However prayer for those in authority has never meant unquestioning acceptance of what they decide! Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic writer, has suggested that any of us are Christians
‘only so long as we pose critical questions to the society we live in.’
So along with prayer for our politicians must also come critical questioning and engagement with the political process. We must vote when we have the opportunity; keep in touch with what is going on through the media; try and stay informed, listening during the coming party political conference season to all the different shades of opinion; try to weigh it all up as best we can; and maybe decide to join one or other of the political parties.
Washing our hands of the whole difficult business is simply not an option. Stay engaged!
Which is, perhaps, something of what today’s strange Gospel reading is trying to say to us.
‘Act shrewdly’ we heard Jesus say, ‘for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’
What can we make of this odd parable?
At its simplest the parable describes a rich man, perhaps an absentee landlord, who employs a manager to oversee his affairs. Faced with being sacked for corruption, the manager strikes a deal with his master’s debtors to ensure a friendly welcome on his dismissal.
And what he is praised for is acting shrewdly. He uses all his guile as a manager to meet the crisis and ensure his survival, averting a complete catastrophe.
Now with such an obscure parable I couldn’t possibly pretend to be giving you the ‘correct’ interpretation!
But we too are in a time of crisis.
And perhaps what our readings say to us is that we need to keep both prayer and action together; to pray for our politicians at this critical time but also stay engaged!
‘For’, as we heard Jesus say, ‘the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’