Saturday, September 18, 2010

Striking While the Iron is Hot

First Lutheran, Audubon

Installation of Pr. David Beety
September 19, 2010
Luke 16:1-11

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 3Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” 7Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches?

“Strike while the iron is hot.”

Have you ever said that—either to yourself or to someone else?

“Strike while the iron is hot.”

The image goes back to an era when every town had a blacksmith—a man adept at bending iron.

I’m just old enough to remember Floyd Robbens, my little hometown’s blacksmith. Floyd’s welding shop on the edge of town was where all the farmers (like my dad) took their broken farm implement parts for repair.

Sometimes, welding was not enough. Floyd had to fire up his forge and use huge tongs to put the metal part into the fire, heat it up until it was red hot….and then Floyd would take a hammer and strike the iron, bending it, returning it to its proper shape.

Floyd knew when the iron was hot enough, and he sensed when he had to act with speed, accuracy and determination….getting the job done before the metal cooled and hardened.

“Strike while the iron is hot” is a colorful way of saying: “Do something, for goodness’ sake. Don’t dilly-dally. Seize the day! Act while you can, before the moment passes….before the opportunity slips away.”

“Strike while the iron is hot” might have been the motto of the manager here in this peculiar parable from Luke 16.

It really is a strange story--this parable that drives preachers nuts every time it turns up in the Sunday lectionary rotation.

First there’s a rich man who had made loans to all sorts of people. They’d borrowed certain commodities from him, with a promise to return what they borrowed plus some extra oil or some additional wheat, to cover the “finance charges.”

Then there’s the rich man’s manager who, we learn, has been playing fast and loose with his boss’s assets….so recklessly that he gets caught and given the boot.

Such a sad turn of events might have paralyzed another manager, but instead it galvanized this manager. He sizes up his sorry state, and decides on a creative-but-reckless course of action.

Instead of putting his records in order, this shyster shrewdly “cooks the books” to ingratiate himself with those who owed debts to the rich man. “You owe my master 100 jugs of oil? Let’s write off half of that debt—make it fifty jugs of oil instead.”

And here’s where the story really gets interesting: because when the boss finds out how badly his manager has bilked him he commends him for his resolute, imaginative response—his daring shrewdness.

The manager epitomized that old saw, “strike while the iron is hot.” His master praised him for that--rather than calling the cops.

But why? What’s the point here?

At first glance, even Jesus seems to have been unsure about just what this story meant, as he heaped up all sorts of “morals” to the story—spun out various conclusions we might draw.

For my money, though, the first of these possible endings strikes just the right note: “His master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

So, for our day, what is it that the “children of this age” are so good at?

They’re good at telling their story, marketing their product, and making us want to buy.

• So, Capital One wants to know what’s in our wallets.

• And Geico makes taking out a second mortgage so easy a caveman can do it.

• And Verizon has this geeky guy and his whole network of support staff, who if we just purchase their cellphone package, are going to follow us around, wherever we go.

We know all those advertising campaigns and jingles forward and backward, and they make all that stuff—all that junk—so attractive and irresistible that we just have to have it.

And meanwhile, meanwhile, about the only person who ever mentions Lutherans on the national scene is Garrison Keillor every Saturday about 5 p.m. on National Public Radio. If you’re in the habit of listening to his Prairie Home Companion show, as I do, you may have noticed how all Mr. Keillor has to do is say the word “Lutheran” and the audience chuckles—not because we’re such wacky, edgy folks--but because we epitomize solidity and stability and utterly boring predictability.

We Lutherans have “safe and sensible” down pat. We’ve parlayed sanity and serenity into an art form. We are champions of inertia.

And meanwhile, all around us, persons are dying for some good news, a shred of hope, a word that might set them free and set their feet ‘a marching toward God’s bright future.

But we Lutherans act as if our feet are stuck in cement. We’re like junior high kids at their first dance….everyone standing shyly around the edge of the gym, waiting for someone else to step out on the dance floor and make the first move.

Dear friends, to each of us and to all of us together, I believe that our Lord Jesus has told this crazy parable to get us off our duffs. To learn something from this fraudulent manager—not about financial management—but about sizing up our moment, seizing our day and acting in a risky way for the sake of sharing God’s good news in Jesus Christ.

Goodness knows, we follow the greatest Risk-Taker of them all. Goodness knows Jesus our Lord went way out on a limb—for us!—when he took on our flesh, walked in our shoes, and made himself vulnerable to the worst humanity can dish out—even death on a cross, for us and for our salvation.

Talk about a scheme, a plan, that looked like it had no earthly chance for success!

But it did work, and it continues to work on you and me, this plan of God in Jesus Christ to do whatever it takes to win us for him, to bring us to repentance and newness of life, and to plant God’s kingdom of heaven, right here on earth.

So, how do we read the signs of our times? How do we size up things in our day, our world? We have neighbors who don’t know Jesus—what are we going to do about that? We have friends, even here in our congregation, who have just scratched the surface of the Christian life. How are we going to walk with them, deeper and deeper, into God’s Word and God’s mission?

I can’t tell you just exactly how to do it, though I think you’re taking some steps in the right direction…steps like offering your new “Jam Session with a Punch” and “Jacob’s Well” ministries on Wednesday evening. Giving those sorts of things a try tells me that you good Lutherans of Audubon aren’t stuck, that your feet are not set in cement, that you’re ready to venture out into your mission field with the Good News about Jesus Christ.

And, I truly think, you have taken another good step, by calling Pastor Dave Beety to hang around with you for a while longer. You know he came to you “on waivers,” but now you’ve been bright enough to offer him an open-ended Call. That’s the sort of thing that makes me think you’re pretty bright—you “children of light,” you!

So, this morning, together, we are striking while the iron is hot. We’re putting Pastor Betty in his place as your preacher, your shepherd and your guide…a path-finder toward God’s future in Jesus Christ. He will help you do the most important thing we 21st century Lutherans need to do: to overcome our centuries-long love affair with inertia, to get moving as the people of God….moving to places you may not have been, bearing the gospel where it needs to go.

Pastor Dave brings many good gifts, not the least of which is energy and what I call a “sanctified shrewdness” that will serve you all well.

God bless you as you “seal the deal” on this new partnership. God be with you as you keep your feet moving, following Jesus, the One who calls you and has made you to be children of light.

In the name of Jesus.


1 comment:

  1. Oh, Yeah!....let's hit the pavement running for the Gospel of Christ with all the moxie He gives us!