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The Truth of Love

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Prayer of Preparation         Psalm 126 A pilgrim song

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, …We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune.  We were the talk of the nations - “God was wonderful to them!”

God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.  And now, God, …bring rains to our drought-stricken lives  So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.  TM



welcome, announcements, joys and concerns

*Hymn      Beneath the Cross               # 127 

*Call to Worship/*Invocation / Lord’s Prayer

Leader: Gracious God, give us generous hearts ...

to share whatever gift it is that you have given to us ....
All: Gracious God, give us generous hearts.
Leader: To acknowledge you as the giver and source of life.
All: Gracious God, give us grateful hearts.
Leader: To give without counting the cost ...
All: Gracious God, give us unselfish hearts.
Leader: To share without expecting something in return ...
All: Gracious God, give us compassionate hearts.
Leader: To hold all of our treasures with open hands ...
All: Gracious God, give us freed-up hearts.
Leader: To have gospel priorities ...
All: Gracious God, give us loving hearts.
Leader: To recognize the abundance of blessings in each passing day ...
All: Gracious God, give us seeing hearts.
Leader: To fall more deeply in love with the God of all generosity.
All: Gracious God, give us generous hearts.
--Adapted from Joyce Rupp, Fresh Bread and Other Gifts of Spiritual Nourishment
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, at it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever.Amen

*Gloria Patri
Young’s Peoples Moment    Help the children make a list of people for whom they should and for whom they want to pray. Make the list as long as you can, as we are instructed to pray for everyone. Pray with the children, not just for ourselves, but for everyone.--Philip Schroeder
Call to Prayer              Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Prayer Hymn               I Will Sing the Wondrous Story      # 284 v 4 

Pastoral Prayer           Create in us a clean heart, O God. When we are tired of the sameness; when we're busy, yet there seems so little meaning in what we do; when wrong choice or injustice from another leaves a residue of leftover pain, hurt or anger which preoccupies our time; in all such times, O Lord, how we long for a clean heart and a right spirit. You alone have the eraser which gives us a fresh new beginning, Lord. We may apologize, we may feel sorry, but you are the one who forgives and helps us to forgive. We must ask for it. We have to want new beginnings. In our better moments, we do. Create in us a clean heart, O God.  --Earle W. Fike, Jr., Please Pray With Me (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1990)

Ps51- God, Generous in love - give us grace!  Huge in mercy - wipe out my bad record.  Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry.

I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down. You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil.  You have all the facts before you;

whatever you decide about me is fair.  I’ve been out of step with you for a long time...  What you’re after is truth from the inside out.  Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.  Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.  Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing.  Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health.  God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.  Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.  Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!  Give me a job teaching rebels your ways so the lost can find their way home.  Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God, and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.  Unbutton my lips, dear God; I’ll let loose with your praise.  Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you.  I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.  Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.  Create in us a clean heart, O God.

Musical response

Offertory sentence     all shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.  Deut 16:17

offering    Doxology

offertory prayer          Creator God, by whose will the world came into being and who has given us life and sustenance:  with thankful hearts we praise you for your goodness and thank you for your bounty.

Hymn                        On a Hill Far Away               # 251

Scripture Text        Luke 16:1-13  1Then 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 accounting 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? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”


Sermon               The Truth of Love

Truth is not an ideology. Truth is a relationship; truth is a person.

Jesus has been addressing the scribes and Pharisees, and he now turns and offers a message for the disciples. The man eventually tagged as the "dishonest manager" is first described as being only a rather inept manager - for the charge that gets him in trouble with his master is "squandering" his property (v.1). Unlike outright theft, this term suggests that the steward's poor performance at the job was costing his master money. Quite sensibly, the master gives his inefficient manager a pink slip.
The steward now faces an uncertain future - and he quickly dismisses the options of manual labor or simply begging. He determines that his next course of action must be one that will result in people welcoming him into their homes when he is finally dismissed. Whether it was correcting an earlier practice of unlawful usury or a straightforward case of theft, the previously inept steward can now be described as a genuinely dishonest steward. There is no doubt that he is cooking the books.
The steward's actions are discovered by his master - with confusing results. Instead of cursing the steward for his actions, the master commends him for his business shrewdness. This conclusion is so unexpected and so hard to imagine on the lips of Jesus that some commentators have simply thrown in the towel. /////

One decade ago, in March 1994, the huge defense contractor Martin Marietta returned to the Pentagon some 540 overpayments, totaling $135 million. Of course, that was nothing compared to the $1.4 billion in overpayments various defense contractors returned to the Pentagon in 1993.
With a fresh reading of the parable of the unjust steward in mind, it is hard to read a report like that without wondering, where is the truth? Defense contractors aren't usually at the top of our lists when we start citing altruistic organizations. So why is Martin Marietta really returning $135 million to the Pentagon? And if $1.4 billion in overpayments was returned in 1993, how much was not returned?///////
The unjust steward was not concerned with the truth; he was looking to insure a future roof over his head and food on his table. How much truth-telling and apparent generosity are done only for the sake of self-preservation?
"Truth in advertising" is a phrase we've all learned to recognize as an oxymoron. If products and people were everything they advertised themselves to be, we would be the happiest, cleanest, richest, most satisfied people ever to walk the earth. We don't really expect products to transform us and our lives in the ways they are advertised.
But we do expect truth from God. Part of the confusing nature of the unjust steward story is that we expect truthfulness to be present in all Jesus' parables. But the story of the dishonest manager rattles us by appearing to praise dishonesty, conniving shrewdness and a kind of anything-goes morality.

        One understanding of this parable suggests we read the entire story, keeping in mind all the banquet-talk, the parables of the lost and the grumblings of the Pharisees and scribes. In these interpretations Jesus himself is to be seen as the unjust steward. In all his dealings with sinners and tax collectors, every time he has pronounced, "Go, your sins are forgiven," Jesus had been "cooking the books" of divine judgment. Christ, as God's agent or steward, forgives our debts and offers us grace.
Jesus, like the unjust steward, was repeatedly cited by the religious authorities for his breaches of the law - eating with sinners, healing on the Sabbath, ignoring laws of ritual cleanness. For all these "unrighteous" acts, Jesus receives the master's (God's) commendation. In this interpretation, verse 9 is also seen as directed toward Jesus' stewardship in God's service. The "mammon" that is to be used for making friends will disappear, once again throwing the indebted ones back into the gracious arms of God, the one who dwells in the "eternal homes."
 Verse 11 appears to point most directly at all those who have been on the receiving end of the creative bookkeeping God has accomplished through Christ. As beneficiaries of this "dishonest wealth," we are called to demonstrate faithfulness to all those indebted to us. Only in this way can we expect to receive the gift of God's "true riches."
There is truth at work in the story of the unjust steward - but it is not the truth of accurate accounting or the truth of divine judgment. The truth at work here is the truth of divine love and forgiveness in the face of all our hopeless indebtedness. Squared off against a roomful of indignant scribes and Pharisees, Jesus offered the startling story of the unjust steward as an answer to their demand that he toe the line in matters of the law. Confronted with an opportunity to ask, "What is truth - is it law or is it love?" - Jesus boldly proclaims the word: Truth is love.
1 Timothy 2:4 says that God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth". What is this knowledge of the truth? None other than love. Clement of Alexandria presented a three-fold movement of the human soul toward the truth that is God. Clement argued that we start in faith, progress to knowledge and ultimately proceed by love. Love is the most exalted knowledge.
The ultimate truth, the truth that transcends the Pharisees' attachment to the letter of the law, is Christ. The truth is not some cleverly worded ideology. Truth is a person - Jesus Christ. As a person, this truth only comes to fulfillment in relationship to others. In the community of the church, in the relationship between Christ and his body, we receive the gift of a Savior who offers us love as the ultimate law. ///////////////
There is good reason to ask ourselves why the church has become such a marginal force in our culture. One accusing reason may be because the church doesn't seem to have anything enduring to say. We have been reluctant to say there even is such a thing as ultimate truth, much less think to offer, as proof of that truth, the Cross on Golgotha. We have allowed the clouds of cultural drift to fog our vision. The rest of culture views truth as whatever is true for one's own self - truth becomes completely subservient to individual interpretation.
A "Frank and Ernest" cartoon shows a Moses figure holding a stone tablet inscribed with just two words: "Behave Yourself." Moses complains, "I'm afraid you'll need to go into a little more detail."
God did. But the final divine answer didn't come on Mount Sinai, or in the 613 commandments of the law. The ultimate truth of love was revealed only when "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Hymn                        O Word of God incarnate      # 229

Benediction        Go in God's name, not to be alone, but to be with those who need you.
--C. Welton Gaddy


- The Literal: What does the text say?
- The Allegorical: Are there features of the story which suggest types, symbols, metaphors?
- The Spiritual: What does this mean to me?
- The Moral: What should I do about it

Animating Illustrations

One time a teacher was passing out a trigonometry test, and just before the test was received by the students, the wise teacher spoke these words:
I'm giving you two tests today, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you pass both of them. But if you pass only one, be sure it's the test in honesty because there are a lot of good men who don't know any trigonometry, but there are no good men who are not honest.
--Mike Cope,
Righteousness Inside Out
(Nashville, Tenn.: Christian Communications), 72.

"Thus I put up with this church until I see a better one; and she is forced to put up with me until I myself become better."
--Erasmus: The original reads,
"Fero igitur hanc Ecclesiam
donec videro meliorem; et
eadem me ferre cogitur,
donec ipse fiam melior."

"Forrest Gump" moral maxims that provide some guidance in these days of moral confusion.

Here are some of the more obvious:

Listen to your mother. She knows everything. Always.
Bigotry is dumber than dumb.
Intelligence is overrated.
Peas and carrots go together.
Love begets love.
Abuse begets abuse.
A kept promise is money in the bank.
Be all that you can be.
Sticks and stones and enemy fire may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.
No matter how hard you try to run from your troubles, you eventually will hit an ocean and have to turn around.
It helps to state the obvious.

Someone has said that there are three kinds of people in this world: those who make things happen; those who watch things happen and those who say, "What happened?"
When those who live in love and in truth become part of the "What happened?" we end up with the kind of world we've got.

Music Links
All Things Come to Thee
What Does the Lord Require?
God Whose Love Is Reigning

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