This is the sermon Bishop Eugene Sutton preached at the 2019 Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth on November 8, 2019, in Decatur.
Watch the video below or on YouTube. Read the text of the sermon, below the video.
“Win-Lose or Win-Win?”
Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland
Given at the Diocese of Fort Worth Annual Convention, Decatur, Texas
November 8, 2019 – 7:00 pm
“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.” (Luke 16:8)
Did you really listen to the parable that was just read? It’s a real humdinger, isn’t it? It sounds more like a meeting of hedge fund managers and Wall Street manipulators than something that our Lord would teach us.
I’m not quite sure that Luke the gospel writer got this one right. Maybe he mis-heard whoever told this parable to him. It just doesn’t sound like something that belongs in the gospels. Put all of Jesus’ parables together and this one sticks out like a sore thumb – as one of those Sesame Street songs go, “one of these things is not like the others.”
The main problem, of course, is that no matter how much you read and re-read today’s gospel lesson, it always ends up that the “hero” of the parable – the one whom Jesus holds up as being a good example to “the children of light” – is ultimately an anti-hero. He’s a crook, a swindler, and a cheat. What in the world could the early church have been thinking in including this story in the New Testament. I don’t know what your Sunday School leaders were teaching the kids when this story came up a while ago in the lectionary, but I hope it wasn’t the Gospel lesson!
In trying to figure out what to say about this strange parable, I read several biblical commentaries. The scholars who tried to make some sense of it simply proved once again that the Bible is like a person. If you torture it long enough you can get it to say anything. But for what it’s worth, here is my attempt…
(Here I retell the parable in a humorous way, ending with verse 8 above as the capstone of the story.)
So, what’s the point? Is it that…
- Dishonesty is a good thing? No…Jesus was very clear in all his teachings that integrity and truth telling is important. “Say what you mean, and do what you say.” Christians, especially church leaders, are not expected to be perfect, but are expected to live a consistent life. (Show with your hands how leaders can be just below the bar of integrity, but not far below it!)
- Put all your efforts into securing a bright future for yourself? No…responsible planning is a good thing….how much did you lose in the stock market at the beginning of the Great Recession? Did you put all your eggs into one thing? Our Lord wants us to be wise, but the main focus of his ministry and teaching was to get us to focus on today, and not worry about tomorrow.
(Tell how I was raised in DC as a die-hard Washington Redskins fan, but the day after my election as Bishop of Maryland the lectionary gospel lesson was, “Consider the ravens…” I’ve been considering the Baltimore Ravens ever since!)
No, do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…you can’t serve God and mammon.
- If not those things, what? Well, what was the early church going through at the time that they remembered this story? They were in crisis, they were being persecuted, they were losing.
Most of life, you know, is losing. One of the reasons I like baseball so much is that it reminds us of this; the best hitters in the game lose 70% of the time! Isn’t so much of successful living about managing the losses in our lives? We lose our health, the innocence of youth, jobs, houses, loved ones, marriages, hope…if we were to be honest, successful living is all about managing losses…including the massive loss of church worshipers these past decades in North America.
The writer of this gospel knew all about losing. Do you remember the gospel lessons these past weeks in this section of the Gospel of Luke? It’s all about people who’ve lost something, or in losing situations: lost coins, lost sheep, lost innocence (of the Prodigal Son), lost family relationships, loss of faith. In the midst of all this loss – when do we get to celebrate a win?
In fact, why do we always think that there have to be winners and losers anyway? Instead of framing every conflict, every difficulty, every disagreement into a “win-lose” proposition, what if instead we could look at it as a possible “win-win” situation?
You see, in this parable, everybody wins! (Explain the economics of the parable, with the manager obviously giving up his “commission” – really, his usury.) In fact, this is one of the most ingenious stories in all of Scripture! Improbably, the owner wins, the manager wins, and the debtors win. It’s all “win-win.”
Could it be the Jesus, knowing that his followers will find themselves as losers, and knowing that when the going would get rough they would try to find scapegoats – losers – to blame, wanted to tell them an outrageous story about being creative in avoiding win-lose thinking?
**We could sure use that message today, couldn’t we? (Relate to the racial divisions in our country today…how do we repair it?)
How can we reframe win-lose thinking about this, so that we can all acknowledge that ALL of us have lost something here – loss of trust, loss of cohesion, and for some, loss of friends – but that all of us can “win” too, IF we are willing to give up something for the sake of the common good.
The Diocese of Fort Worth the opportunity to do this – and thus be a model for how other congregations can go through this gut-wrenching pain and come out stronger – because of the wounds, not because you come out of this situation “pain-free”. Here’s my challenge to you: how can your legal challenges with your brothers and sisters on the other side of the Anglican divide in Fort Worth result in a win-win for everybody? It may be improbable at best and impossible at worst, but maybe that’s what this gospel lesson is getting at. You see, with God nothing is impossible!
I’ll give you an example of why we’re able to to do this work. I’m told that the Episcopal Church was the only religious institution that the government of Haiti has given land to help rebuild that nation after the devastating earthquake in 2010. They did this not only because we do relief, but we also do development. We don’t cut and run once the gush of relief money starts drying up after once the news cameras move on to the next disaster; we’re in it for the long haul. But even more importantly, they know that we know how to deal with differences and work with various groups having diverse theological views, all to get the job done on the ground. Win-win.
Can we turn our seemingly intractable win-lose problems into win-win possibilities, just like in this gospel lesson? It’s going to take a whole lot of love to do this! (Here have the whole assembly read aloud St. Paul’s famous love letter in its entirety, his First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13.)
If not us as followers of Christ, who? And if not now, when?