I start with the obvious. The parable in our Gospel reading is confusing.
When a rich man discovers that his steward is squandering his property, he fires his steward. The clever steward responds by embezzling from his master’s estate. That seems bad, but it makes sense in what appears to be a sinful kind of way. The confusing part comes next. The rich man commends his steward for his shrewd embezzling. What are we supposed to make of that?!?
I have been wrestling with this parable for thirty years, beginning in my very first semester at seminary in the fall of 1992, and I am sorry to say, I still have nothing.
But I have benefitted in some strange way from all that wrestling, so I encourage you to take some time this week to sit with our parable. See what the Spirit says to you.
The Episcopal clergy from the Springfield area met here at Saint David’s this week, and we did that. We sat with this parable, and people had some surprising insights. The Spirit really can use Jesus’ words to work on our hearts even when it might seem like they don’t make sense! Let the Spirit do that for you this week.
But on this Creation Sunday, my focus is the very beginning of the parable, the rich man calling his manager to account for his stewardship of the rich man’s property. That is us.
In the very first chapter of the Bible, human beings are given dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28). God put the first people in the Garden of Eden, and commanded them to till and keep it in God’s name (Genesis 2:15). That task of keeping God’s garden, in the language of our parable of managing God’s property, has been ours ever since.
In some ways, we have done OK. But there is no question that we have often squandered what is rightfully God’s. We have used God’s garden selfishly and wastefully. And some day, like the manager in our parable, we will be summoned for an accounting. That’s a daunting prospect.
We human beings, all of us together, have an interest in repairing the damage we have done to God’s creation. That repair work calls for great shrewdness, which is to say practical wisdom. It calls for greater shrewdness than I have, than any one of us has. It is a task for all of us.
But tending the garden, exercising responsible stewardship over the rest of creation, is especially imperative for us as Christians. It is part of our mission as God’s people.
There are, unfortunately, LOTS of areas where work needs to be done. But these days I think first about water since, even despite the recent rains, we, and much of the rest of the country, remain in a drought.
The drought has been bad enough here in western Massachusetts. I can see it in my yard. All our grass died. I comforted myself that at least I was done mowing for the year. Unfortunately, weeds are tougher than our grass, and they are flourishing. The woman I live with is suggesting with more and more urgency that I get the mower back out and get to work. Hopefully I will, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Still, we are blessed in this area with relatively abundant water even in drought years. That’s not true everywhere.
Georgia went through a years-long drought while we lived there. It was bad enough that water use became an interstate fight. Alabama and Florida filed suit against Georgia in 1990 for taking too much water, and the dispute continues to this day, thirty-two years later.
The same set of problems are grimmer out west. Earlier this year, Lake Powell on the Colorado River was lower than it has ever been. There, too, States are fighting over who gets to use how much water. Mexico and Indigenous people are part of that mix as well.
In Georgia, the drought is not as bad now as it was a decade ago. And the water level of Lake Powell has risen since its low back in April. But natural cycles and a warming climate mean the water problems won’t go away. People are going to have to make some difficult choices.
At stake in these water fights are serious issues about priorities. How should we balance the water needs of population centers, farmers, and the wildlife that depends on river systems, among other things?
There is no simple answer. But as Christian people charged with the stewardship of creation and destined ultimately to be held accountable for how we manage God’s property, we can’t simply ignore these kinds of issues. And Christian values have something helpful to contribute whenever our communities at any level grapple with moral questions about social priorities and human needs. This is part of Christian discipleship.
But probably none of us here this morning are going to have a major impact on interstate disputes about water use. So, what can we do?
Jesus points the way at the end of the parable. Jesus tells us to be faithful in the little that we do have. Our charge is to be good stewards of the garden around us.
I have already confessed that I am not doing a very good job of managing my yard. I am a squandering manager who isn’t even shrewd!
But at Saint David’s we are doing really well. We continue to look for ways to conserve energy, but I am thinking about our literal gardens. Despite the drought, our grounds look great, thanks to the hard work of MANY of our parishioners.
That has taken water, of course. But the result is beauty. And protecting and enhancing natural beauty is surely part of what it means to be good stewards. Next week, we’ll process around our grounds, blessing them, thanking God for the gift of their beauty and recommitting to doing what we can to maintain it.
And I say what is obvious: we need that kind of beauty to nurture and sustain our souls, particularly in hard times.
I used to spend a lot of time outdoors. But even before the pandemic, my time outdoors was dropping. Then the pandemic hit. Like everyone who could, I spent the first several months largely cooped up in my house.
At first, I kind of liked quarantine. I’m a homebody anyway, so staying at home all the time suited me. But my spirits began to sag. After a few weeks, I realized my problem. I had almost entirely stopped going outside.
I could actually do something about that! To Carrie’s chagrin, I didn’t start doing any more yard work. But I shifted outside for my morning reading. Carrie and I started daily walks around the block.
It wasn’t much. But just being outside for an hour or two a day lifted my spirits. It reminded me that I am part of a creation that is much bigger than I am.
The point is simple. God gave us creation as a great gift. God created us as part of creation, dependent on the other parts for our physical but also for our spiritual well-being. And God commissions us to take care of it, as best we can, not just for its sake, but for our own.
My prayer for us on this Creation Sunday is that we can be better caretakers, better managers of what is rightfully God’s. And I pray that we can experience that calling, that mission, as the nourishing gift that it is.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan