Who is Your Tribe?
When I sat down to read the lectionary scriptures
for today’s worship service,
No sermon topic leaped off the page.
Nothing more, that is, than the depressing realisation that I have had to preach more than once already on this particularly difficult parable;
the parable of the dishonest manager.
This parable is difficult to interpret because it appears to include Jesus’ approval of the shrewd,
but totally dishonest, behaviour of a man in his stewardship of another’s wealth.
I have described to you before the approach that I have been taking toward sermon writing since last Easter.
First, I read the lectionary scriptures for the given Sunday.
I read them prayerfully.
I read the day’s scriptures waiting for a word or a phrase to jump out from them.
I read them to discern how that word or phrase
that jumps off the page might contain a challenge
or an affirmation of faith for our congregation.
The scriptures for this Sunday seemed particularly unfruitful when I applied this prayerful approach to them.
I got nothing.
Sunday comes around relentlessly once every week.
A sermon must be at hand for that day.
When Friday rolls around and there is nothing in the hopper, the fear of failure begins to grow in your mind.
So, I thought,
“Maybe it is time to change my approach to sermon preparation.”
What could I do differently?
Maybe I should try preaching some topical sermons for a change?
Maybe I should prayerfully discern a topic
that would be helpful to the congregation’s spiritual growth?
And then study the Book to find what the scriptures have to say to us about that topic.
And write a sermon on it.
This seemed like a good plan.
So, then I thought, “Which topics might serve to help the congregation be formed in their likeness to Jesus (for the good of others)?”
What are the burning issues of the day that might be helpful for the congregation to hear a sermon on, so that God can use it to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, so our lives can shine the light of God into this world for the good of others?
There is always climate change.
This is certainly an important topic for all of us today.
And God must care about it too because he created this world and called it good.
Then there is the topical issue of the growing inequality around the distribution of wealth in our society and around the world.
That’s a good one, with lots of scriptures to work with. Jesus spoke a fair amount about the ethical use of resources in society.
Then there is the issue of general ethical behaviour.
And because we are entering into a new federal election campaign, I thought maybe a sermon
around the ethics of how we hold our political views might be the order of the day.
This is an important topic, the ethics of politics.
An important topic indeed.
But pretty broad.
How do you get your arms around the ethics of politics in a fifteen-minute sermon?
And which scriptures, if any, would support such a sermon?
Remember now, that I had just read the parable
of the dishonest manager.
I had just read it prayerfully,
and got nothing.
Remember I am also warming to the idea of preaching about how we hold our political ethics.
So, then I asked myself,
“What is most obviously wrong with our political ethics today?”
Suddenly I had the answer to my question.
I also had the scriptures on which to base my answer.
I realised that the sermon topic for today should be,
Tribalism is the biggest disaster that effects our politics today.
And providentially, the parable of the dishonest manager is a perfect example of tribalism.
Specifically, the parable of the dishonest manager is about the dangers of tribalism when it comes to how we live our lives; how we hold our political world-views and the social values which flow from them.
So, today’s sermon is about TRIBALISM,
as we manifest it in our political and other social roles.
First, let’s look at what I mean by tribalism.
If we look at our parable, we see that the tribalism that I am talking about has nothing to do with indigenous social structures.
From our parable for today we see that tribalism is about gathering a group together for the express purpose of benefiting its members.
To illustrate this point, we see from the parable that the dishonest manager gains friends for himself, gains tribe members, by appealing to their desire to benefit financially from joining his tribe.
The dishonest manager does this by illegally reducing their debts to his boss.
The debtors willingly join the dishonest managers tribe by participating in his act of defrauding his boss, the man who was kind enough to extend them credit when they needed it.
And so, a tribe is created.
and ultimately the greater good of society are cast aside by these men as they become members of their own tribe and exclusively pursue their own self interests.
All this happens because the members of the tribe
look the other way, winking at the dishonest behaviour of their group because they benefit from doing so.
That is what a tribe is.
And that is how they form, by its members preferring their self-interest over honesty and fair dealing.
Let’s take a moment to reflect some more on what EFFECTS tribal behaviour has on a society.
Notice that this group, the one in our parable, was a group that excluded others.
Only the debtors of this one particular boss were welcomed as members of this tribe.
So, tribes are all about excluding those without the same perceived goals, without the same needs, real or perceived, as the tribe members.
In short, tribes have the effect of creating societies that willingly and selfishly exclude “THE OTHER”.
Doing so out of self-interest.
A tribal society is one where those with a different background, those with a different skin colour, those who speak a different language, those from different parts of the world, those with different sexual orientations, or socio-economic status are all excluded from the tribe.
As part of the “OTHER” they are excluded from the benefits that flow from tribal membership.
And so, all these “others” are forced, by tribal behaviour, to the fringes of society where they suffer unnecessarily and unjustly.
We see from our parable that tribes form when we focus on our differences. Rather than considering those things which we have in common.
Such as our common creator, our common humanity, our common need for food and shelter and our common need for just treatment in society.
Tribal behaviour emphasis our differences.
Tribal behaviour can only exist in a society that focuses on its differences rather than on our common humanity.
The end result of tribal behaviour is that we strip others of their humanity and in the end, we too are stripped of our humanity.
Tribal behaviour also denies other aspects of our mutual humanity.
Such as our common need for acceptance by others and our common need of, and right to, equal opportunities to prosper and be happy in this life.
We saw that the tribe in our parable formed based on a common need of the tribe members, the need for mutual economic benefit.
Tribes also, and perhaps more sinisterly, form because of what they fear.
The dishonest manager launched his tribe out of fear for his economic future.
He could not work and he was too proud to beg.
So, he created a tribe for himself.
A group of people that would support him in his new status as a discredited manager, regardless of his crooked behaviour.
The tribe members supported the manager in his dishonest behaviour because his criminal behaviour worked to their financial benefit.
The dishonest managers abuse of the trust of his position allowed his new tribe members to keep their places in the social and economic structures of their society.
The question for us today at LPC is this,
“What do we fear that causes us to turn from being just and ethical in our treatment of others to instead wink at unethical behaviour because it is convenient to our goals, or lines up with our world-view?”
What to we do fear that leads us away from behaving like Jesus, to become instead
like the dishonest manager; ho founded a tribe to support him n his unethical behaviour?
Well, in church, just like in the world,
we often fear those not like us.
Many in our society speak of the fear we have of those who we think are trying to take away our opportunities in life by coming from other parts of the world to take our jobs.
Do we share this fear?
Do we act on this fear by marginalizing others
based on this fear?
We often fear those who we think want to change the way we are: in our country, in our communities and in our church.
This aspect of tribal fear results in us oppressing others as we allow our fear of the other to change those not like our tribe from being human in our eyes to being someone, something, to be loathed and dehumanized.
To take our analysis of tribalism to its natural conclusion we need to ask ourselves,
“Who is our tribe?”
Are we with those who wittingly, or otherwise,
fear, despise, dehumanize and marginalize
those not like us?
Or are we more like Jesus?
Jesus did not fear.
Jesus welcomed all comers into his tribe.
Regardless of their socio-economic status.
Regardless of how and where they worshipped.
Without respect to their countries of origin.
Jesus made room for everyone in his tribe.
And yes, Jesus even made room in his tribe
for those whose lives had included sexual misadventures?
If we identify with the Jesus tribe, what does our life begin to look like?
The short answer to this question is,
And how do we get there?
By looking to Jesus to guide us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we peer through scripture into the fulness of the Christian life.
The definition of the Christian life
that I find most helpful is this, “To be a Christian is to be in the process of being formed by God into the likeness of Christ, for the good of others.”
This definition is paraphrased from a book
by Robert Mulholland entitled Invitation to a Journey a Road Map for Spiritual Formation.
Our spiritual formation group is using this definition in our time together as we are intentional about being members of Jesus’ tribe.
It turns out that as Christians
we are all part of a Jesus forming group.
We are all part of a society where Jesus is in the center.
Where Jesus is being formed in our community life.
Where Jesus is being formed by God in each one of us.
All who by the Spirit call Jesus, Lord,
are members of the Christian tribe.
May the life and the work of our tribe
shine the love of our Lord
into this good but broken world.
So that others too, may come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, join the Jesus tribe
and be saved from the wrath which is to come.