Archives for the month of: September, 2013



A Sermon Preached on September 22, 2013 at Trinity Cathedral on Luke 16:1-13

This morning’s gospel passage from Luke is one of my favorite parables because you can’t just skim it.  You have to read or listen to it carefully and then let it sink in.  In a contemporary rendering, it goes like this:

There’s an investor who had a diverse portfolio with holdings in real estate, insurance, venture capital, and yes, a little payday lending on the side.  He had a manager to take care of his business affairs while he spent summers in Maine and winters in Florida.  The manager didn’t work hard or perform well, and some would accuse him of skimming off the top or adding a little extra commission for himself now and then. But, he knew the business: the investments, the holdings, and the outstanding loans.

Tax season came around and the investor’s accountant saw that there was a discrepancy in the books.  While she had not ascertained exactly what was happening, there was enough evidence for the IRS to demand an audit.  This made the investor both angry and anxious.  So he called the manager and told him that he was going to cancel the management contract, and that he was coming to town in a week to meet with him and review the accounts.

The manager knew the game was up.  He had to act fast in order to cover his back and ensure some sort of financial security for his future.  He realized that he had ruined his reputation and would not be able to get other investments to manage.  He didn’t have other skills, he couldn’t imagine getting a decent job, and he was scared of the possibility of prison.

This was a guy who lived by his wits, not by what he actually did, but by what he was able to manipulate.   Lying awake in the middle of the night, he had a brilliant idea.

The next morning, he called on those who had outstanding and overdue loans.  Representing his boss, he said to a few tenants, “Your past due rent is $2000. However, in order to avoid the costs of eviction and the inconvenience of an empty apartment, I’ve convinced the owner to make a deal with you.  Just pay $1000 now and then stay current in your rent.”  To a small business owner who had borrowed seed money, he said, “Your $10,000 line of credit is overdue, but I’ve persuaded my boss to give you more time, so just make it 4,000 and we’ll call it a day.” To delinquent customers of the payday lending scam, he said, “Your loan of $500 is due – make is $200 and I’ll see to it that you’re free and clear.”

Naturally, since most of them were over-extended and living on the edge of financial survival those in debt to the investor were thrilled, but they now were also indebted to the manager who had come to their rescue.

When the investor arrived for the meeting, the manager was able to present a much better looking set of accounts.  The investor commended the manager.  Why?  What had he done that deserved applause, you might ask?

The answer is quite simple.  When the first discrepancies came to light, the manager showed enough talent, creativity and determination to turn even failure to his advantage.  While we don’t know if he lost the management contract, Jesus tells us the investor was impressed with his shrewdness, and that the guy clearly made friends with those who were indebted to him.  Jesus lifted up this scoundrel as a model of discipleship – not because of his honesty and integrity (or lack thereof) but because of his ingenuity and initiative.

Jesus told the story of a sleazy and dishonest guy to help us understand that money is a complicated but necessary aspect of life, and that it’s good for us to be smart, astute, sharp, on the ball – in short, shrewd in our financial dealings.  If we translate the teaching of this parable, we can conclude that there is nothing wrong with bargaining for the best price on a car, getting a number of insurance quotes, negotiating for a lower mortgage interest rate, taking advantage of tax deductions that are allowable under the law, investing wisely in 401K’s and IRA’s, and picking an honest and capable and shrewd financial advisor.

Money is not inherently evil, but Jesus wants us to use it wisely.  In fact, recognizing that we are stewards of all that we have on this earth, including our money, Jesus said that it is our moral duty to be shrewd but honest and honorable as we manage our financial resources and relationships.  And following the example of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and became Pharaoh’s manager in Egypt, it is especially important to learn how to be smart stewards so that we, and others, might survive during hard times and lean years. My hunch is that many of us, over the last few years, have learned this lesson – perhaps the hard way.

As a trustee of the Episcopal Church Pension Fund and its $10 billion portfolio, I am profoundly aware that I have a fiduciary responsibility to the clergy, lay employees and members of our church.  If we were not shrewd (but ethical) investors, there would not be enough funds to ensure a decent retirement for those who faithfully serve the church and thereby weaken the ranks of ministry for years to come. Truth be told, the pension assessment that congregations pay is not enough to ensure a decent retirement for those who have served God and God’s church; it has been because of astute and shrewd investing that the Fund is able to keep up with the cost of inflation.

The vestry, staff and governing committees of Trinity Cathedral recognize that we have a fiduciary responsibility to you, the diocese, the wider community and future generations to preserve the property and conserve the resources entrusted to our care.  And so, we monitor our investments, investment managers, spending policies, programs, operating revenue and expenses, pledges, pledge fulfillment, and real estate costs; and we make course adjustments as needed.  In fact, we are in the midst of a very careful review of our assets – our real estate, endowment and ministry, seeking to discern how we can be good and faithful stewards and servants of Christ, ensuring mission-driven financial sustainability over the long run.

As people of faith, each of us is called to demonstrate the same kind of ingenuity and initiative as the scoundrel in this morning’s gospel reading, but we are called to do it with integrity and honesty, and for the good and wellbeing of God’s commonwealth.  If the church was really shrewd in the procurement, allocation, investment, and stewardship of its resources, just think about what could happen.  This kind of astuteness and initiative fuels the community development movement that is helping to rebuild our cities; it is at the heart of faith-based organizations like Greater Cleveland Congregations; and it is the work that The Trinity Cathedral Vestry is doing right now.

We need to say “thank you” to every member of the Vestry and the governing committees of this Cathedral for the many hours of volunteer time they are giving of themselves to ensure that we are on the right course for our future. In fact, I would like to ask right now if you are a member of the Vestry or one of those committees to stand and let us thank you. You work really hard and I want to say in the presence of this congregation, I am profoundly grateful to you for your leadership, courage, hard questions and dedication to this effort.  You are a blessing to Trinity Cathedral, to past generations, to us and to those yet to come.

Jesus said, “Make friends with your money.”  I understand this to mean that we are called to be generous with our resources.  Over the summer, I read a book by Adam Grant entitled, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.  The author, who is the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of Business, suggests that there are three kinds of people: takers who strive to get as much as possible from others; matchers who aim to trade evenly; and givers who contribute without expecting anything in return.  Grant argues that givers actually come out ahead in the end.  Thus, by being smart or shrewd with our money, we can increase our wealth, not just to increase our standard of living, but also (and maybe more importantly) our standard of giving.

Jesus observed the limits of wealth when he remarked that when our money is gone – not if it’s gone – we will still have friends in the eternal homes.  You’ve heard the saying: “You can’t take your money with you to the grave.”  Our wealth will do us no good after we die, and there’s no amount of money we can pay to gain entrance into eternal life, for God’s grace is absolutely free.  So knowing that wealth is going to be of no use to us in heaven, we should manage it shrewdly, use it wisely, and give it generously on earth, hopefully leaving behind a thoughtful inheritance for the people and places that matter.  If every member of this congregation remembered Trinity Cathedral in our wills, we would ensure that the endowment built by the generosity of our ancestors would grow into perpetuity.

Jesus often talked about money.  He talked about it more than he talked about sin, sex, heaven or hell.  In fact, our Lord talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus proclaimed, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he was saying something really important about our relationship to wealth.  It’s like a heart monitor by a hospital bed or a dashboard on a car.  Our relationship to money is an indicator of our spiritual health and wellbeing.  And if we want to stay spiritually healthy, we can’t allow money to become our master.

Perhaps, some of the prosperity preachers are right.  God doesn’t want us to be poor; God wants us to become prosperous, but God does not want us to be controlled or enslaved by our prosperity, but rather to invest our prosperity in the Commonwealth of God.

In Jesus, God shows us how to find prosperity, even in the midst of scarcity – how to turn water into wine, feed the multitudes, throw a great party, multiply our talents, search for lost coins, give to the poor, and invest in the kingdom.

“No,” says Jesus, you cannot serve both God and money; but “Yes,” says our Lord, you can use your money in the service of God, and I expect you to do so, being as creative, ingenious and shrewd and honest as possible.

To those who are fortunate to have much to invest in God’s Kingdom, great things are expected – entrepreneurship at its best.  If you have a lot, then use it as wisely, creatively and shrewdly as possible.  “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).

And, if you have a little, do the same.  The truth is that most of us are entrusted with a little rather than a lot.  But, “whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”

Let us be faithful in what we have, let us be shrewd but honest and faithful stewards.  Let us wisely manage our money, let us generously share it, and let us not be enslaved by it.


I plan my summer reading list throughout the year.  I put them on a special shelf in my study, and when the long days of summer arrive, I devour them – one after the other.  This year, my summer reads seemed to fall into several categories of fiction and non-fiction.


Leaders Make the Future – Bob Johansen, Institute for the Future

Ever since I heard him at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes, I have appreciated Johansen’s framework of the VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) and its implications for the Episcopal Church.  In this new book, Johansen offers ten leadership skills that he believes are important for leaders in the VUCA world, such as maker instinct, clarity, dilemma flipping, quiet transparency, rapid prototyping, and commons creating.   They resonate with me.  Read and it and let me know what do you think?

Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead  – Sheryl Sandberg

In her book, which is a combination of memoir, observation, and coaching, the COO of Facebook offers some really good insights and advice for women in the world of work.  I did feel like it was more applicable for younger women and those who are mothers.  But I got a lot of it, and I encourage my working sisters to read and talk about it.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success  – Adam Grant

Louis Alloro of SOMO introduced me to this book.  The author offers an interesting analysis of organizational leaders, suggesting that there are three kinds of styles: takers who strive to get as much as possible from others; matchers who aim to trade evenly; and givers who contribute without expecting anything in return.  Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of Business, argues that givers actually come out ahead.  It’s an interesting perspective on the stewardship of personal resources.

Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership – Laurie Beth Jones

I have enjoyed this day-by-day inspirational guide that applies the words and actions of Jesus to executive leadership.  It even has some exercises.

Faith in Leadership – Robert Banks & Kimberly Powell

If Max DuPree writes the forward, then I have to read the book because I think Max DuPree has wonderful insights about leadership, and he’s a furniture guy like my dad and my father-in-law.  This is a book about how people actually combine their faith and their public leadership.

Asking – Jerold Panas

This little book is “a 59 Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift.”  I read it and then went out and raised a major gift for the cathedral.  It works!


It’s a “must-read” on my list when Trinity Cathedral is featured in a book.  This year, Trinity has been featured in three books:

 The New Rules of Marketing & PR (4th Edition) – David Meerman Scott

Scott decided to add a case study about a faith community in this edition, and he featured Trinity Cathedral, especially the way we use social media and how we link our website, podcasts, weekly electronic newsletter, facebook and twitter feeds.  Hats off to our communications team.

Speaking Faithfully – Jim Naughton and Rebecca Wilson

Our former Communications Consultant and her business partner at Canticle Communications teamed up for a concise but thorough book on how communications is the essence of evangelism, and they make reference to Trinity’s communications and evangelism strategy.  Congratulations to Rebecca and Jim.

How to Design Our World for Happiness – Jay Walljasper
In his new e-book, subtitled A Commons Guide to Placemaking, Public Space and Enjoying a Convivial Life, Jay Walljasper, the former editor of Utne Reader, continues to explore the importance of the design and accessibility of public space and “third places” in American cities.  One of the case studies features the ministry of placemaking is the piazza we call Trinity Commons.


Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age – William Powers

I met Bill on Cape Cod this summer.  Bill is a journalist who left his position with The Washington Post to work and live in a saner environment.  In this New York Times bestseller, Bill explores the evolution and development of communications technology through the writings of the great philosophers of history including: Plato, Seneca, Shakespeare, and Thoreau.

Faithful Generations: Effective Ministry across Generational Lines – John Mabry

Rabbi Bruce Freidman once said that clergy work with multiple generations of a family at the same time, and they don’t always see eye-to-eye so we had better understand generational differences and dynamics.  John Mabry examines the five current generations involved in the church:  GI builders generation, the compassionate silent generation; my transformative baby boom generation; the so-called authentic gen x/y’s; and the connected millenials.  I wonder what will come next.

 When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is not Enough – Lillian Daniels

Writer and UCC pastor challenges both church and society in her new book about being both spiritual and religious.  I must say that, like her last book, I found myself nodding in the affirmative on almost every page.

 Will our Children have Faith  John Westerhoff

Once I finished Daniel’s book, I returned to one that had been collecting dust on my bookshelf, and I was once again provoked and encouraged by Westerhoff’s words to the church.  Our children will only have faith if we pass it on.  The challenge is how to do it.


I read three books about Jesus this summer: one commentary and two novels.

 Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography – Bruce Chilton

This is a fascinating and controversial attempt to construct a cohesive biography of Jesus’ life.  Grounded in years of biblical, linguistic, historical and archeological research, Professor Chilton challenges some deeply held notions about Jesus’ parentage and its impact on our Lord’s life, ministry and theology.  I was particularly intrigued by what he had to say about Jesus’ birth and the impact that it had on his life and ministry.

 Liars Gospel – Naomi Alderman

This novel offers four mini accounts of Jesus’ story from the perspectives of his friend Judas who lost his faith, his mother Mary, the High Priest of the Temple who was trying to keep the peace of Roman-occupied Jerusalem, and the rebel Barabbas.  It’s a great read by a Jewish author that encourages each of us rethink this foundation story of our faith.

The Testament of Mary – Colm Toibin

This book was short-listed for the 2013 Booker Prize and was a short-lived Broadway play.  It’s an incredible portrait of Mary and the story of Jesus from her perspective.  Frankly, I would love to see it performed on stage.


The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

This was my favorite read of the summer!  Hard to believe that it’s a memoir and not a novel, but I think that Jeanette Walls’ childhood story is fabulous.

Goat Song – Brad Kessler

I sometimes get the romantic notion that I want to be a shepherd.  Brad Kessler actually became a shepherd.  When I finished the book, I ran out to buy some fresh goat cheese.

Mountains Beyond MountainsThe Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer – Tracy Kidder

O.K.  So I’ll never be as committed, courageous, and maybe as crazy as Paul Farmer, but reading his story narrated by one of my favorite writers is absolutely inspiring.  I hope to meet both Farmer and Kidder someday.


And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

I procrastinated about reading this novel by the author of The Kite Runner.  I couldn’t face the pain and violence.  But And the Mountains Echoed is a beautiful story of love, commitment, and family ties that cross three continents and several generations.

 The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

My spouse Emily has been begging me to read this book for years.  And she’s absolutely right.  It’s an incredibly well-written book about by-standers and up-standers in Nazi Germany.  Now, I think everybody should read it.
Oh yes, I read a few romances and family epics not worth the mention.




I just read Nicholas D. Kristof’s column in the Sunday New York Times, entitled “Pulling Back the Curtain on Syria.”   It is good insight.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Luke 14:25-33

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind

Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland
Listen to the complete sermon: 

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses;
Now choose life that you and your children may live (Dt. 30:19)

This is probably the most basic of God’s commandments.  Uttered in creation, spoken to the patriarchs and matriarchs, and demonstrated to an enslaved people in the Exodus, God proclaimed in Moses’ last words the essence of the covenant.

Our faith tradition teaches us that we are given the freedom to choose life or death.  Because we are free, we are able to make choices about life and death, blessing and curse, good and bad, right and wrong.  God wants us to choose life, but it’s our decision.

In the Ten Commandments, God gives us rules and guidelines for our moral actions and ethical decision-making.  But again, we have the freedom to choose if we intend to follow and obey them.  God says it is a sin to kill, but we have the freedom to kill and the responsibility of determining what is murder.  God says it is wrong to steal, but we are perfectly able to steal and often we are capable of justifying our thievery.  God says it is wrong to commit adultery, but only our consciences can stop us.  God commands us to honor our mothers and fathers, but it is up to us to determine what honoring one’s parents actually means.

Choosing life often means that we have to be willing to die to our old ways, thoughts, habits, strategies, best practices, protocols, rationalizations, and even wisdom.  Choosing life sometimes requires that we abandon what we have defined as right in order to experience the righteousness that God has in store for us.

Jesus said it this way: “Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  And then he advised his would-be followers to calculate, to the best of one’s ability, the entire cost of carrying the cross and to decide (again to choose) whether we really want the life of Christian discipleship and the freedom it has to offer.

To illustrate this teaching, Jesus asked two hypothetical questions:

“Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it…”

“Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?”

These questions are not theoretical this weekend as members of Congress try to decide how they will vote on President Obama’s request to approve the use of military force in Syria.  Our nation is divided, and as of Saturday afternoon, nearly forty percent of Congress is still undecided.   I wonder how those who are attending church today are hearing and receiving Jesus’ words of caution.

There is no doubt that we are facing a moral and political crisis of global importance.  The stakes are very high; and the potential cost in lives, dollars, political ambitions, regional and international stability, and national security is difficult (if not impossible) to calculate.  And yes, our nation must act in some moral and timely fashion.  We can’t ignore the situation and hope that it will just go away; fascists and terrorists don’t just go away, especially when they are heads of state.

Over the past week, like many of you, I have been trying to decide what I would propose if I were the President, how I would vote if I were a member of Congress, what I will write this afternoon or tomorrow morning to my congressional representatives, and what more I can do as a citizen and a person of faith.   To inform my thinking, I’ve been reading what others (including a wide range of Christian, Jewish and Muslim ethicists), are writing.

In his weekly blog, Jim Wallis, the founder and president of Sojourners, wrote:  “Christians should be guided by the gospel of peacemaking and conflict resolution that reduces the violence of our world. And it is a long-held Christian principle that governments and citizens are obliged to work for the avoidance of war, which, even under just war theories, must only be a last resort.  It’s natural to feel moral outrage [at the deliberate use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians] but a moral compass must guide our moral outrage.” (Jim Wallis, On Syria: We Must Use a Moral Compass to Guide Our Moral Outrage,” Sojourner Net Blog, 8/29/13)

As I reflect on the Gospel as my principle moral compass, balancing the teaching of scripture with tradition, reason and experience, I often ask the question: What would Jesus have us do?

In his September 9 article in The Huffington Post, Wallis offers two Jesus-centered principles that might guide our moral compass:

  1. Provide substantive humanitarian support for those who are most vulnerable and in need – the some 2 million Syrian refugees scattered around the world (especially in neighboring countries of Jordan and Lebanon) and 1/3 of the Syrian population who are homeless and trying to survive a violent civil war.  “Our Scriptures tell us that our first and deepest response should always be to the most vulnerable who are so often forgotten by the world.” (Wallis, Huffington Post, 9/6/13)
  1. Seek conflict resolution.  As Wallis and others suggest, “Conflict resolution is always the first goal of peacemakers, whom Jesus calls us, as Christians, to always be.”  The question is, “How do we act in ways that could lessen violence rather than escalate it?” (Ibid.)

As everyone concedes, military options have unintended consequences: collateral damage, increased violence, counter-retaliation, and further regional and global destabilization.  And yet, humanitarian support alone is not enough.

And here we get to the heart of the issue at hand.  Historically, we have lived with two ethics regarding war and violence: the just war theory and pacificism.  But these ethical frameworks are outdated in a world that has to deal with the reality and underlying causes of terrorism.

In the third edition of Just Peacemaking: The Practices for Abolishing War, a book originally published in 1998 and revised in 2004 and then again in 2008, a group of twenty-three Christian ethicists, led by Glen Stassen, Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary and a visitor to our Sunday Forum, propose that terrorism “requires more than an ethic that says terrorism is unjust; it requires an ethic that points to practices that prevent it.” (1) Recognizing the complexity of terrorism, these faithful scholars have articulated ten emerging practices of just peacemaking as a new ethic that goes to the root of the issues surrounding war and peace.

The practices of just peacemaking are grounded in realism: “what realistically is working in real history to prevent real wars.” (11) They are “ethically normative because they bring peace, they solve problems, [and] they promote justice and cooperation in a world whose wars are immeasurably destructive.” (14) And, they are informed by a faith perspective committed to furthering God’s reign on earth by “engaging the issues of peace and justice…actively within the brokenness of the world;” (15) and gathering people “to discern together just peacemaking means and to model peacemaking practices in our corporate and individual lives.” (15-16)

The practices of just peacemaking and their possible application to the Syrian crisis include:

  • Supporting non-violent direct action, such as organizing a global humanitarian effort for the some 2 million Syrian refugees scattered around the world
  • Taking independent initiatives to reduce threat, perhaps as Thomas Friedman and others suggest, providing better training and support for the Syrian rebels (NYTimes, 9/4/13)
  • Reducing offensive weapons and weapons trade such as offering to destroy Syria’s arsenal of poison gas as an alternative to missile strikes. (Glen Stassen,, 9/4/13)
  • Using cooperative conflict resolution by working with the United Nations and other countries (including Russia) to bring President Assad on trial for war crimes, and pressure him and his supporters through global isolation, shame, and thoughtful but punishing sanctions.
  • Acknowledging responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness; for the United State, this means an acknowledgement and honest examination of our role in the Middle East and a willingness to consider a change in strategy.

Jesus taught and modeled a third way of confronting evil that transformed it rather than ignoring or violently attacking it.  Rather, he took initiatives that reduced the threat of evil and sought to restore right relationships.  Jesus also taught that a theology of peace that is not simply reactive, but proactive, one that is planted in the heart of the biblical understanding of God’s grace.

I hear Jesus saying to us at this critical moment in world history, our nation needs to initiate just peacemaking with imagination and creativity rather than react with traditional tactics of war.  As a nation, I believe we are called to examine how our foreign and domestic policies impact the rest of the world, especially in areas of economic instability and political conflict, staring deeply at “the log in our own eye.”

And finally, in keeping with the prophets before him, Jesus taught that to make peace, we must make justice.  Recognizing that justice is central to the entire biblical story, Jesus urged his followers toward compassion with the hurting, solidarity with the marginalized, and mission beyond their own boundaries.  Though he recognized that God’s complete reign of peace was in the future, he said over and over again, that when we act justly, love kindness and walk humbly with God, the reign of God is in our midst.  As a nation trying to discern how to respond to this escalating world crisis, we need to urge our leaders to consider all of the strategic alternatives in light of restorative rather than retaliatory justice.

In his acceptance speech, Nobel Peace Prize winner Barak Obama endorsed the practices of just peacemaking.  Perhaps, President Obama and members of Congress should review these principles and practices before they take a vote in response to Syria.  And, as we wrestle with the frightening world-situation at hand, we would be well-advised to adopt and advocate for an ethic of just and prayer peacemaking, recognizing that we too are actors on this world stage, and even more importantly, we are participants in making the peace of God.

I hope that you will go home this afternoon and prayerfully discern where you stand on U.S. military action in Syria, and then I hope you will exercise the responsibility of citizenship by expressing your views to those whom you elected to serve you in our nation’s capital.  And finally, but perhaps most importantly, I hope you will join Pope Francis and the faithful in praying for a peaceful resolve to this crisis.  Friends, never negate the power of collective prayer.

Yes, God has set before us life and death, blessings and curses; pray that we might choose life that all around the globe we, and our children, may live.