Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wait….Jesus, What? – A Sermon on Luke 16:1-13

Read Luke 16:1-13 here.


A man came home from a church meeting and walked into the house panting and almost completely exhausted. “What happened, honey?” asked his wife.
“It’s a great new idea I have to be a better steward of our resources,” he gasped. “I ran all the way home from the stewardship committee meeting behind the bus and saved $1.50.
“That wasn’t very bright,” replied his flustered wife. “Why didn’t you run behind a taxi and save $10?”[1]
We can imagine the husband’s response to this might have been, “oh, yeah….wait, what?”  Running behind a taxi sounds logical until you think more about it.  Today’s parable from Luke 16 is kind of like that.   Maybe the disciples as they were listening to Jesus were nodding in agreement because this is Jesus talking…but then got to thinking about what he was saying.  “Wait….Jesus, what?”

It’s an odd story.  A manager gets in trouble for squandering his master’s resources, so then the manager does one last act of creative bookkeeping, and then instead of getting mad, the master commends the manager.  Wait….what?

Actually, what the manager is praised for is his cleverness, his shrewdness.  It’s an interesting choice of words, because shrewdness can be both good and bad.  Cleverness can be used for both good and evil.  The serpent in the Garden of Eden is also described as shrewd.  Genesis 3:1 says that the serpent was the shrewdest of all the animals! 

Realizing that cleverness or shrewdness can be used for both good and evil actually helps us with the meaning of this parable.  Cleverness is just one of the many things that God has given us.  We can use this gift for good or bad.  Everything that that we have and everything that we are can be used for selfish gain or for greater good.  We are the stewards of our lives, and we get to choose. 

We tend to think of stewardship in terms of money more than anything, and in this parable we see money as well, but there are some clues here that this is about much more than money.  We already identified one of those clues – the manager is praised specifically for his cleverness.  Money is just the tool for his cleverness. 

Scholars have long debated over whether there might be something going on in this parable that we aren’t able to understand because we don’t live in the same time and place as the people who originally heard these words from Jesus.  That is always a challenge.  We are hearing this story with 21st century ears.  We are no longer a farm-based economy.  We no longer consider it a sin to charge someone interest.  We no longer accept payment in the form of jars of oil or baskets of wheat.  But I don’t think we need to get too caught up in trying to justify the actions of the manager or the master.  Jesus tells us in the beginning of the story that something funny is going on.  The manager is getting fired.  If everything the manager was doing was good, he wouldn’t be getting fired.  In this case, the story speaks for itself.  The manager is doing some questionable accounting, but the story is about more than that.  The manager is not commended for cooking the books, he’s commended for using his head. 

The book of Proverbs is all about the importance of using our heads. Proverbs 1:4 says to “teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young.”

Jesus, in his first comment about this story explains that “the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.”  (v8) Here we begin to see that it’s about more than money – it’s about how we deal with people.

Jesus explains further. He says “Use your worldly resources to benefit others.”  The manager used his remaining time as a manager to reduce the debts of the master’s debtors.  He used his position to help people, and to make friends so that they would be willing to help him when he needed help.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”  A good name, to be in someone’s good favor, is more valuable than money.  Our reputations, our relationships with people, are more important than our money or our stuff.

The great philosopher Bob Marley said something similar: "The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively"[2]

God has given us the honor of being our own managers.  We get to decide how we use what we’ve been given – our money, our health, our minds, our emotions, our positions, our time – everything about our lives is given to us by God and we get to decide how to use it.

”A father gave his little girl two dollars and said, “You can do anything you want with one of the dollars, but the other dollar belongs to God.”
With joy she ran to the candy store. On the way she tripped and one dollar fell into the storm drain. She got up and said, “Well Lord, there goes Your dollar.”[3]

That’s one way to decide.  Here’s another.

Back in the days before we all had cell phones, a man was jogging with his son. They stopped for a rest in a downtown park and began to talk about a pizza place in town that had just opened and the more they talked the better it sounded so they decided to phone ahead and have the pizza delivered when they got home.
As they were heading toward the pay phone a beggar, a homeless man approached them and asked if they could spare some change. The father reached his hand in his pocket, and pulled out all that he had. 

“Here take what you need.” 

The man couldn’t believe his good fortune.  “Can I have it all? The beggar asked.

“Sure,” said the father and the homeless man reached down and scooped the coins into his own hands, and went on his way.

It only took a second for the father to realize that he now had no change for the phone.

"Pardon me," he called out to the homeless man. "I need to make a call. Can you spare some change?"

The homeless man turned back and held out the two handfuls of coins.

"Here," he said. "Take what you need."[4]

Jesus is telling us to use our resources to make friends and help people.  He’s also telling us to think beyond today.  How will our actions and choices affect the future?  It’s easy to miss this part of the story because the clues here are subtle.  Jesus says to “make friends for yourselves . . . so that they may receive you into an everlasting home.”  Jesus says, “If you have not been faithful in the use of worldly wealth, how will you be trusted with the true riches?”

Our choices have consequences, both for today and for eternity.  Everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God.  We can use it any way we choose.  As we are making these choices, we need to consider our impact on the people around us, our impact on the world around us, and our impact on eternity.  What kind of legacy will we leave?  Will people be glad to see us in heaven?  Or will we look back seeing missed opportunities to help build the kingdom of God?  And how can we use what we have to make friends, to help others, to impact eternity?

We are stewards.  All that we have and all that we are is a gift to us from God.  All of it is God’s, and he’s given us the freedom to make choices about how we use all that we’ve been given.  We are stewards of our lives, our health, our stuff, our abilities, our time, our environment, our children, our pets – what else?  What am I forgetting?

Maybe our greatest responsibility is to be stewards of the faith that we’ve been given.  It is our relationship with God that sustains us, that has the greatest impact on the people around us, and that we will carry with us into eternity.  In verse 8 of our parable, Jesus is encouraging us to put as much effort into being stewards of our faith as those without faith put into worldly things. He says, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

I spend time every Thursday at St. Vincent’s House – answering phones, doing whatever is needed.  They have lots of encouraging words on their walls.  One of them says this:
[5]Remember the gap –
·        When you are in a rut
·        When it seems too hard
·        When you feel like you are at the end of your rope
·        When you have fallen and you can’t get up

Remember the GAP – God Always Provides[6]

How do we remember?  We remember by writing it down, to document our faith.[7]

We are told in Deuteronomy 6 to do this as well.

"4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem[b] on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

I found a website this week called “” that makes scriptures into giant stickers to put on walls.  This first one I found when I was looking for a picture for the front of today’s bulletin.
Here’s another one that’s probably familiar: 

Putting scriptures on our walls is one way for us to document our faith so that we will remember and so that future generations can know the same blessings we have known from our faith. 

Thinking about the future helps us to make better choices.

When Queen Victoria was a child, she didn't know she was in line for the throne of England. Her teachers, trying to prepare her for the future, were frustrated because they couldn't motivate her. She just didn't take her studies seriously. Finally, her teachers decided to tell her that one day she would become the queen of England. Upon hearing this, Victoria quietly said, "Then I will be good." The realization that she had inherited this high calling gave her a sense of responsibility that profoundly affected her conduct from then on.[8]

We too have a high calling – to pass on the faith that we have been given.  This is just one of the ways we are responsible stewards of all that we have been given.  

Be responsible.

Sometimes I think we get caught in the middle – living halfway between doing things the worldly way and the Godly way.  Jesus encourages us at the end of this parable to go all the way.  He says, “You cannot serve two masters.”  We have to choose whether the bottom line for us will be about stuff or about God.

Paul helps us think about this another way:

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

Thankfully, Jesus bore for us the ultimate responsibility.  He took responsibility for all our sins and failures so that we might be forgiven and receive God’s grace. 

Let us be faithful and thankful and pass it on.

1 comment:

  1. "Everything about our lives is given to us by God and we get to decide how to use it." Words to live by. Love the words of encouragement and faith here :)