18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 18, 2016
Whoa. Last week we commemorated the 9-11 attacks on America and now THIS? Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire! Regardless, the sermon will be based on the difficult Gospel Lesson from Luke 16.
My dear friends,
I just love going to movies. I love sinking down into big cushy seats and being bombarded by images and sounds. For me, one of the best parts of the movies is what happens even before the feature presentation. Those “coming soon” attractions come just at the right time: all the popcorn’s butter is still on top, very little ice has melted in your drink, and I’m not tired of sitting in my seat just yet.
Wouldn’t this week’s Gospel Lesson make a great “coming soon” attraction? This parable has it all: intrigue, money, deceit and scandal. All we need now is a fire truck, explosion, and a car chase or two and this could be a blockbuster! In reality, though, this parable of the “Dishonest Manager” has always been puzzling. It is doubtful that another parable of Jesus has received so many different interpretations as this one. What is so difficult, so puzzling, about this parable is that the events and then the outcome are NOT what we expect. We would think that the master would come in, catch the dishonest manager in the act and then really let him have it after an awesome car chase, no doubt. But that’s not what happens! What is so difficult is that the manager is dealing fraudulently and still he is praised and held out before us as a model! How’s that for a plot twist?
What does this parable mean? Well, for starters, this parable is NOT an approval of dishonesty, forgery, or swindle. The key to understanding this parable is to understand the master’s intentions. The master’s approval is based on the foresight of the manager who realized how to best use material possessions to ensure his future security. The “dishonest” manager then becomes a model for Christian disciples, not because of his dishonesty, but by his USE of material wealth.
Our biggest problem, then, with this parable is that, “hey…the manager didn’t own that stuff!” This might sound philosophical, but then again, does anyone really own anything? What you have in this life is on LOAN to you for now. Someday, someone else will live in your house, drive your car (or what’s left of it), spend your money, maybe even wear the clothes on your back! This parable, then, provides us with the proper attitude toward the use of our material possessions. It is a parable about how our earthly possessions, our gifts from God, are to be USED, not stockpiled or hoarded.
This is not an easy parable to tell or hear in our North American culture of affluence. Think about it…this parable encourages us to be okay with sacrificing some for the sake of others. From our childhood it has been instilled in us that what we have earned is OURS; what do all little kids say? MINE! We grew up, our toys got more expensive, but our attitude never left the playground…MINE! The constant pursuit of wealth can cause us to ignore God, undervalue family, act sinfully and unethically, and engage in any number of destructive behaviors. The constant task of trying to fulfill the goal of “living the good life” comes at an ungodly price in more way than one!
Wealth itself is not bad, but the control it exerts on people forces them to focus on the achievement of wealth rather than on God who gave the wealth in the first place. Do we worship the possessions that God has given us or do we worship the One who gave us the possessions? Do you control your resources, that is, see them as a gift from God to be used to His glory? Or do your resources control you causing you to be less than faithful in all things, especially stewardship?
Verse 13 tells us, “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” In this parable from Jesus, he makes it clear that money and the other material resources we possess are not ours, to use for our own pursuit of pleasure. YOU are God’s Manager. What you have has been placed into your temporary care in order to meet the needs of those around you.
The timeless value that Jesus wishes for his disciples has to do with service, generosity, and people. Our resources ought not to be counted and hoarded but planted for a harvest of generosity that can and will serve others and their needs. And so that we can see it in action, Jesus not only preaches the parable, but he lives the lesson. He didn’t give some of his life. He didn’t die to pardon a few sins. He didn’t shed His blood when it was convenient. No. Christ Jesus is an “All In” Savior. When he gives, He gives all in, so that you can have all of what He desires for you: life, forgiveness, salvation. Those are His eternal, free gifts for you. In response, how are you using the temporary materials gifts you have from Him now?
Remember how I said I loved movies and then “coming soon” previews? How about this for a neat “coming soon” attraction? The camera shows a very, very wide shot of the earth’s horizon. A Dolby-surround-sound loud trumpet blast nearly shakes you from your seat. Then, in the distance, you see what looks like a man coming down from heaven on clouds. He is surrounded by thousands upon thousands of angels. Next, the camera pans down to the ground and graves are opening! The dead are rising up out of the earth! This is no zombie apocalypse movie. It’s Judgment Day! The Lamb who was slain for us returns in judgment of the whole earth! Many people are cheering and singing while others are panicking. It is a scene of chaos and glory all at the same time. Next thing you know, you’re no longer watching but you’re a part of the movie! Now you’re being summoned to stand before the throne of God. He seems to care very little about your Lexus, Iphone/Samsung Galaxy, and platinum MasterCard. He wants you to give an account of your life. Jesus did the hard part – He gave you a role in all of this. It’s your line. Were you faithful in all things? It’s still your line. Thing is, you write the script of your life everyday but now the words seem to escape you. What can you say?
As your pastor, let me help. Maybe it can be something like this: “merciful Father, you know how I lived my life. I am a poor miserable sinner and have sinned against you. I was not always faithful in how I handled my resources. But I am heartily sorry for my sins and I ask you that, for the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed me with his blood, that you be gracious and merciful to me. Don’t consider my works or my sins, but instead consider only my faith in Jesus.” Now that’s a movie the whole family can enjoy…forever!