15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 22, 2019
“Your Money or Your Life”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of God the Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 16.
My dear friends,
Perhaps some of you remember the old radio and television comic Jack Benny, who had a reputation for being a miser with his money. In one of his bits, a robber brandishes a pistol in Jack Benny’s face, and demands, “Your money or your life!” Jack Benny says nothing and the audience roars in laughter. Finally, the robber demands, “Look, Bud, I said your money or your life!” To which the comedian responds, “I’m thinking it over!”
“Your money or your life!” Of course, the bit is funny because nobody would choose a pocketful of money instead of life – that’s just ridiculous. However, if we change the words to, “Your money is your life,” that’s just as ridiculous, but none of us is laughing anymore. That’s precisely the way a lot of people live—as if life was all and only about money. And maybe that’s true of us too. We devote an enormous amount of our time, our talents, and our energy to acquiring money—and not only acquiring it, but also saving it, investing it, and, yes, worrying about it Our text for today, while it may be confusing on the surface, reminds us that money must never be the goal of our lives, however much we’re tempted, since as Christians we know that Jesus Christ, not money, is the source of our life. The challenge becomes living out that truth.
This parable of the “Dishonest Manager” has always been puzzling. What is so difficult, so puzzling, about this parable is that the events and then the outcome are NOT what we expect. The manager is dealing fraudulently and still he is praised and held out before us as a model! Huh? What? 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 to ensure a better future.
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. This is a parable about how our earthly possessions, our gifts from God, are to be USED, not stockpiled or hoarded. The disciples of Jesus must be diligent and clever in their use of money to ensure a better future for ourselves or someone else.
Money in and of itself is not bad or evil. It is a tool – a gift – from God to use rightly just like anything else. The acquisition of money consumes the middle of our lives; it’s only at the extremes of childhood and old age are we not heavily engaged in earning a living. But even in old age, people still pay a lot of attention to investments, taxes, Social Security, pension plans, and so on. Maybe that’s when a “child” becomes as adult…the day they start being concerned about money. Much of our educational system is designed to prepare them for making money—providing the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and habits for being successful in the workplace. Is that really what they need? Yes…and no. To be successful on earth is good. To be “successful” eternally is very, very good.
Today’s Second Lesson reminds us that wonderful truth that “God our Savior . . . wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Tim 2:3–6). By paying the price for us—not with money but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death—Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, freed us from sin and death and liberated us from the idolatries of life, including our enslavement to money. With the love of God guaranteed and the promise of heaven and resurrection certain, we need nothing more for ourselves either here or in eternity. But God has given us more, much more. He has given us time, talents, opportunities, and, yes, money. What for? To USE as wise managers!
Everywhere we look there are needs to respond to with God’s gifts. The church and her various charities are crying out for the resources to help; we have our ongoing support of All Faith’s Food Bank, recently we’ve asked you to help with our “Good Neighbor” project, and give the Hurricane Dorian relief. Today’s parable teaches us that God wants us to be wise with our resources. We should respond to opportunities to show love toward our neighbor by helping him in every need, temporal and spiritual. In this way, we use what God has given us to carry out God’s work in God’s way for God’s people. That’s a wise manager…money is NOT your life. It is a tool to be wisely used for God’s purposes and NOTHING more than that. The sooner you come to that realization, the happier you’ll be.
Your money or your life. When the Cornerstone Bank in Waco, Nebraska (46 miles straight west from Lincoln), was robbed of some $6,000 in November of 2012, the bank employees were able to give the police a fairly good description of the teenage girl who pulled off the crime and the car in which she escaped. As it turned out, the investigators didn’t really need those descriptions, because the thief recorded a YouTube video titled “Chick bank robber” boasting of her criminal success in stealing money.
Fanning out the cash in front of the camera, 19-year-old Hannah Sabata held up a sign that read, “I just stole a car and robbed a bank. Now I’m rich, I can pay off my college financial aid, and tomorrow I’m going for a shopping spree.” Later she held up another sign which said, “I told my mom today was the best day of my life… she just thinks I met a new boy.” Hannah’s brief criminal career ended later that week when police took her into custody. Money was her life; she was given 10-20 years in prison. She only served 5. She was released in 2017 to start her life over.
The number of people who do stupid things because money became their life is staggering. Don’t let that happen to you. The words that come from your mouths reveal the condition of your hearts and minds, and as Christians we know that Jesus Christ, not money, is the source of our life and there’s nothing confusing about that.