In pm's words
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September 12, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one that isn't a pastors favorite...


Sermon from September 18, 2016

Sermon text: Luke 16: 1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Will y'all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

If you ask any pastor about their favorite passages to preach on, you'll get a lot of different answers; perhaps the parable of the loving father, maybe the beginning of John’s gospel, or the Emmaus Road story (which is mine). But, one thing will be consistent throughout their answers - this Gospel reading won't appear among the list of favorites.

This is a tough and a weird gospel story for us this morning. We're used to Jesus giving gospel nuggets through means that seem well - good. Caring for one another, loving God and neighbor, extolling the love of all for everyone. Those are the nice and tidy messages that we like to read from Jesus. Then, along comes this parable. The first part of the parable seems easily digestible and the last part of the reading is more easily understood. But, there are two verses in here that make us scratch our heads and say, "Did he really say what I think he said?” Make friends for yourselves by dishonest wealth? What does that even mean? A person is commended for being 'shady' with someone else's money? What in the world is going on here?

This is one of those texts where I must be honest and say - y'all these words from Jesus are about as odd and difficult to understand for me as quantum physics – I just don’t really get it.

It reminds of what Bill Gates - former CEO of Microsoft would do with his programmers. He'd usually assign the laziest programmers with the toughest tasks. Seems pretty stupid, right? But, his thought was that those individuals were more likely to find the easiest way to complete that task. Pretty shrewd now huh - especially when it works.

So, we have this manager and steward of money who not only hasn’t been good at his job, but it is implied that he has stolen from his boss – a lot. Word gets to him that he’s been figured out and he is about to be let go. His first thought isn't to apologize or even rectify the situation. In fact, he sees the writing on the wall and knows that there is no way he can get out of this situation cleanly with his boss, so he decides to make the outcome for him the ‘best’ it could be. He's not able to do manual labor and he has too much pride to accept charity from others. And, when you think about it - he has the same conversation we've all had at the prospect of losing or ending a job. We know we're not able to do some things and there are other things where we'd rather just not work than 'work' in particular jobs. We all have those lists.

So, this soon-to-be former manager of money hatches a plan to double down on cheating and ‘forgive’ some of the debt of the ones who owe the most to his master. He brings them into his office and says - you owe 50% now and you chop 20% off the top. Now, he does this so that when he is let go he'll be seen in a much different way.

Instead of being looked at as the one who 'mismanages or steals money' he'll instead be the ‘guy who cut me a deal.’ He scratches the back of the ones who owe his master the most because the expectation is that they’ll owe him a favor – a big one. Don’t get me wrong, what this manager has done is wrong. He has cheated, lied, and has stolen from what is not actually his. But, he still protected his life.

Then the one this dishonest manager is stealing from commends him for his shrewdness. Bizarre, isn’t it? The dishonest manager has put him in a very tight spot. Sure, he fires his manager, but based on culture and societal rules he can’t ‘fix’ the mistake because he’ll be looked at as someone who doesn’t honor others. It’s weird and a culture vastly different from our own.

So, as we hear and read this story, Jesus says that we should make friends by means of dishonest wealth, and then we hear the last verses of Jesus speaking today and we're thrown for a loop. For Jesus says you cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve mammon (money/wealth) and God. You can only serve one.

Here is where I think a lot interpretations can get sidetracked. We see money and wealth as this bad thing (and it can be, believe me) and we think the ‘bad’ guy in the story is the owner and master. He’s wealthy. Don’t be like that guy.

I don’t think Jesus is speaking to that. Being wealthy, having abundance, and being more well off isn’t a bad thing. However, how we pursue that wealth and at what cost can be bad.

We read in Amos where the prophet is speaking to those in power – especially the ones who complain about not being able to ‘work’ because it is the holy season or the Sabbath. The ones that sell the scraps for profit. In an economical culture – making money wherever, whenever, and however you can is a strength and a plus, but it isn’t what God calls us into.

And that hits us right to the core - especially as relatively privileged Christians living in the American society. It hits us at our core because we want to be able to have the best of both worlds. We want to gain favor in the economy by making the 'most' for ourselves. Always building our portfolios stronger, doing what we can to 'get the most' for ourselves. That's what the world sets up for us. That's the honest way in which the economy around us works. We want to be able to do all that the economy says we can and we also want to live a life to God. Yet, the ideals of God are counter to the ideals of the economy.

Where the economy says - "Get the most for yourself." God declares, "Give to those in need."

Where the economy shouts - "Obtain the most, by any means necessary." God cries out, "Care for others."

Where the economy urges – “Work, work, work. It’ll be better for you later.” God whispers, “Rest in and because of me. It’ll do you good now.”

Jesus is telling us to be 'shrewd.’ Being shrewd by using the rules of money against itself. Where we buck thinking and trends to invite others to participate into the kingdom of God. That doesn't mean that Jesus is saying we all should go rob banks to hand out to the poor like Robin Hood. Again, Jesus isn’t saying that the squandering and cheating that this dishonest manager participates in is good. He isn’t. What this manager, the steward of someone else’s stuff does is bad. But, Jesus is saying that we should find ways to further the kingdom of God - through the systems in place so that all might participate in it in shrewd ways. Where we abstain from bowing down to the almighty dollar - the bottom line of our lives - and live in a way where all are cared for, supported, encouraged, and loved.

Jesus didn't come to sustain the rules and systems of the day. Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection was the epitome of 'rule breaking.' Jesus did come to shake things up, buck trends, and work through the systems in place to proclaim, spread, and point to the kingdom of God at hand. Jesus calls us to be shrewd - to be wise - to be cunning - in proclaiming the kingdom and 'changing the rules' in that proclamation.

Jesus makes a bold proclamation this morning for us - what would our life be like if we approached our faith with the skill, savvy, and shrewdness that we use in dealing with our ‘monopoly money’ of the world?

Where can we be shrewd in our lives - in our praise - in our days and nights - in our proclamation of the Kingdom of God?  Amen!

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