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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Money, money, money. For better or for worse, money is a part of our lives. We live for money; we work for money; and some people die for money. Even preachers have to live with money. A pastor went into his church, and while he was praying to God, he asked the Lord, “How long is 10 million years to you?” To the pastor’s surprise, he heard the voice of God answer him directly, “One second.” The next day the pastor decided to be a bit daring, since he seemed to have a direct connection to God. “Lord,” he said, “how much is 10 million dollars to you?” Again, he was surprised to hear God’s voice speak to him directly, “A penny.” On the third day, the pastor decided to be really bold. He went into the church and the pastor asked God, “Lord, can I have one of your pennies?” And God answered the pastor in a clear voice, “Yes, you can… in just a second.”
The theme of money is found throughout scripture. In the gospel of St. Luke, one out of every seven passages is about money. In fact, there are more passages in St. Luke’s gospel about money than any other topic including marriage and family. You see, whether rich or poor, young or old, married or single, we all seem to have a hard time handling money. Often, money usually handles us.
Over the next two Sundays, I would like us to meditate on two parables which I believe reflect Jesus’ teaching on the nature of money and the faithful use of this earthly gift. The first parable is the story we have heard today of the dishonest manager. The second parable, the story of Poor Lazarus and the Rich Man, will be the focus of next Sunday’s sermon. In these two parables, Jesus underscores principles for the faithful use of money.
Let us turn again to the parable of the dishonest manager. The parable is confusing. A white collar businessman has been caught “playing with the books” of a large, international trading house dealing in commodities; olive oil and grain. The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have both reported on the misappropriation of funds. The loss of reputation and market share, finally forced the CEO to call the manager to the executive suite in the corporate headquarters to hand him his “pink slip,” but first the manager must show him the books. The manager was at a loss of what to do. “I’ve been sitting behind a desk too long to do any physical work, and I have too much pride to beg.” He knew he needed a place to go after he had packed up his office and moved out onto the streets. And then he got an idea. It was a risky, but shrewd idea. He invited the trading house’s primary clients to his office to make a once in a lifetime offer. One by one, he invited the clients, to pay their debts now, at a highly favorable, reduced rate, and he added, “And remember me when I come by your office someday.” The surprise at the end of the parable is that when the manager finally handed the books over to the CEO in his executive suite, the CEO commended the dishonest manager for his shrewd and practical work. As listeners, we are perplexed by this parable.
Perhaps, we are biased in listening to the parable because we believe that the rich man who commended the manager was actually a good and honest financial trader. After all he was rich. Instead, we should see that the power and love of money has corrupted all of them. In ancient Palestine, rent of land was most often paid in the products that the land produced. All of the men who owed money to the rich man were holding back on their payments. Frankly, they were just as dishonest as the manager, and so they were willing to make a deal. The manager was dishonest, first in having already squandered his master’s wealth, and now in negotiating with the renters to pay less than they owed. All as a a personal favor. The rich trader himself is as dishonest as the rest and commends the manager for his shred behavior.
The parable is so complex, that Jesus draws four lessons from it. Consider the first lesson. “For the children of this generation are more shrewd in dealing with dishonest wealth than are the children of light.” It is a funny compliment to the rich, and a poignant criticism of his faithful followers. Like the rich man speaking to his dishonest servant, Jesus commends the wealthy in the world for their seeking greater wealth. Unfortunately, he also sighs. If only Christians were as eager and as ingenious in their attempt to gain eternal riches as those who are merely seeking worldly pleasures. Yes, Jesus is saying to you and me, and our generation, if only you would give as much attention to things which concern your souls, as the rich do in taking care of their own business. It makes a difference in how you live and how you die. Your faith, Jesus teaches, only begins to be real and effective when you spend as much time and energy on it as you do on your worldly pursuits.
You see, no where in scripture does Jesus state that money is bad. Nor does Jesus glorify poverty over wealth. Wealth is good and enables good living. And yet, Jesus warns that there is something about money that corrupts every single human being. In spite of the fact that money is a necessary part of life, Jesus teaches that money can control us. So choose your treasure wisely.
Consider the second lesson, “Make friends for yourselves, so that they may welcome you into their eternal homes.” There is a choice. Riches can be used selfishly, or they can be used to make life easier, not only for you, but also for others. It was a Jewish belief that charity to the poor would stand as a person’s credit in the world to come. True wealth was not in what you kept, but what you chose to give away. You can lay up treasures for yourself on earth by hording and spending your income on yourself. Or you can lay up for yourself treasures in heaven by sharing with the poor and the oppressed. Both options have the promise of an eternal home. Wealth is not a sin, but it is a great responsibility which open doors and possibilities for you and others. But my friends, the more you can let go of money, the more you will be drawn more closely to Jesus’ true eternal treasure.
Let us consider the third lesson. “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much.” The way you fulfill a small task is the best proof and recommendation of a greater task. It’s true in life. Those who have proven themselves in work in this world are moved up the ladder. Jesus applied this principle to eternity as well. Nothing in this world truly belongs to us. We are all stewards of what God has entrusted to our care. So choose your treasure wisely.
Unfortunately many people lose sight of what is their lasting treasure and what is eternal. It is a common saying. “Eat, drink and be merry, for … tomorrow you will die.” For many, it is a lifestyle choice. Live for today. Don’t worry. Be happy. Don’t worry about others. Don’t worry about commitments. Scripture, however, warns us that the purpose of money is not simply to buy a life, to “eat, drink and be merry.” Nor does the accumulation of things equal happiness. The more you have, doesn’t mean, the happier you will be. But it’s a favorite bumper sticker for those who embrace this belief lifestyle. Whoever dies with the most toys….”wins.” But, my friends, the blessings of God’s treasures are not worldly pleasures.
We may all say that money has no real lasting power, but we don’t always act that way. We know that money can buy a house, but it cannot buy a home. We know that money can buy a bed, but it cannot buy sleep. Money can buy a clock, but it cannot buy time. Money can buy a book, but it cannot buy knowledge. Money can buy medicine, but cannot by health. Money can buy relationships, but cannot it buy love. Of course, we all know its true, but that doesn’t stop our endless pursuit of things and placing our hope in money. In fact, we can easily be convinced that we could be even happier with just a little bit more wealth. The major mistake of the rich is a false sense of security. It is a very subtle thing, but many people still find security in their financial nest eggs. The power of money is always fleeting. It disappears, and you can’t take it with you. Though some do try.
There was a man who persuaded his wife that when he died she should place all his money in his casket. She agreed. At the man’s funeral, the widow’s best friend, came to her, and asked skeptically, “You didn’t follow your husband’s instructions did you, and bury him with all his money?” The widow stared at her friend, and answered honestly, “I was true to my word. I buried him with all his money in the casket. I wrote him a personal check and placed it in his pocket.” Money is not an everlasting treasure; money is fleeting.
There is, however, a truth in the power of money which Jesus never questions. Money has been given to be a potential blessing, not to you, but to others. Simply said, you should never use money for yourself only, and for your own pleasure. Wealth is not a gift for you to enjoy alone, but it is the gift to give enjoyment and meaning to others. You have been entrusted with a little portion of God’s eternal treasure. You have been given the gift of God’s love and forgiveness, and his abounding grace and wonder. So what are you doing with it?
Consider now the fourth lesson, “No slave can serve two masters. For a slave will be devoted to one, and despise the other.” Nowadays, it is quite easy to do two jobs and work for two people. We can all manage a little part time work on the side. An office IT job with General Mills by day, and organist on the weekends. Lake of the Isles pastor during the week- Wedding Chapel officiant on Saturdays. But a slave in the ancient world had no spare time; every moment of every day belong the master. Serving God can never be a part-time, side job on weekends. Once you choose to serve him and his kingdom, you can serve no other.
To conclude this morning, let me challenge you with one simple question. How you answer may tell you something about who is your master. Based on your preferences and priorities, passions and energy, do you place your hope in God or the power and influence of money? If you are disappointed in your discovery, perhaps you need to reflect on what is ultimately important in your life. For “No slave can serve two masters; You cannot serve both God and wealth.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.