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 alone, one out of every seven passages is about money. In fact, there are more passages about in St. Luke’s gospel 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 times, money handles us. The danger being, as Jesus warns, that we choose to serve wealth, instead of God.
This morning’s reading is one of the most passage concerning wealth and treasure. So one of the challenges for us is simply navigating the historical context of St. Luke’s ancient world. This is after all the evangelist who turn the world upside down, where the Lord fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty. There was no system for charging interest in the ancient Israel. Instead, rich landlords and rulers were loan-sharks, using exorbitant payments to amass more land and to disinherit peasants of their family land. Rent for the land was most often paid in the products that the land produced. The manager was dishonest, first in having already squandered his master’s wealth, and now was negotiating with the renters to pay less than they owed. All as a personal favor to endear himself to those he who would normally have exploited. And so we read that that at the end of the parable, the rich man commends the dishonest manager because he has acted shrewdly.
This parable is so complex that theologians have suggested a variety of lessons to learn from it. Jesus himself offers four different lessons, but this morning, I would like to consider just one. “Make friends for yourselves, so that they may welcome you into their eternal homes.”
We live and die with money every day, but there is always a choice of how you can use it. . 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. There was distinction between wealth and treasure. Treasure was not in what you kept, but what you chose to give away. You could choose to lay up worldly wealth for yourself on earth by hording and spending your income on yourself. Or you could choose to lay up for yourself treasures in heaven by sharing with the poor and the oppressed. Mind you, Jesus was not saying that believers should gain wealth dishonestly first and then be generous with it. But he did say, that if this is how wealth has come to you, “make friends now.” Use your wealth, even your dishonest wealth to bless others. Yes, you can choose to use the monetary resources you have to reach out. The result will be friendships that endure into eternity: for the poor souls we touch in this world will welcome us into “eternal dwellings” someday.
Unfortunately many people lose sight of what their lasting eternal treasure truly is and what is merely worldly wealth. 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. Nor does the accumulation of things equal happiness. The more you have, doesn’t mean, the happier you will be. 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 treasure is not worldly wealth. You cannot serve both God and worldly wealth.
We may all give lip service to the notion 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, and confess that, but that doesn’t stop us in 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? 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 may not be everything, but there is a truth in the power of money which Jesus never questions. It is perhaps why the rich man commends the dishonest manager for his shrewd and wise treatment of the debtors who were below him. The poor who were once his enemies became his friends. Jesus underscores this gesture as well. It is a radical thought. “Make friends with the poor, not your peers.” 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 and I have been entrusted with a little portion of God’s eternal treasure. We have been given the gift of God’s love and forgiveness, and his abounding grace and wonder.
But remember that worldly wealth can do good things as well. In 1888, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, had been confused with his brother Ludwig who had died causing several newspapers to publish obituaries of Alfred Nobel in error. One French newspaper published an obituary titled “Le marchand de la mort est mort” (“The merchant of death is dead”). Nobel read the obituary and was appalled at the idea that he would be remembered in this way. His decision to donate the majority of his wealth to found the Nobel Prize has been credited in large part to him wanting to leave behind a better legacy.
To close this morning, let me challenge you with one simple question. How you answer may tell you something about who is your true master. Based on your preferences and priorities, passions and energy, do you place your hope in God or the power and influence and 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.