Sermon, Pentecost 18C
Sunday September 25, 2013.
Luke 16:1-3Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’6 “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied.“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’“‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied.“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
I was talking with an old friend recently. His life had been going along pretty well for a while now. As a result he had been feeling that if he and his family could keep going the way they have been for a couple more years without significant change, they may be able to realise some dreams that would help them reach some sense of financial security.
But he told me that all of these hopes and dreams had now been put into doubt because some things had happened that took away that sense of security. He was shaken up.
I was happy to listen. In that talking and listening, we as brothers in the Lord could begin to believe again that even though my friend’s life was being shaken up, it was not all bad. We were enabled to trust Jesus and know that when our lives are shaken up they are shaken up for a reason. We might be shaken, but we are not stirred. We are more than shaken up, we are shaken free.
The guy in this parable is in middle management. One day he gets called in to the office and the owner of the business asks the manager to give account of his business dealings. The Owner knows the manager has been wasteful with the business and tells the manager that his days in the job are numbered.
So, this middle manager who has been wasteful with his bosses business has his life shaken by impending unemployment. His financial security, his kid’s schooling, his mortgage and his long term hopes and dreams are on edge. His comfortable rhythm in life is disrupted and so, he has to act.
He may be wasteful with the boss’s money, but he is also honest with himself.
“I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg”, he says.
We will see that this manager is no mafia boss or some ‘Underbelly’ kind of character. He does not go down this road of stand-over tactics, payback, or dishonest means to get himself out of his shaky world.
He could go this way. So could we; both individually and as a congregation. When our lives are shaken up we could try and demand more of people – that they be more like us. We could employ worldly business means to try and get people to be the way we think they need to be. It is tempting to try and get more than we should really get when the pressure is on.
Is that where stealing, gambling and generally trying to gain things by dishonest gain come from? When our life is shaken up like this, it is really tempting to break a few of the 10 commandments: specifically commandments 7-10.
Instead of helping people keep what they have, even improve what they have and celebrate their wealth we can try to steal what they have, try and gain what they have by claiming some right over their possessions, try to trick people out of their possessions or gain what they have by some dishonest means, or try to divide people’s family to gain their possessions.
What this shrewd manager does is smart but not hurtful to himself, the owner or anyone else. Rather than jacking up the price on his debtors, extorting them, using methods of dishonest gain to exact money from those who owe his owner debts, this man simply drops the price on the debtors. If someone owes him $1000 he makes it $800 instead. Instead of 900 litres of olive oil, he writes it down to 450 litres and so on…..
He is smart. If he treats these significant people in his life (and the Owner’s life) well by being generous, then they may return the favour when he is in need. They will also think well of the owner.
So, his response to being shaken up by life is not dishonest but actually quite generous. It is not to demand more, worry about it all and be a victim or give up all together. Yes, he hopes he also benefits from his generosity later on, but it is still generous to his friends and his actions are not dishonest, stand-over tactic or malicious.
This wasteful manager has now become a commended manager for his shrewd and positive way of dealing with the shaking up of his life. Jesus names him so.
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.
So, how do we cope well with be shaken up by life? Jesus tells us;
9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Jesus is directing to do the same; to use our wealth and possessions for positive, generous gain so that when that last day comes and none of wealth will mean a thing before our Creator and Saviour, we will be welcomed and affirmed as a disciple of Jesus who has done well in his eyes with what we were given.
Surely Jesus is also encouraging us to see ourselves as much more than mere victims of circumstance when our life is turned on its head in some way (illness, unemployment, car accident, loss of property, hard financial times, family conflict and the like). This manager is no victim of circumstance. He is commended for transforming a bad situation into one that benefits him and others by his shrewd relationship building.
This person has been shaken up for sure, but God has used this hard situation to bring freedom into this man’s life. He is shaken free of self-preservation, victim mentality and blaming everyone else for his troubles and has received freedom to be generous, shrewd, and positive in his hard time.
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
Amazingly, Jesus says that when we shaken we learn about trust. When the security on which we depended is threatened we learn that God is in this somewhere and that it is an issue of trust. By God’s grace we are enabled to trust the Lord for the situation, even when it is very shaky.
As my friend and I and the people hearing this parable hear, if we be faithful in going the way of continued generosity, relationship building, serving, giving to others, even in the smallest of ways, then it won’t matter how much or how little we earn or own, we will be secure in the Lord and that is the highest security – it is eternal security.
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
In the end we get to the heart of this. We Christians are called to give our heart, our possessions and our very life to the Lord for his purposes – freely and gladly – maybe especially when we are very shaky, because it is then that we are freed from our complacency and we become much more aware of and reliant on God’s Word and our church friends.
In the shaky times generosity, relationships and trust are only possible because we have a gracious “Owner” who could really nailed us, but instead allows himself to be nailed for us.
As a result we don’t need to go down the road of selfish gain under the pretence of genuine service and care or just plain ripping people off in whatever way. As we keep trusting, acting carefully, and focusing on people and friendship that brings praise to our gracious Owner and his church we will be commended by our Heavenly Father; we will be faithful to our gracious Owner who is our life and our hope for the future – not money.
Friend, you may be shaken but you are not stirred. You might be going through shaky times but Jesus is saying he is involved here and in this difficult situation there is freedom to be enjoyed, generosity to be done, justice and care to be lived and lessons of trust to be learned on the journey of faith with him.
When our circumstances change or things happen that shake us up we are shaken for a purpose as far as God is concerned. We are shaken for freedom not just for the sake of it. We are shaken for freedom not to be stirred.
God is no “stirrer”. He is no vindictive Mafia boss stirring us up to make us squirm. No he has purpose and love for us. If we are stirred up by being shaken it is only for the goal of freedom in Christ – to be free on the things that capture us and limit us and take something away from our relationship with the Lord and each other. We are shaken but not stirred,. We are shaken at times but always for freedom in the gospel.
Trust him, friend. Be generous. Focus on people – especially God’s people. Act justly and serve him above all else. In the shaky times you will be free not stirred. You are shaken fro freedom and for love in Christ. Amen
Read the parable through deliberately taking note of words and images that stand out to you. Share those stand out things….
Glance over the whole of Chapter 15 with its three parables about lost and found things/people – lost sheep, lost coin and lost sons. Can you see any recurring themes from these parables in this one? List them as you find them……
Some argue that this parable should be matched with the previous 3 and called “The Lost Manager”. If that is a good way to understand this parable more fully, then the verses at the end of this chapter 16 which are not included in our Sunday lectionary might just be the crescendo of the whole four parables. See verse 16:15…
15 He (Jesus) said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight”.
So, maybe this parable of the shrewd manager, like the previous three, is really a matter of the heart. The shrewd manager is shrewd but he does not appear to be acting hurtfully or dishonestly like he was before he was shaken up by the threat of being sacked. Something has changed.
He could use standover tactics or try and make excuses to avoid further trouble but instead he focuses on generosity, relationships and trusting that the Owner will respond well to his wise plan to deal with being shaken up. How does he do this?
Have you ever been shaken up by a situation and had to do a similar kind of thing to try and turn the situation around to your favour and for the favour of your family or friends? Share your stories…
Notice how Jesus says it is good to use what he gives us shrewdly – in ways that bring good things to bear in our own lives as well as those around us. He does not seem to say that we need to always put ourselves last and even put ourselves down but rather simply acknowledge him to be the giver of all good things and use what he gives for the betterment of ourselves and others. How do you respond to this kind of direction? Do you struggle to believe that you can do things to look after yourself and that by doing that you can also look after others? How does this work in your life?
We may be “shaken but not stirred”, I said. Share what this little phrase means to you in this message?
I said we are shaken for a purpose. We are shaken up by life at times and this can lead to a new freedom to trust in the Lord and serve people. How has this happened in your life at times?
Lord we dare to thank you for the times when we are shaken up because we know that your intention is to free us from our complacency and even wasteful living. Help us to be wise stewards of all you give as we set our heart on loving and serving you above all else in Jesus’ name.