A Sermon for 22 September 2019
A reading from the gospel of Luke 16:1-13. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
I attended a bible study this week that used a format called the Word Share Prayer. Like the Scripture practice of Lectio Divina, Word Share Prayer asks first: what stands out to you in the passage read?
A lot might be our collective response upon hearing what’s been called “one of the most baffling of Jesus’ parables, leading to varieties of interpretation that have to be carefully constructed” (Connections, Yr. C, Vol. 3, Donald K. McKim, p. 332). Of the reading we just heard from the gospel of Luke, another biblical commentator writes that “parables are usually gifts of clear insight into God’s choices for our lives. However, this parable is difficult to read and difficult to preach. The reader is oftentimes left to struggle for meaning, just as the preacher struggles to interpret. Both end up frustrated” (Feasting the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4, Helen Montgomery Debevoise, p. 92). Which sounds about right because what are we to make of the parable unique to the gospel of Luke that has been labeled throughout history as The Dishonest Manager? A shrewd man of business who’s about to get the ax for squandering the owner’s property. But, in a last-ditch effort to ensure he’ll find welcome from others once he no longer has a job, the manager ends up praised by his boss because he cuts back all the debts owed to the owner by others. Instead of being indicted for fraud, the manager receives the owner’s “‘atta boy!” pats on his back because, the words attributed to Jesus go: “the dishonest manager . . . had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:8-9). Which might be a welcomed message if you’re serving on the church’s finance committee. But it sounds a bit off to most of our ears. Especially if we keep on reading to hear Jesus immediately declare: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Luke 16:10). By the time Jesus gets to the end of his point, he lets the listener have it: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13). Which might leave us scratching our heads thinking: “But didn’t your parable just praise someone who seemed wrapped up in wealth?” What is going on here?
What speaks to me in the midst of it all is one little word: entrust. Entrust. To put something into someone’s care or protection. That’s what the owner did. He entrusted the manager with his business.
If I was the kind of preacher who stopped in the middle of a sermon to make you turn to the people sitting closest to you to discuss, what do you think you’d hear in response to the question: with what have you been entrusted? Furthermore, how are you doing in reference to that with which you have been entrusted?
A woman tells the story of a realization she had somewhere along the line when her 15-year-old son came to her. Not much more than a freshman or sophomore in high school and the child excitedly talked about a construction mission to Africa. The boy begged to go serve in the middle of nowhere in Kenya alongside 2 other teenagers and one adult. The woman writes: “They would be camping in the jungles and out alone in villages. . . . He wouldn’t be in my care, let alone on my side of the world” (www.buckner.org/family-hope-centers-blog/giving-children-to-god-lessons-on-biblical-motherhood-from-hannah). She did not want to let him go! What the mother eventually came to realize is that her child was entrusted with a mission. What she did not yet know was that the experience would set him on the path of building a career that used his construction skills as a ministry to help others. She had been entrusted with the job of raising him up so he would go forth into the world to be faithful to the job entrusted to him.
Children. Parents. Spouses. Grandchildren. Friends. Whatever combination we have in our lives, the people who make up our families are entrusted to us – put into our care and protection. We can’t control the outcome of how those relationships will unfold. We can’t know the bumps and bruises that will come along the way as each child grows; as siblings and parents age; as the needs of our closest loved ones arise. We have been entrusted with people for whom we are to care through encouragement and compassion. Through patience and persistence. Through holding close and letting go.
We’ve been entrusted with bodies that have allowed us to become who we are today. Born into the circumstances of our lives, even the ones with the greatest problems in this sanctuary have so much more than most of the world’s population. We can live under the illusion that we’ve earned it all on our own. When, in fact, the very bodies into which we’ve been born – in this time of history. In this nation – deeply impact all that we have and all we have been able to accomplish in our lives. We might get a little bit sick and tired of feeling tired or sick as we age in these bodies. Nonetheless, they are great gifts to us. They have made for mostly comfortable, safe lives – blessings we do well not to squander.
We’ve been entrusted with a certain world view – a particular way of being everywhere we go because of the principles we have learned from Jesus, the Christ, our Savior and Lord. Not everyone has been exposed to the grace of God in the ways most of us have. Even among those who sit in a Christian service of worship every Sunday, some have been taught a very different message about God as an entity to be feared. An angry judge waiting to sentence us one direction or the other. Not everyone has come to know the message of unconditional love that calls us to strive to live likewise. That informs the ways we’ve chosen to work in this world. The relationships we’ve built. The expansive eyes of welcome through which we act.
We’ve been entrusted with one another and the mission God has for us as we serve people in this neighborhood. As we work from this beautiful building others sought to construct. In the area of Nashville we’ve been given to impact. Among people like young families seeking care for their children, and teachers and parents doing all they can to holistically educate middle schoolers. We’ve been entrusted with members and friends of every generation – an eclectic body of people who sometimes need support and sometimes need new ways to serve.
We’ve been entrusted with this nation. The land that we love, the home for which generations have toiled.
We’ve been entrusted even with this world. God’s good creation of fuzzy little caterpillars that grow into beautiful signs of hope. Of puppy dogs and mighty oaks. Mountains and rivers and the little plots on which we’ve built our homes.
We have been entrusted with so much. Jesus’ parable raises the question of how are we doing with all that’s been entrusted to us? Because, he says, if we cannot be faithful with all we already have, why would anyone seek to give us more? If we’re faltering with what has been entrusted to us, who will bestow greater riches?
Whatever the motivation, when the manager is told the owner is taking it all away; he wakes up. At long last he realizes he could have done something good with the role he’d been given. One biblical commentator writes: “this manager, this person of questionable character, understood something that ‘children of light’ have had difficulty grasping: dishonest or not, this man (at last) understood how to use what was entrusted to him to serve a larger goal. . . . How much more, then, must the children of God understand the riches entrusted to their care?” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4, Helen Montgomery Debevoise, p. 94). The commentator continues: “With the end in mind, the manager redeemed whatever he could about his present situation. He understood that, in order to be where he wanted to be in the future, how he handled today counted” (Ibid.). This, then, is the crisis that Jesus addresses in his parable. The children of light, the people of God must not grow complacent about all God has given. We must wake up to act faithfully with what has been entrusted to our care.
May those with ears to listen, hear. May we heed Christ’s word and so live.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)