Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept. 22, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 16:1-15
Sermon Theme: “That Dirty Five-Letter Word, “Money”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; Brokhof, Series C, Preaching Workbook; original ideas)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The IRS has never called me to verify large contributions made by church members, but I have known a couple pastors who have received such inquiries.
An IRS agent called a pastor recently and asked if a certain man was a member of the congregation.
“Yes, he is,” said the pastor.
“He claims he gave $10,000 to the church. Did he?” asked the agent.
“He will,” said the pastor.
You know, the church’s five-letter dirty word is “money.” People everywhere who criticize the church say, “The church is always asking for money.” Members don’t want to hear the pastor preach about it, but the church, just like people, cannot live without money. We need money to pay the water, lights, gas, and maintenance, just to mention a few reasons. So today’s sermon deals with that five-letter dirty word, “money.”
Before we go on to see what God says about money, let me mention a couple general facts. First of all, it has been reported that the average credit card debt for an individual inAmericais over $7,000. People never pay it off, because each month it grows.
And our national household is not any better at money management. In 1966, our national debt was less than $1 trillion. By 2000, it had grown to about $6 trillion. Today, we are over $16 trillion. So our individual households and our national household need some preaching and teaching on money management, wouldn’t you say?
Well, our sermon text for today gives us such preaching and teaching. In it, Jesus does so by telling a parable. But what a story He tells! Were you awake when I read the sermon text a while ago? If you were, then surely you would agree that this has to be the strangest story Jesus ever told. Whoa! What’s this all about?!
It sounds like He is telling us to imitate a crook who cheated his employer, lied to his business associates, and bought his friends! Doesn’t sound like somebody whom we would want to work for us, does it?
And yet, and yet . . . now here’s the crazy part: Jesus says that here is somebody who knows how to live, so we should learn from him! Now didn’t that cause your ears to flap when I read it to you a while ago? How could Jesus say that!! Something is out of whack here! Did this come from the mouth of the Jesus we know and love? There has to be an explanation.
We have to hear this through the ears of the people living during the time of Jesus. Now we are hearing about a manager who has done a lousy job of managing things; he sounds like a horror story of mismanagement. The guy has squandered away properties, reduced the value of holdings, and brought some funds to the edge of bankruptcy.
So the rich master calls this lousy manager into his office to let him know he will be fired with no severance. Oh, my, what am I going to do, — he thinks to himself, “I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg!”
He figures a way out of his dilemma, — doesn’t seem to matter that it’s not ethical. He looks at all the accounts due, and he calls in those in debt to the master, and cuts their bills drastically, fifty percent in one instance. Well, obviously his debtors are well pleased with this, as you would expect them to be.
But here is the shocker! So is the rich master well pleased. He praises the manager for his shrewdness! What on earth is Jesus up to in telling us this?!
Is the rich tycoon himself a crook? Not according to the way Jesus tells it. The rich man is viewed as an upright person; has he changed to the opposite by the end of the story? No, Jesus doesn’t indicate that at all.
This is one of those puzzling parables. What is the point of the story? Jesus has to have a reason for telling this to His disciples and to us? What does He REALLY want us to get out of it?
If you think about it, the one thing that stands out, is the generosity of the rich master. It was the generosity of the master that gave the manager time to figure out how to get out of this financial mess. It was the generosity of the master that made the manager’s debt reductions possible. And the debtors were touched by the rich master’s great generosity, and there was joy and celebration.
The main point of the parable then is not to teach us to be dishonest. Coming from Jesus, no way! No, it’s a way, although a strange way, for Jesus to remind us that the most important characteristic of God (who was the rich master in the parable) is generosity! Our only hope to survive the difficult times we live in lies in the generosity of God, who gives us His amazingly free grace. Free, of course, to us, but not to His beloved Son Jesus who bought the free ticket of grace for us with His precious life!
To be sure, the dishonest manager was a rascal with few redeeming qualities. (In the parable, he represents us.) He stole from his employer and blackmailed his friends. (We steal from God when we don’t tithe our first fruits to Him.) The manager got away with stealing and blackmailing, because he took prompt and clever action when his position was threatened. The point is God demands from each of us an accounting of our stewardship and we had better be prepared to give it. Clever excuses do not always work.
We can be far better prepared if we can prove that we serve God as enthusiastically as we serve ourselves. Many Christians would fail this test. They manage to be at work diligently and promptly every day, but begrudge the time to attend worship. They get two weeks of vacation from their jobs, but take two months of vacation from church. They spend a fortune on electronic gadgets for themselves, but renege on their tithe to the church.
They travel five miles to collect a debt, but won’t go five steps to visit a sick friend. They spend hours grooming themselves to make an attractive appearance, but find it impossible to spend a few minutes to cleanse their hearts by prayer and worship. Let us take to heart the words of Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII: “Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, He would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies.”
Before the Pharisees eventually succeeded in getting Jesus killed, He no doubt caused them a lot of stress and a few near heart attacks. These protectors of tradition and purity in religion watched this radical rabbi dine with sinners and tax collectors, talk to prostitutes, gather food on the Sabbath, heal and feed the riff raff, touch the untouchables, and tell this outrageous parable.
Our text concludes with these words, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” No doubt when He said in the text, “You cannot serve God and money,” He was pointing at the Pharisees. When it comes to money management and the church, may He never point His finger at us. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.