Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 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.' "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-- I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' "'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.' "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' "'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' "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. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. "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. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? "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." -Luke 16:1-13
I feel like we've had a full service already, but I get to talk a little bit about our stewardship series this week. And we get this wonderful passage from Luke 16 about the dishonest manager. I've had a couple of people say, Well, good luck with that one. It's a challenging passage to say the least, it's one in which a lot of people read it and walk away scratching their heads, saying, What is Jesus talking about? Make for yourselves friends by dishonest wealth. This manager or the rich man commands the manager for being shrewd even though he was inept and dishonest in his practices, and Jesus comes along and hands us a parable and says, Here you go, do you get it? And we're all shaking our heads saying, No, I will say there is one positive so far that I have found in this...
You may remember the story of the Good Samaritan, and someone says, Well, who is my neighbor? And Jesus goes about and tells the story of the Good Samaritan, of the two individuals who were pious religious folks that came by and kept on going, and then the Samaritan, who would have been the least likely actually stops and offers kindness and compassion, and Jesus gets done and the person that posed the question to him... Jesus says so. Who showed mercy? Well, and the man said, Well, you're the one that helped him. And Jesus said, Yes, go and do likewise. Well, thank God, Jesus didn't say, Go and do likewise with this story, this dishonest manager, because we'd be in a world of trouble. Now, there's all kinds of commentaries and all kinds of things that people have to say about this passage, because it is a difficult passage, Jesus teaches in parables that we might find and understand the moral, The lesson of the story, it's a made up story, so this is not a real rich man and not a real manager who does this, but Jesus tell us This story for us to learn something.And we wanna know what it is.
Well, part of what I see a lot of the commentators doing when they look at this passage is we try and find a way to make sense of this passage so that it doesn't make us have to think something different, it doesn't leave us scratching our heads in wonder and confusion, and they wanna try and come up with some feasible... Possible explanation for why Jesus would tell this story. To be frank, I'm not the scholar that they are, but all of those kind of leave me wanting... I can see where they're trying to get to the point of, Well, maybe this manager that did all of this negotiating behind the scenes of wiping away some of the debt, well, maybe that was his commission that he was giving up to get in the good graces of these people, some would say that maybe this rich man actually wasn't the most honest in his business practices, and according to Jewish law charging usury or high interest rates was prohibited. Well, maybe this rich man had been doing that and doesn't call the manager to task on it because well, he's just kind of covering up some of his master's mistakes, there are all sorts of explanations and plausible scenarios, they get offered up, but at the end of the day.
We're still trying to sort out what Jesus have each of us to learn from this… My take on this passage, and the reason we're looking at it this morning as we're engaging in this stewardship series, we're looking at Wesley’s principles of earn, save and give. Now, Wesley actually used this text as his basis for this sermon as well, and early in the sermon, Wesley writes about this passage, he says, “Our Lord imparted a superb segment of Christian wisdom to all of his followers,” Wesley and others did point out that in this passage, it says that Jesus began to teach the disciples, Jesus wasn't teaching this to the Pharisees who were known to be lovers of money. Jesus was speaking to his followers. This was an insider talk to those who were closest to him, saying, Alright, here's what you need to understand, he tells them this parable. Now, Wesley says “it pertains to the proper use of money, he says the people of the world customarily speak a great deal about the money, but those whom God has chosen out of the world do not adequately consider its use.” Even in Wesley’s day, 300 years ago, people were a little uncomfortable in religious circles talking about money, in fact, there was this idea that Money was a bad thing, but as Wesley points out, and I think as Jesus would say as well, money in and of itself is not a bad thing. Now, money can be used for bad purposes, but money can also be used for good purposes, money can be used to fund wars and by elicit materials, but money is also necessary to put a roof over the heads of your family and to put food on the table, the money in and of itself is not the problem. It's our attitude toward the money, and it's how we use that money, and the problem that many people run into is that as Wesley points out, people of the world, customarily, speak a great deal about money, but as people of faith, we feel that God has called us back out of the world or to be different or set apart from the world, and so surely then we have to act and talk differently with regard to money than the people of the world... Wesley's interpretation of what Jesus is saying. And I think maybe one that helps me to best understand this is that when it comes to being wise, shrewd, practical with money, there are some lessons of the world that maybe aren't bad ones for us to incorporate into our use and relationship with money, that this manager for whatever incompetence had in squandering the rich man's wealth, who then is called to account for that and says, Oh my word, I'm in trouble, I not young enough or strong enough to go dig ditches and I'm too proud to beg. I need to figure out how to make sure that things go well for me. So he tries to get himself in the good graces of some of the people in debt to his master. It doesn't necessarily mean it was right or wrong, but he was commended for it by the rich man.
For looking at all of the things that were before Him, all of the materials and resources that he had a hand and thinking about, what can I do to try and secure a little bit of security going forward, and so he's not commended for being incompetent, he's not commended for being dishonest, he's commended for being shrewd, for being decisive and taking a firm step when it was necessary. Wesley sees this as part of his admonition that we should earn all we can, but he sets up some parameters and guidelines for what he means by that.
I've got far too much Wesley to quote and I've got too many notes to keep track of this morning, so for Wesley, he begins by saying that, particularly that money though in and of itself is not the issue, the money is not a bad thing, in fact, Wesley goes so far as to say money can be used wrongly, but what cannot be used misused. He said, However, money can also be used properly and money is equally suited to the best as well as the worst of all of us, money is of indescribable benefit to all civilized nations, all the common affairs of life is the most condensed means for reconnecting all kinds of business. End of doing all kinds of good. Especially if we use it according to Christian wisdom, he said in our present state, through money, it is an excellent gift from God, for many people that looked upon money as this evil that well, we need to keep ourselves distant from that, even in some Christian traditions, particularly in some of the monastic communities, people took vows of poverty because they saw money as something that pulled them down, and so they intentionally separated themselves from it and lived under those vows of poverty.
For Wesley's audience, many of his audience were the lower class, the working people, the people that struggled to make ends meet, their view of money was they didn't have enough in the rich people that did work that kind or generous with it. And so even their perception of money was probably a little skewed, but Wesley says, No, money is an excellent gift for God, now for those people, particularly the large bulk of his audience here in that, that probably made them perk up and say, Wait what... Money is a gift from God. Because Wesley goes on, it says, “in the hands of God's children, money is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and clothing for the naked, for the pilgrim and strange or money provides a place to lie down for rest and by the right use of money, we can provide for others, money can serve as a husband for the widow and a father to the orphans, it can supply protection for the oppressed, a means of health for the sick, and comfort for those in pain, money can become as eyes to the blind and feet to the lame and indeed money can lift up others from the gates of death,” Wesley saw the money in and of itself was a gift from God when rightly used, which then led him to that point of, so we should earn all we can.
Now, again, I mentioned that he had some qualifications or caveats to that as far as what he means by that, because he says, gain all you can without paying more than it is worth, and he goes and list several instances where the price that we pay to earn all we can may be too high, he says again, or you can, but not at the expense of your health. That working seven days a week for long, unending hours just to get a little bit more in a little bit more. Well, I suspect some of us have maybe experienced burnout at one time or another in life that were the hours just take a toll on us and our physical health deteriorates because it was worse. Sometimes relationships deteriorate and become damaged because of those long hours, and admittedly some people don't have a lot of choice over those hours, but sometimes we do.
And the choice to go and put in a few more hours to gain a little bit more instead of being where we should be with family and people that are important to us, it takes a toll that is far more than we should be willing to pay. He goes on to say “gain all you can, but not at the expense of your soul.” That there may be things that are legal enterprises that may not be healthy for our soul.
In the book by James Harnish about this material, he talks about having the young man that came to him in the last church that he served, and this young man was working for a cable company and installing cable and internet connections in a hotel that was being built and he found out that one of the things that this hotel would be providing as a part of their cable and internet service in the rooms was pornography, and this was a young man that at one point, his life had dealt with an addiction to pornography, and he went to Reverend Harnish and said, I don't think I can in good conscience keep this job, and they had a conversation about it, and this young man ended up going and resigning from this job without necessarily knowing what his next job would be, but trusting that God would provide for him, something that would provide for he and his family without putting a toll upon his conscience.
And finally, Wesley says that to gain on we can, we should do so not at the expense of others or at the expense of neighbors, Jesus called us to not only love God, but to love our neighbors as ourselves, and so engaging in business practice that capitalize on and take advantage of others, would be an indication that maybe that's not a good way to go about gaining all we can. And that's where the temptation and the struggle lies, that sometimes for some people, that idea of gain on we can is driven by greed, it's not that they're being industrious and they're not living up to God's full potential of who they were created to be.
But it's just simply about acquiring more and more and more, we don't have to look very far in the news to hear about people that engage in business in such a way, and it's been a few years ago, but Bernie Madeoff with that huge pyramid scam that he ran and people lost millions of dollars and their entire life savings or their entire retirement was gone because of someone else's greed.
So don't get all you can at the expense of others, Wesley goes on and talks about that even within that, there are just people who are unscrupulous, that they're not good at their job, or they cut corners and they shave edges just to save and make a little bit more, and at the end of the day, that's where other people end up paying the price, but he says that we should gain all we can... And he continues that within that, he says We should observe these cautions and restrictions, he said “It is the solemn duty of all who engage in worldly business to notice the first and principal rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money, gain all you can”... He says, This is what we're commanded to do. In fact, if you look at scripture, there is indeed numbers of instances where we're encouraged to be fruitful and multiply. In the creation story, in Genesis, God says tend the land bring forth crops and do those things
That ultimately would lead to people providing for themselves and supporting themselves, but Wesley says, gain all you can buy honest industry, work hard. Excel at what you do. And in fact, Wesley goes on in the sermon to talk a little bit about the fact that we should even strive to be a little bit better at what we do each day, how can we improve and be better at whatever trade we apply ourselves to because... And I think this is the crux that should be a part of this statement when Wesley makes it, he says, gain all you can buy Honest industry and exercise all possible diligence in your calling. Exercise all possible diligence in you're calling, Wesley doesn't just see this as a job that you go out and you clock in, clock out, and you grumble and complain like everybody else because you had to go to work, Wesley says, apply yourself to your calling, a God given calling, and we often talk about calling, being those people that end up in professional or full-time ministry, but
Luther talked about the priesthood of all believers.That every person lay were clergy has been called. A few years ago, I was serving a church, and we were talking about this idea of calling being something beyond just a ministry, and I happened to ask the Sunday school class that I was leading at the time of adults... I said, Do any of you in the occupation that you are engaged in right now, feel that you were called by God to do what you're doing?
Now, there's a woman in the class immediately your hand shot up and she said, I do... She said from the time I was a little girl, I knew that God wanted me to be a school teacher, and that's what I've done for the last... Probably 30 or 40 years at that point in her life, and she said, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. She felt that God had called her to that work of doing what she was doing, what would be different in your life right now. If you consider the things that you're doing, something that God has called you to... And there are some of you who are probably at a point in life where you're looking at me saying, Well, I'm retired, but what if you look at your retirement as a calling from God as well...
A calling to do something different than what you had done. The calling to be available in ways that maybe you weren't available before, the calling to be able to invest yourself in things that you'd always wanted to but never have the time for. And... While many of you may be thinking, Well, yeah, I'm not necessarily going to work and collecting a paycheck anymore, these principles that Wesley is talking about of earning all you can imply that that shrewdness, that diligence of that dishonest manager who really thought things through might be something that you need to apply to managing your pension or considering how your investments that are your source of income are being handled, do you have someone of wise counsel that helps you with that? Are you mindful about where those things are invested, are they socially responsible, do you feel comfortable with where it's invested. Those are decisions for you to think about and reflect upon, but Wesley plenty is when it comes to earning all we can... We need to be involved, we need to be intentional. We need to think it through.
And in fact, Wesleys’ last point in the first section of this sermon, when he talks about earning, now we can... He concludes the last section by saying, in gaining all you can use common sense, use common sense about the things that you're doing, about the ways that you're going about earning, use common sense to make sure that what you're doing will provide for your needs, but also in a way that honors God. One of the reasons that so many people get squeamish about talking about money in church, and this was pointed out to me by another author by the name of Lovit Weems, he said too often in church, we talk about people's personal finances apart from their discipleship, but the truth of it is how we handle our financial affairs individually and privately is a part of our discipleship.
It's a reflection of the relationship and the role that Jesus Christ plays in our lives. And so while we handle those personal finances should be an extension of the relationship that you have with Jesus Christ, and when we as a church talk about our finances together, it's easy sometimes we get caught up in the fact of, Well, we've got a boiler that needs replaced, we've got a roof that's leaking, we've got utility bills that need paid, and we could go on and on about maintenance and other issues like that. I've never been in a church meeting where some of those conversations come up and someone gets excited and said, Oh, can I pay for that, that doesn't inspire or motivate people. And that's where Dr. Weem says that the problem in churches is that we often forget to talk about the church's finances in terms of our mission, of what it is that God has called us to be and to do for the sake of the world.
And so that's where we need to be mindful of the fact that God has called us and placed us here to be the body of Christ in this corner, in this neighborhood, in this part of Fort Wayne, Indiana, that God has equipped us with people with talent to be able to offer wonderful music and leading our worship to provide us with the space to offer an academy that allows families with young people that are working, to be able to send them to somewhere where they're safe and they can learn and grow and become the young people that they need to be to be ready to go to school. That because we're here, we have opportunities for people to learn and to grow in their faith, and we're able to open up our facilities to groups like AA; that are making a difference in the lives of people who need to find that support in recovering from an addiction. Friends, those are the things that are our mission, and we happen to have a building that helps to make that thing that we do possible. And yes, maintaining this building does come at a price of keeping the lights on, of keeping things in good repair, but we pay for those things out of our church budget and from the contributions that you give, so that we can fulfill that mission that God has called us to... That mission is possible because each of you have earned all you can, and because the leadership of our church is doing what they can for our church to earn what we can, and make that possible.
So what do we make this manager... Like I said, Jesus didn't say Go and do likewise. So we won't, but at the end of the day, it comes down to how practical and shrewd we are in the myriad of little decisions that will make each day. The late theologian and pastor Fred Cradick about this passage said that the realism of these sayings that we find in Luke 16 is that life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities, Cradick says most of us will not... This week, christen a ship, write a book, go to war, apoint of cabinet, dine with the Queen, convert a nation or be burned at the stake. He says, more likely, the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday School class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice and feed the neighbor's cat, because after all, it was Jesus who said, Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much.
So friends if there's something that we need to take away from this manager we need to continue learning and practicing and growing in what it means to be faithful in little things because when we're faithful in those little things, when the big things come along we will be faithful in them as well.