Sermons

"Wealth and Faithfulness" Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

"Wealth and Faithfulness" Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

Sep 22, 2019

Passage:Luke 16:1-13

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Discipleship, Faithfulness, Stewardship

Keywords: stewardship, discipleship, hope, grace, faithfulness

Summary:

Jesus tells a parable about the "dishonest manager." In it, he seems to praise the manager's scheming as "shrewdness," then he tells the disciples to "make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth." What could this possibly mean? We explore these questions in this sermon.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel from Luke has Jesus telling us a compelling, and somewhat confusing story. Jesus talks about a rich man who accuses his steward, or, as we heard it translated…his manager…of "squandering his property." The rich man is going to fire the steward and demands an accounting of the manager's activities.

So far, we hear this and we are on the rich man's side in this story.

Now, Jesus tells us that the steward, knowing he's about to get fired, comes up with a "retirement plan," so to speak. He decides he's going to try to ingratiate himself with his master's debtors, so that he will have a home after he's been fired. The steward calls each of the debtors in and asks what they owe his master. When they tell him, he forgives part of the debt.

At this point in the story, we still generally think the master is getting the raw deal here. In fact, we see the steward’s actions as proof of the allegations that are getting him fired in the first place!

But here's where Jesus throws in the first big twist to the story:

When the master hears what the steward has done with the debtors, the master commends the dishonest steward for his shrewdness!

This makes no sense to us!

What's going on here?

Jesus goes on to say: "make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they [the children of light] may welcome you into the eternal homes."

So, what is Jesus trying to get across here?

Does he want us to act like the dishonest steward?

No, not exactly.

What Jesus is doing, in his usual provocative way, is forcing us out of our comfort zones.

We started this story listening to Jesus cheering the rich man because he was being a good business man. He was firing a dishonest steward. That's just good "business. " None of us really has a problem with that.

But none of us stopped to ask the question about how he got rich, and what property was being squandered by the steward.

Jesus wants us to think about those things too.

More specifically, wants us to focus in on what really matters. And that’s NOT the possessions.

What really matters is faithfulness.

When the steward "forgave" debt--that was something good for the steward and for the master.

The steward was preserving his relationships.

Jesus is telling us that whether we have wealth or not is not really the point. How we live is the point. Are we faithful?

We are to "forgive" those around us. We are to get rid of those possessions that keep us away from being fully engaged in loving and serving the rest of God's kingdom.

Jesus' message in the Gospel of Luke is that in the "letting go" of our possessions--especially those which "possess us"--we can also let go of the false impression that wealth can give any real safety or security or stability.[1]

The Kingdom of Heaven means valuing relationships over possessions. It means seeking "justice for all" over "justice for me." It means "loving our neighbors as ourselves"--not "loving our neighbors as long as they don't bother ourselves."

Jesus says: "you cannot serve God and wealth."

Jesus does not hate you if you are wealthy. Jesus cares how that wealth affects you. You cannot "serve" your wealth. It cannot be your purpose in life.

By telling this story, Jesus picks these characters—the rich man and the steward—intentionally. And we are to wrestle with where we fit in the story.

Throughout Christian history, the image of the “steward” has been one assigned to our role as disciples… as apostles in following Christ.[2]

St. Paul told the Church in Corinth that as members of the church, they were to be “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)

I love that image… I love that idea that we are called to be “stewards of God’s mysteries.”

But that’s what “stewardship” is all about. It’s about proper management of what is entrusted to us. It’s about, above all else…faithfulness.

And Jesus also tells us at the end of this parable: “whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”

And that’s where we find our hope. That’s where we find our grace.

As Fred Craddock once said, “Most of us this week will not christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. 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 a neighbor’s cat. ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.’”[3]

With this parable in Luke, Jesus is asking us all to prioritize our lives, putting our focus on loving one another...above all other considerations!  

May we all seek to do so, with God's help.

Amen.

 

[1] See Scott Bader-Saye, "Luke 16:1-13: Theological Perspective," Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Proper 17-Reign of Christ).

[2]Luke 16:1-13,” in The Gospel of Luke, Vol 9 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 310.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, Luke, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), 192, quoted in Luke 16:1-13,” in The Gospel of Luke, Vol 9 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 311.