Sunday message: Let’s make a deal

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 22, 2019

Scriptures:

Psalm 113

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Luke 16:1-13

Once there was a chief executive officer whose vice president of finance was reported to have badly managed company affairs. So the CEO said to this VP, “Your performance is inadequate; some would say you’ve been culpably negilgent. Turn in your records and your keys and clear out your office by 5:00 pm.”

The VP was panicked. She was too old to look for a new job, too young to retire, and too proud to apply for employment insurance. What was she to do? Then she had an inspiration. She accessed accounts receivable and chose three customers most behind in their payments. She called the first and said, “Tom, we’re anxious to get this debt off our books. If you can pay by the 15th, I’ll give you a 25 percent reduction in your liability.”

To the second she confided: “J.C., we’ve been conducting an internal audit, found a few errors. What do your records show that you owe us? Forty-six thousand dollars? No, according to my records, your debt is forty.”

She informed the third company that a shipping error reduced this account by one-third. At the close of each conversation she said that she planned to leave her present position soon and hoped they would keep her in mind.

Later, when she walked out with reduced pension benefits, no health insurance, and a paltry sum for severance pay, there was a smile on her face. Within a month she was hired as a consultant by each firm she had called that day.

The next time her old boss saw her at the yacht club, she hurried to leave, but he caught up with her and slapped her on the shoulder. “Kiddo, I’ve gotta hand it to you. You can shoot pool with the best of us. I couldn’t have thought of a better scheme myself.”

And then Jesus said, “For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light. And so I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” 

Even such a lover of Scripture as John Calvin characterized the parable of the wicked steward as “hard and far-fetched.” The story strains credulity and jolts our ethical sensibilities. Would anyone congratulate the scoundrel who first mismanaged his employer’s funds and then cheated him out of recovering legitimate debts? Is Jesus holding up such unscrupulous dealings as exemplary?

But perhaps the human figures of steward and master in the parable do not represent God’s people and God, or the master our Master. Imagine, instead, that Jesus is making this ironic comparison: “Look at scoundrels who spend their time and energy scheming to ensure their own comfort and security. If only my followers would be that shrewd, that creatively reckless, that single-minded in serving me!”

The parable is followed by sayings of Jesus that seem to contradict the story as we first heard it, so perhaps we did misunderstand. Then comes this conclusion: “You cannot serve God and money.” Consistent with the teaching of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus has sounded a warning against the worship of wealth, but invites its good use in generosity toward others. Moreover, he suggests that an accounting is kept for that day when money will not serve us at all.

“Look,” the man said, “here’s the deal. You’ve been given the resources you need, not just for your own use, but to share. If you are faithful and generous, you will have a place in this corporate body of mine. And, I promise you, the benefits are out of this world.” (This was originally written by Janna Tull Steed)

Imagine for a moment that you have something important you want to get to someone who needs it. You wrap it up, hand it over to Fed Ex worker or the one handling UPS packages. What would you think instead of delivering the package he took it home, opened it and kept it himself?

Well, first of all, you would say he is a thief because the package does not belong to him. Secondly, he totally mishandled what you entrusted with him. And thirdly, somebody got hurt because they didn’t get what you wanted them to have.”

You know what? You would be exactly right. Because you see the Fed Ex man or the UPS man is just the middle man. He has one job—to get what I give him to the person who needs it the most. That is exactly the purpose that we’ve been put on this earth; to take what God has given us, and to be careful with it, to be resourceful with it, and to be faithful with it so that we can have an impact for all eternity.

Let us approach the conversations about our congregational finances with the wisdom that Jesus teaches us. 

Does Jesus want to instill in us the notion that people are to be loved, and money is to be used, and not vice versa?

We can either be stewards of our money or we are slaves to your money. You can serve God with money, but you cannot serve God and money. Either God is your Master, and money is your servant; or money is your master and you try to make God your servant.

There is an eternity waiting for us and when the manager has in mind to have friends in eternity, the use of money gets a totally new meaning. What a parable it is that we read this morning. It is hard to understand, and there are so many ways to grasp it. 

Perhaps being grateful for the abundance of God’s grace may be an appropriate response. It may be a key for us as a way to look at what God entrusts to us. 

 

Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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