September 22, 2013: 18th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, in an age when personal honor has been cast aside and Godly honor is seldom found, teach us today to employ both in our lives. Teach us the importance of putting everything into proper focus: You first, family second, and earthly blessings third. Yes, teach us to value every single thing we have or receive, not based on its monetary value but on its spiritual and emotional riches. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO OWNS THE UNIVERSE!

TEXT: Luke 16: 1-13

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

A couple of years ago I was invited as an honored guest to a dinner and reception for my neighbors across the street marking their 50th wedding anniversary. Walter and Dorothy are quintessential New Englanders—the old kind you don’t find very often any more. They live in a small, ramshackle house. They burn mostly wood each winter. Their yard is a mish-mash of perennials, flowers, and volunteer weeds. They have a goldfish pond and used to keep chickens and ducks. They know everyone in the community; never, ever, put on airs, and are the most honorable, straightforward, and trust-worthy people I know. If you meet them, immediately they become your long-lost aunt or uncle. At that dinner their daughter-in-law got up to speak. She told the story of when she first met them. She dressed to the nine’s and wore her mink coat and jewelry. She wanted to impress them. But they never even noticed her finery! They looked inward and saw what kind of a person she was and that was enough. Her point being: they both live the old values of integrity and honesty and materialism is superfluous to them! Ah, that more people were that way in America today!

I

Have you ever “name dropped” in a conversation? Have you ever tried to impress another by the old: “I know so-and-so,” or by working into your discussion how much you’re worth in financial terms, or what tony town you live in, or at what elite school you got your degree? Go to any dinner party and you’ll hear a lot of that type of talk. We “dress to impress,” we let money dominate our thoughts, we try to beef up our emotional standing before others by what we drive or the size of our home. Money, or its tangible relatives seem to define our culture and our lives. But, then come those pesky words from our Savior: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”—Notice it has a capital “M”! As Christians we need to sort out this dissonance and try to keep things in proper focus. Our parable of the shrewd manager does exactly that.

II

When I was a little boy and heard this text, I never really understood it. How could Jesus commend someone for cheating and stealing? Doesn’t the 7th commandment say otherwise? But my problem was: I didn’t listen carefully to what Christ was really saying. So now, you listen carefully to how Christ applies this parable: “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.” Or, use it in service to the Spirit!

In my sem days Pres. Peterson liked to quote the passage of Christ: “Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” We children of light live in the world. The world is cut-throat and competitive. It only understands power and money which can buy power. We need to understand that and use all of our sanctified good judgment all the time in business dealings. But, unlike the world we temper that usage with God’s commandments, with love, compassion, and forgiveness. We don’t let the world dictate to us how to live and define our lives—we let God do that. The world is better at being shrewd than we are. That’s because they have no Godly constraints. But, we have the love of Christ guiding us, God blessing us, and honor and respect holding us up. So, we’re going to be happier and more content in the end.

III

Now, Christ also adds this: “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?”

Recall this past week the heart-warming story of the homeless man who found several thousand in cash at a Marshall’s store in a backpack along with a Chinese passport in it. Immediately, he turned it in to the police and they returned it to the rightful owner. That homeless fellow fit the description Jesus uses in our lesson. He did it because it was the right and honorable thing to do. And last I heard, a web site set up on his behalf had garnered over $50,000 in donations for him! How you handle the little things in life counts. It speaks volumes as to your character. And Christ won’t give great earthly blessings to those who cannot handle and don’t appreciate the little blessings. Why? Because they are wasted upon them.

But, of course, there is another aspect of this same truth. All Christians have been given the wealth of heaven. Each of you has the same amount of Godly forgiveness. Each of you has the same amount of Godly love showered upon you. Each of you has an equal claim to heaven because Christ won it for you on the cross. It’s all yours! As Paul says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” So, show it in both the big areas of your life and in the little ones! Taking time with a child and comforting them is just as important as reading a Psalm to Mom on her deathbed. Praying daily for your hurting friend is just as important as being a church officer. Giving $5 a week to church when you’re young and broke is just as holy as giving $500 when you’ve “made it” in a dream job! For the Christian little things count to God because they give glory to Him. Yes, the “little things” usually reveal more Christian character than the grandiose, don’t they?

So, which Master do you serve? Which one dominates your mind? What criteria do you use to define who you are—God or Money? Only one provides an eternal payout, and thanks be to God—it’s not Money! For if it were, true contentment would be impossible because Godly respect cannot be bought apart from the only commodity that counts: the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen