18 Pentecost—20-C Track 2
September 18, 2016
Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13
What would you think if I said, Jesus of Nazareth was not a religious figure? Think about it! He wasn’t a priest; he was not licensed by the powers that be as a Rabbi. As far as we know he trained as a carpenter. The people he called to follow him were ordinary people who played no role in the religious establishment. His teachings were stories about ordinary folks—shepherds, widows, virgins, business people, fathers and sons; farmers and winemakers. He didn’t proclaim a religious message like: if you want to find God you must belong to a church and do religious activities.
In fact his call goes much deeper than the religious leaders do: he says unless you show yourselves far deeper human beings than the Pharisees and doctors of the Law you can never enter the Kingdom of God..
At the beginning of his ministry he doesn’t announce the arrival of a new religion, but the arrival of God and God’s reign on earth. At the very end he doesn’t say go make all nations Episcopalians or Catholics or Baptists, but he says, “make all nations my disciples and baptize, that is immerse, all nations into Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and I will be with you always.”
This is what he proclaims throughout his work: Some of his parables describe what God’s reign on earth is like: it is like seed thrown on a varieties of souls, like a shepherd who finds the one lost sheep and returns with joy, the father that welcomes back the sinful son. Other parables, however, tell how we are to live in a reality with this searching, forgiving, surprising God.
The parable today asks us to explore how we can use our wealth in a way that doesn’t damage the soul. And there is nothing religious about it!
The central character is a dishonest employee who manages his boss’s lucrative farming operation, by skimming the profits and then squandering them on himself.
Finally the Owner lowers the boom on him and tells him to go finalize the accounts and then turn in his keys. Big mistake on the owners part because the manager has enough time to create a golden parachute for himself.
Getting caught has finally forced him to come to his senses: he realizes he’s too weak for manual labor and he’s too proud to beg, so he hits upon a grand idea: though it is against Biblical teaching to charge interest when you lend someone money, the owner has been charging interest on his olive oil and wheat. So the dishonest manager goes to those who have borrowed from the owner and cuts the interest off the loan: a thousand gallons of olive oil becomes 500 gallons and a thousand bushels of wheat become 800.
What the manager is doing is restoring economic justice to the community. Needless to say this is a big hit with the debtors who are set free from the burden of this exorbitant interest. As a result they will be willing to help the manager when he is unemployed.
That’s the story—and there is absolutely nothing religious about it. In fact it’s a good thing the kids aren’t in the room to hear it since we don’t want them imitating this guy, even though he restores economic justice and makes friends that can help him. From N. T. Wright Luke for Everyone
But what on earth does this have to teach us about living in God’s kingdom?
It teaches us that that money is a terrible master but a good servant.
When money controls us we damage our souls and the soul of the community.
When money is our servant we can build up the common good and increase our connection to God and neighbor.
In God’s kingdom the bottom line isn’t, do more people have more and more money, but rather, is the community experiencing justice or injustice, wholeness or brokenness?
As Jesus put it, you can’t serve God and money.
Our economic system is very different from that of first century Palestine under Roman occupation. Yet, 8 years ago we all learned what happens when dishonest managers squander our wealth.
Wikipedia tells us that: “The majority report of the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, composed of six Democratic and four Republican appointees, reported its findings in January 2011. It concluded that “the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.” Wikipedia
The number of unemployed rose from approximately 7 million in 2008 pre-crisis to 15 million by 2009.
Housing prices fell approximately 30% on average from their mid-2006 peak to mid-2009
In 2009, the wealthiest 20% of households controlled 87.2% of all wealth… The top 1% controlled 35.6% of all wealth,… The share of the bottom 80% fell from 15% to 12.8%. IBID
As Luther warned about Mammon 500 years ago, “‘Many a person thinks he has God and everything he needs when he has money and property, in them he trusts and of them he boasts so stubbornly and securely that he cares for no one. Surely such a man also has a god — mammon by name, that is, money and possessions — on which he fixes his whole heart. It is the most common idol on earth.”
Usually it takes a disaster to wake us up to what happens when we gain the whole world but lose our souls. Usually it takes getting close to death, figurative or literal to make it real clear that not all our desires are good for the soul. We may finally realize that we don’t want our obituary to talk about how well we dressed, how many rooms were in our home, and how white our teeth were. Rather we want it to tell the world that we were a good person who was a blessing to friends, family, and strangers across the globe.
We realize a soulful life is not the same thing as having a lot of money.
A soulful life can’t be bought, but must be taught and then we must put the teaching into practice, through God’s grace..
Jesus isn’t interested in being a religious figure we can put on a pedestal and then ignore what he says to do.
He is interested in teaching us to share his life in the Kingdom, where God’s faithfulness and grace surrounds us and empowers us to live lives of justice and peace for all.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The money yoke which enslaves us to our infinite desires for more and better, is the heavy yoke that destroys our souls and our lives.
The Jesus yoke is the easy yoke, as the 23rd Psalm says, He leads me beside the still waters and he restores my soul.”
This isn’t religion; this is truthful living inside God’s Kingdom.
This is the life Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up to on Christmas Day.
This is what it is like every morning for those who let Jesus not only be their savior but also be their Teacher.