September 22, 2019 - Rev. Michael Ralph
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 16:1-13
Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 6 Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?’ He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Just recently, I have spent some time thinking about money... mostly because I have been spending a lot of money. Moving into a house is an expensive proposition. It seems like there is always, just one more thing to buy. So you have to think about money... how much you spend... how much you make. And money can do some strange things to us. Some years ago, back when I was a much younger priest serving in the Diocese of Lexington, our Bishop did something a little... interesting. He decided to publish the salaries of every priest in our little diocese... and then gave us that information at a clergy day. Now, the intention of this little venture laudable. He wanted to encourage some of our parishes to start paying their priests at a level commensurate with other churches of a like size within the diocese. But there were a few other… unintended results from this little sociology experiment. Guess what we all did when we saw how much money everyone was making? We all started looking at each other… and I dare say we looked at each other a little differently. We walked into that clergy day in a fairly collegial manner… but then I think we walked out with our collegiality a bit strained. Because, again, money can do some strange things to us. We saw that the rector of the largest and wealthiest church in the diocese was not the one making the most money. We saw that there were assistant priests making more money than some rectors. We saw that some of the longest tenured priests in the diocese were not making anywhere near what some newer priests were making. And seeing all of this information made for a fairly uncomfortable atmosphere. Even though we all knew in our heads that salary is not always the measuring stick for the effectiveness and faithfulness of a priest, it was still a hard pill to swallow to find out that some priests were making a lot more money than some others. It messed with our heads. It messed with our egos. And I dare say that it messed with our collegial relationships.
But that is exactly what money can do to human beings. I’m not sure that any of us fully understand the role that money plays in our lives and in our relationships. Now, I have some friends who have very little money and I have some friends who have a whole lot of money. My wealthy friends assure me that their money hasn’t made their lives any happier while my not so wealthy friends wish they could put that particular theory to the test. But whatever the case, I think that whether we’re rich or we’re poor, all of us can agree that money is certainly not an eternal thing. When it’s gone, it’s gone. And with that I will point us all in toward our Gospel account for today... a parable that Biblical commentators call the single most confusing and difficult parable of Jesus to figure out. Because there really any good people in this parable, are there? There’s no one we can look at and say, “Now there is a righteous person we can all admire.” Here we see a rich man who has a great deal of property that is being squandered through the mismanagement of one of his managers. So he fires the manager and demands to see all of the books. Now the manager knows his ride on the gravy train is over. And in order to make a few new friends, he doctors the rich man’s books. He tells the rich man’s debtors that he is going to bill them far less than they actually owe... hoping that they will take care of him after he’s dismissed from his position. And oddly enough, even the rich man is impressed by the dishonest manager’s shrewdness. And then in summation, Jesus tells his disciples that should take care to make friends rather than chasing wealth and that they can’t serve God and wealth at the same time.
And then all of us look at this parable… and together we all say… “What?” What in the world are we supposed to do with this horrific mess of a parable? Well, first of all, I don’t think that this parable is in any shape or form a lesson about the nature of God. The rich man doesn’t represent God nor does the dishonest manager represent what we are supposed to become. This parable is not about values we espouse in the church. I think that this parable is about the nature of money and what it can do to people. The rich man fires the manager because he believes that he’s squandering his money. Then the manager swindles the rich man to gain the favor of the rich man’s debtors. And the debtors help the manager because they don’t want to have to pay the full amount. And there’s not a single righteous person to be found in this story... all because of what money has done to all of them. This story isn’t meant to teach us how to behave in the Kingdom of God. I think this story is something of a cautionary tale of what money can do to us. Money can drive us a little crazy. We crave it, we idealize it, and we neglect the most important things in our lives in of our pursuit of money. And then, we’ll even excuse boorish behavior provided that someone with wealth is the one acting up. And why? Because money messes with our heads and our relationships. And while this Gospel is very difficult to interpret, in the end Jesus is telling his disciples to value relationships over money. Because even though money offers us the illusion of security and control... it is not eternal. Money is not eternal. Folks, this life is short and guess what? None of us get out alive with all our stuff. So maybe we need to we pay some attention to the more important things in this life… things like friendships and relationships. You see, these are the eternal things… because they are based upon love… and love is the foundation upon which the Kingdom of God is built. Money passes through our hands like water passes through a broken cup. But loving someone… holding someone… and spending time with a friend… giving generously of ourselves... these are the eternal things. And no matter who you are, I can promise you one thing... none of us come to the end our lives wishing we had more money to take with us. But how often do people come to the end wishing they’d spent more time in loving. Friendship… relationships… love… family… generosity... these are eternal things. And Jesus Christ says that they are far more important than wealth.
So here we all are together on this beautiful Sunday morning. And statistics being statistics, I suspect that some of here today are doing rather well financially. I suspect that some of us are doing just okay financially. And I suspect that some of us are probably not doing near as well as we want people think we are. But for whatever reason, all of us are in the same place, at the same time, and hearing the proclamation of the same Gospel. Because we have all chosen to make St. Luke’s a part of our spiritual lives. And I suspect that decision was not made because this church is the biggest, most glamorous, or wealthiest church in this area. The fact is that we are not. But St. Luke’s is a place where we can touch eternal things. We touch the eternal every time we share the bread and the cup... together. We touch eternal things every time we greet each other at the peace and with every laugh we share together. And we touch eternal things every time we give generously of ourselves to the Kingdom... with our time, our talents, and our treasure. So as you come to the altar today, I would invite you to give thanks... not for your money... but for all of the eternal things that you are able to touch today. And no matter where we find ourselves on the socio-economic scale... believe me... we can all do better than any of the people in this messy parable. We can be kind. We can be honest. We can be grateful. And we can be generous. In short, we can be people of the Kingdom of God living our lives in the example of Jesus Christ rather than endlessly chasing after the false security of wealth. Do you see any happy people in this parable? Me either. They all look about as happy as a bunch of priests realizing how much money we all make at a clergy day. But that is what money can do to us. And thankfully, we have something more to offer here. Amen.