Sermon 9-18-2016 Pentecost 18

Pastor Walther / Luke 16:1-13 / Pentecost 18 / September 18, 2016 / Investing in Evangelism
We are at an interesting time in our nation’s history.  We are looking to elect a president that we hope will best suit our political views.  Maybe if you’re pessimistic of this election, you’re simply voting so that the other person doesn’t get the votes.  It seems that this year, more than I have ever witnessed in my short lifetime, even more than when President Obama was elected, racial affairs and financial affairs have been at the front of everyone’s mind.  How will this next president deal with the poverty levels and how will they handle this racial tension that seems to be bubbling up?  With these questions in our mind, we take our spot behind our own podium as if we would know what to do if we were president.  “If I had government money, I would spend money helping or maybe not spend money helping this type of person.  Clearly, those people don’t seem to be doing things right. Clearly, they can’t be blessed by God if they don’t have money to pay their rent. Why should we help them?”  With these ideas, I think our view of wealth is that more money means you have been better blessed by God.  So why waste our time on people that aren’t “blessed by God?” Often, our political beliefs infiltrate our religious beliefs and we don’t want to associate with people that aren’t like us, or look like us, or even act like us.  Our own social insecurities push us away from people as we justify in our minds that “those” people don’t deserve the gospel, or at least that’s how they might perceive it.   How will we ever reach people with the gospel, if we are running away from them? 

    Although Jesus was telling this parable to the disciples, the Pharisees were listening too.  The Pharisees were disgusted with the sinners of society.  Even worse, they were disgusted that Jesus affiliated himself with the outliers of society.  The Pharisees thought that they themselves were better blessed by God because they had the monetary and financial tickets to back it up.  They assumed that their bank account verified what they were doing and teaching.  And in doing so, they couldn’t relate to what they thought were the scum of the earth. That’s why they hated Jesus, because he made friends with people not usually associated with. He spoke with men and women of different races, of different social standings, and different ideas of money. 

    As Christians we can occasionally view financial success as a negative thing.  We hear God’s word but can we can often put words into God’s mouth.  Sometimes, we speak about money as THE root of all evil. We may say that it’s not wrong to have financial success buuuut, it may be hard to remain humble if you’re wealthy.  You can see why throughout history people would enter a monastery thinking that God wants people to have nothing, thinking that by separating themselves from money they were being better Christians. On the other side of the coin, in our actions, we sometimes demonstrate that being wealthy means being better blessed by God, much like the Pharisees thought.  Without realizing it, we create social barriers between us and other people. 

    That’s what makes this parable of Jesus so interesting. It’s how he speaks about money and relationships: the two topics that society tries to understand, but can’t, the topics that presidential candidates claim they know everything about, but know nothing, and the topics that we too struggle with as our sinful nature gets the best of us. 

    Jesus’ parable speaks of a man who was bad at his job. Because of his carelessness and his dishonesty, he lost his boss a lot of money, he got called out on it, and was going to be fired from his position. In last minute desperation, this dishonest worker knew he had to do something.  He had to save face and save his behind. And working totally within his rights as manager, he went to some of the people that owed his boss money and cut their bill in half.  So the people who owed money and received the reduction loved the manager and the owner because of it.  Basically, he wasted even more of his master’s money and he put the owner in a pickle. If the owner would tell these people what really happened and would change the figures back to what they were originally, he would lose all credibility as an owner. So, all he could do was say to himself, “Well, that was clever!” 

    It’s sort of like seeing the movie Ocean’s 11. This group comes together with a master plan to rob casinos in Las Vegas. As you’re watching the movie, you can’t help but find yourself rooting for these robbers and rooting against the owners of these casinos.  And when they pull it off, your mind is blown by how they actually accomplished it.  You can’t help but commend these robbers for being so clever. Now, does that mean that you would recommend them to receive the Nobel peace prize or some other distinguishable medal? Of course not! They’re thieves and robbers! They deserve to be punished. In the same light, the owner in the parable didn’t praise this worker for being dishonest but for being so clever.  Although he was selfish in his thinking, this worker had the end goal in mind and figured out a way to get there.  He was intelligent and efficient with his decisions. He used what little he had to make friends, so that when his life as a manager was over, his new friends would help him to get a job easier and start a new life.

    Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t make this parable about two separate issues: about money or how we handle people, but he joined it into one idea.  Here Jesus speaks of money not as something that shows we are better than other people, or for selfish reasons.  He also doesn’t describe it here as an evil thing, but he describes money as good thing and he describes money as having really just ONE purpose!  Just like the the manager in the parable who made friends to bring him into a new life with a new job, Jesus directs us to use our wealth or our possessions to build relationships so that we might see them in heaven.  Our money is for the purpose of building of God’s Kingdom. Jesus puts aside political differences, racial differences, and financial differences to show that God wants all people to be saved, not just the citizens that pay their taxes.  That’s a big step for us to overcome: for us to put our sinful pride aside and to look at what God wants, the salvation of all people. 

    Our world is hurting, our nation is hurting, our neighborhood is hurting.  People are looking for something that will give meaning to their lives.  People are looking for that next paycheck. People are looking for something that will give peace and stability to their lives.   People are looking for something that will unite us, and not tear our nation apart or our neighborhood apart, or our families apart. People are looking for peace and stability, but they don’t always know where to find it.  People need the peace of Jesus.  And it’s one thing to point at people and say disgustingly that “those sinners need Jesus,” but it’s another thing to demonstrate that peace to them and to share that peace with “those” people. 

    I think that is what makes the parable that Jesus uses so ironic.  He doesn’t speak of a Christian manager, this entire parable is a genuine picture of unbelievers.  The people of this world have their hearts set on the treasures of this world, on the things of this world, and on the momentary pleasures of this world, where Christians have their minds set on the treasures after this life.  So that usually means the people of this world are smarter about dealing with worldly issues.  Jesus isn’t blaming Christians, but merely pointing out what is normal for the people of this world.  Look at how unbelievers are motivated to take care of themselves.  They will do anything to keep themselves alive, even if they have to bring others down.  It's almost noble!

    But what about God’s children? Do you show the same concern and motivation for a heavenly future? Do you make plans and act wisely so that all your efforts are directed toward this heavenly goal? Are we willing to go out of our way with the end goal in mind, like this unrighteous manager, to make friends in this life to welcome us into the next life? Or do we walk a block around a house to avoid a conversation? 

    When you invest money into a business, it’s because you know that it is worth it.  God saw you as an investment. He didn’t invest with money, or gold or silver, but He paid for that investment, for you, with the blood of his Son.  All your debts that you owed because of your sin, were removed forever.

    God sees the people around us as those investments too.  He doesn’t want us to bury our money and save it for ourselves, but the money that he has blessed us with is a means to build His kingdom.  God wants us to put our money into those investments.  We, as a congregation, are able to do that on a small and big scale. Parents, first and foremost, are the ones who should be investing in their children with God’s Word. We can invest and support our childcare and school. We can invest by bringing offerings that are shared with churches and missions across the world.  But lastly, we can invest in our neighborhood.  

    Teddy Roosevelt is attributed to saying, “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.” As I hear about national issues, political issues, what to do with this racial tension, and what to do with the financial crisis, Jesus gives us one solution for all of these problems.  True peace is spread through our investments of not only money but also time with people as we share the gospel. 

    I confess that when I see and hear God’s words that speak to the issue of money management, I often take God’s words as negative reinforcement. But, God knowing my heart gives to me positive reinforcement. In general, money isn’t an evil but a wonderful blessing to be used.  God isn't talking about stimulating the economy.  That is not what God had in mind for this parable. God’s words ring clear that money is for the purpose of spreading the gospel.  I thank God for knowing my heart and giving me a little reminder of proper money management: maybe something as simple as being regular with my offering or paying for a bible for someone, or simply investing my time to be a friend. May God help us to see money in this light and see the joy of investing in evangelism. Amen.