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Sermon for Sunday 18 September 2016


4Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, 5saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, 6that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”


PSALM Psalm 113

1Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord. 2Let the name of the Lord be blessed, from this time forth forevermore. 3From the rising of the sun to its going down let the name of the Lord be praised. 4The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. 5Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? 6He takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes. 7He sets them with the princes, with the princes of his people. 8He makes the woman of a childless house to be a joyful mother of children.


SECOND READING 1 Timothy 2:1-15

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10but with what is proper for women who profess godliness — with good works. 11Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.


GOSPEL Luke 16:1-15

1{Jesus} also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.” 14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”



Dan Miller in his book No More Dreaded Mondays tells a delightful story about a farmer in India who had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the village moneylender. The old and ugly moneylender fancied the farmer’s beautiful daughter, so he proposed a bargain. He would forgive the farmer’s debt if he could marry the farmer’s daughter. Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the proposal, but the cunning moneylender suggested that they let providence decide the matter.
The moneylender told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. The girl would have to reach in and pick one pebble from the bag. If she picked the black pebble, she would become his wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble, she wouldn’t have to marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. However, if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail until the debt was paid.
They were standing on a pebble-strewn path in the farmer’s field. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. The sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble. Now, imagine that you were the girl standing in the field. What would you have done? Or, if she asked for your advice in handling the situation, how would you advise her?
Careful analysis of the girl’s dilemma would seem to give three possibilities: (1) the girl could refuse to take a pebble but her father would then be thrown in jail. (2) The girl could pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from debt and imprisonment. Or (3) the girl could pull out both black pebbles in the bag, expose the moneylender as a cheat, and likely incite his immediate revenge. However, there is a fourth option, one that the girl chose.
Being wise beyond her years, the girl put her hand into the money bag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path, where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you’ll be able to tell which pebble I picked.” Since the remaining pebble was black, it would have to be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl would have changed what seemed an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.
It’s a story made for a Disney movie. We all love stories where the good guy uses their wit and cunning to defeat a villain. However, we aren’t as comfortable when it’s the villain who uses that same wit and cunning. And yet Jesus once told His disciples a parable about a dishonest man who did just that. Today’s gospel lesson seems to present us with three possible explanations. Yet we’re still left to struggle with the story. But as we read the passage, one thing we need to keep in mind is who was in there that day.
In verse one we read, “[Jesus] also said to His disciples.” Jesus was teaching His disciples but He was also using the opportunity to teach the others gathered around. Those there that day included the common folks from the nearby villages and some Pharisees who were always looking for a reason to discredit Jesus. Another important thing for us to remember is that Jesus taught in parables in order to get people to think.
The stories Jesus used were one’s the people could relate to, stories that usually had their basis in the way people thought and lived. This is why we, as modern readers, have a more difficult time understanding them. But, despite the change of time and situation, we must acknowledge that the central message of the parable doesn’t change; the lessons taught are still applicable to us today. So this leaves us digging a little deeper in order to glean the message that Jesus is sending.
With this understanding in mind, we hear Jesus telling a parable about a rich man who had a manager who was accused of wasting the rich man’s possessions. So the rich man calls the steward on the carpet and asks him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.” Our first reaction is that this is understandable. The manager has been loose with the boss’ money. So the boss has no choice but to give him a pink slip. But, strangely enough, the manager isn’t fired immediately.
I remember, back in the day, when employers routinely gave their employees two weeks’ notice before firing them. Sadly, that day’s gone. In today’s corporate world, the employer is more apt to approach an unsuspecting employee about 4:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon and instruct the fired employee to clean out their desk immediately, turn in his company credit card and office keys, and then have security walk the fired employee to the elevator where he would be told never to come back. And it could easily be argued that there are good reasons for this change in policy some employees can’t be trusted.
The terminated employee could do lasting damage to the company if they were allowed to stay on the job and have access to company assets. And that’s exactly what this dishonest manager did. The manager says to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to do manual labor, and I’m embarrassed to go on welfare. What to do? What to do? I know! I’ll use my remaining time and some of my boss’ resources to insure my future.” So the manager calls in some of the boss’ customers who still owed the boss money.
He asked the first one, “How much do you owe my boss?” “Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,” the man replied. The dishonest manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty gallons.” “Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?” “A thousand bushels of wheat,” he replied. The dishonest manager told him, “Take your bill and make it eight hundred.”
The unscrupulous manager was being dishonest, of course, but he was insuring that he would have some friends who would be indebted to him when he no longer had a job. Then comes the shocker in this story, Jesus concludes His parable by having the manager’s boss praise him because he had acted so shrewdly. It’s a troubling statement that has had theologians and laity alike scratching their heads for years.
Jesus seems to be giving approval to a shady character. This parable has been troubling to people ever since Jesus told it; a fact that has probably given our Master a chuckle over the centuries. After all, Jesus often seemed to have a twinkle in His eye when He told His stories. He knew they were upsetting. As I said, theologians have puzzled long over this parable. Preachers have puzzled over it. Some Bible scholars believe that even Luke was embarrassed by it, because he hurriedly supplies some alternative explanations from other teachings of Jesus. Which leaves us where we are today. What is the Master trying to communicate in this parable?
One popular explanation is that this story is chiefly a parable about forgiveness. Jesus was praising the dishonest manager for forgiving his boss’ debtors. And this makes some sense. After all, Jesus was all about forgiveness and grace. This parable comes right after the story of the Prodigal son who came home and was graciously welcomed and forgiven by his father, even though he had acted disrespectfully toward his father as well as irresponsibly in squandering his inheritance. Yet the father, much to the chagrin of some of Jesus’ listeners, welcomed the boy home with opened arms. Such is the extravagant forgiveness and grace that Christ has made possible for us. That’s one interpretation of this parable, and it has its appeal.
A little girl, coming home from her first day at school, asked her mother where the marks on the blackboard went when they were rubbed out. The mother answered that they disappear. “But where do they disappear to?” the little girl questioned. “They vanish,” her mother told her. “But where do they vanish to?” the child insisted. The mother used all the words she knew to explain but she couldn’t make it clear to the child. This story, says Donald Barnhouse, illustrates what God has done with our sins. God goes so far as to say that He will remember our sins against us no more. God’s forgiveness is extravagant.
In one of his novels Frederick Buechner depicts a scene in which a man is begging his pastor to declare God’s forgiveness to a deeply disturbed woman whose life has recently fallen apart because of adultery. The pastor says, “Well, she already knows that I’ve forgiven her.” To which the man replies, “But she doesn’t know that God forgives her. That’s the only power you have pastor, to tell her that.
Tell her that God not only forgives her sins, but that God forgives her for all the faces she can’t bear to look at now and all the eyes whose glances she cannot meet. Tell her that God forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy with a household full of children. Tell her that her sins are forgiven whether she knows it or not. Tell her that, pastor, because it’s what we all need to know more than anything else. Tell her she’s forgiven. What else on earth do you think you were ordained for?”
This is the reason we begin our worship service with the brief order for Confession and Absolution. It’s so that we, as penitent sinners, can hear the promise of forgiveness. The truth of the matter is, the message of God’s grace goes right to meet our deepest need, and it’s one possible explanation of why Jesus would praise the dishonest manager. He forgave his master’s debtors. But there’s another, very different, explanation for why Jesus told this story. He told the story because the issue has to do with money. St. Luke it would seem tends to interpret the parable this way, since he attaches some of Jesus’ other teachings about money right after this parable.
“I tell you,” Jesus says, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 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? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” This explanation, too, has its appeal. I’m sure you’ve heard it preached!
Jesus had more to say more about money than any other topic, particularly in the Gospel of Luke. And if you’ve been studying Luke in this third year of the Lexicon, then you’ve probably noticed that there are more passages in the Gospel of Luke about money than there are about death, marriage or family values. Jesus warned time after time about the dangers of riches. And the reason is clear, we cannot divide our loyalties; we cannot serve God and money. It’s was no different then and it’s no different now. Money and the accumulation of creature comforts are our number one national obsession.
One estimate has it that close to one half of the nation’s divorces are due to differences of opinion on how to handle the family finances. And those couples are comparatively lucky. A sociological study in Chicago found that some 40.2 percent of all desertion cases were rooted in monetary tension between the husband and wife as were 45 percent of the reported cases of cruelty. So it makes sense that this was one more of Jesus’ warnings about the danger of loving money. There’s also a third option to consider. Perhaps Jesus was actually praising the man for doing something about his situation.
Notice how Jesus ends this parable. In verse eight we read, “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.” Please note that Jesus wasn’t praising the manager’s dishonesty, He was simply recognizing his ingenuity and initiative. The steward took hold of his life and got himself out of a tight situation. He didn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself saying, “What shall I do? What shall I do?” He didn’t get angry with God, demanding that God get him out of the mess he had created. What Jesus was praising the manager for was getting into immediate action.
Jesus had little sympathy for people who always expected God to do things for them when they had the ability and were perfectly capable of handling it themselves. Jesus said, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” These words require our attention. The people of light, those who follow Jesus, are good people, moral people, religious people, but they’re also apt to be somewhat reserved, almost apathetic people. The sons of this world it seems are more apt to head where the action is. Of course this is a gross generalization, but one worth noting. Why is it that Christians are more hesitant to act than the children of darkness? However, while all these interpretations have points worthy of consideration, I think it’s important to recognize a fourth option. We need to take note of who Jesus was talking to and who was in the audience that day.
First, Jesus was primarily addressing His disciples. He was teaching them that they need to learn to be shrewd when confronting the evils of this world. Remember Jesus is nearing the end of His earthly ministry and He was preparing His disciples for the day when He would no longer be with them. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Jesus knew that they were going to suffer as well and they needed to stay focused on Him, not on the things and allures of this world. Jesus also knew that they were going to suffer at the hands of both the Jews and Gentiles and they needed to be ready to forgive as God had forgiven them. Jesus was also keenly aware of who was listening intently in the audience that day, the Pharisees.
These were the ones who as verse 14 and 15 says were lovers of money and those who justified themselves before men. Jesus’ message for them was to recommit their lives to God and quit chasing after temporal things, things that moths eat and rust destroys. He wanted them to understand that no matter what people saw on the outside, God knows our inner motives. God looks at our hearts. The Pharisees were constantly focused on what was praised among men, but their goals and accomplishments were actually an abomination to God. You see despite the fact that the religious leaders were constantly looking for ways to ridicule Jesus, He was still concerned about their eternal souls. He wanted them to learn as well.
So what do we do with this difficult parable? While the lessons being taught here are many, maybe we should stop and ask, if we were to place ourselves into the story as one of the chief characters, which would we be? Are we the rich man who has been defrauded, yet is able to forgive? Are we the trusted steward who’s been caught squandering the Master’s property yet shrewdly figures out a way to gain worldly favor? Possibly we’re the Pharisees who have replaced God with are the things of this world. Or maybe, just maybe, the truthful answer is that we’re more than one.
No matter who we find ourselves to be in this story, the good news is that we can also find forgiveness. No matter what we’ve done, no matter who we’ve sinned against, God is always ready to forgive. There’s also a message here for all who have been forgiven. It’s the message Jesus had for the disciples. Jesus is saying, “Look, followers of mine, I know you’re nice people, and that’s well and good, but I need you to be more than just nice. I need for you to get out there and make a difference; to share the good news of God’s mercy with all the world. You’re going to be called trouble-makers, and radicals and every other name in the book. And that’s all right, because if you follow Me and obey My commands, you’re going to be turning the world on its head.

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