Wife: “You should post your sermons online.”
Me: “I do.”
Wife: “I mean like your current sermons.”
Me: “Oh, okay.”
I had been catching up my old sermons, but there’s no reason I can’t do that and put the current ones up. I don’t want to goof anybody up. Now the dates will match.
This sermon initially posed some difficulties, but it became clearer as I worked at it. Sermons about money are always touchy. People almost seem primed to misunderstand what you say deliberately. Yet Jesus spoke of money and its role in His people’s lives often, and thus it behooves the church also to speak about money and teach her children as the Lord taught us.
Churches, especially, need to hear the last verse of this text. People delude themselves that God will wait His turn while they chase after money, and pretty soon they’re working overtime and running themselves ragged chasing dollars and grubbing money, money, money. That’s disgraceful. That’s not the way it should be. The Church’s treasures are all spiritual, not material — not money, impressive buildings, or long lists of people who supposedly are members of your church. Our treasures are all found in Christ. That’s what I tried to stress in this sermon.
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
3“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
5“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
8“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. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10“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. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13“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.” (Luke 16:1-13 niv)
It’s a proven fact that people never work so hard as when they’re working to rip someone off. It seems like most of the world is busy figuring out how to get their hands on someone else’s money. People try to figure out how to defraud each other, the bank, insurance companies, their customers, their employers, the government – you name it. They will lie to you, do and say just about anything, all so they can get their hands on your cash. Wherever you look, everybody’s got an angle they want to play to make some money, and everybody’s hustling for what’s not theirs. They’ll work ten times harder at doing wrong than at doing the right thing. This is by no means a new thing. We heard the prophet Amos condemned the chiselers in his day in our first lesson. Nowadays the crooks can use computers and credit cards, but their aims have not changed in 2800 years. In a world like that, it makes sense for us to be smart with our money. We want to look out for scams and make the best use of what the Lord gives us. Today Jesus teaches us how to be smart with our money – but not in the way we’re used to, in order to avoid scams or invest well. Jesus teaches us the spiritual value of money, and how best to use it. In a world that often thinks of nothing but money, Jesus’ words need to be heard – especially by us his followers. Today Jesus teaches us to Be smart with our money. Know what its best use is. Know what its true worth is.
The parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel is another example of the kind of cheating and stealing that goes on all the time. A rich man probably had an estate in the country that he visited sometimes, and because he wasn’t always there to watch over it, he hired someone to take care of it. Then he hears that his manager isn’t doing an honest job, so he’s going to fire him. The manager figures, well, I’ve misused my position this much, why not go all the way and line my own pockets while I’ve got the chance. What’s he going to do – fire me? So he calls in each of his boss’s debtors and asks them, “How much do you owe? Let’s make that this much less, instead, for an old friend. How’s that sound?” Of course, each of the debtors gladly takes the chance to redraw their bills in their own favor – another example of how nearly everybody is a crook.
The master finds out, and this is the really remarkable thing about this parable. He praises his crooked manager. “Wow, you really got me with that one! Well played, friend. You really took me for a ride that time. Who ever heard of shorting someone what they were owed like that, I really gotta hand it to you. You’re still fired! But that was pretty good.” The master praises the crooked manager. This manager did something that was clearly wrong. It was corrupt, unscrupulous, and out and out taking advantage of his position. Yet he gets praised for it. This causes problems for a lot of people. Why would Jesus use a story where the main person in it is dishonest, and then have him be commended for his dishonesty? How are we supposed to understand this? What’s Jesus’ point here?
We need to keep in mind the overall point that Jesus is making. The crooked manager is not praised for his crookedness, but for his quick thinking and his foresight. He was confronted with a problem – he was getting fired – he saw an opening, and he used it for all it was worth. That foresight, that quick thinking and working for the future, is what Jesus commends – not his dishonesty. Don’t go home today thinking that Jesus teaches us to rob each other blind and take anybody around us for all they’re worth. That’s not the point of this parable and if you get that out of this sermon, you didn’t hear it from me. Not what Jesus means here.
Jesus is telling us to act the same way as that manager did, only in the opposite direction. We’re not supposed to rip others off or steal from them. We’re supposed to love and help others, using every opening – just like that manager did in arranging himself a soft place to land. We should make the most of every opportunity. We should always be looking for openings to serve others and do good. We should be prepared to do any good we can to those we meet, even if there’s only a fleeting opening. Especially in this case, Jesus is advising us to use our money and material goods to help others.
“Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” This sounds a little confusing at first and maybe potentially expensive. We’re not sure how to do what Jesus is saying here right away. Is he telling us that we need to give all our money away to get to heaven? Not exactly, no. The friends Jesus is talking about may be people we know and help already here in this life, but mainly they will be our friends in the resurrection. Matthew chapter 25 helps us understand who these friends are. [Read Matt 25:31-40.] We will be judged on the basis of our faith. Christ will point to the good things we’ve done as evidence of our faith, which is unseen. It’s at that time, when Christ the Judge commends us for our good works, the fruits of our faith, that the people whom we helped in this life will stand up and say, “Yes, Lord. He did lend me money to fix my car when I was broke. She did help us find a place to stay when we got evicted. He did buy me a meal when I was hungry and couldn’t pay him back. She did give us clothes when we needed them.” Their testimony will make the Judge’s verdict the more sure, and their outstretched hands will welcome us into heaven, just as we paid attention to their hands stretched out in need in this life.
If what Jesus says is true – and there’s no doubt that it is – then we have to ask ourselves why we don’t make more use of our money and our possessions for such good purposes. Why don’t we give more to the poor? Why don’t we help those in need with material gifts more often? Why are we so slow to open our wallets for the needs of others, but they spring open pretty readily when we’re shelling out for luxuries for ourselves? Maybe the answer is what’s in our hearts, not what’s in our wallets. We too can have the same grasping attitude as the most hardened heathen. Even if it never makes it to the surface in a way that those around us can recognize, love for money can creep into our hearts and spread and grow like the worst weeds. Greed is a very upstanding virtue. It isn’t as immediately disgusting or obviously foul like many other vices. Because it takes place in the heart, it can go undetected for a long time. It can even masquerade as a good work ethic or industriousness. Some people protest that they can’t make it to church on Sunday morning because they have to work. They assume it’s a fact you can’t argue with – I’ve got work to do, I can’t possibly spare the time to make it to church. No time for church – gotta work, gotta make money. Your god doesn’t have to be a statue that you burn incense to. Whatever you love, whatever you serve, whatever you rely on for help – that’s your god. Money can become a god very easily, and that’s backwards because don’t we already have a God who’s promised to take care of us? Don’t we already have a God who’s promised to give us everything we need? He’s promised that we will always have daily bread, and he provides for not only us but even the unbeliever and the wicked. And if he gives daily bread even to the unbeliever and the wicked, will he not much more take care of you, O you of little faith? Now I don’t presume to know your personal situation or your family’s budget. I’m simply asking the question: is this you? Could you be guilty of honoring money with your service, instead of honoring God? Asking the question is all I can do, because I don’t know your heart. But God does. Honoring money above God will ultimately deprive you of true riches – the only things whose value endures.
The wonder of it is that Christ knows our hearts, he knows what we’re like, and still he forgives us. He still pardons us and absolves us of the greed we gladly follow at times. He paid for our greed which impoverished us before God. Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich. He shed his precious blood to pay our debt of sin, because we were precious in his sight. Jesus has given us true riches, wealth beyond price. Think of all the ways that the riches that Jesus gives us are better than earthly money! The riches Jesus gives can never be exhausted. They’ll never run out. They are real riches – things so valuable no earthly money can buy them. They could only be purchased with the holy blood of Christ. These riches last forever. They don’t lose their value and they are good forever. Jesus gives us God back as our Father. He gives us eternal life in heaven. He grants us peace of conscience, forgiveness, love, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We are no longer slaves to greed. Anyone who sins is a slave to sin, but we are no longer slaves. We are free! We can have a right relationship with God and a right understanding of money’s role in our lives.
We are not our own; we were bought at a price, and the wealth we have is not our own. God gives us money not so that we spend what we have on ourselves only, but so that we can take care of our families and ourselves, and so we can serve others with it. We manage our money and property wisely, not because that earns heaven, but because it shows that we have faith in our hearts. We use wisely what God gives us out of reverence for Christ – because we love God instead of money, the Giver instead of the gift. So be trustworthy in handling worldly wealth. Know what it’s good for, know its true value, but at the same time know what it can do to your soul if you fall in love with it. Be aware for openings to help others with what God has given you. Whether you own a business or you work for someone else, conduct your business and do what you do as a Christian – honestly, with compassion and mercy that shows that you’re thinking about more than the bottom line. Keep your eyes on eternity even as you work for a paycheck here in this world. Honor God and serve him only, because thieves break in and moth and rust destroy, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Be smart with your money. Know where your real wealth is: in heaven, hidden with Christ in God, for he is the only Savior, and only what he gives will endure. Amen.