First Congregational Church
September 18, 2022
15th Sunday after Pentecost, Blessing of the Backpacks, Internet Access Sunday
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It has been said that the grace of God is like the man who went into the clothing store to buy a suit and was shown a blue one. "No," the customer said, "That won't do. I want a green suit." So the clerk called out to his partner, "Turn on the green light, Joe, the man wants a green suit!” I’m not exactly sure how that is like God’s grace, but the illustration is fun.
A young man in Montana bought a horse from a farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the horse the next day. However, when the next day arrived, the farmer went back on his promise.
“I’m afraid the horse has died,” he explained. The young man said, “Well, then give me my money back.” The farmer said, “Can’t do that. I spent it already.” The young man thought for a moment and said, “Ok, then, just bring me the dead horse.” The farmer asked, “What are you going to do with a dead horse?” The young man said, “I’m going to raffle it off.”
The farmer said, “You can’t raffle off a dead horse!” The young man said, “Sure I can. Watch me. I just won’t tell anybody he’s dead.” A month later, the farmer met up with the young man and asked, “What happened with that dead horse?” The young man said, “I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $998.” The farmer said, “Didn’t anyone complain?” The young man said, “Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back.”
Last week, the scripture passage was about leaving the 99 sheep to find the lost one, and the second part of the passage was about the woman who turns her house upside down looking for a lost coin, and when she finds it, there is great rejoicing for a little thing that was a big thing.
It's really too bad that the Lectionary doesn't include the rest of chapter 15, because it is the parable of the lost son or, as many of us recall it, the prodigal son. All three stories are directed to the crowd that has gathered around Jesus as he travels around the countryside, including the disciples, the tax collectors, and sinners, whomever Jesus determined was in that group.
Presumably, this gathering of people is still intact, at least according to the Gospel writer of Luke, but now Jesus directs his attention to the disciples.
Luke 16:1-13, The Parable of the Shrewd Manager
1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So 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-- 4 I 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.
9 I 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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And 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 they will hate the one and love the other, or they will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Thank you, Phil. In case you were wondering, you are not the only one wrestling with the difficulty of this passage. It seems as if Jesus is condoning less-than-upfront business practices. I ran across numerous commentators and preachers whom all said that this was a really difficult passage and that there were a ton of implications that could be made from it.
I kid you not, Pastor Stinky, on desperate preacher.com was referenced by more than a few individuals looking for help. He said, “I have no freaking idea what to do with this.” In some ways, parables are supposed to make us wrestle with the points trying to be made. My question is, is it so necessary to struggle so hard?
If we’ve learned much at all about Jesus’ parables, it’s that they rarely deal solely with the most obvious meaning - as in this morning’s passage of wealth. I’ve been noticing that more often than not, the beginning of a passage plays a huge part in it’s meaning. In the very first verse - the manager was “accused of wasting his possessions.”
Most presumably, we think “his possessions” references the olive oil and the bushels of wheat belonging to the rich man. So here is that sentence again. "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.”
If we go down this path, then maybe the meaning is in the manager’s shrewd thinking - and that’s what was being wasted. First of all, the word shrewd has developed into a negative adjective these last few decades, associated with self-serving, generally ethically questionable behavior. But that’s not all it means. It originally meant “bright in the perception of things”, “creative in thoughts and actions,” and “sound in judgment”.
So throw those definitions of shrewd into the question, and you get a clearer answer. What possessions were being wasted? I think it was his ability to be shrewd.
I know, it sounds like a circular argument, but that’s because it’s sort of a circular understanding. If the manager was quick and clever enough to bring about a resolution that seemed to make everyone happy, imagine what he could have done from the get-go, had circumstances been different, whatever they were. Maybe the one who was wasting his “possessions” was the rich man because apparently, he had a cracker-jack business person in his employ.
I wish I could remember how it was stated because years ago, I vaguely remember a sermon I wrote - and that’s an extremely rare thing - that was focused on money - not the evilness of money as people think the Bible says, but about the opportunity money has for us to help others. It’s not right to shame people who have the acumen and talent for creating wealth. Some of us - you - are better at it than others - like some of us are better at catching walleye than salmon. People who are able to accumulate money in greater amounts just have greater opportunities to do great things that people with less resources can do.
So the question is, how are we wasting our possessions, and don’t forget the non-physical ones. What is it you know you’re pretty good at, and even makes your heart feel good when you do it? I think that’s one of the things we can take from this passage, to think about our gifts and talents and are there ways to do even more with them? I thought about this passage in our day and age, where we live, and I wonder if the possession we waste more than we realize is that of creativity.
Retired or working, young or old, male or female, fishing person or not, we still have ministries as people of Christ. Maybe not as many opportunities or energy behind them as we all get older, but we still can be creative in how we use what we have; that faithfulness in little - leads to faithfulness in greater - here and in eternity. So shall we pray.
Holy and Brilliant God, thank you for giving us such an exquisite gift as creativity. It encompasses such huge parts of our lives and has brought us to such amazing places since your Creation was created. Forgive us when we waste opportunities and leadings. Nudge our minds and hearts to use all that you give us with wisdom and graciousness. Thank you, for all your blessings, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.