Sermon for 9/22/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: Luke 16:1–13
Then 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. 2So 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.' 3Then 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. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' 5So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' 7Then 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.' 8And 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. 9And 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.
10Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No 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."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
When you go through the seminary, and then call processes on your way to becoming a pastor, you have to share your call story a lot, you have to share how God brought you to this point in your life. After sharing this many times, you can sort of condense and simplify things, and now, as I think about my life, and how I got to this point, I realize that my calling as a pastor comes mostly from my own parents’ dedication to keeping the vows they took over me when I was baptized, just as we all try to do with our children.
Most importantly, in keeping these vows, my parents emphasized that we are loved by God, and gave that love to me through their love. They also brought me to worship, taught me to pray, taught me about the Bible, creeds, and commandments and many other things that we are faith related. And, they also taught these lessons to me, what it means to serve God, and not money or things.
Let me take you way back for a moment, to the 1980s. It was then, that I a young child in a small town, in an even smaller elementary school, had just laid the start to what could have been a promising business career. You see, I had a package of some really cool mechanical pencils that I’d purchased for a dollar at the local Target, and sold the whole lot of them to a friend the next day for the low, low price of only five dollars. A 500% mark-up. Let me clarify, that I didn’t misrepresent the product in anyway, and the transaction, in most legal senses was completely on the up and up.
But, much to my chagrin, when I shared with my parents that I had pulled off such a sale, they didn’t share in my enthusiasm. In fact, they called the parents of the other child, and made me return the cash. Not only that, but they wouldn’t let me take the pencils back either.
I bet Donald Trump’s parents would have let him keep the money, but apparently making a profit was illegal in my home. Well, maybe not illegal, but my parents, raising me not only as their child, but as a Child of God, weren’t real proud of my abilities to take advantage of someone else. Even though I hadn’t lied, or scammed my friend, my parents made it clear that living according to God’s will, meant looking out for him as well, even at the expense of making money.
This lesson, taught to me in this case and many other times, wasn’t something my parents came up with out of the blue. This lesson, this life was God’s Word, the Word that was given to them in each of their baptisms, just as it had been given to generations before them. This Word, given to us so gracefully by God, and nourished in us by the power of the Holy Spirit is what we are called to depend on, to trust in, and to grow in, as in this end, this Word is what gives us life.
It is this Word of God that is the basis of Jesus’ seemingly confusing teaching about making friends with dishonest, or unrighteous wealth. Much time and effort has been put into trying to figure out, what does this parable means? It’s almost as if Jesus is telling us that the ends justify the means. If I had been more well versed in the Gospel of Luke as a child, maybe I could have convinced my parents that I could have given half the money to the church, and then kept the other half. Then there’d be a lot of happy parties, the church, myself, even my friend with his new pencils. But I don’t think that would have passed muster with my parents, nor with Jesus.
But, if we remember God’s Word, given to us in our Baptism, if we remember that it calls upon us to love each other, even our enemies, with the same grace and mercy that God has loved each of us with, we are given some clarity into this confusing parable. Instead of encouraging us to act like one of the characters in his parable, Jesus is warning us against them, or at least their motives, reminding us that the money that so guides their lives breeds dishonesty, and division. Jesus is reminding us that we as Children of God are called to a different life, a life lived in the light, where we do not take advantage of people, but serve them. Jesus reminds us that mammon and God cannot be served at the same time, and he does so, because one leads to division, distrust, and death; while the other creates life, and community.
Today, Jesus is telling us that we can’t serve God and wealth; as we see signs dotting the area, most of them saying keep Milford, casino free; with others saying the opposite. Now, I’m not a crusader against gambling, and what people want to do in terms of this, or any casino is their perogative. What I will say is that building a community around the prospect of money, and especially money gained by taking advantage of people is not a fruitful or faithful way to build community. As we think about it, what’s the best case scenario? A casino that is a great success, that pumps a great deal of money into the community, and then becomes the lifeblood which the community depends on. The casino will become the lord of the town, which then influences all decisions.
No, there is a better way to build community. There is the way that comes from discerning what type of values we hold with our neighbors, committing to them, sharing them, and even sacrificing for them. And as I say this, I don’t mean to just try and pick on a casino. In all areas of our life, whether it is worrying more about how much something costs than how humanely it was made, or sacrificing the environment solely for the sake of economic gain; we are all caught in a sinful system that causes us to think and live by the rule that selfishness, is not only acceptable, but in our own self-interest and good for the world. And this, is a system that we are all guilty of participating in, even young boys who would go on to be pastors, even pastors who were taught lessons and should know better.
But even as we chase after wealth, God chases after us. God continues to call us together, and join us in a community of faith created out of an unending, unselfish, undivided love for each of us. This is the love that we dine on in our Lord’s Supper; the love that is not sold to us, but given; the love that is never in short supply, but in everlasting abundance; the love that empowers us not to ask what can we get? But what can we give? This love, is the living Word of God in Jesus Christ, given to us in the midst of our sin, in the midst of our dishonesty, making us friends with God. May we go and make friends, in the same manner.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,