A Good Investment Luke 16:1-13
"A Good Investment"
September 19, 2010
Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
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. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then 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. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then 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.” And 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. And 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.
‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No 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.’
The word of the Lord…
[i]Sometimes I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.
When the guy at the traffic light tries to catch my eye while holding a cardboard sign that says, “My family is hungry, ” I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.
When my colleagues write articles on the evils of investing in oil, defense and consumerism and I’m just happy that I can figure out that the number on the mutual fund statement went up and not down, I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.
When I sit down with my pledge card and try to figure out each year exactly how much God is calling me to give the church – a 10% flat cut?, before taxes or after taxes? 5% to the church/5% to favorite charities?, all of it?, I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.
“Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,” Jesus says, “so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Did Jesus just tell us to be dishonest?
It’s a bit of a consolation to discover that the early church seemed to be as confused as we are. It appears as though they’ve tacked on some verses to this parable to help it make more sense: Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in very much. Now that’s something I can understand. That’s something I can live with.
No slave can serve two masters. . .you cannot serve God and wealth. This one makes me a little more grumpy. I like taking my son on vacations. I ‘need’ an iPad. I don’t always like it, but I can understand “You can’t make money the object of your life.”
The early church adds these conclusions onto this parable hoping to sum up Jesus’ teachings into a consistent maxim that we can live by 100% of the time, hoping to come up with a mission statement that would tell them what to do all the time, hoping to come up with a principle that would never lead them astray.
Bulleted guidelines and moralisms are a lot easier to understand and follow than general concepts and parabolic meanderings…. and the great thing about morality checkpoints is that they make it easier to note when others aren’t abiding by the same rules. Of course, that was actually one of the things Jesus was pretty clear about: Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you… how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye…” (Lk. 6:37-38a, 42).
Whatever Jesus was teaching in today’s parable, it is clear that faith is not moralism. On the contrary, faith - much like life - is messy.
“If you are going to live in the world, with God’s people, with choices that have to be made, you know that those choices are not often as clear as we wish they would be. I know the money that’s building up in my pension isn’t always coming from industries making the world a better place. I know the money that ends up in bank accounts sometimes is built by destroying the environment or taking money from the poor, or increasing the power of people who couldn’t care less about the welfare of their neighbors. I know the money that builds churches, and political campaigns, and nonprofit organizations isn’t always as clean as we wish it would be. Unjust money puts [clothes on our bodies, roofs over our heads and] food on our tables. There’s no way around it.”
“And yet, it takes money to build organizations that help the poor claim what they deserve. It takes money to build relationships with [kids in Honduras and missionaries in Lithuania]. It takes money to keep these doors open for worship that sends us out into the world to do justice, to love kindness, and practice healing in the world. It takes money redirected from the world’s purposes for greed, redirected from injurious power, redirected from abuse of the earth to slowly build a community of grace.”
“Money is a messy business. The early church wasn’t always clear what to do with it. But like the shrewd manager Jesus must have known that the church cannot run from the messiness of money, not while we’re still waiting for the new economy that Jesus has promised. We are caught in between a vision of the coming economy where everyone has their needs fulfilled, and the one we know right here where too often the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”[ii]
These two passages from Luke this morning ask the hard questions: How do we manage our money? How do we live our lives? Is it Biblical to be shrewd? What would we need to re-prioritize in our lives in order to be Jesus-approved shrewd managers of our resources?
The official Stewardship Campaign is just around the corner and I know that the majority of you do not look at the pledge card and say, “Hmmmm, how little can I give to the church this year?” Most of us want our bank accounts and the checks we write to reflect our priorities and for those of you in this room I believe your greatest priorities are God and family.
But what if you’re already in the credit card debt hole?
What if you’re trying to live on a fixed income that seemingly gets smaller while expenses get bigger?
What if you’re piecing together odd jobs to cover the loss of the one you had?
It’s hard to participate in a new economy when you can’t quite recover from being run over by the old one.
One has to be shrewd if they want to reprioritize and participate in the new economy and as an example Jesus points us to this picked upon middle manager. Shrewdly he “navigates that in-between time by doing what he can to re-direct the money of injustice toward a fairer, grace-filled world. By investing not in the world that is falling away, but in the new world. And we can’t afford to slack off because the world is filled with unjust managers whose object is greed.”[iii]
If you are in credit card debt you know exactly of whom I speak. In 1978 the laws that had kept a cap on interest charges (usury laws that had literally been around as far back as human history can be traced) were removed and the practice of overcharging borrowers took off. Pay day loans can charge up to 300%, the adjustable rate mortgages that contributed to our recent economic meltdown ballooned to up to 14% and credit card companies charge up to 30% and more, although at least now they have to warn you.[iv]
All of that is set up to keep us trapped in the old economy.
If you are caught up in that trap, the first step in re-prioritizing is getting out of that debt. Sell what you can, only buy what you need, pay the higher interest card first. In short, be shrewd!
It is only then that you can focus your energies on the new economy that Christ calls us to.
And how do we participate in this new economy? Simply put? If you want to be shrewd about it, you give back to God. “Stewardship arises from discipleship and in turn forms disciples. The greater the spiritual maturity, the greater the trust in God’s provision and the greater the generosity. As disciples learn to give, they see God at work and so grow even more.”[v]
Are you looking for a shrewd investment over and above your tithe to the church?
The Presbyterian Foundation has wonderful programs for investments in the long term future of the church while at the same time giving benefits to the individual in the earthly kingdom.
Looking beyond our denomination there are other opportunities as well. Oikocredit.org is a worldwide financial institution that promotes global justice by empowering disadvantaged people with credit. [vi]
Another organization that uses microfinancing to make a large difference in the world is kiva.org: Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. [vii]
Those three organizations are listed in your bulletin, and there are many opportunities out there to be shrewd for Jesus. And no matter how small the gesture, it counts.
One of the commentaries I read about this passage listed the names that are sometimes used for the main character of this parable. “Dishonest Manager” and “Shrewd Manager” are two of the more popular, but this commentary also listed "Prudent Treasurer".
Iparticipated in the life of a church where a woman who struggled to keep a roof over her head due to the addictions and mental illness that plagued her would come into the office quite regularly and bring the Treasurer what she called her tithe. One time without them noticing I witnessed him welcome her and accept her wadded up roll of singles in the same way I had seen him welcome the man who came in monthly with a large check for the endowment. After she left, he placed the cash in an envelope marked with her name in his top drawer.
I recognized the envelope because it was the same one the ministers used when she would come back in asking for money for groceries.
Certainly this was not an act that would grab any headlines or shift a greed-driven old economy into the new economy Christ is calling us to, but this small act of microfinancing was one way to make a difference. It was a shrewd way to make a difference.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength… You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mk. 12:30-31).
These are a good investment.
[i] Andrew Foster Connors. “25th Sunday in Ordinary Time” The Well, 2010. As always I am thankful for the scholarship found in the lectionary study group, The Well. The trajectory of this sermon as well as the opening riff on the complexity of parables are credited to the Reverend Foster Connors.
[ii] Foster Conners, p. 7.
[iii] Foster Conners, p. 8.
[v] Brad N. Hill. “How Churches Think About Money: Ways of Giving” Christian Century. September 7, 2010, p. 28.
[viii] Bader-Saye, p. 27.