Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost Luke 16: 1 – 13

The speaker elaborated on God’s love for a cheerful giver.  A truly rich man in attendance told his lunch companions that he just didn’t feel good about giving money to the cause.  He said to those at the table, “What do you suppose they had to pay for these green beans and cold ham?”  Someone said, “Probably ten dollars.”  So he began to write his check just as the speaker said, “Now remember, folks, God loves a cheerful giver.”

The companion said  “Do you not feel good?  You ‘ve told me your investments are going great.”   The rich man muttered, “No, I don’t feel good.”

His companion who glanced at his check and knew him well said, “No wonder you don’t feel good, George. You can do better than that. ”   So he did and the check grew to one hundred dollars. He grumbled, “Well, maybe that’s better looking from me,”

His companion, who played poker with him on Friday nights, said, “That won’t hurt you? Why don’t you put at least another zero.”

This very rich man said, “Well, the speaker made a good case. Aw, shucks, I’ll put two more zeros.” And then he began to smile.  “You know, I feel better already.”.  His check now was for ten thousand dollars and as somebody collected the gifts, he grinned and said, “You know, I enjoyed that.”

In the story Jesus told, the dishonest manager knew a great deal about money and the power of money. He gave people the opportunity to falsify their bills on the promise that they would take him in.  Jesus said that the children of God should be just as wise in using their possessions.  Jesus knew what people think about money, and what goes on in people’s minds when we prepare an offering for Sunday worship.

If there were not a single word about money in the Bible and we were called on to write a biblical paragraph about money, what would we write:?

“Live as though you’ve taken a vow of poverty? Don’t buy luxuries? Don’t buy a single thing you don’t need?   Try not to care about money and things and comforts?”   No, I don’t think so.  Is money not part of our faith?  Any discussion of how Jesus of Nazareth might be interested in our wallets and checkbook might seem terribly inappropriate.

Do we think our religion is still in Palestine tending a Sunday-school flock of sheep, while our decisions about money are a world away.? We seldom get into discussions about money and the possibility that it might be tangled up with faith and belief.

But by his obedience and submission on the cross, Jesus calls us to be responsible in this world of money, and things and wages, and church offerings.   That is, our Christian faith can give us great wisdom in how we make our decisions and what we do with the gifts God has placed in our care.  In Jesus’ parable, the child of the world was quite wise.  He knew that he could purchase the appearance of friendship; he knew how to make a deal.  So how will he take care of himself?  He’s not a laborer.  He will not beg.  But he can use the power of money so people would take him in.

When a great English pastor was called to minister to a poor young woman dying of tuberculosis, he went prepared with his prayer book and bread and wine. Then he wanted to do more.  He called the woman’s doctor.  “What chance does she have?”

“None,” the doctor said, “As long as she stays there.”:

“Where does she need to be?”

The doctor mentioned travel and treatment, the pastor replied, “O God, if only I had the money.” But he knew who to ask, and he got what was needed.

With the money he made a miracle which consisted of a train ticket, and a warm room in fresh air, a kind nurse, and a skilled doctor. The young woman soon had a new lease on life.  “Then I knew,” the pastor said, “What money is all about.  It is power.  It is the power in God’s name to purchase a certain service   in this world and to be sure you’ll get it.”

The wise manager knew the power of money. It can turn disaster into miracles.  And if a materialistic minded person can compel money to serve his ends, how much more should the children of light know how to use their money?   Of course the manager was wrong about the ownership of the money he had at his command.  He had almost total responsibility on a day-by-day basis, but he was not the owner, not the final decision maker. He suffered from the illusion about who was in charge, just as many of us might think we are in charge.

The unjust manager thought with money he could make the future come around for his benefit. He said to himself, “I will use my boss’s business arrangements to guarantee my security.”

He had the illusion, just as we sometimes have, that he was in charge and could do whatever for his own profit with stocks, bonds, insurance and annuities and certificates of deposit.  We have the illusion that we own such things.   The day will come when we shall be called to account.  We will have to answer for our management of these things, of everything that we are and everything we hold dear.  “What did you do with your life?” God will ask.

Our response to God’s gift of salvation is measured in terms of how our faith goes to work in the common ordinary stuff of life, like decisions about money and purchases and long-range plans and how our estate is distributed when we are gone. When I was growing up in the late 1930s and during The War, our neighborhood felt called on to take up a collection for flowers for a funeral or maybe for a particular family that had unusual expenses. That was a collection.

But in church, we make an offering to God.  One of our prayers says, “through your goodness you have blessed us with these gifts:   With them we offer ourselves to your service and dedicate our lives to the care and redemption of all that you have made…”  Are we filled with joy that God will take what we offer and turn it into miracles of service and love for God’s work?

Do we ever make decisions about life and our money without reference to our Christian faith and to God’s ownership of what we manage for so brief a time on this earth? Even as the manager will be left homeless, the first moment of eternity will show us to be without everything we once thought so important.

All the things we had to have, all the things we have put away, or things we have put our confidence and future in – all blown away. We shall stand before God without title, without a reputation, without the piety of a family we have leaned on, and in utter poverty we shall hear God ask, “What did you do with your life?  Who can testify for you?”

Then perhaps from out of the company of the redeemed one will step forward and say, “He fed me because of what he gave to Lutheran World Relief — and he never knew my name.”  Or, “She came and picked me up when I was living in a homeless camp.  She supported a shelter – she never knew that she helped me.”

Then, if the devil could speak in this company, he would jump up, “Hear, hear! On earth I tried to soak your dirty cash in blood and tears and grimy perspiration.  “I try to give Christians a bad conscience about it.  I try to make them think it’s too filthy to mention in church, too worldly to bring into  religion, And now you summon this evil money, this thing of the world, as a witness for how people have responded to God?”

God brushes him aside.   As John wrote in that little book toward the end of the New Testament, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.  God will say to us, “I have heard what these others have said in your behalf.  They want you to be with them here in eternity.  You have taken ordinary worldly money and turned it into feeding the poor and hungry, to clothe the naked, to see that the Gospel was carried into action around the world, and to see that the church reflected my love to all on earth.

The voice of Christ echoes in that day of accounting, “Inasmuch as you did these things to your brothers and sisters on earth, you were doing it to me. Enter into the joy of your maker.”  Our calling is to be Christian  — nothing more, nothing less.  Faith must be put to work in what we do for a living as well as how we live in retirement.  Faith then becomes the substance of life.

Our pocketbooks may say more about our faith than our hymnbooks. Our personal budgets may be more revealing than our private prayers.

God has handed us the gift of salvation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During this life we have the opportunity to say thank you.

For not with sword’s loud clashing,

Nor roll of stirring drum,

But with deeds of love and mercy,

the heavenly kingdom comes.