June 24, 2018
 

     

 

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Christ Church

2543 US Highway 21 South

PO Box 1866
Sparta, North Carolina 28675

Office:  336.372.7983

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Luke 16: 1-13 2016

The Rev. Stephanie E. Parker

 

“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.”

 

 

Jesus is doing what Jesus does best.  As he travels with his followers he is teaching a master’s course on Discipleship.  Amid deep conflicts with the religious authorities over what he is teaching, Jesus will suddenly turn to his closest disciples, as he does today, and tell a story.  Jesus tells a story, in parable form, that turns a direct question into a vehicle for expanded thinking or just downright confusion.

 

This is what a parable does and Jesus is the king of parables.  A parable twists or tweaks a story so that we have to flex our minds and imaginations---Jesus’ parables are like giant speed bumps that won’t allow us to make too many worn out assumptions about who God is and what God does.

 

And what we hear today represents a speed bump so large that hitting it too fast might just throw us into a ditch. 

 

This parable is called by many names, the Unjust Steward, The Shrewd Manager, the Dishonest Steward, but whatever you want to call it, the truth is that most preachers see it coming and try to just go around it!  But here it is, and confront it we must.

 

I was kind of sorry this Gospel cropped up on my second sermon, but then I thought, what the heck let’s just get this train wreck rolling!

 

But, even with how hard this teaching is, I can tell you that I am very glad it sits here waiting to confront us and to challenge us when we least expect it---I think it is easy to fall asleep at the wheel when we’re trying to follow Jesus and today he shakes us awakes and demands that we not get complacent.

 

I love what Jesus teaches here because it explodes so many traditional notions of God. It awakens us to a true sense of God’s grace. In the story, there’s a steward—a man responsible for looking after his Master’s property.

 

 

 

Someone’s charged that this man was squandering the property—that he wasn’t bringing in a good return on the Master’s investments—so the Master wants to look at the books---to see what the steward’s done, and with what results.

 

The steward’s worried. He has no other talents—no other ways to make a living. He needs friends and he needs them fast, so he goes to each of his master’s debtors and cuts their debt in half.

 

The master discovers this, and you’d think he would shout—“Aha! Now I see how you’ve squandered my estate,” but he doesn’t. He commends him. He complements him on his shrewd investment. What is that about?

 

As Nancy Rockwell says, “Jesus tells those of us who want to follow him to take HUGE risks.  We do well to remember it is Jesus who bends Sabbath rules, who refuses to observe killing cultural taboos, and he totally upends rules around money and wealth---- all in the name of mercy.”[1]

 

Money and wealth and what we do with is something Jesus goes on and on about.

 

Issues of wealth and poverty are complex.  And Luke’s whole gospel reveals Jesus as someone who understands that anxiety about money is a disease among both those who have it and those who do not. 

 

He also understands that a lot of what polite society deems immoral, stems from the crippling pain of poverty and that those who hold the wealth do not always take responsibility for their part in that pain.

 

Contrary to popular belief Jesus does not really teach that money and wealth are bad, but he warns us endlessly that hoarding wealth or rejecting or shaming the poor is a danger that lies coiled in the human soul that can trip us up at any moment.

 

In our story the Master represents what would have been an absentee Landlord.  He would have been a man of great wealth who had many such country homes or estates from which he accumulated wealth.

 

If those who owed him debt were struggling and poor, the accounts he carried on his books would have represented a crippling debt from which they could never recover.  The Master in this story is no hero anymore than his steward.  That is another reason I love this parable.

 

There are no “good guys.”  There are a couple of people who go about business as usual, with no thought as to how the business they do truly affects others until a little wrench is thrown into the daily grind.

 

We love to have good guys and bad guys and we like them clearly labeled!  Jesus doesn’t offer us that this week.

 

We are instead invited into a confusing jumble that more closely represents how our lives really are---where it is not so easy to label the good guys and the bad guys.  And even harder to identify ourselves immediately with a good guy and distance ourselves from the person who is the object lesson!

 

But what we do have here is a huge opportunity.  We have an opportunity to give up our certainties and listen hard to what Jesus is trying teach us.  What does Jesus want us to learn from these less than admirable people?

 

Well, if we scratch any hard teaching of Jesus, not far below the surface we will find a teaching about mercy and forgiveness; forgiveness and mercy of sin or mercy and forgiveness of debt.  I think today we get a bit of both.

 

What this steward does is forgive debts and even amid his deception he draws Jesus’ praise.

 

The steward forgives. As Sarah Dylan Brewer says, “He forgives things that he had no right to forgive. He forgives for all the wrong reasons, for personal gain and to compensate for past misconduct. [2]

 

But that's the decisive action that he undertakes to redeem himself from a position from which it seem he could not be reconciled.   He is between a rock and a hard place and he wiggles out of it with mercy.

 

It seems like any easy answer to a hard question, but to be someone who dispenses forgiveness and mercy when things are feeling dark and threatening is no small thing---this is something most of the human race struggles with beyond all other. 

 

When things get tight and we feel threatened, mercy and forgiveness are most often far from our thoughts.

 

But that is the standard to which Jesus calls us.  When life feels the worst, that is when we have to dig in and forgive the most, love the most and offer mercy like we had an unlimited supply.

 

Forgive it all. Forgive it now. Forgive it for any reason you want, or for no reason at all. Forgive debt--- be it emotional, moral or financial,

 

Jesus says forgive it or get trapped forever where life is always tangled, dark and threatening. 

 

There are lots of good reasons to forgive people or to forgive ourselves, but as hard as this teaching is, Jesus doesn’t even go that far—The implication is that we can forgive others as we have been forgiven, or forgive because we think it will increase our chance of winning the lottery![3]

 

It all boils down to the same thing: deluded or sane, selfish and/or unselfish, there is no bad reason to forgive. Extending the kind of grace God shows us in every possible arena -- financial and moral -- can only put us more deeply in touch with God's grace even when we aren’t trying.

 

Left to our own devices we may never come up with the right reason to forgive those we think are unforgivable or show mercy to those we judge to be beyond God’s reach.

 

So I end where I began—with a story that is more riddle than an answer and an invitation for us to allow Jesus push us out beyond where we think we might be able to go.  

 

As we go through the week and we confront, as we are bound to do, people or situations that we believe are not worthy of grace, love or forgiveness—I hope we will remember this holy speed-bump and shake ourselves free of easy assumptions.

 

I hope we will remember this shrewd steward and open our tightly clenched fists and lavishly, even wastefully release an absolute flood of God’s unlimited grace, mercy and forgiveness.  Amen.

 

 



[1] Nancy Rockwell, A Bite in the Apple, September 2016

[2] Sarah Dylan Brewer, Sarah Laughed, September 2013

[3] Ibid.