Scripture: Luke 16:1-13
God & Money
Above all, genuine faith requires the investment of our time, the engagement of our minds, and the openness of our hearts. This is the life to which we have been called. Through the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament, God demands that we take the time to cultivate an awareness of the human journey – from exile to restoration, from bondage to freedom, from oppression to justice, ignorance to understanding, judgment to love. This is the common journey set before us.
Through the gospels, particularly that of Luke, Jesus demands that we develop concern for our neighbors and for the world. And, that we act upon that concern (openness of our hearts).
By way of parable, Jesus demands our careful thought and reflection (engagement of the mind). This morning’s parable the utmost example of this, being the most baffling and complex of all of Jesus’ parables – as it is a story that has little to say about using our wealth to care for those in need (a consistent theme in scripture and particularly in Luke) and through it, Jesus praises a man for dishonest business dealings, for being deceitful for the sake of his own financial gain.
You’ve heard it described as the parable of the “dishonest manager,” or, perhaps with one of its more euphemistic titles: the parable of the “shrewd steward” or “prudent treasurer,” which makes the same story somehow easier to swallow.
In parable, a careful, allegorical narrative maneuver, Jesus leaves room for the mystery and for the mind, to interpret and to make sense, and to not fully but almost understand…I think I know what he means here, but yet what about that pesky commandment, the revelation on Sinai, “You shall not bear false witness” (Ex 20:16)?
I think I know what he means here, but yet, didn’t he tell us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal”? (Mt 6:19)
I think I know what he means here, but yet, what about that sermon of his, you know, the one he preached not on the mount but on the vast and lowly plain…what did he there say to the people, according to this same gospel writer? Oh, right: “blessed are the poor” (Lk 6:20)?
I think I know what he means here, but yet, what about that whole, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25)?
I think I know what he means here, but yet…but yet…but yet… As a wise woman once wrote and sang, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.” The answer, my friends, is hanging in the balance, is cradled within the mystery, is lurking in between lines on a written page, held within the depths of scripture, where the mind wonders and the Holy Spirit dwells.
Though its precise meaning continues to mystify theologians and pastors and Christians, one thing is for certain, here Jesus is talking about God and money – he’s talking about a rich man and his financial manager who is mismanaging his investments – embezzling his money (to put it into today’s terms), and he ends the complex allegorical tale with the simple statement: “You cannot serve God and wealth.” And once again, Jesus meets us at the intersection of faith and life. What human being, rich or poor, hasn’t contended with money? What human mind hasn’t worried or fraught over its amount or use or misuse? What human heart hasn’t felt temptation toward the material life, or wrestled with the questions of:
How much to spend? And what to spend it on?
How much to save? And where to save it?
How much to share? And whom to share it with?
How much is too little? How much is too much?
I venture to guess that on a daily basis, each one of us faces at least one of these questions and if not on a daily basis, nightly, they are among those inquiries of the heart that have the power to awaken us in the middle of the night when the world is dark and quiet.
If we are part of a marriage, or life partnership, we hopefully face these questions through conversation and open exchange with our partner:
What can we afford?
What are our needs today and what will our needs be in two, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty years from now?
What and where are our values?
Where do our commitments lie?
We are called to ask these questions and we are called to think and talk faithfully about issues of money. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells such an obscure parable about money, to provoke us to consideration and discussion of matters of money and faith, to urge us to engage our minds and open our hearts through thoughtful conversation. Is the manager dishonest or prudent? Is Jesus praising his dishonesty or his savvy business expertise? Is he pointing out that money is fleeting – that the manager is at the top of his game and field one day, only to be cut down the next by his boss? Is the message that money doesn’t promise security?
Money is complex and there is no single biblical view on money, just as there is no single view on money in life, though we have been given many to ponder through the ages, first learned in our family of origin:
A penny saved is a penny earned;
Money doesn’t grow on trees;
Money is the root of all evil/the lack of money is the root of all evil;
Time is money/it takes money to make money;
The best things in life are free/nothing in life is free.
There are some things money can’t buy. And as a wise man once wrote and sang, "Money can’t buy me love."
“You cannot serve God and wealth.” Where was it that I heard that? Oh yeah, Luke 16. And who was it that said that? Oh yeah, Jesus said that. Jesus meets us at the intersection of faith and life.
Money has the power to rival God for our worship and devotion. This doesn’t make money evil, but it does require an engagement of our minds and an openness of our hearts to ensure that we use our resources faithfully and wisely.
Money has the power to rival God for our worship and devotion. We see this power at work on a small scale, in our every day lives as we wrestle with questions of how much to spend, how much to save, how much to share. When we struggle with questions of what do we really need? How much is too much? How much is too little? And we see money demand our devotion because at the most basic level, our very survival is dependent upon it.
We see the power of money at work in world on a larger, broader scale as well. At a time when the economy seems to be shrinking, at a time when income distribution resembles an hourglass shape; wide at the top and bottom and narrow in the middle, we saw how money dictated political endorsements in the last presidential campaign and how money raises certain individuals to power while causing the fall of others, even in a democratic system. Regularly, we see how politics can be driven by money rather than ethics, by wealth rather than justice.
This past Monday morning you awoke, like I did, to the news of yet anther random shooting spree, this time at the US Navy Yard in Washington, DC where 12 innocent people and the shooter, who reportedly suffered from mental illness, lost their lives. The Navy Yard now joins the ranks of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson, and Columbine and too many others as communities in our country that have been directly affected by random gun violence. Do you know that following this horrific, unimaginable crime; sales of violent video games shattered a new record this past week? Grand Theft Auto V, a game released the day after the Navy Yard shooting made $800 million dollars in its first 24 hours on the market. Like other best-selling games today, this one brings its players into a virtual world where they can freely walk into public places and shoot innocent people.
We the people dictate supply and demand. We the people dictate what sells and what does not, what is profitable and what is not, we proclaim what is of value to us and what is not.
Oh right, because what was it that Jesus said, somewhere, “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When our society’s treasure is invested in virtual violence should we be surprised when it becomes a reality?
You cannot worship both God and wealth because one is lasting, the other fleeting, one is real the other illusory, one is constant, the other transient.
I often wonder what would happen if we, as a society, placed as much emphasis on our spiritual wealth as we do our physical? If we placed as much emphasis on our spiritual health as we do on our physical?
If we gave the same amount of daily attention and devotion to God as we do to our bank accounts, our homes, and our cars, our clothes, our electronics and toys for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
If we gave the same amount of attention and devotion to our real relationships – with God and with one another - as we do to the one we have with our Facebook or our checkbook.
What if we acted as though our very lives depended upon God, just as we act as though our very lives depend upon the money we have and comforts we keep?
We come here, to this sanctuary, a place that is in and yet not of, this world – for the purpose of worshipping what is lasting in life. Money goes – it’s earned/ acquired/ spent - then we go. God stays.
We come here, to this sanctuary, this morning to celebrate the wise, prudent and faithful use of resources by the Braintree Community Food Pantry, we commend Agnes, and all those who have supported this ministry by giving of their time and money in order to make an investment of the heart in what is lasting and true. This morning we lift up before God and one another the Food Pantry’s and First Baptist Church’s alignment of faith and resources, God and money in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. May we do our part, how, where, and when we are able.
 Dickerson, John S, “Grand Theft Auto V sales set record,” September 19, 2013, FoxNews.com
~Rev. Leanne Walt
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
One, though many, we gather today. One congregation, one community, one people under God. Brothers and sisters in Christ. One, though many. We gather with many different perspectives and experiences of the world, of politics, of religion, of the Church (both capital and lowercase “c”). But, we will, you will, this morning, receive a common message, a common Word, we pray a common faith and hope. Scripture and sermon, the bread of the service, the heart of the service, left to be received and dissected through the unique lens that each of you brings. And, we will receive a common grace, a sacramental grace, an elemental grace. We have at the font in the water, we will at the Table in the bread and in the cup. Water and grain and grape. We are united at the most elemental, fundamental, basic human level. Young or old, rich or poor, republican or democrat, pacifist or realist, we share the need for nourishment of the body and care for the soul. Here we discover the simplicity of our seemingly complex life in water, grain, and grape.
Our congregation belongs to a brand of Christian history, theology and practice that holds only these two events in the life of an individual and in the life of the church to be sacramental rituals representing an outward and visible sign of inward, spiritual, divine grace. In water, grain and grape we behold the mystery that is our most common denominator. Our basic need for water and bread, our basic need for grace to save and to provide and to give, and for a perfect love to form and inform and transform our hearts.
We gather, as one though many, to receive an elemental grace at the tail end of a week wrought with international strife, political friction and division. We come up for air this morning in the midst of a wilderness of political upheaval, torn between the ways of diplomacy and direct retaliation against the Syrian regime, but united in our defense of human life, united in our condemnation of weapons that vastly override regard for human life. Many, though one, we weep, along with Jesus for our Syrian sisters and brothers whose bodies and souls felt the doings of such evil. Many, though one, we weep, along with Jesus for yet another country at war with itself. As Christians, we are caught in between loving our enemies and demanding an eye for an eye.
* * * *
Much has changed, we know, since the days when Joseph followed the star, since the days when Jesus called to Simon and Peter from the lakeside, since the days when Mary sat at Jesus’ feet or since the days when Paul calmly penned notes from prison, as if he were vacationing on the coast and writing to those who were experiencing far colder weather back home. Language and dress and money and politics and culture distance us from those days and times. Even in our lifetime, such differences can create distance among us across generations – are we all on Facebook? Do we all text and Tweet and Twerk?
And yet, there are moments in our life and relationships, and in the history of time when we realize that at our core, we are guided by the same fundamental need to be loved with a love that will not let us go.
One of those notes that Paul wrote so long ago from prison was addressed to his dear friend Philemon, a wealthy man who is master of a house large enough to accommodate a church. In the briefest and most human of Paul’s letters, he takes up his pen, once again, to part a sea of troubles. He writes Philemon to inform him that his slave, Onesimus who had escaped from Philemon’s property and absconded with his money, had come to Paul in prison and asked to be forgiven for his mistakes and relieved of his debt. Now, in those days and times, Philemon would have had the legal right to punish Onesimus for running away and for stealing from him. He would have most likely ended up in prison. And yet, Paul asks Philemon not to punish him. He asks him not to fall back on the reigning patterns of domination, discrimination, and violence that prevailed in those days.
And Paul, given his status as the leader of the early Christian movement, would have had enough power to persuade Philemon by force or domination to do what he wanted him to do, to let Onesimus go unpunished. But he does not. He doesn’t threaten, intimidate, or bully to get what he wants and what he sees fit according to the gospel. Rather, Paul appeals to his friend, on the basis of love.
Writing, “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love” (Phil 8-9).
Not power or authority or coercion, but love, a teaching of Paul’s and Jesus that is so radical that the church and the world have yet to pay any attention. We routinely regard structures of power and domination as normal and we worry about matters of authority as though God does. But the gospel is rooted in a new way of relating to people, a way of openness, a way of love.
This week, as the news continued to unfold about the Syrian crisis, I was brought back to a period of months, nearly a decade ago now, that I spent living in Sri Lanka, a country that has been embroiled in a civil war for now going on 30 years, a war over religion, language and political representation for the Hindu and Muslim minority in a predominately Buddhist country. As a student studying there at the University, our travel was restricted and so my ability to explore this small island, limited. No travel to Tamil Nadu, the northernmost point where the flat, barren desert, I’m told, fades into the most beautiful crystal clear blue-green ocean, and where the Tamil Tigers, guerilla fighters had planted UXBs, or buried bombs there on the beaches. Reminiscent of the West Bank, this is the area the Tamils would like to separate from the country of Sri Lanka and make their own. No travel to the southeast cost, where, I’m told the greenest, lushes rainforest suddenly stops and gives way to the openness of white sand leading into the Bay of Bengal. No travel to Columbo, the capital city, the most dangerous of all because of its political symbolism and proximity to Parliament.
The latter half of my stay I spent at an all girls Christian orphanage in the central highlands of the country, an area more remote and less vulnerable to UXBs and random car and suicide bombings. With civil war and frequent violence erupting just miles away, there was a haven there in the hills of the country. In a country where peace was volatile and hate seemingly louder than love, the girls and young women at the orphanage created a different lexicon for relating to one another. There were, among them, Singhalese and Tamils. One, though many. They lived at the most basic level of human need, having no parents or resources, they lived by water and bread (rice in their case) and they lived by love, appealing to one another with compassion and understanding, and in return, found their most basic needs met, to eat and to love and be loved by a love that will not let them go. Elemental grace.
Some things, we know, override the value of human life: religious extremism, tyranny, oppression and domination. Fatalism. Powers of evil can thwart our desire to do good, but they cannot shake God’s desire to do good for us. If we, on an individual, day to day level, are brave enough to appeal to one another in love and not domination, in our homes and places of work, in our friendships, and here in the church, the effects would have the power to transform our world with a sense of justice informed by love.
So, we look at the larger, macroscopic picture of human interaction and note the conflict and violence. We look at regimes and dictatorships and note the evil and violence, but this morning we look toward the font and table - water, grain and grape - and know that we’ve been witness to a light that outshines the darkness; that we’ve been touched by a love that will not let us go.
A light symbolized by the purity of water, anointed on the heads of the newly baptized, a blessing upon the young and hope-filled, sinless and pure among us.
A love that begets life and new life evident in Bart and Shelby this morning.
Brother and sister, we pray that you will walk together in the light of our faith, appealing to one another and all others in love. And that you may never forget that you are loved with a love that will not let you go. Hold to community, hold to prayer, hold to the cross, hold to the Word when challenges and uncertainties and fears arise. If you (or we) ever have question of where to begin in the many and overwhelming pages of Scripture, begin with the words of the 139th Psalm, read on the occasion of your baptism, a Word fit for all times and places, a word fit for each one of us this morning, all children of God, praying and singing of the love that will not let us go:
“For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
That I know very well.”
~ Rev. Leanne S. Walt