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