Sermon Proper 20 Year C 2019

The Rev. John M. Atkins

The Gospel of Luke 16:1-13

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 accounting 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.”

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It’s no secret. Many preachers would rather take a vacation day than struggle with our reading from Luke’s Gospel. The parable and interpretation seem to run contrary to the good news unveiled in Jesus’ other parables. And frankly, it’s off-putting to hear: “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.”

Where to begin? For students of the Bible, context is invaluable. Immediately prior to this puzzling passage, Luke tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son; and following today’s passage, we hear the Parable of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus.

Bordered by the stories of an adult child squandering money and love of money blinding human need, we have the Parable of the Shrewd Manager bolstering relationships with his master’s debtors before he was fired.

These three parables share two key components: money and relationships.

Biblical scholars pinpoint several lessons embedded in this parable. Yet, I think the key to understanding it is simply to remember that Jesus prioritized the value of relationships. He encouraged his followers to invest heart, soul, strength and mind in a loving relationship with God and with our neighbors.  (Luke 10:27)

In the parable for today, the Shrewd Manager was indeed wise in looking toward the future. Investing in relationships gave the manager hope for a brighter tomorrow even while facing unemployment. 

Jesus teaches us to make relationships our number one priority. Investment in our relationships with God and our neighbors paves the way to living in God’s realm.

Now the question: what is dishonest wealth? Better to ask, what is honest wealth?

For Jesus, honest wealth is that which is treasured in God’s realm.

First, God treasures that which God creates.  And second, God treasures God’s creation living in justice, peace and harmony with God and with one another.

You and I know that society holds a contrary view to what God treasures. Wealth and power are not inherently bad things. They can, however, draw us away from God if we prioritize wealth and power and enjoy privilege at the expense of others.

The on-going SAT Score scandal is one current example. Unlike God’s realm, human societies do not have at their core a love of justice which, in essence, is valuing our relationships with all creation over everything else.

Dishonest wealth can be understood as selfishly accumulating and holding on to money and material things, which Jesus taught, were products of an unjust, dissonant world.

Yet, when wealth from an unjust world is used to build relationships with those most vulnerable and enhance the lives of those in need, wealth can work hand-in-hand with God to bring about an harmonious and just world. God’s realm, for which Jesus worked so diligently to bring about, is a refreshing and healthy alternative to the power structures that swarm like locusts, selfishly devouring without regard for the majority of people or our fragile environment.

Jesus invites us into living in God’s world of justice, and harmony. If we accept the invitation, our priority switches to relationships and involves offering our power, wealth and privilege for the benefit of others and for the sake of God’s love for all creation.

I was astonished and over-joyed to learn of Greta Thunberg. Greta is the 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist activist precipitating and empowering people to speak up, rally and demand world leaders address the realities Climate Change. Her impact is growing. Recent protests throughout the globe are direct results of this young girl’s passion. Greta has spoken at the United Nations Climate Summits and rallies in various countries.

She says:

“For way too long, the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything at all to fight the climate crisis and the ecological crisis… But we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer.”

“We will never stop fighting for this planet, for our futures, and for the futures of our children and grandchildren.”

“We need to get angry and understand what is at stake.  And then we need to transform that anger into action and to stand together united and just never give up.”

(Quotes from Teen Magazine)

Thank you, Greta! 

I believe that 16-year-old Greta Thunberg is God’s prophetic voice trying to get our attention to save the creation that God calls good. While conspiracy denial abounds,

Truth is truth: climate change is an imminent threat to humanity and all God’s creations.

In fact, it has recently been determined that Climate Change is the major precipitant of the massive immigration to Mexico and the United States from Guatemala. Why am I speaking about Climate Change? Because this gospel concerns relationships. The gift of scientific knowledge allows us to see our connectedness to the environment. We can no longer be complacent or silent.

It’s time for those investing their wealth in practices and products destroying our environment to be held accountable. Complicit powers genuflecting to wealth, greed and current power structures will not act unless we demand action.

The wealth God desires for humanity and all creation is the wealth of realizing and celebrating our inter-connectedness with one another and our environment.

When we celebrate our inter-connectedness, we enter into God’s reality and intention for the world. And, in God’s intention there are blessings upon blessings. 

This is good news.  And, there’s more good news.

Good news is: God loves us and all creation.

Good news is:  God has entrusted the care of one another and this planet to us, AND has confidence in us to use the tools God has provided for us to reshape this world into God’s realm of justice, peace and harmony.

Good news is: God is working through voices speaking truth to power.

Good news is: building healthy relationships, like the Shrewd Manager, gives us hope for a better tomorrow.

Good news is: when all is said and done, Jesus has promised that God’s love and intention wins.