Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 19, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
Sermon: "You Can Not Serve God and Wealth"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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 fifth.' 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 shrews 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."
You Can Not Serve God and Wealth
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 19, 2004
The surroundings were a railway station under German occupation in World War II. The train sitting in the station under a scorching sun is filled with Jews on their way to Auschwitz. They are hungry, tired, but most of all thirsty. The SS guards are laughing at the Jewish prisoners packed in the cars. Arriving at the yard is a man by the name of Oskar Schindler. He sees the plight of the people in the boxcars and asks to give them water. The German officer in charge knows him and yet he refuses. However, not to be daunted Herr Schindler tricks the Germans. He takes a fire hose, turns it on and starts to spray the cars. The Germans laugh at the Jewish prisoners being knocked back by the force of the water. However, the water starts to trickle in to the cars. Schindler turns again to the officer and asks for water to be given by spraying all of the cars. The officer, with a bribe, gives permission. Schindler, the shrewd businessman, gets water to the Jewish people by tricking the Germans on guard. A few minutes later the train pulls out of the station to continue on its horrible journey.
Oskar Schindler was not a hero in the sense of the word that we understand. He was not forthright and morally straight. Herr Schindler was a shrewd businessman who was always looking for a way to make money. As the Nazi party came to power he made friends with officers and officials along the way. He bought his way into their favor with lavish gifts and money because he thought he could get rich. Also, he, himself, was somewhat of a womanizer. He had numerous affairs and liaisons. Yet, this man, when confronted with the horror of the Nazi regime towards the Jews managed by tricks and favors to save hundreds of people. He used his abilities as a huckster and trickster to achieve a good end even though he himself would not be seen as forthright and honorable in every aspect of his life.
We have the same sort of idea in the story of the dishonest steward. His master has received word of his dishonesty and is demanding an accounting of the books. The steward knows he is going to get caught and be dismissed. So, he goes to the people who owe his master funds and makes deals with them. He does this act not to procure the favor of his master. He does this act to insure he will have some friends and some place to go after he is released. However, his actions have two affects. First, he does procure the favor of the businessmen that owe his master money. Secondly, he casts his master in a favorable light. His master is seen as generous. As a result, in attempting to prepare for his future he manages to keep his job.
Now, the parable seems to tell us to be dishonest and shrewd. The answer to that interpretation is no. The steward got into this mess because of his dishonesty. If he hadn't been dishonest he would never have been in the situation at all. His attempt to take care of his future had the unexpected side affect of saving his job in the present. He was a very lucky man. No, the parable is not about being dishonest and shrewd.
Instead, this parable is about preparation. The preparation is for the future and not the present. See, while the steward was thinking in the present, he was stealing from his master. He was getting his cut in order to make himself wealthy now, in his life. He was so busy looking at the present he lost all sight of the future or the possible consequences.
Jesus uses this parable to teach his followers, to teach us about, the necessity of preparation. Our lives are a time of preparation for living in the presence of God. We can not serve two masters. We can not be like the steward. He was concerned about today and so his daily preparations were about achieving wealth. By achieving wealth he would also gain social status. We too can get caught in the same trap. We can attempt to prepare to meet this world on its own standards. Or we can prepare for the day when we will meet God face to face. We have to choose one or the other. We can not serve both at the same time. We have to decide what is more important to us
1 want to be clear about what is happening here. We all have jobs and we have to have money to live. We are not talking about the necessities of life. We are talking about the craving we seem to have for more. Our society definitely has a disease called the "I wants". We want the most money. We want to be the first at everything we do. We want the best of everything. If you think I'm joking just ponder this reality for just a moment. Wednesday I received a magazine in the mail. I didn't order it. I have no idea why it came to my house addressed to me. The magazine is Menswear. In this magazine they had a wide variety of men's clothes. I would like you to hear about some of the items the best dressed man will wear this year.
First, there is a "kiton" shirt at $704.00 with a Stefano Ricci tie at $145.00 Over that shirt and tie we wear a Junya Watanabe Man blazer which costs a mere $2,175.00 with a pocket square accent by Etro which costs $275.00. Pants and belts came in at $1,408.00 and $650.00. To top it all off on those cold nights we would wear a topcoat which cost $3,495.00. So, the best-dressed man this year could have a single outfit that cost $8,852,00 and he is still barefoot. So, how far do we want to go to be number one, top dog? How hard do we want to work to build up our riches in this world? What will be our master?
For you see, we all serve something. We might serve ourselves or our wants and desires. We might serve some other person and their wants or desires. Or we can serve God and try to do our best to serve God's will and see what happens. For God's ultimate plan is for us to know the fullness of God's love and joy. We get to see fleeting glimpses of it in this life. We have the wonderful opportunity to see it fully in God's presence. We have the choice as to how we will live our lives now. Will we live for God or will we live for some other master?
Herr Schindler was very much consumed with accruing personal wealth. He served this master until he saw the plight of a group of people who could not help themselves. At that point he made a conscious decision to use his money to help others. As a result he saved many people from the ovens of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Jesus calls us to follow him. Jesus calls us to be servants of the one true and loving God. We are constantly reminded to listen to the call. Jesus says, "No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You can not serve God and wealth."