15th Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 16th chapter. 

Glory to you, O Lord. 

1 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. 2 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.' 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, "How much do you owe my master?' 6 He answered, "A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, "Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' 7 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.' 8 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. 9 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. 10 "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. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 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.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

There are many things that we are uncomfortable talking about and money has to be near the top of everybody’s list. It’s one of those things that people just don’t consider it polite to talk about. Well, here’s some uncomfortable news for you today.  Today, Jesus is talking about money - our money. 

This is a complicated parable. It’s not like last week’s story where the shepherd with the lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin represent God and we represent the lost ones. It’s not a “Go and do likewise…” kind of story, either.  

It’s a  “this is an example of someone who made bad choices and you believers should behave better than he did” kind of story. 

We can use our resources for good.  Even dishonest wealth can be used for God’s purposes. 

Back when I was at Newberry Lutheran College, they had a ceremony every year where students came up front to receive certificates for each of the scholarships they received. I was quite embarrassed every year to go up and get one of my scholarships. 

In order to apply for this particular scholarship, my mother and I had to go have tea with an older lady who was a friend of my aunt.  My mother also brought papers that proved that her grandfather was a civil war veteran on the Confederate side.  The scholarship didn’t have any academic or financial need requirements. It was for descendants of Confederate soldiers who went to Christian colleges and I took it because I needed the money for school. 

So, I was quite embarrassed every year to be called up front to receive the United Daughters of the Confederacy scholarship during the awards ceremony.  However, one of my classmates, who is now a seminary professor, told me a story that made me feel better.  He said a gambler came to the pastor and said, “Will you take this $100 that I won gambling as an offering for the church?”  And the pastor said, “Of course I will. The devil’s had it long enough.” 

Jesus says you cannot serve God and wealth.  The old fashioned word for wealth from the King James Version is Mammon. In some ways, I like that better because the Mammon is the Greek word that is used to personify wealth.  It reminds us that wealth is an idol that leads us away from God.  

In Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Mammon is the god who escorts people down into the underworld, to the gate of Hell, to learn to mine and smelt gold.

Mammon personifies the idol that is the force behind our worldwide financial system that seems to have a life and powers of its own.  It’s a financial system that is so complex that it can be exploited by countries and individuals to provide overwhelming wealth for some, while others in the world work hard and still don’t have shelter or food to eat. 

Luther warned us about Mammon 500 years ago in his explanation of the First Commandment in the Large Catechism. He wrote, “‘Many a person thinks he has God and everything he needs when he has money and property, in them he trusts and of them he boasts so stubbornly and securely that he cares for no one. Surely such a person (man) also has a god -- mammon by name, that is, money and possessions -- on which he fixes his whole heart. It is the most common idol on earth."

Mammon personifies wealth and shows us what power that idol has. However, one of the disadvantages of using the word Mammon is that it helps us separate ourselves a little further from it. Even when we use the word wealth, we usually don’t think of ourselves as wealthy.  

We are a lot more comfortable seeing ourselves as middle class. It just seems more respectable to say, “I’m middle class” than to say, “I’m wealthy.”  It just seems rude to say you are rich, doesn’t it?  And we want to be nice and polite.  

And compared to most people in our community, most of us aren’t wealthy, we are middle class or upper middle class.  However, compared to the rest of the world, most of us are wealthy. 

According to the website globalrichlist.com, the 50th percentile for net worth of a person on earth is about $3700.  Net worth here includes the equity in your house and all your possessions and investments. The 50th percentile for global income is about $1300 a year.  That comes out to $25 a week. You can go to the website and see where you fall.  I am in the top 3%. 

You cannot serve both God and wealth.  That doesn’t mean money is bad.  We need money to live.  It is useful to have money to exchange for goods and services.  And being wealthy isn’t sinful in and of itself. It’s always a question of stewardship. Stewards are people who take care of someone else’s money and property.  

The steward in our parable was dishonest and squandered his master’s property. 

We are called to do better than this steward.  We are called to be good stewards of all that has been entrusted to us.  It can be hard for us to think of ourselves as stewards since we worked hard to get where we are.  We worked hard to earn our money and buy our houses and cars. But God has given us the ability to do the work we do. God gives us the ability to earn our money. We are not self-made people. 

Jesus reminds us that all that we have, and all that we are, belong to our Creator.  We came into the world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing.  We are only the caretakers, the stewards. Some of us have been given more responsibility than others, but we are all still just the stewards of our wealth. 

An old preacher got up to make an announcement to the congregation.  He said, “First, I have some bad news.  The furnace is broken and needs to be replaced. But, there’s good news.  We have the money to pay for it. But, there’s more bad news.  The money is still in your pockets.” 

There’s more good news though.  And it’s even better.  Once the steward in the story realized he was in trouble, he started to notice the needs of the others around him.  He started to help out the others who had been taken advantage of by the corrupt financial system of his time.  

This is the place where we get the message that, “This is an example of someone who made bad choices and you believers should behave better than he did.”  We shouldn’t have to fall on hard times to have compassion for those who are struggling. 

As Christians, we know that whenever we do something for the least, the last, and the lost, we are serving Christ himself.  We have the privilege of serving our neighbors and sharing the blessings of abundance with those in need. We can live generously.

We have the privilege of knowing that God gives us our daily bread.  We don’t have to worry about tomorrow.  Jesus promises us eternal life.  

We aren’t like the dishonest steward in the parable, and our Master is certainly not like the Master in the parable, because our Master is good. Jesus is gracious and kind and generous.  We can afford to live generously because God provides all that we need. We don’t have to live in fear of scarcity. Our abundant God has given us enough to share with our neighbors. 

Our God loves us. God is far more powerful than all the money in the world.  Jesus reminds us not to be tempted by the false god of Mammon.  Mammon will lead you to the gates of hell to mine and smelt gold.  

Jesus loves you so much that even if you get lost and follow Mammon, he will go down to the gates of hell and bring you back.  He calls you to live generously, to come and follow him. Jesus will lead you to the gates of heaven where you won’t need anything and the streets are paved with gold.