Canon Claude Schroeder
Sermon on Luke 16. 1-13
Well, this is one strange story Jesus tells us here in Luke, Chapter 16. A story that stinks to high heaven of corporate greed and corruption. I have been banging my head against the wall all week over this one, trying to answer the question, Where is God in all of this?”
Jesus often prefaced his parables by saying, “The kingdom of God, which is the presence and power of God in your life, is like … and then he would go on and tell the story.” But Jesus didn’t do that here. So where God in this story? Here is what I concluded: “He isn’t. …” or rather God is to be found in the mouth of the story teller.
What Jesus is giving us in the story today is an illustration, of what at the end of our passage today, He calls the reign and rule of Mammon, which is a the Hebrew word for “money.” According to Jesus, the reign and rule of Mammon is utterly opposed to the reign and rule of God. The worship and service of mammon is presented as the singular alternative to the worship and service of God.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager.” In our culture the creation and accumulation of wealth is understood to be a worthy objective in life and a mark of success, Who doesn’t have a well paying job? Who doesn’t want to make lots of money? But in the Gospels, the rich don’t come off all that well. They are almost by definition morally suspect, and spiritually at risk, on account of the fact that they trust in their riches, rather than in God.
So how exactly did our rich man make all his money? Good question. Turns out, he made it in real estate. Ah, yes, there is always money to be made in real estate, from the Latin root “res”; which means “thing’ and “rex” which means “king.” Real estate is a “kingly thing,” that’s because in the ancient world the king typically owned all the land.
But if there is money to be made in real estate, and as anybody involved in banking knows, there is even more money to be made in lending money and charging interest! According to one source, 30% of Canadians do not pay off their credit card balance at the end of the month, which amounts to something like 7 billion in interest charges every year.
The charging of interest on loans is something that is roundly condemned in the Scriptures. It’s not hard to see why. In the first place it exploits the poor, and secondly, it capitalizes on the weakness of people to spend money which they don’t have. Strange how in these times of low interest rates, people are not paying off their debts, but rather, borrowing more.
So what does our rich landowner do when his tenant farmers can’t pay the rent because of a poor crop? He will make a loan, and take place a surcharge in the form of share of the crop whether wheat or olive oil. Interest? Who is charging interest? Not me!
After a while these farmers became so heavily indebted to the landowner, he will has to hire someone to manage it all, and keep track of what is owed and what has been received, which is exactly what happens in our story.
You know that if the CEO is corrupt, there is a good chance the CFO will be corrupt as well. In our story financial irregularities are discovered, and charges of financial mismanagement are brought forward, and our CFO is asked to hand over the books, and turn in the keys, and he now has a crisis on his hands. “What will I do?” he says, “now that my master is giving me the pink slip?” I am not strong enough to dig, so construction is out, and I am ashamed to beg. Imagine, being the CFO one day, and asking for a hand out outside Safeway the next.
So our distressed CFO comes up with a plan. He calls in his master’s debtors and one by one, and cuts the bill. In one case, by 50% and in another case, by 20% in the hopes that when the times comes, they will take him in and give him as place to stay and something to eat.
This is what accountants call “cooking the books.”
You would have thought that when the CEO found out about his CFO’s little plan, he would have been hopping mad. How dare you rip me off! But what do we get? The CEO comes out, pats him on the back, and says, That’s my boy!” Turns out our CFO isn’t as stupid or lazy as the CEO thought. He really is quite clever, realizing this, maybe gave him his job back. Isn’t it amazing how executives always somehow land on their feet when the bottom falls out.
Question is, “What is this story doing on the lips of Jesus?”
By means of this story that lesus brings into sharp relief how the world does business, and how his followers do business. Jesus observed, “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” When it comes clever calculations, finding loop holes, wheeling and dealing, turning things to their advantage the children of light, his disciples, just aren’t that smart, which may explain why the disciples often just aren’t that rich. So guess where the Church is growing by leaps and bounds? In the poorest countries of the world.
But what are we to make Jesus admonition to his disciples,” And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they will welcome you into the eternal homes.
Is Jesus holding up our sneaky CFO as an example of how to handle money? I don’t think so.
I take Jesus’ admonition here as ironical, as a way of encouraging disciples to test the strategy of the children of this age, and to see if this works.
Is it possible to buy lasting friendship and loyalty?
Experience shows us, true and lasting friendship and true and lasting loyalty cannot be bought. It can only be given.
So how about votes? Is it possible to buy votes? I know some politicians who think so.
The “eternal homes” which Jesus says awaits us, more accurately translated “eternal tents,” is an oxymoron. Tents, as any camper knows, are temporary and are made to collapse. So it is with relationships where relationships have become completely monetized and reduced to financial transactions.
Take our annual budget for example, $185,000. Divided by 52, that works out to around $3,500 a Sunday. How on earth are we going to balance the budget? Maybe we should start selling tickets? What we would we charge? Probably something like $50.00 a head for adults, and $15.00 for children under 12. But then, maybe we cold sell advertising, and find some corporate sponsors. Maybe at during the half time show, we should have the cheer team (would that be the Vestry?) sing and dance for us to make up for the poor performance of the preacher who fumbled the ball or threw an interception. This is starting to look more and more like a professional football game in our city. Such is the worship, and the reign and rule of mammon.
As it stands we are here this morning to worship God, and to bear witness to his reign and rule in our hearts, and hopefully, our pocketbooks.
It as at this point in our Gospel lesson where Jesus starts to drill down into the heart of the matter, “How are we to regard our wealth, and what are we to do with it?”
It shocks us to hear Jesus describe our wealth as “dishonest.” That’s not because we have necessarily directly cheated anyone, but because the financial system we inhabit is corrupt. Those of you who grew up on the King James Bible might remember the phrase “filthy lucre”! Do you have any idea where the money in your pocket has been, and what it has been used for? Are you absolutely sure that the farmer who produced your food, and the tailor who produced your clothes was paid a living wage?
Our wealth says Jesus really “belongs to another.” How can this be? I paid for it, and it’s mine. Well, as we are constantly being reminded in Saskatchewan these days, historically speaking, the land on which our homes, and business are built does belong to another. It’s stolen property.
But theologically speaking, who does the land belong to? It actually belongs to Jesus Christ, who is the King of creation.
The question before us this morning is this, “What does faithfulness to God mean in such a situation?”
In a world that worships and serves money, what does faithfulness, loyalty to Jesus Christ, look like with respect to money? I think we get a glimpse of what it looks like it looks at St. Mary’s on a Sunday morning. Did anybody ask you for tickets when you came in this morning? No.
And we have finished feeding on the Word of God written, and having confessed out faith and offered our prayers, we will begin to sing and celebrate, in preparation for which we will pass the plate around, and people will freely drop a percentage of their income into that plate, where together with some bread and some wine, symbols of the stuff of our lives, it is all going to be placed on the altar, and offered up to God in praise and thanksgiving. What’s going on here? Everything that we are, and everything that we have being returned to it’s rightful owner, “All things come of thee O Lord, and of thy own have we given thee.”
And what exactly is happening with that money? Well, in the first instance it’s paying for dinner party that we are throwing to welcome home all God’s sons and daughters who have come to their senses, and are coming back to Him. It is also a celebratory meal in which we thank God has done for us in the life, death, resurrection, and coming again of His Son Jesus Christ: the forgiveness of our sins, and the trampling down of death. In this way filthy lucre is being to bear witness to the kingdom of God in our midst.
What we do in this service of Holy Eucharist, of Holy Communion, sets the pattern for all of our living, such that wherever we are, and whatever is placed in our hands, we receive it, as from God, blessing it, breaking it and sharing it with others. And so the bread that we break and share at lunch after the service today, is going to serve the needs of a refugee family in Kenya, that we hope to bring to Regina.
Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful with dishonest wealth, who will entrust you with true riches?” What do you think are these true riches? Isn’t it our relationships in community? Relationships of faithfulness and loyalty, rooted in the faithfulness and loyalty of our heavenly Father. You can’t put a price on this. These relationships are absolutely priceless, and as for the rest, as the commercial goes, there’s “Mastercard.”