Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/18/2022
Scriptures: Jer 8:18-9:1; Ps 79:1-9; 1 Tim 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
Remember “Cliff Notes”? Back in the day before computers and the internet, if you were assigned a novel you dreaded to read—like Silas Marner or Moby Dick, you could get one of these little black and yellow booklets and learn what you needed to from them. No telling how many people have successfully made it through high school or college English classes by consulting Cliff Notes. They would reveal to you the themes and subthemes, what the major characters represented (if they were symbolic), the setting, the tone and the genre of the book, etc.–enough so that you could pass a test on the required reading without really reading it. I guess the internet has put Cliff Notes out of business.
Nevertheless, today—since I want to focus on the Gospel lesson–I am going to begin by giving you the Cliff Notes version of our other three readings. They are too valuable to skip over.
A. In Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, the prophet is actually weeping over what the Lord has told him will be the capture and deportation of Judah. The prophet knows his apostate countrymen and women will wonder why Jerusalem is sacked and the Temple destroyed. They believed God would never allow this to happen, no matter their behavior. They missed that our God does not revere buildings. He loves the people who worship Him inside the buildings. So, because they no longer believe in God, they will not understand they are being punished for their idolatry and faithlessness.
Both due to their spiritual adultery—despite all his warnings to the contrary–and due to his identification with their distress, Jeremiah grieves over them.
B. Asaph, the author of Psalm 79, is aware that God has used the Babylonians to punish His wayward Judean Chosen People. He begs God to forgive and restore the nation. He also asks God to bring judgment against Babylon, a pagan nation (v.6) …pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you. How ironic that God often uses non-believing nations to discipline His chosen (Pagan Assyrians carted off the Northern Kingdom in 722BC, for example.) Finally, in verse 9, he begs God to …help us Oh God our Savior, for the glory of Your name.
C. Paul advises Timothy (and us) to pray for national leaders, whether we like them or not. YIKES! We have been praying weekly that corrupt and dishonest leaders be replaced by ethical, God-loving ones; but I confess I have been remiss in praying for the folks in that first category. OOPS! Paul says we are to do so in order that the Gospel continues to spread into the world; and because God does not wish for anyone to perish. Remember John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in His shall not perish but have eternal life. God loves everyone, unconditionally. But the gift of eternal life is conditioned on believing in Jesus.
Much more could be made about all three of these passages, but I have given you the gist, the Cliff Notes version.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the Gospel lesson assigned for today, Luke 16:1-13, the Parable of the Crooked Steward. It directly follows the parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember how the younger son asked for his inheritance early and squandered it all? Well, this crooked steward—we would probably call him a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) today—has mismanaged his boss’ accounts, and misappropriated his boss’ profits.
We’ve heard of this happening all too often, haven’t we (the Enron scandal and the housing debacle of 2008, etc.)?
The story is told of a man who was interviewing candidates for an accounting job… When the first man came in, the interviewer asked, “OK, what’s two plus two?” The candidate replied, “Four,” and the interview was over. Same thing happened with the next man. But the third candidate, when asked the same question, stood up and locked the door. He closed the blinds, then leaned over the desk and asked, “How much do you want it to be?”
(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Timothy Archer, “Bad Books, Good Lessons,” Feb. 15, 2004).
I worked on my doctorate at Florida State University from 1986-1989. In my final year, I saw student clients at the university’s counseling students. Among them were several accounting majors from the College of Business—one of the most difficult majors at FSU at that time. Now this was in the days prior to internet searches, and students were often required to search out and read important research articles in professional journals. I asked one of the librarians then how many journals the library subscribed to and was told 40,000. These monthly or quarterly scholarly works were bound into volumes by year and you had to physically go to the stacks and search them out. Because accounting was such a competitive major, some students–to thwart their student rivals–would use razor blades to remove the relevant articles from the library’s reserved sources. I remember thinking at the time that (a) I would not want one of the guilty parties to be my accountant; and (b) why we would wonder that some professionals have no integrity.
But back to our parable: The boss gets wind of the fact that the CFO has “cooked the books” and cans him. Interestingly, he isn’t immediately escorted out of his office, with his parking pass confiscated and his computer codes changed. Instead, the boss tells him to prepare for a financial audit. The crook knows his fraudulent practices will soon be uncovered.
So, what’s the Crooked CFO to do? He shrewdly decides he needs to convince those who owe the boss money that he is on their side. They may not even be aware he is crook. Nevertheless, he offers to discount what they owe the company. Perhaps he had inflated what they owed to begin with (pocketing the difference), but he now reduces one guy’s bill by 50%, and another’s by 20%. Every bit helps, right? Wouldn’t we all love to have someone cut our grocery bill by 50% or our gas bill by 20%? He seems to think these fellows will remember him kindly once the boss has sacked him. They might hire him—not as an accountant it is to be hoped–so that he doesn’t have to dig ditches or wave traffic around road construction sites.
Now Jesus surprisingly commends the dude! Don’t you want to say to Jesus, “But Lord, he’s a crook!” However, Jesus isn’t commending him for being dishonest. This is a parable of contrast, like the how much more stories Jesus tells:
1.) If the unjust judge will give a powerless widow woman justice, how much more will the Lord do?
2.) If a son asks for an egg, will his earthly father give him a scorpion? How much more then will his heavenly father provide?
3.) If the grouchy neighbor will give his friend bread at midnight, how much more generously will our heavenly father respond?
4.) If the earthly father celebrates his prodigal son’s return, how much will our heavenly father celebrate our return to Him?
Jesus commends the guy—not for being a shyster but for investing in relationships (with those who owe the boss) instead of monetary greed. We don’t know if he truly underwent a lasting attitude adjustment. But consider what William Barclay has to say about him in his commentary:
“If only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in his attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his attempt to attain money and comfort, he would be a much better man.”
(William Barclay. The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Bible Study Series, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, p. 208.)
Our God wants us to passionately pursue doing the right thing toward others. Jesus also commends the guy for trusting in the merciful nature of his boss. Remember, the Prodigal Son’s trust in his father’s grace and mercy compelled him to return home. Jesus is following up that parable by demonstrating that we can trust in our God’s compassion for us.
Martin Luther once wrote, That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself, I say, is really your God. Others have suggested we need only review our bank account expenditures to see what we value most. We need to be mindful of loving God above all things, even money! Like this shyster steward–once he knew he was in trouble–we need to invest more in relationships with others than in lining our own pockets, cooking someone’s books, or taking care of ourselves first, and maybe only.
Jesus goes on to say that we cannot serve God and money! He never said no one could become wealthy. You can clearly be a Christian and make money. I once sat on a plane next to a guy from a well-known, Christian financial ministry. He told me that making money is a gift from God. It is a gift that most people lack. He has had rich men approach him, desiring to leave off making money to become a member of his ministry. He said he tells them to keep on making money, since it is such a rare gift, but plough the excess into ministries for others. Do you remember Rick Warren’s books, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church (2002)? Pastor Warren made millions on these two books. He asked God what to do with the proceeds. He did not trade in his old car for a Mercedes or a Lexus; he did not buy a new, bigger house; instead, he told his church to no longer pay him a salary, kept a small portion for his family’s needs, and put the rest into 5 ministries: One for breast cancer research (his wife had breast cancer); one for aids research; and 3 others dedicated to raising up Christian leaders in Africa. So you see, you can make money but you cannot let a love for money take the place of God in your life.
Additionally Jesus implied that if we are faithful stewards of what He gives us, He will give us more. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? If we don’t think God is very generous towards us, we may want to consider how generous we are toward Him and towards others. If we want God to be generous toward us, we must be generous toward others as well. Amen!
©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams