Here's a version of my sermon for tomorrow based on Luke 16:1-13...
Money – most of us think it’s the key to everything. Success, happiness, a stress free life, but if we’re not careful it can also open the door to ruin, deception, corruption and greed. Jesus has much to say to us about our attitude towards wealth and stewardship – 19 of His 38 recorded parables are on the misuse of money and possessions, its an issue of fundamental importance to the Kingdom. Its not that Jesus is against us owning things - its just that He is against things owning us.
This morning’s Gospel contains probably one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables to understand. At first sight it looks as if Jesus is condoning corrupt practices, but when we look a bit closer we realize He’s not, and what is actually being applauded is the steward’s change in attitude.
This parable takes full account of the commercial practices of the day – when many of the estates and businesses were owned by absentee landlords and looked after by stewards whose job it was to provide a reasonable return for the owner. In this case it was a business where merchants received goods on credit, and since Jewish Law prevents the claiming of interest from fellow Jews, the profit from such a transaction were in commodities like wheat and oil.
Although the steward was entrusted with the estate - given latitude to do with the owners resources as he wished and to profit from the way he invested his master’s wealth – he owned nothing of what he managed. But one of the surprising things about this story is that the hero seems to be a crook – a crook who has been found out.
The owner had received complaints that his steward was squandering away his property – so he called him to account and when he was found wanting, promptly told him that he was heading for the high jump.
Here the Hebrew word used for “squandering’ is the same as that used in the story of the Prodigal Son – to describe self indulgence - when the younger son wasted away his inheritance. Jesus’ parable shows us what happens if we fail to use our resources in the right way before God.
Like the steward, we have free access to use and profit from the gifts and resources God provides for this world, but own nothing of what we manage and like the steward we too fall far short of what is required.
The unjust steward was too proud to beg and didn’t relish the thought of doing manual work, so he decided on another course of action, to make friends with the people who were in debt to his master. He used this last opportunity as the legal manager of the owner’s business to meet with some of his masters customers, to give them very significant discounts, so that they will show him favour when he is in need. Here Jesus tells us that we have to be alert to the workings of this world and the opportunities we are given, “...For in dealing with their own kind the children of this world are more astute than the children of light...”
The story also illustrates the wisdom of spending money with an eternity in view using our wealth to help those around us. “...Use worldly wealth to win friends for yourself so that when money is a thing of the past you may be received into an eternal home...”
The biggest thing about handling God’s resources is the attitude of our hearts. It determines how wisely we use what we have been given. When we borrow something from someone, such as a car, we tend to use it more carefully, work harder to look after it, we know it doesn’t belong to us and that we will be accountable for how we use it. Jesus tells us we need to apply that same attitude to all of God’s treasures that we handle.
The steward saw the urgency of the situation and changed his behaviour. Instead of investing in his present situation he started to invest in his future. Jesus also tells us that stewardship is not just about the big picture. If we are faithful with a little God knows we will be faithful with a lot. If we can be trusted with looking after one lost sheep, maybe eventually we will be trusted with caring for a whole flock. Here we have a man who found himself, came to his senses, and changed his direction and life. He didn’t put his head in the sand, but decided to act for his future well-being, he realized he was a slave to the wrong master, “...No servant can serve two masters – you cannot serve God and Money...”
Jesus reminds us that our commitment to God must be greater than any other commitment in our lives. Jesus is looking for single minded people - people totally dedicated to God - whose main purpose in life is to serve Him.
As Christians, our first priority should be using the resources that God gives us, to and through his church in the first instance, but are we? Our expenditure per week is £1,344 with 63% of those costs being my stipend, pension, housing & contributions to my ongoing training and the training of new clergy and us paying our part of the cost of running the diocese. And yet our forecast income is £1163 per week, a shortfall of £181. We are not living extravagantly. The issue is not a need to make efficiency savings. The issue is that the money we spend comes from nowhere else. These resources are God’s and we should ask Him for them, but we should also act wisely with the resources He shares with us.
Where does our confidence for living come from - our bank balance or from God? Has money got greater control over us than we are prepared to admit?
A well known speaker stood up in front of a group of people and held a £50 note in the air, “who would like to have this £50 note?” he said. Hands started to go up, “I will give this to one of you,” he said, “but before I do, I am going to crumple it up”, which he did. “Who wants it now?” Again, hands went up. Then he dropped it on the floor, stamped on it, and made it dirty, “Now who still wants it”, he said, still hands went up. “Today”, he said, “we have learnt a very valuable lesson. No matter what I do to this money, we still want it, because it has not lost any of its value - its still worth £50.”
Many times in our lives we will be dropped, crumpled, ground into the dirt, by the decisions we make, and the situations that come our way. But no matter what happens to us, we will never lose our value in God’s eyes. To Him we are still priceless.
Do we value God as much as He values us? Does God take first place in our hearts? Do we serve God or money? We are all guilty of squandering the wealth we’ve been entrusted with. The question is what are we going to do about it? Are we going to wait till the last minute, like the unjust steward, or change now?
Jesus calls us to use our gifts and resources wisely – and in a way that will honour God and ourselves. To invest in the ways that will lead us to Him and eternal life. Its God who puts the money and resources in our hands – so lets make sure we use them for His glory.