Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 22, 2019

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Luke 16:1-13

Luke chapter 16 begins with Jesus telling his disciples a parable about a dishonest manager—someone who is squandering property that is not his to squander. The pericope ends with the now famous words, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Then the Pharisees get a dressing down because in their hearts they are lovers of money. Finally, the chapter closes with the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In other words, throughout this entire chapter, Jesus talks about money.

No doubt, of all Jesus’ teachings, the parable of the dishonest manager is the most confusing. It appears the main character in the parable is a shyster—a lazy, conniving, self-centered manager who’s out to get all he can—no matter the cost. We wait and watch—eager to applaud when the fellow gets what he deserves. Understandably, we’re shocked when his perverse plan works. Moreover, his master commends him for his dishonest shrewdness.[i]  This is a parable that has stumped even the best and the brightest of scholars. So, if you’ve come expecting me to iron out this convoluted tale, I daresay you’ll be disappointed. Instead, let’s focus on one portion of the text.

Hear these words again:

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. 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.’”

As I pondered these sentences, what struck me most was the word “squandering,” found in the first verse. The man was squandering his master’s property. The word comes from the Greek word diaskorpizō, which means to scatter abroad, to disperse. The NIV translates diaskorpizō: to waste. As I sat with this story a little longer, I began to wonder what it would be like to be on the receiving end of such an encounter with Jesus. I invite you to wonder with me. I invite you to put yourself in the story.

Imagine Jesus walks into our midst and he says to each one of us, “It’s time for a reckoning. Come forward my brother, come near my sister. Tell me how have you’ve spent the gifts my Father has given you? Have you squandered your time? Have you wasted your gifts and talents?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m not eager to have this conversation with Jesus. I am certain that in such an encounter, I would be found wanting. “So Glenda, I’ve given you property to manage—my property—a healthy body, a healthy mind, 24 hours in every day of your 58 years, spiritual gifts and talents to help you become my faithful disciple, and I’ve given you money and other resources to care for yourself, your family, and others. How are you managing my property?”

I hear myself stuttering: “Well, Jesus, you see, there just never seems to be enough…enough time…enough talent…enough resources…enough me.”

Time is a precious gift but oh how eager we are to waste it—and we waste it in endless ways. [ii]  We waste time watching television, surfing the internet, texting or talking on the phone in long conversations about nothing at all. We waste time with social media. While all these ways of interacting or being entertained are good in themselves, when we stop using them as tools to enrich our lives and start using them as ways to keep from doing what most needs doing, then we are wasting time.

Another way we tend to waste time is by dwelling on what other people are thinking about us or doing to us. We dissect some recent conversation and we worry about what the other person is saying about us. We fear being misunderstood. All this anxiety uses up a lot of energy and a lot of time. Also, we waste time by harboring past pains and grudges. When we resist forgiving and letting go, we are saddled with negative thoughts and we rob ourselves of productive time that could be used otherwise. We are given but a handful of days on this old earth. How sad it is if we waste even a moment—especially since we have important matters on which to focus—in our families, our church, our community.

Still, we never seem to have enough time. These days it’s interesting to think about what it means to “have enough” or “be enough.” In her book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist writes about how, as a society, we have bought into the lie of scarcity—a lie that robs us of peace and purpose.

For me, and for many of us, our first waking though of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is, “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake to that reverie of lack…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies [and] our greed…

Never enough time, we may think—and never enough to offer the people around us. But the Bible says that baptized believers are given spiritual gifts for service. From Ephesians 4 we read:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Each believer is equipped to make a difference in this world—through spiritual gifts and God-given talents. How are we doing? Are we spending our time and talents wisely? Are we squandering our financial resources?

A few years ago, I attended a Credo Presbyterian Retreat in Indiana. One of the retreat leaders, a pastor/CPA, led the financial component of Credo. A humble, precious man of God, he also had a twisted sense of humor—which, of course, made me like him even more. One day he said, “I’m convinced that most people would rather walk down Main Street stark naked than talk honestly about their finances. We’ll gladly talk about sex, politics, anything but money!” While that may be true, consider this: Jesus had very little to say about sex and politics—but he had a LOT to say about money. As I mentioned earlier, this entire chapter of Luke is about money. “But it’s my money,” we say, “I will do what I want with it.”

John Calvin had this to say on the topic: “We are the stewards of everything God has conferred on us by which we are able to help our neighbor…” This includes our money. When we think about our role in giving to the church, the emphasis tends to be on the money. But the real uniqueness of Christian giving is, perhaps, best captured by Dietrick Bonhoeffer who wrote, “Giving is not God’s way of raising money. It is God’s way of raising children.”

Let us consider once more Jesus’ words to his disciples; this time from Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things;
If you’re a crook in small things, you’ll be a crook in big things.
If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?
No worker can serve two bosses: He’ll either hate the first and love the second
Or adore the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and the Bank.[iii]

Everything we have—everything we are—it’s all God’s. So, the question isn’t how are we managing our property; it’s how are we managing God’s property? Are we living with love and generosity as our guides or are we squandering that which is not ours to squander? Someday there will be a reckoning. Someday the manager will come calling. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Feasting on the Word, 92.

[ii] See more at http://julettemillien.com/3-top-ways-we-waste-time-what-to-do-about-it/

[iii] Luke 16:10-13, The Message.

*Cover Art “Merchant Taking Accounts” from Art in the Christian Tradition; Used by permission