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.”
Well, friends, the gospel of Luke isn’t doing us any favors yet again. Some of you may remember a couple of weeks ago when I had absolutely know idea what to say about the gospel and, I have to be honest, we are kind of in the same boat again today.
Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he tells them a parable. A story of corporate corruption: There once was a very rich man, who owned a business. And the manager of that business was not managing it very well. In fact, he was reckless and foolish with the rich man’s business and money. And so the owner fires him. “Hand in the books, clean out your desk. You’re done!” he says.
And so now this manager is in all out panic mode. He’s just lost his job. He’s doesn’t have many other skills. He’s not strong enough to work manual labor up at Viracon. And he’s too prideful to beg for money in central park. So what’s he going to do? He thinks and he thinks and he thinks, and then, aha!, a light comes on. He realizes that there is something he can still do. Something that will get others to welcome him into their homes and care for him, now that he has lost his job. His idea is this: he calls up all of the clients from his boss’s business and starts reducing whatever it is that they owe. An immediate discount. One guy owed 100 gallons of olive oil and the manager said, “You know what, make it 50 gallons.” And then another guy owed 100 containers of wheat and the manager said, “Let’s take 20% off and make it 80.” And so that’s what he did. He went around to all of the clients, reducing their debt, thinking that they would be so appreciative of what he has done for them, that when they hear he has been fired….well, they’ll help the guy out by taking him into their homes. He scratched their back and now they will scratch his.
And this is where the parable starts to twist and turn. Because, you would expect that the rich man, the owner of the business, would be furious with this guy. I mean, he has just screwed up the business even more, offering all of these discounts that he was not given permission to give. He’s been even more dishonest and malicious than he was before he got fired. But that’s not what happens. The owner does not get angry with him. Instead, the owner comes to him and commends him. He celebrates that this man was smart enough and scheming enough to find a way to not be left out in the cold when everything is said and done.
You would think that Jesus would condemn the dishonest manager. You would think he would condemn his selfish desires for wealth and his dishonest means of getting it. But Jesus doesn’t do that. In fact, it seems like Jesus praises this man for what he has done. It almost seems like Jesus honors dishonesty. And then even worse, he asks it of his disciples! Jesus says to the disciples, “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” What does that mean? “It sounds as though Jesus wants his followers to use dishonest wealth—say laundered drug money or casino gambling proceeds or the profits gleaned by cheating migrant workers out of a living wage—for godly causes.” Is that what he is saying? No. You see it is not about good money versus bad money. It is not the money that is corrupt; it’s our culture that can be corrupt. Jesus is not talking about dishonest money versus good money. He is talking about all money, every last penny of the currency of our culture. Jesus wants us to take all of the money we have and “make friends for ourselves with it.” He wants us to use money to build up relationships. Not tear them down. Let’s be honest, money can divide families and friends and communities. And in the end, it can destroy relationships. I’ve seen it happen too many times.
Whatever we think about this dishonest manager, we can acknowledge the fact that in the beginning he used money to horde it for himself, but then later he used money to create relationships. To make friends, which means we can presume that maybe he didn’t have any. Whatever we may think of the manager, maybe we can recognize that there are better and worse ways to use money, and using money to establish relationships is better than hording it.
Is money something that divides us or does it bring us together? Does it make us one or does it tear us apart? I think because money has that kind of power, the role money plays in our life has a spiritual dimension to it. What we do with our money says something about what we believe about God. How often do you think about the way you use money as a spiritual act? I mean it says it right there on our money, “In God We Trust.” And so on some level we have to know that the role money plays in our lives says something about our spiritual life.
Did you know that Jesus talks more about money than almost anything else in the gospels? I’m not sure what this parable means, or what it is trying to say, but I do think it says this: the way money functions in our lives has an effect on our faith life.
And the irony is that as followers of Jesus, we are so often not comfortable talking about money. In fact, just last night I got a text from the groom of the wedding I did this weekend. He asked if we had discussed what they owed me. And when I started to reply to him, I wrote, “No, we haven’t talked about money yet” but then I stopped and I changed the word “money” to the word “payment” because money just sounded so…rude? Greedy? But the word “payment” sounded a little more official. A little more proper.
We are so uncomfortable talking about money. Just this past week at our council meeting, it was brought up whether we should do a pledge drive here at Aurora. You know, where people make a financial commitment to the church for the next year, saying, “I will give x-amount of money to the church.” And almost unanimously, no one wanted to do it. Because so often when the church talks about money, all people hear is the church asking for money. And there is this sense that when the church is asking for money, we’re less likely to want to give, right?
I mean, is it just me, but whenever I am at a worship service and offering plates are passed around, I always start to get a little nervous. I’m either panicked because I didn’t bring any cash with me or I’m embarrassed because I wrote my monthly check last week and now I’m just wondering what others will think of me when I don’t put anything in the plate! Every Sunday, we take an offering. And while I can’t be certain about this, some times I wonder if this plate feels more like paying dues than it does offering a gift to God. And what I can’t figure out is when did that happen? When did taking an offering during a worship service become more like paying rent and less like making a sacred offering to God, giving back what has been gifted to us so that it might be used to enrich the lives of others? These plates up here are not about paying dues. Rather, they are about giving back to God. They are about offering a gift to God for God to use for the sake of a better world. For the sake of uniting us, rather than dividing us.
Preacher Tom Long tells the story about one Sunday day when he was worshipping at his church. Because his church is located in the heart of a downtown area, there were many homeless people who lived on the streets around the church. Some of these neighbors have chosen to worship at his church and they became part of the congregation. On this particular Sunday, Tom saw one of the street people, a man dressed in an old and worn suit, seated just a few spaces away on the same pew. This particular church had note pads in the pews, where people would sign their name and list where they were from. They were called “Friendship pads.” When the “Friendship Pad” was passed, the man signed his name, and in the space for the address, he wrote “homeless.”
During the announcements, one of our pastors noted that the congregation would be taking up a special offering that morning. She told them that this offering would go to victims of the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and of the tsunami in Asia. She urged them to give generously and to place their offerings in the “special envelope” they could find tucked into the worship bulletin.
Tom found the envelope in the bulletin—there were blank spaces on the front for one’s name and for the amount enclosed. He reached for my wallet, taking out some money to put in the envelope. As he did this, he winced. It suddenly dawned on him what he was doing and the effect it could have on the homeless friends who were among them. Most of them had no wallets or purses, no available cash to stuff into the envelopes.
This offering, he realized, was only for those who had something to give, and this seemingly generous act actually drew a sharp dividing line between the haves and the have-nots. To Tom’s surprise, though, he saw the homeless man find the offering envelope in his bulletin. Using the pencil in Friendship Pad, he wrote something in the blank spaces on the front. When the offering plate passed by, the man’s envelope was on top, and there he had written two things: his name and a short message to victims of the hurricane and tsunami. It read, “I love you so very much.”
These offering plates are not where you pay your dues to the church. Rather it is where we offer what we can as a gift to God for God to use for the sake of a better world. For the sake of uniting us, rather than dividing us.
Friends, I don’t know what this parable means. Few people do. But what I do know is that it reminds us that the way money operates in our life says something about our faith in God. And money has this unbelievable power to bring people together in relationship or tear them apart. And God’s hope for the world is for us to be one. So how will we use our money?
A couple of years back there was a seminary student who was the son of an inner city pastor. While on Christmas vacation at home, he spent an afternoon talking to his father about ministry. He talked about what he was learning in seminary, and his father talked about the difficulties of ministry in the inner city. As the conversation continued late into the day, father and son decided to get some fresh air by taking a walk around the neighborhood. As they walked, they continued to talk together, and near the end of their walk, the father said, “It’s almost dinner time. Let’s call the pizza shop and order a pizza to be delivered to the house. By the time we get home, it will be there.” So they walked over toward the nearest pay phone, only to encounter a homeless man blocking their way.
“Spare change?” the man asked. The father reached deeply into his pockets and held out two heaping handfuls of coins. “Here, take what you need,” he said to the homeless man.
“Well, then, I’ll take it all,” said the surprised man, sweeping the coins into his own hands and turning to walk away.
But before he had gotten far, though, the man’s father realized that he no longer had any change to make the phone call. “Excuse me,” he called after the homeless man. “I was going to make a phone call at a pay phone, but I have given you all my change. Could I have a quarter?” The homeless man turned around and walked back toward father and son, extending his hands. “Here,” he said. “Take what you need.”
We can use our money to divide us. Or we can use our money to, as the parable says, make friends. The choice is ours. Amen.
 Tom Long, Sermon “Making Friends”, 2006.