Sunday, September 18, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
“You can’t serve God and wealth.” That line from Jesus is pretty straight and to the point. Jesus is saying we have to make a choice. We have to pick one – God or money. Which one are we going to serve? It would seem at first glance that this is a real simple question and an easy one to answer. But nothing Jesus ever said was easy. And he assured us that being a disciple wasn’t easy. In fact, he said it’s costly. So before we answer the question, “Which one are we serving?” Jesus tells a parable to confuse things just a little.
He tells a very strange parable about a rich man who was told his manager was not taking care of his property well. Before he fired him, he wanted an account of the books. This sent the manager into a state of panic as to what he would do without a job and therefore a place to live and how he was going to take care of himself. So the manager decided to quickly get the money that was owed to the rich man by reducing the amount that people owed. He had two reasons for doing this. First, he may have been overcharging them a lot of interest anyway, so the amount he was collecting was probably actually what they originally owed. Second, by doing this he gets the money to his boss, and the people who paid less were happy and would take care of him when he was unemployed. This indeed is clever and shrewd and Jesus actually commends this behavior in a sideways sort of way. I imagine he may have said this with a sort of smile on his face saying, “Yes, that was really clever. Good for him.” And that is indeed the case when talking about business matters. In business, money and self-interest seem to be the bottom line.
Yet, Jesus also talks about the children of light – the beloved children of God – who are called to live a different way. As the church, we are called to have a different bottom line. Love of God and of other people is always the bottom line. This was the new commandment Jesus was always talking about and it takes precedence over everything else. As the church – a community of believers – we are called to serve God and spread the God’s kingdom through everything we say and do. The mission God has for our congregation is always the bottom line. And that is what makes the choice Jesus sets before us so difficult.
So often churches want the bottom line to be about money – not money that is pooled together to carry out the mission God has for us to do, but how much money we can store up for ourselves or our congregations. Churches were never meant to be banks. They were never meant to be so shrewd in their business dealings that the ministry of God’s church came second. We as members of Christ’s church are stewards of God’s money, and time, and possessions, just like the manager in the parable in today’s lesson. And God wants to know if we are squandering his possessions. That’s the new way of thinking that Jesus is trying to get us to understand. Nothing we have is ours. Everything belongs to God. We are merely stewards of all these things – ourselves, our time, our possession, our money – everything. And it is all to be used to the glory of God. It is all to be used to praise God. But it’s easy to forget that, because all things can tempt us into believing that it all belongs to us. And when that happens serving God no longer becomes a priority for us individually or collectively as a congregation.
It’s the 18th Sunday after Pentecost – after the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, after Jesus ascended into heaven, after Jesus rose from the dead. Yet, as I mentioned last week, there are certain moments in history that we can never forget – that are forever engrained in our hearts and minds – and the resurrection of Jesus needs to be the most significant one of all. Because that is the defining moment for us as Christians. That moment determines how we answer the question of whether we will serve God or wealth. Helen Montgomery Debevoise, a Presbyterian pastor in Tampa, Florida sums this up beautifully. She says, “Not long ago, we shouted ‘He is alive!’ but already we are whispering our faith because we do not quite believe it anymore. Somewhere in the middle of our journey we stopped living for Christ. We stopped believing that Jesus died and was resurrected and that life was made new. Somewhere along the way it became easy to serve all those pressing demands: of people, of schedule, of money. Somewhere along the way, the vision for God’s call became cloudy and muddled. We stopped hearing God’s voice and joined the crazy survivor-takes all mentality. Somewhere along the way, the challenges seemed so much bigger than the answers. So we huddled in an effort to save whatever was left and forgot about living for something greater. We buried our treasures.” She’s right and in the process we have made the decision – unknowingly or not – to serve wealth instead of God.
There is hope however in this confusion that we live in. The Holy Spirit calls us back to God. The Holy Spirit has called us here today to hear God’s word, to be reminded of our true priorities, to be reminded of our baptism where our relationship with God through Christ is our number one priority, to be fed by the body and blood of Christ and therefore to become more like him through this meal of forgiveness and grace. And that is even more good news, that we are called by the Spirit to see how we have failed to serve God, to repent, and to turn back to God. The Holy Spirit guides us to live a life that is faithful in the small things and the larger things of the kingdom of God. Because all the little things we do each and every day – of choosing God’s kingdom over the world’s kingdom – investing in people over wealth, all the sacrifices we make investing in relationships over possessions–– bring us closer to one another and to God.
Jesus said we cannot serve God and wealth. We must choose one to serve. We serve God by serving one another – being kind to one another, loving, compassionate – not by building up our treasures here on earth, but in seeking first the kingdom of God and having the faith and trust to know that God will provide for all our needs. Amen.