"There was a rich man who had a manager" - Sermon for Proper 20, Luke 16: 1-13
Sermon by the Rev. Jonathan McManus-Dail, Curate.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, Oh lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“You cannot serve both God and wealth”
You know, Gee thanks Miles. Let’s give the curate the passage on moneybefore stewardship season even starts. But, here goes…
In all seriousness this is really important stuff. How do we, as followers of Jesus, handle and think about money? Money, or in the King James version, Mammon, is a kind of personified creature made of wealth that has a kind of spiritual force to it. Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also, I think this is pretty literal. Where we invest our money, our heart tends to follow. Money has incredible power to sow seeds of the kingdom of God in our broken, hurting world. And, it has the power to enslave us, to completely capture and consume our pursuits and ambitions here on this earth. Greed can kill, it can kill our own spirits and it can seriously harm those around us.
So, it’s up to me, this month to preach our “love in action sermon,” a time when we intentionally set before us those matters of justice and mutual flourishing that keep us up at night. It’s a way of linking the ancient, but still relevant words of our scriptures and liturgies to contemporary issues of how we can “love our neighbors near and far and work for peace and justice in our world while unapologetically proclaiming Jesus as Lord” (that’s verbiage, by the way from the St. Julian’s mission and vision statements.) And we pair that linking with some specific actions that help us move toward those goals. That means that these topics can be uncomfortable, and there are few things more uncomfortable to talk about than money, but our scriptures this morning don’t really give us much of a choice. But as we wade into this “love and action” Sunday, know that I am here with you, as a fellow pilgrim wrestling with the yes, demanding, but ultimately liberating Gospel of Jesus.
In Luke’s Gospel this morning, Jesus tells a parable, this confusing story about a rich man who had a household manager or steward. In Greek, this manager is called οἰκονόμος (oikonomos), a word derived from Oikos, (house), and “Oikonomia,” an economy, a way of running one’s house. This manager, this oikonomos, had been squandering the rich man’s wealth. So, the rich man decides to fire him, but before he is fired, this manager brings in his master’s debtors and drastically reduces the debts they owed to the rich man. Jesus doesn’t seem to be saying that the steward is doing this out of the kindness of his heart, but rather, so that when he is eventually fired, those who were in debt to his master will be his friends and welcome him into their homes. He is trying to secure his future. He does it to set up a kind of reciprocity with them by slashing their debts. Apparently this works, the rich man, instead of firing the manager, applauds the manager for being “shrewd,” which can also be translated as wise or prudent.
And, then Jesus says we should be shrewd, too, and make “friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Is anyone else confused? Because I have stayed confused most of this week trying to wrap my head and heart around this parable.
Here’s my take: We are all caught up in an economic web, right? Everyday we need money to live; we buy our food with it; we shelter ourselves by means of it. This church needs money to continue and grow in the mission that God has set before us. And yet, our money is not always or entirely clean. I know I buy things every day that participate in unjust systems. My clothes were likely made in places where workers rights and wellbeing are not honored; the car that I bought and fill with gas each week continues to release carbon into a warming atmosphere. You get the idea.
In our global, mega-corporate capitalist economy, we don’t see all the tendrils of how our money sometimes works to degrade communities and the environment. This is a potentially despairing situation. It’s one of the reasons I really like the new confession that we say each week, it says “we repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf” (Enriching Our Worship, 56).
We need God’s grace and forgiveness, and we need God’s strength in our wills to do what we can to promote an economy, a household, if you will, that looks more like the kingdom of God. An economy where my flourishing and well-being is not at the expense of anyone else’s. And this is all while we acknowledge that economic perfection, in this life, is not attainable.
So we don’t let that cripple us into inaction and despair. We make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that we may be welcomed into eternal homes.
My question for us, then, is: with whom are we making friends by the way we steward the wealth that falls under our management? When we read this passage alongside the rest of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has a pretty clear idea of who he wants us to make friends with. Jesus wants us to establish relationships, mutual friendships, with those who are poor and on the margins of society, not in hopes that we will be paid back in material wealth, but in order that we may both receive the blessing of being in a more fulsome community that looks like the economic and racial and gender diversity that is a foretaste of God’s household, God’s economy. And that’s an economy in which, as Mary’s song, the Magnificat, tells us, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly, He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
So those of us who are privileged with economic and political and social capital, we need to be in the business of investing that money in building community with those not like us, who don’t have the same access to power and privilege.
Wealth will eventually disappear, we certainly can’t take it with us, but we can invest in friendship, not pity-fueled charity, with those who are poor or are on the margins of society. That’s an investment with an eternal return. When people of wealth and privilege align ourselves with those who have little to no wealth or privilege, this is the economy of God in action.
As part of our “Love in Action” sermon, I have two examples for us to consider as models of the kind of stewardship that makes friends with others. The first is farther afield and the next is very close to home.
My first example is what it looks like to repent and admit when we get it wrong with our money…Virginia Theological Seminary, where Miles and many other clergy have been trained, has recently announced that they will pay reparations to the families effected by their own historical participation in slavery from which the institution benefitted financially. And this is in the hopes that the future of the Episcopal may be one marked by justice and repentance and a future that looks less white and wealthy. The Dean, The Rev. Ian Markham has specifically said that he hopes this practice of stewardship and repentance will forge reconciling friendships with those families and descendents who have been hurt by the institution’s participation in slavery. Now, this is an amazing example of what it means to really repent, to put your money where your mouth is.
You can find out more by clicking the link below:
The second example is the work of our own amazing outreach committee. Each year we make a commitment to tithe 10% of our operating budget into outreach, into efforts to “practice charity and justice with neighbors near and far.” The Outreach Committee organizes such efforts as Manna Bags for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, our annual pilgrimage to Navajoland where we invest our time and resources into ongoing friendship with our Navajo neighbors, and so much more. Take a few minutes and check out the outreach page of our website below and check it periodically for updates about what we’re up to.
This week I invite you to consider one way that God might be calling you to a new or deeper investment of your economy (your money, your time, your talents) into the economy of God. Amen.