In the famous words of the O’Jays:
“Money money money money, MONEY!
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it
Listen to me why y’all, do things, do things, do bad things with it
You want to do things, do things, do things, good things with it…”
It’s a great connection to the Gospel. I got it from a podcast. Because I needed a little help this week. Because I got a little lost between this confusing parable about the dishonest manager and the dilemma that every pastor has during stewardship season: balancing the Gospel and the belovedness of every person with the pressing knowledge that running a church ain’t free.
And here Jesus is, coming in with a whole chapter on, you guessed it: “Money money money money, MONEY!”
I’ll be honest: I’m usually not one for church podcasts. I’d rather listen to something about the news or music or language or something besides what I have to think about all day for work. Recently, though, I’ve discovered a church-related podcast that I actually enjoy. It’s the Lectionary Lab, put on by “Two Bubbas and a Bible,” a lectionary podcast by Delmer Chilton, a colleague down in the Southeastern Synod, and John Fairless, another Bubba/pastor. I love listening to them drawl on about the Hebrew and Greek and biblical scholarship and theology, sprinkled with the plenteous use of “y’all.”It’s like a giant bowl of chicken and dumplin’s for this relocated Southerner.
(And yes, Delmer’s real name is, in fact, Delmer.)
This week in the Gospel lesson, we’ve got the parable of the dishonest manager, a story about how a guy who was going to be fired for his incompetence found out about his firing and responded by straight up cheating his master. But he didn’t get thrown into the outer darkness, oh no. He got commended for it. Then, after the parable, Jesus says weird stuff like “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” (Luke 16:9).
And to top it all off, it’s stewardship season.
This week when talking about the texts, Delmer and John, the aforementioned Two Bubbas with the Bible, said something like this: we tend to think of Jesus’ parables as neat little stories that tell us neat, simple little lessons about how to relate to God and how to serve God.
But if we’re looking for that, we have come to the wrong parable.
The Bubbas concluded that that there’s no completely satisfying explanation for this parable, and I agree. If we get to the end of my sermon and you still feel like there’s a loose end or two in this story, it’s because there is. Somehow, down through the centuries, we’ve missed something. So — if you were hoping I’d tie this story up into a neat little moral bow for you, then adjust your expectations now. I’ll wait.
Sometimes I find it helpful to tell you about all the bad sermons I decided not to preach before landing on this one. Here are the titles, in no particular order:
“How to Minimize Your Debt: Find a Debt Collector Who’s Getting Fired”
or , for stewardship season: “Cheat your Boss; Give More to the Church”
“I Don’t Know What to Preach Here, but Like the Text Says, ‘I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg,’ So Here I Am”
Here’s what I think the actual point of the text is, with some help from the two Bubbas and a Bible: use your money, don’t let your money use you.
“Money money money money, MONEY!
Let’s go back to the parable.
I’m going to take you to seminary for a half second. First lesson in parable reading: rethink what you know about who the characters are. Often, we’re straight up told in the text who they are. Often, the master of the house, the rich one, is God. But not always, and in this parable, Jesus doesn’t say who’s who. So for the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re dealing with a flawed, more human, but still smart, master, shall we? Less Jesus Christ, more Robert Kraft.
The manager, our hero? finds out from our Mr. Kraft-like character that he’s going to get fired. The manager tries to figure out what to do about his looming unemployment, and he weighs his options. Finally, he decides, “I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.”
“Forget the money,” he thinks, “I’ll make sure I have friends.”
Then he systematically does make friends by reducing his neighbors’ debts. Will he make any money from this? No. Will it help him survive? Yes. And his master, despite being the one who gets cheated, is so impressed with him that he commends him.
The manager uses money to make friends. Of course, he’s a dishonest manager, so he does it out of self-preservation rather than kindness, but the lesson is the same: use money; don’t let money use you.
Another lesson: it benefits everyone to put people before profits.
Jesus ends the whole chapter, which has been about money this whole time, with one of his most famous sayings: “No one can serve two masters; for they 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” (Luke 16:13).
To serve wealth means that you have to step on people in order to amass more. To serve God means forgoing some chances at wealth to serve people.
What God’s mad about in the Amos reading is people pretending to be all religious but really being all about the money money money money, MONEY.
What God is saying to us in all this, I think, is “You are so much more than what you can own.” You are worth more than a life of living, amassing money, and dying. You can’t, as they say, take it with you.
It’s also pretty easy to say this if you have enough money, if you’re being paid fairly, if you have everything you need. But as anyone who’s ever struggled knows, focusing on relationships before making bank is even more important when you’re poor. It’s much easier to ignore your neighbors when you don’t have to depend on each other to survive.
What Jesus is trying to get us back to, I think, is depending on each other, talking to each other, forming relationships. Focusing less on the capital and more on each other and the world around us that needs us.
It is indeed stewardship season. And runnin’ a church ain’t, indeed, free. And we are, indeed, beloved.
The Good News, friends, is that we are beloved children of God. Humans are too precious to serve wealth. Life is too rich, too valuable, to always have your head down, working on making the next buck. What we have in this place is a chance to put relationships first, to serve our neighbors first, and to not be, as every other organization is, one that’s focused mostly on dollars.
So as we get ready for commitment Sunday next week, I challenge you to look up and into the eyes of your fellow members, your friends, your neighbors. Invest in relationships. And if you find something valuable here, invest in this place, however you can — using time or talent or
“Money money money money, MONEY!”
Running a church ain’t free, but grace is, and grace abounds in this place, thanks to all of you.
And thank God. Amen.