Sunday, September 18, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-15
Luke 16:1-15

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they scoffed at him.

Ok, I’ll say it. I really like money. I am very happy that I have enough money to take care of my needs and to provide more than I need. I am glad I can buy books, paint supplies or clothes whenever I want or that I can stop at the fast food place for a milkshake once in awhile. I like that I can afford to eat what I like and travel and have pretty things. I like having money in the bank so that I don’t have to worry when there is an emergency.

I like being able to afford to live comfortably. I am thankful that my husband has a job that has provided for an education for our children, a lovely home and a little extra to share. I like donating money to many organizations and filling bags full of food for food banks. I like that I can buy paint and canvas to make pictures to donate to charities. I like that I can give away my crafts to make people happy and that I don’t have to work so I can spend my time writing to help people grow in their faith. It is sad to say, but the world revolves around money; we can’t live without it. And, well, I admit that I like to have the financial resources to be comfortable and generous.

I like money and we need money, but there is a line that has to be drawn when it comes to our relationship with money. See, the problem is that when we love money and make pursuit of it our life’s goal and the focus of our work, then we have put aside things that are much more important. We are encouraged to put money away for a rainy day, to take risks so that we will have a comfortable retirement. We are encouraged to work long hours for the paycheck to afford the life we think we deserve. We covet what we don’t have and it is very tempting to do whatever it takes, perhaps even take advantage of our neighbors, to get ahead.

A worker’s wage in biblical times was most often just enough to survive for a day. Laborers were paid at the end of each day; they bought the food they needed each day from the market. They didn’t stock their shelves for a month or buy ahead because canned corn is on sale. They didn’t buy things beyond their means and rack up debt they couldn’t pay. They didn’t need to save for retirement because families and communities took care of one another. All they needed was enough. The reality, of course, is that many people had (and still have) barely enough.

The Jews were a people of faith, called to trust in God for all they needed to survive. They lived in community; those who had much were expected to share with those who did not have enough. Any money beyond that which was necessary to meet the current day’s needs was considered “unrighteous mammon.”

Most people lived this way by necessity. It was the only way to survive. They could not save their coins because at the end of the day there were no coins to save. But there were those who had a different life, like the Pharisees. They were able to afford fine clothes and marble columns on their homes. They could feast on good food and enjoy the company of their friends. They considered their wealth a blessing from God, but forgot that the blessing was meant to be shared. They looked down on those who were poor and blamed their circumstances on their own sinfulness. They had more than enough; their extra wealth was unrighteous mammon. They were misusing the blessings that God had given to them.

The more we seek wealth the more we think that it is ours by our own power and strength. The Pharisees thought they earned God’s gracious gifts by their own goodness. We forget that everything belongs to God and that He graciously entrusts us with His creation for the benefit of the world. If we are wealthy, it is not so that we will look good or have nice cars; it is so that we can take care of the needs of our neighbor when they are in trouble. We need enough, but God gives us more than enough and then calls us to be a blessing to others.

We don’t really know what’s going on in the story of the wealthy landowner and his manager. Was the manager incompetent? Was he lazy? Was he greedy? We don’t really even know how bad the situation is. All we know is that the landowner heard rumors that the manager was wasting his possessions and that he called the manager to make an accounting. The bottom line is this: did the manager accomplish the work of his master? The landowner didn’t care about the manager’s wealth, as long as the work was done to expectation.

So, what was the manager to do? He had no skills and he was unwilling to beg. He had to do something. His solution to the problem was to make things right with his neighbors. He had unrighteous mammon; he had more than enough and did not share with his neighbors. He was using the wealth at his disposal for selfish and self-centered reasons. He may have even been taking advantage of them. At the very least, he was not taking care of them.

He repented and began to help the neighbors with their bills in a way that would both satisfy the master and ingratiate him with his neighbors. Then, when he was in need, they might pay it forward to him and he would at least receive the help to get him through the tough time. He made friends by using his unrighteous mammon and established for himself the promise of a community that would be there when he needed them.

The manager did not reduce the bills equally. This may have been because the items have different values, but it might also show that the manager took into account the needs of the neighbors. The oil producer might have only been able to afford fifty measures, while the wheat farmer could still afford eighty. In the end the master’s books were right and the master commended the manager for being shrewd.

Many translations call the manager “dishonest” but the word means “unrighteous.” Unrighteousness is about broken relationships, about being in “un-right” in one’s associations. The manager’s relationships were not right, both with the rich man and with the people. Our unrighteousness begins as a broken relationship with God, but is manifest in all our relationships that are “not right.” When we are lazy, incompetent, or greedy, we are “not right” with the world.

The Pharisees were not right with God or the people. They had more than enough - unrighteous mammon - and used it for their own benefit, justifying their wealth as gifts from God. They used it to make their lives better while ignoring the needs of their neighbors. They had more than enough and they forgot that everything they had belonged to God. They were merely stewards, or managers, called to do the Lord’s business. They sought fine robes and marble columns while their neighbors suffered the oppression of few resources and high taxes. The Pharisees wanted to be exalted and they used their unrighteous mammon to create an image that set them above others. God knew their hearts. They loved something more than Him: they loved money.

I’ll say it again: I like money. I hope and I pray that I don’t love it. I hope and I pray that I do not take advantage of my neighbors for the sake of money and that I use my “more than enough” to do God’s work in the world. I know I fail. I know that I haven’t always given as generously as I am able. I have, sadly, ignored the man on the corner because I have judged his heart even though I’m not God. I have some money in the bank “just in case.” Perhaps that means that I am not trusting entirely in God, but He has called all of us to be good stewards, and I am glad I can afford to deal with those emergencies that come, like replacing my roof which was damaged during the hail storms in the spring. I pray that I will respond to God’s voice when He calls me to share my resources in someone’s time of need.

As we look at the text from the Old Testament book of Amos, we see that there are always people who are lovers of money and seekers of unrighteous mammon. As a matter of fact, they can’t stand to wait through even the holy days to get out in the market to sell, sell, sell, and cheat, cheat, cheat. They make the measures small but the prices high; they use false scales and take advantage of the poor. They sell inferior products to make the biggest score. They might be faithful in their Sabbath rest, but they live unrighteously every other day of the week.

We aren’t any different. We think that it is enough to attend an hour of church and spend time in bible study, but we go about our daily lives as if God is trapped in the walls of the church and that He doesn’t care what we do the other 166 hours a week. And, like those merchants in Amos’s day, we can’t wait until the Sabbath is over so we can go about chasing after the world. But God calls us to a different life. He calls us to a life in which enough is truly enough and anything more than enough is meant to be shared. We don’t need to lie and cheat and steal to get ahead; we don’t need to pursue wealth for our own sake.

God will bless us with enough, and if we don’t have enough, He’ll bless us with a neighbor who has enough. And if we have more than enough, He will place us with a neighbor who doesn’t. It is all about trusting in God. That extra wealth is unrighteous mammon, so what are we going to do with it? Are we going to hoard the wealth we think we’ve earned or are we going to listen for God’s voice and be obedient to God’s call to use that unrighteous mammon in righteous ways?

Jesus says, “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. He who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” We can see that, can’t we? Money is a fact of life; we can’t live without it. But we can live faithfully by using our worldly wealth in ways that will glorify God. Are we like the dishonest manager? Can any of our neighbors charge us before the Lord with squandering God’s gifts? The words of the prophet are as relevant for us in today’s world as they were for Israel so long ago. If we can’t be good stewards of the worldly resources we have been given, why would God trust us with the true riches?

We aren’t right with God or with one another. We are also unrighteous people doing dishonest things with unrighteous mammon. We have never been very good stewards of the resources that God has given to us. We are wasteful, greedy and dishonest. We fail at using those resources in a way that will build up the kingdom and take care of our neighbors in need. We are so much like that manager and God is calling us to account. How will we make use of our resources so as to heal broken relationships? We are put in charge of earthly wealth for a time. Will we use that wealth in a way that makes us right with one another?

Putting all things of this world aside, we are equal in the eyes of God. By our own power we are all slaves to the world. We squander the creation over which we have been given charge. We deserve to suffer the fate of that dishonest manager, jobless and without any hope. Yet, Jesus Christ has taken our unworthiness and made us worthy by His blood, so that we can take what we have been given and use it wisely, in a godly manner, to glorify God in all that we do.

So where do we start. We start with prayer. Paul writes to Timothy, “I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence.” Most of us have enough. We might even have a little extra and we do with it what we can. Modern life means that we must, perhaps, put a little away for an emergency, but we should never hoard the resources or live in excess. It is a matter of trusting in God, being a good steward of His gifts and responding when He calls us to help our neighbors.

There are those in the world who not only have the resources, but also the power and position to do more. The Pharisees could have made things right for so many people, but they were more concerned about their robes and marble columns. Many of the leaders of our world have the resources and the power to make great things happen, but they have lost touch with God.

We can do amazing things on our own, but how much more can we do if we work together with the support of those who are in power? They need to see that their power comes from God, and that He has given them their power in this time and place for the sake of His people. This means political leaders, religious leaders, and corporate leaders. Their blessings come from God for the sake of the world. God isn’t bothered by fancy robes and marble columns as long as His work is done and everyone has enough. He knows our hearts, and He exalts those who trust in Him.

We are commanded to pray. Prayer is our way of showing support, of bringing our hopes and concerns before someone who is greater than us. It is through prayer, communication with God, that we find some sense of peace.

We are to pray “that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence.” In Paul’s day the leaders were enemies of the Christians. The Jewish leaders were fighting the Way, trying to halt this strange new religion that was bringing conflict to families and communities. The Roman leaders were fighting this new religion because the conflicts were causing strife in the cities and empire. The Christians were tearing apart the peace that Rome had enjoyed for so long. Imagine how hard it must have been to pray for those leaders who were the enemies of this new and growing religion. However, when we pray for someone, truly and really pray for them without an agenda, we can’t help but identify with them and grow in love for them. God’s grace enters into our hearts and we see them through God’s eyes and from God’s heart.

As much as we think we are right, our point of view might not be what God intends. We don’t know the whole picture. We know only that God is faithful and that He will be with us. He wants all men to be saved. He hasn’t told us how He will accomplish it. He only asks that we live the tranquil and quiet life so that men will see the God of grace in our lives. Our prayers, and the actions brought about by our prayers, will stand as a witness to God’s love in this world. He will take care of the rest. He knows what He intends, He knows hearts and He is faithful. As we live in this truth we can pray for others, whether they are unbelievers or enemies, with thanksgiving, knowing that God has purpose for them, too.

If God can use unrighteous mammon in ways that makes life better for His children, then He can use those who appear to be His enemies for the sake of those He loves. And it is up to us to start by praying for them, for dealing kindly with them, for standing firmly in God’s grace so that they might see that God is real and faith is true. God has great plans for this world, and He can accomplish them. He calls us to join Him in making the world right, however we are able, whether it is in sharing our “more than enough” or praying for those who can really make a difference.

In Christ we can join in the praise of the psalmist, “Praise Yah! Praise, you servants of Yahweh, praise Yahweh’s name. Blessed be Yahweh’s name, from this time forward and forever more. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, Yahweh’s name is to be praised. Yahweh is high above all nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like Yahweh, our God, who has his seat on high, who stoops down to see in heaven and in the earth?”

It is by His grace that people are saved, but it is through our humble human flesh that He is revealed to the world. It is His Word that brings peace, but our tongues speak that Word to the world. It is by His blood that we are forgiven, but He has chosen to institute rituals using water, bread, wine and people to share that blood with His faithful. He has provided us with many blessings and opportunities to share our “more than enough.” Worldly wealth is not meant to be loved, it is meant to be shared. Let us in every way share God’s grace with the world, whether with our worldly wealth or our spiritual disciplines, that God will be glorified.

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