Sunday Service 18th September - Wise Up
Hymn 157: Sing of the Lord’s goodness
Time for all
Hymn 164: God gave me eyes
Reading Luke 16:1-13 Margaret
Hymn 606: Lord, you sometimes speak in wonders
Hymn 730: From the falter of breath
Welcome to our reflection for 18th of September.
Today we look at one of the most difficult of parables that Jesus ever told; difficult because at first reading it seems to praise the dishonesty of someone.
How could Jesus do that?
But if truth be told, part of the problem we have in life is that we wish life to be black and white, easy to understand, good guys and bad guys, and life is rarely as easy as that.
So maybe this is a deliberately hard parable to help us reflect on that.
We will consider this after Margaret has led us in our reading and prayer today.
My daughter has a problem with our granddaughter Leah.
Leah has got to that stage in life where she can move about the floor.
Now she does that by shuffling her bum and her legs till she gets to the edge of something then she tries to climb up to get onto her legs.
She doesn’t yet have the strength to walk, but she loves just standing there to all her great height.
Now the problem is that her parents want her to crawl. They think that is the stage she is at. That she should be crawling, and every time Leah tries to move they kind of put her in the crawling position. And Leah just sits up, and then shuffles away.
You see Leah has realised a truth her parents have forgotten.
The end game is to get from A to B.
Leah knows how to get from A to B.
Her parents think she should be getting from A to B by crawling.
But the method is irrelevant, what is important is that you get from A to B.
That’s what Jesus is talking about to his disciples today.
And let us be clear about this, this wasn’t a parable for everyone, this was a parable to the disciples about something every specific...security, peace of mind, assurance.
The parables beforehand are parables to a crowd of folk, but specifically to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who questioned why Jesus hung about with questionable people. These are some of the most famous and well loved parables ever. They talk about how God loves and cares for all his creation, especially the lost, and how he is looking for them, and never gives up on them. And as Jesus is following the way of his Father, he never gives up on the lost either.
And that is wonderful, that is great, only it seems to have hardened the way of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, implying to the crowd, maybe even the disciples, that maybe Jesus way is not the religious way, the right way.
Remember; to everyone there...the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law are the guys who hold the keys of the temple, these are the guys that say who is in with God and who isn’t, these are the guys that say who is getting into heaven or not.
So the disciples are feeling a bit insecure at this moment.
It’s Ok Jesus saying that he has the right path, but when everyone else is telling them that the path Jesus is following isn’t the right path, and by everyone else we mean all the people who matter, then who do you follow, who do you believe?
Especially when they have given up their source of income to follow Jesus. How are they going to cope when what money they have runs out? They have family to look after? They have financial responsibilities; they have to look after their future.
This forces the disciples to think about their faith, and probably one of the hardest aspects of faith...is our faith just something that is just added on to our life after we have sorted out everything else; our pension, our food for the week, our house, our holidays...or is our faith the most important thing, the first call of our time and effort?
So Jesus tells them a parable.
There was once a very rich, very powerful man that everyone in the area depended on for employment.
This man had it so cushy. He had so much money he could lend it out and make interest on it. The debt would never be paid off; it was never meant to be paid off.
The interest made allowed the rich man to live in his lifestyle, the debt allowed the person to be under the protection of the rich man.
And this very rich, very powerful man had hired a manager to organise all this stuff so that he didn’t need to. And to be honest that manager also had a very nice lifestyle living off the earnings of the rich man.
One day a complaint is made about the manager and the very rich, very powerful man summons the manager and tells him that he no longer wants to hire the manager, he is to be excused, but before he leaves he has to put in a full report of all the accounts, to the very rich man.
The manager realises that his life is falling apart.
So what does he do?
He uses his head, he is smart, he works out how he could look after himself, or rather how he could get other people to look after him.
He goes to each of those that owe the rich man money and takes off quite a considerable amount from each account.
Of course each of these people realise that they owe the manager a favour, so they will make sure he has a job when the very rich man dismisses him.
Did the manager steal from the rich man?
Probably not. In that environment to do so would probably mean the manager going to jail, or having his hands cut off.
The rich man is impressed because the manager probably took off his commission.
The manager had a choice, he could go for short term assurance and get as much commission off the debtors as possible, build up a nest egg, which in time would run out and all he had left was the reputation of being a rotten manager that no one would hire.
Or he could play the long game, take off his commission, go for short term discomfort for the reputation of a good guy who helps out his friends, the kind of guy you want on your side, you want to employ.
The very rich man praises the manager because he is smart.
He knows what he wants and he plays the long, smart game.
And Jesus then, through the parable, asks if the disciples are willing to do the same thing.
Are they going to play the long, smart game?
Because if you want assurance, true peace of mind, true peace of heart, then we are never going to get it by seeking short term comforts.
Does having enough to buy a subscription to Disney plus give us true peace...or just distract us short term from our problems.
Does building up a pension pot give us true joy, or do we always worry that we might not have enough?
Does having a big luxurious house give us true peace of mind, or does that give us the worry of how high the next heating bill is going to be?
The manager was true to himself and used everything he had to make sure he was looked after.
Now Jesus is asking the disciples, if you are true to yourself, what do you use everything you have to achieve?
And if they are disciples,
then it should be always building up that relationship with God,
always building up that relationship with others,
building up a community of the faithful.
Because it is when you’re struggling that you need the assurance in a God who cares for you,
when you are struggling that the community comes round to support and help...
in the same way that you helped and supported them when they were struggling.
The one thing that Jesus would praise the managers for was that he was smart enough to build up relationships that would help him.
Now Jesus is turning to the disciples and saying to them, be like that manager, build up the relationships that will help you.
Are we smart enough to do that?
And if we are honest, who are we building up those relationships with?
Are we building up those relationships with God, with a community of faith?
And if we are not, then what are we doing?
Be smart, be very smart, because our peace of mind, peace of heart, eternal assurance, depends on what we do next.
Let us pray
In the end we always look after ourselves and those we love.
The way of the world suggests that we should do that by being selfish, that resources are tight and so if we give to others then that is less for us.
Remind us that there is no peace in this path; that we are always looking over our back at what others have, what others want from us, that we can trust no one.
Help us to be devious and take the risk to show God’s love and hope into our troubled secular world. To believe that you have our eternity in your hand, so the things we need to work at are things that last eternity, like love, faith, hope.
Help us to be truly smart, and think of the long game, and find our peace and assurance, our comfort and our joy in You...and the community that reflects your ways.
This we ask in Jesus name.