The theme of this week’s scriptures is the singular faith God desires.
In our sermon passage for today, Jesus warns that everything we have is given by God and intended to be faithfully administered in service to him.
Gifts Not to be Squandered
Luke 16:1-13 (ESV)
This year has seen the release of the latest Spider-man movie, No Way Home. In a gutsy gamble that seems to have paid off at the box office, this movie included three separate versions of the iconic superhero, drawing from previous reboots of the movie franchise, and tying them together in a neat temporally fractured bow. Most iterations of the Spider-man persona have the same back story. Newly imbued with superhuman strength and resilience, Peter Parker forgoes stopping a criminal when he has the chance, only to discover the same criminal murders his uncle and mentor moments later. With his dying breath, his uncle leaves him with one of the most memorable superhero mottos of all time: with great power comes great responsibility. Parker decides to live in honor of that statement, seeking to not squander the gifts he had been given.
Perhaps after hearing that quote, some people feel inspired to live up to their potential, while others breathe a sigh of relief and thank God they don’t have “great power.” Well, our message today is going to bring good news and bad news to both groups of people:
We may not have great power, but we do have great responsibility.
These are two truths that Jesus shares with us throughout his ministry, the implications of which can be found in our scripture passage today.
He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.”
So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He said, “A hundred measures of oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” He said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.”
The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Luke 16:1-13 ESV)
When tackling a parable, it is worth considering who in the parable we are supposed to identify with. In this parable it does not take long to realize that we are supposed to see ourselves in the place of the shrewd manager. Parables do not present perfect parallels for reality, but express practical, moralistic, and theological concepts that we as followers of Jesus need to embrace. When they are given in a series, as this one is, each one contains truth to be contemplated, but it’s all those truths woven together that form Jesus’ message. In this case Jesus weaves together a message for the Pharisees who were deriding the time he spent with sinners and tax collectors, and a message for his disciples who were also listening (Luke 15:1-2).
So, what is the message of these parables here in Luke 15:3-16:13? Let’s take a moment to outline the lessons that Jesus is sharing and how they tie into a larger conversation between him, the Pharisees, and the disciples:
- The parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:3-10) give a message of hope for those who have gone astray. The parables are to be understood as God going to the sinners to bring them back into their relationship with himself. God pursues us and so we are saved. The return of those who are lost is a cause for rejoicing.
- In the parable of the Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus expands on the sheep and coin. Not only is the return of the son who is lost a cause for rejoicing, the father happily and willingly forgives the son who turns from the path of self-destruction. We are left with a question in this parable: what will the envious and resentful older brother chose? Will he renew his relationship with the father, or turn and walk the path of Cain, allowing his pride and anger to rule over him?
- In our text for today, the shrewd manager continues the narrative of redemption that has been outlined so far. Having established that God pursues us, forgives us, and rejoices at our reconciliation, Jesus is free to turn to the question of our past choices and how we should act in light of them. This parable, which is directed to the disciples rather than the Pharisees, calls for them to follow in the example of generosity given to us and extend that generosity to others.
Jesus’ conclusion following these parables is that one cannot “serve God and money.” This statement from Jesus cuts to the heart of both Pharisee and disciple. It sets before them a clear dichotomy: opposition to God is not just defined by bad choices, sinful acts, or dubious professions, it is also defined by the pursuit of wealth, comfort, and earthly influence. The Pharisees hated what Jesus said here; they saw clearly in this message a condemnation of their lifestyle as well as a dismissal of the sins of the people Jesus was spending time with. They could not comprehend that the relationship with the sinner was more important to God than condemnation of the sin, so much more important that he sent his Son to remove the condemnation in order to restore the relationship.
In our passage, the shrewd manager is not a person to be idolized or celebrated, yet he is presented in the parable as the hero. He has cheated and swindled, and only at the last moment, with the certainty of unemployment and disaster upon his doorstep, does he change his ways. Yet this corrupt manager is set up as making the correct choices for one simple reason: he looks to the future.
The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8-9)
No power of our own
Jesus is telling his disciples that they need to change their perspective if they want to follow him. They need to look heavenward, with eyes firmly fixed on the eternal prize in Jesus. Many choices presented to us will have one of two outcomes, either to build unrighteous wealth here or true riches in heaven. While sins are forgiven with the costly grace of God freely given to us, pursuit of wealth for personal comfort and social status binds us in service to sin in a deep and dangerous way.
Within the narrative of this parable is a freeing truth: we possess nothing. Just as the manager has no wealth of his own, we too cannot claim anything for ourselves. Our wealth, our land, our health, our skills, and our potential, are all gifts from God. This is what was meant when we said at the beginning that we have no power. The question asked of us here is simple: what will we do with what we’ve been given?
The prodigal son and the older brother, the lost sheep and coin, the disciples and pharisees, you and me, we all have a moment in our lives where we find ourselves in the shoes of the shrewd manager. Like the manager, all we have is not our own, but gifts given to us. Like the manager we realize that we have been unwise with these gifts, squandering them for our own gain.
This is where we are called upon to ask the question: what should I do next?
The choice the manager makes is based not upon his present needs, but rather (on) what he hopes for in the future. This is the moral we are called to embrace. Christian forward thinking is not a matter of hours, days, or years, but of our eternal relationship with the Father.
Our great responsibility then is to seek guidance from that relationship. The generous gracious heart of the Father is our guide for good stewardship. Christian fiscal responsibility is realized when we are prayerfully considerate with the gifts we have been given.
Whether you are donating to churches and charities or buying a family home, this wisdom can be applied. Use of material wealth for our own need and even comfort is not necessarily sinful, but the parable warns us against placing those purposes before faithful service to God.
Our great responsibility is to take what we have been given and put it toward our eternal purpose, a life lived with God and one another. In so doing we will have been faithful with the unrighteous wealth that once held us in its grip, and gained in its place the true riches that come from service to God.
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”
This quote, from Acts 15, gives us a good biblical example of working as a team toward good decision making.
Full transparency, I used to be better at asking the Holy Spirit to bless what I was doing than to listen and watch to see how I could participate in what he was already doing. I was living under one of the misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, there are several misconceptions about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and in the lives of our congregations.
One of my pet peeves is the assumption that the Holy Spirit always works in the moment rather than in the planning. It comes across as if the Holy Spirit is reactive and impulsive, rather than guiding our lives 24/7. Here are a few Holy Spirit statements I’ve heard in my several years of ministry:
- Sermon preparation is simply reading the text several times in a week and then allowing the Spirit to inspire you on Sunday.
- You don’t need notes for your sermon, that prevents the Holy Spirit from inspiring you.
- The Holy Spirit woke me up this morning with a message I’m supposed to give the congregation.
- I never prepare a sermon because the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit will preach through us, and I don’t want to get in his way.
- I don’t plan an agenda for our leadership meetings, I trust the Holy Spirit to bring up what needs to be brought up.
- Why do we need a budget? God provides our needs. If God wants us to do a specific ministry, he will provide the funds to do so.
- All this Love, Hope, and Faith Avenue stuff you are putting on us is not allowing the Spirit to guide our church.
- God told me to get the congregation involved in this ministry (outreach) and I’m not resting until we all get involved.
- I don’t think through what to pray about; I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me.
- The Holy Spirit gave me the perfect plan for our congregation. Let me share it with all of you. (Who would argue against the pastor, and much less the Spirit?)
A common theme in these statements is the perceived “coming and going” of the Holy Spirit. It’s almost as if we believe the Holy Spirit shows up when he needs to (or when we beg him to come) and is off doing something else the rest of the time.
- He shows up on Sunday morning to inspire our preaching, but he must be doing something else on Thursday or Friday when we are preparing the sermon.
- He shows up at a leadership meeting, but he is apparently too busy to help us plan an agenda for the meeting.
Yes, I’m being a bit snarky to make a point. Jesus didn’t teach the disciples about a helper or advocate who comes and goes; he taught about a helper and an advocate who lives in us. While we could quote numerous passages about the Holy Spirit, let’s just focus on a few verses and look at what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s Supper Discourse. Perhaps this will help us see the Holy Spirit’s involvement in our lives, ministries, and missions.
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:16-17 NRSVA)
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26 NRSVA)
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26 NRSVA)
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: (John 16:7-8 NRSVA)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14 NRSVA)
I recommend you stop a moment and ask the Triune God to help you see what you need to see from the above passages. What do they tell you about the Holy Spirit? Then I encourage you to talk to your leadership and ask what they see in these passages. Here are a few questions for discussion:
- What does Jesus mean by advocate? (John 14:16, 26, 15:26) How does that apply to our missions and ministries?
- Do these passages imply a Spirit who comes and goes? What do they say? (John 14:16, 17, 26)
- Where is the Spirit? (John 14:16, 17) What does this truth imply?
- What does the Spirit declare? (John 16:13-14) What does this mean for your congregation?
- What does it mean the Spirit will glorify Jesus? (John 16:13-14)
- What does it mean the Spirit will prove the world wrong? (John 16:7-8)
We can join the apostles in saying, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” when we share in the Holy Spirit’s goal of glorifying Jesus through our Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues. When we collaborate with the Holy Spirit in the dreaming phase, as well as in the preparation and implementation of our Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues, we will see success because we are participating with him, rather than simply asking him to bless what we are doing.
The Holy Spirit loves living in you, teaching you, and pointing you to Jesus. He loves helping to prepare messages and agendas for meetings. He loves praying with you, reminding you of people and things to pray about. He loves working collaboratively with you and your teams – working together to help you become the healthiest expression of church you can be. And he loves when we participate with him in bringing others to Jesus and being helpers of their joy.
Thank you, Holy Spirit. We pray for more receptivity to your lead.