Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, September 18, 2022

Text: Luke 16:1-13 

Watch Service Video | Sermon Podcast

Have you ever heard someone say something like this: “The church talks way too much about money”? I know I have. Sometimes it has been in the context of our church, and other times people were giving a reason why they don’t attend their former church anymore—or any church, for that matter. And maybe there could be some truth to that idea that the church shouldn’t talk about money so much, because the church isn’t supposed to be primarily about money at all. No, church is supposed to be about worshipping God and hearing his word and singing his praise. Church is supposed to be about strengthening and nurturing believers, equipping us all to do the work that God has given us of serving our neighbor and reaching out to the lost in our world. So why would the church have any need to talk about money?

Today’s service gives us a pretty good answer. The church has good reason to talk about money, because God’s Word has a whole lot to say about money and how it fits into our lives and our church. And our main focus is on a parable Jesus uses to teach us all about The Trouble with Money. It’s one that may not be as familiar as some others, because it could easily be misunderstood. If we compare the titles that different translators use to identify the section, we find a broad range of terminology: the NIV calls it “the parable of the shrewd manager”; other translations call the main character

-the unjust servant

-the dishonest manager

-the unrighteous steward

-the clever manager

-the crooked manager

So it kind of sounds like even those who study this parable can’t all agree on whether the man is a good guy or a bad guy.

Let’s take a closer look at the parable, and then we’ll get to Jesus’ explanation. Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

So far, this manager is pretty easy to judge from the way Jesus describes him. He is crooked from the get-go, and now it has caught up with him. He knows he is going to get fired. It’s only a matter of time. And this manager thinks for a while, and he realizes that the way things stand, he’s either going to end up a ditch digger or a bum, and neither of those sound all that promising, so he is going to have to figure something out.

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

Now here is where we want to be careful. When we are reading parables, we don’t need to equate every detail in the story with one in real life. We certainly don’t want to come away from this parable with the idea that we are supposed to cheat others out of what is owed them just to be more popular. God is not going to commend us for cheating people or being dishonest with our employers or clients. If we have to stop and think after Jesus finishes telling the story, then we are right where Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to scratch our heads a little bit and get us wondering why he would ever use a dishonest manager as an example for us to learn from.

So what is the point? Jesus tells us. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. Jesus is making a comparison, not giving us an ideal example to follow. (Here’s a tip: if we are ever looking for the point of a parable, or any teaching section of Jesus, one clue is to watch for the words “I tell you,” or “I tell you the truth”) 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

So do you understand what Jesus is saying here? As soon as the crooked manager realized that his future wasn’t in his job, he reevaluated what was most valuable, and he devoted himself to what would make an impact and develop relationships that would last a lot longer than his job…. But you, Jesus says, can make a far greater impact and have a whole lot more to gain than this fictional character did. This is important, because how you view money right now can have an impact on eternity.

The Trouble with Money is that it’s such a good thing. Anyone who has ever struggled financially and turned things around would say that it’s better to have money than not have money. They say money can’t buy happiness, but money can pay for a whole lot of things that make people happy, whether it’s a nice meal or a dream home or a brand new car. Life feels so much better when the bills are paid and there’s a good amount saved up for the future. So what’s the problem?

Like any good thing, we can so easily love money too much. We are tempted to value money above all else and rely on the gifts more than we rely on the Giver. We can find more satisfaction and enjoyment in temporary blessings than we do in eternal blessings and pursue worldly wealth while we take God for granted. If we’re honest, we can understand how “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith…” because at some point we ourselves may have felt the pull to prioritize material growth over spiritual growth in our lives. That’s the trouble with money; that we take a good thing and let it get in the way of our relationship with God.

So Jesus warns us, and we all need to pay attention. 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Realize this: for all the times we have given in to the temptation to love money too much, we have earned eternal consequences. God would have every right to judge us forever for our idolatry, for treasuring temporary blessings more than we treasure him. We deserve for him to take away every blessing he’s ever given us… but he hasn’t. Why? Because even though we haven’t served him rightly, he chose to value us above all else, including his own life. St. Paul uses a financial illustration to preach the gospel in 2 Corinthians 8: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Jesus died for us so that our sin and temptations would be a temporary thing. The punishment that was eternal, meant for us, Jesus took that punishment on himself so that we are now forgiven. Jesus rose on Easter Sunday so that even our death would be temporary, and one day he will raise up our dead bodies to live forever. He longed to share eternal riches with us rather than keeping them to himself, so he bought and paid for us with his own blood. Now what?

The manager in the story was commended for thinking about the future instead of his dead-end job. So, too, Jesus wants us to look around and realize what is temporary and what is lasting. My money and your money: temporary. Our homes and our cars and our clothes and our retirement accounts and our favorite things: all temporary. But our souls, and the souls of our family members, and the souls of our neighbors and friends and everyone we meet: souls will be around forever, in one of two places. Some will spend eternity in the neverending anguish of hell, and others will be refreshed eternally in the joys of heaven. First of all, let’s thank God every day that in Jesus Christ our eternity is secure. But then, Jesus encourages us not to merely go about life as usual, as if all we have to be concerned with is ourselves.

Does that realization affect how we use the financial resources God has given us? It ought to, especially when we realize that our gracious God has entrusted us with these gifts to manage only for a time. First of all, we can be grateful and content with what God provides now, because he has given us enough to take care of all of our needs and more. He wants us to enjoy every blessing he has given, but we always want to remember to prioritize and invest in what matters most, what lasts into eternity, and what honors him above ourselves. He wants us to look to the future with confidence, knowing that in Christ we already have an inheritance stored up for us that can never perish, spoil, or fade, kept in heaven for us. There won’t be any money trouble in eternity, and if we keep God first in our lives, we don’t have to worry so much about money trouble here and now. It’s all thanks to Jesus. Amen.