Sermon for Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, Year C

September 18, 2022

Amos 8:4-7                                          Psalm 113                            1 Timothy 2:1-7                                 Luke 16:1-13

Charges of squandering the master’s property are brought against a manager, so the master calls the manager to him and dismisses him.  When managing health care services, I was taught that when you let people go, you do so immediately – especially if they are in positions of authority.  That was not, however, what happened to this dishonest manager. His employer tells him to go and bring back an accounting of all his employers accounts.

What happens next, is that this manager cuts a deal with people who are in debt to this rich man.  He reduces their debt so they are now indebted to him. This is where the story takes an interesting turn.  The master learns what his manager has done and commends him!   

Even more interesting, confusing actually, is what Jesus says about this, “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 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.”

Is Jesus saying we, the people of the light, should be more like the dishonest manager?  Yes and no.  This passage is yet another example of why it is important to read the scriptures critically.  When we hear this parable and what Jesus says afterwards, it can be difficult to understand.

The dishonest manager, when faced with losing his own wealth and influence, is shrewd; he is cleaver and resourceful and finds a way to preserve his lifestyle.  He uses his master’s wealth to build relationships with the very people he may have cheated before.  Building relationships is one of the keys to understanding this parable. 

The other key is to understand how Jesus uses the word dishonest.  Jesus says, “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”  Here, dishonest refers to all that is temporary – material possessions, wealth, and influence.  True riches are spiritual. 

 How many of us, when our faith is challenged, work as hard as the “dishonest manager” to ensure that we remain faithful?  How many of us persevere to remain connected with others of faith and spend our time in prayer, study, and worship?  And, how many of us lose our focus on that which is eternal and turn our attention to that which maintains or improves our way of life.  Jesus is not saying we should be dishonest, he is saying that we need to work as hard at deepening our faith as we do to making our lives comfortable.

We all experience bumps in the road.  We problem solve, and, for most of us, this means spending more time and energy on that which is temporary rather than that which is eternal.  We give what’s leftover to our faith and spiritual development.  The same may be true for what we give to our relationships with others.  We may use the excuse that we’re working this hard to provide what those we love need.  What they often need most, however, is our time.  In this parable, Jesus is suggesting that if we do not faithfully use our material gifts to build relationships, how can we expect to receive the gifts of the spirit which are love, acceptance, and inner peace?

 The end of this passage says it all: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave 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.”  This challenges us to ask, “Which do we value more – money and possessions or God and service to others?”  We might say one thing but spend more of our time and money on something else. 

I think it is part of the human condition that our values are constantly shifting.  When it comes to life and living, there are no absolutes.  Human history is full of examples of people losing their way, straying from their faith. 

The prophets point this out over and over again.  Amos says, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?’”  Amos then speaks of them gaining wealth through dishonesty – tampering with the weights on the scales and selling a product of lesser value. This passage ends, as we might expect: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”  Of course, we know God to be forgiving. The prophet is exaggerating in order to make his point.  The people need to repent or there will be consequences. 

Both lessons, the one from Amos and the one from Luke, are talking about more than simply giving money to help others.  Both lessons are about building relationships with others.  The manager uses what is temporary, material wealth, to build relationships for the life that is to come.  Such action is worthy of redemption.  The dishonest merchants, however, are building their wealth on the backs of the poor. Their actions will not go unpunished.

All that we have, according to our faith, is a gift entrusted to us by God.  It is not ours to keep, it is ours to share.  Do we, as people of the light, use the gifts of our intellect and wealth to build relationships?  If not, if we use these gifts for selfish gain, we will not be rewarded with the inner peace that comes from placing God’s will above our will.

Let us pray.

O God, the giver of all gifts, help us to use your gifts for the good of humanity.  Help us to value what you value.  When we lose sight of the needs of others and when we worry about not having enough to share, open our eyes that we might see all that you have given us.  Help us, then, to give from our abundance and not from our leftovers.  We offer these prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.