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A Very Secure Investment (September 22, 2019)

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?’ He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 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. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 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.”

Let’s cut to the chase here. This is a hard parable. Jesus is saying that if the priority of our lives attaining money makes for a more fragile and more vulnerable life than most of us realize. If our lives are centered on making sure we are financially secure in order to provide a good life, what happens if we discover an inoperable tumor? All that wealth doesn’t change that. We may have money for retirement, but what if there are no golden years to enjoy? Ultimately, our finances can’t be trusted.

I don’t mean to be a downer, but since that’s true, then there has to be something deeper to life than finances. “Success” has to be defined by something other than economics.

One of cruelest lessons of life is that our economy doesn’t care about us, the quality of our lives, our sick children, or our leaky roofs. The bottom line of our economic world is that the bottom line is the only line that matters. From an economic perspective, every one of us is expendable.

Yet, it is still the way we approach our world; still the primary view we have. We center our lives on being able to take care of our own individual financial security. That is the lens through which we see life. That’s how we measure our success: do we have enough wealth to believe we are secure? And this perspective, this way we look at our lives, this approach we have to living is impersonal, sometimes cruel, and pits us against one as we compete for financial resources. What’s more, seeing our world from this economic definition disconnects us from each other because it encourages me to take care of myself and, well, good luck to you. I hope you do OK. If you need help, maybe there’s some charity for you or someone with some extra cash that feels sorry for you. But really, in this worldview, we’re each on our own. Securing our individual security through wealth is the opposite of how Jesus reveals God’s intention for our lives.

That view of individual financial security is exactly the perspective of this dishonest manager in Jesus’ parable today. He was using his position as manager of a wealthy master’s estate to take care of himself financially; though it was at the expense of others in the community. He was doing it dishonestly somehow—we don’t have the details of that. But he got caught by his master, the rich man in the parable.

Without his economic security, his means of making a living, his economic worldview is revealed as lacking. He realizes that he isn’t equipped to secure his financial future any other way than the way he’s been doing it. He can’t do physical labor. He ashamed to beg from his neighbors. He’s at a loss as to what to do.

This is the turning point of this parable. Though he was stealing from his master, what he does next is commended by the rich man. He turns to those in the community who owe his master money. He reduces their debt. His master commends his shrewdness, better translated as wisdom.

What was so wise about that? The lens through which he had been viewing the world shattered. He could no longer accomplish the primary goal of securing wealth for himself—provide for himself and his family. That is no longer possible.

So because he can no longer invest in his own financial security, by reducing their debt he invests in his neighbors’ financial security. That’s the wisdom, that’s the shift in thinking. That’s the new perspective. He will no longer be able to survive if he’s only out for himself. In order to live he now has to throw his lot in with his neighbors. His worldview has been forced away from “taking care of myself and good luck to you” and instead he’s realized “we’re in this thing together. As a community, we sink or swim together. My fate, my security, is actually tied to yours.” That is the wisdom Jesus lifts up. Though dishonest, this slave now understands security—God’s way. Not through taking care of himself, but taking care of others.

Now remember, this isn’t an historical event. It’s a parable, so Jesus is making a point here. He’s exposing the fallacy of believing that we can secure our lives through our finances. I heard someone say that the big lie of 400 years of American Christianity is that we believe we can serve both God and wealth. We cannot. We cannot serve a Triune God whose very nature is interdependent community while at the same time separating ourselves for our own security. We can’t do both. We still try, but Jesus calls us out on it.

He points out the truth that security-from-wealth is an illusion. Genuine security comes from trusting and connecting to a community. That’s the wisdom this dishonest manager now understands. The best way to achieve security is to work for the wellbeing of our neighbors, to recognize that when life takes us beyond our financial ability to fix it, the relationships we’ve invested in are what will hold us. If we are only looking out for ourselves and our own security while our neighbors are being hurt, being detained, being separated from family, being oppressed, and being shot, we are setting ourselves up for misery. Because according to the very nature of God, our fates are tied together—the richest and the poorest together. If one part of our body has cancer, the whole body is in danger. If one part of our human community is suffering, all of us are at risk.

So, yeah, this is a hard parable. Not because we can’t understand it, but because we can. We either trust in our ability to gain wealth to save us or we trust in God. Money is fine—even necessary. Let’s use it to invest in each other, in our neighborhood, in the human community. For in each other is where our security truly lies.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Love: Our Gift to the World (October 1, 2017)

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This text from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi makes great sense, actually. You say you are disciples of Jesus, he says. You say you believe in him, trust him, follow him. So do that. Shouldn’t be a problem.You know what Jesus is like. Helping others, loving others, forgiving others, thinking about others, seeing others—even if it cost him. OK, Christ-ians, you’ve got the game plan. Go! Do that. Be that.

Paul’s writing here in kind of like the very first “WWJD” bracelet. What would Jesus do? How would he treat those outside of your church circle? There you go. Do that.It’s not extra credit. It’s not optional. It’s what it is to be a Christian. To be like Jesus. To follow that example. “Be of the same mind,” Paul says. “Have the same love.”

But this isn’t about trying harder or working at it more. It’s about God at work in us, enabling us to reflect Christ from our hearts, from our minds. In Christ we are new, we are changed, we are different. We have died and been raised into a new life. So it’s not that we have to work to make ourselves like Jesus. We simply have to let our own selfishness get out of the way, so that Christ in us can shine in the world.

Christ is visible in the world. As we live that new life, it is visible too. There are some signs that that is coming along, Paul says. It’s a process, we keep reverting to our selfishness. But we can take a step. We can move our own ambition and conceit out of the way on occasion. We can let the Christ within us come through once in a while.

We keep at it. We can watch for the signs of God at work in us. Christ is revealed in us whenever we act not out of selfishness but out of the interests of others.

We show that in our kindness, our listening, our compassion, our not insisting on our own way. And we do it with our money. That is the most straight-forward way, the simplest way to reveal Christ in us. Giving money away for the sake of others. Putting their needs ahead of our own.

I’m proud that as a congregation, we reveal the mind of Christ with our congregational budget. We are committed to simply giving away 11% of everything that comes in through the offering plate. Through that, we support new congregations, military chaplains, missionaries around the world, disaster relief, church camps, education of students and future pastors and deacons through our colleges and seminaries, and so much more!

We are, as a church body together, very generous every time there is a special appeal. We give graciously and unselfishly together in times like now when disasters strike and people are hurting. That’s what Paul is talking about. Living unselfishly, humbly offering some of what we have for the sake of others. Recognizing that the needs of people in Puerto Rico are more urgent than ours right now.

That is the heart of Christ. And it shows. And it is moving.

So the journey of being of the same mind as Christ continues for us. Showing the world what Jesus looks like is our priority as people who bear Christ’s name.

Take one more step in the journey with Christ this week. To the 121 households that are currently giving financially to this congregation, consider one of two steps: 1) Consider giving regularly. Electronic giving is the easiest way. Who woulda thought that the internet could help us have the same love as Christ? Most banks allow a scheduled transfer of any amount on any schedule. Set it up. Lois and I have done that for years, scheduling a payment to this church right after my paycheck is deposited. It’s easy. It’s simple. And it’s being of the same mind as Christ—doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

2) Consider an increase in your giving. Either a larger dollar amount or an increase in the percentage of your income. Doing that can make sure our own interests aren’t taking over every aspect of who we are, but Christ within us comes through in our generosity!

And to the 38 households—24%–who are active members of this congregation who currently aren’t giving anything financially here, consider doing one thing. Fill out an “Estimate of Giving” card. Just take that step. Since you’re active, you received one in the mail (or soon will). Or you can pick one up here next Sunday.

Perhaps you are giving generously somewhere else. Cancer research or the Action Center or Foothills Animal Shelter. Great! That is showing the heart and love of Christ from within you! Keep it up! Increase it!

But fill out a card and turn it in here anyway. Even if it’s a big red zero on it—that’s OK. Even if you only commit to $1 or $5 a week. That’s OK. Just take that step. Be part of this congregational community that strives to love with Christ’s love and serve as Christ serves. Put something on that card and turn it in next week. It’s not about judgment, it’s about being part of a community that bears the name of Christ, being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. It is together letting  the same mind be in us that as in Christ Jesus. It is acting not from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regarding others as better than ourselves. It is God at work in us, enabling us to reveal Christ together to the world. Christ’s love, poured into us, making us new, is our gift to the world. Take one step forward on the journey of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2017 in Sermon

 

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