Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 22, 2019

Karin Liebster, Associate Pastor

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

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We all serve more than one master!

Think about it. Whether we want it or not, no one serves one master exclusively.

To serve God, to really live a disciple life, live our baptismal calling is a luxury that few of us have, it seems; those who set their lives apart and choose a religious calling; or maybe we think that in retirement we can focus more on serving God alone.

But in real life? We serve many masters.

Think about our ties to our families. We are part of family systems, many of them unhealthy, they are our masters, we cannot break free.

We serve the masters that are called work, our bosses, businesses, the source of our pay check. We serve our career and yes, we do serve the demands of money, for in our society that attains us security, and status.

We serve convictions, ideologies. Many proudly serve the nation.

Other masters are more hidden.

We faithfully serve addictions.

Sometimes we religiously serve illusions of times gone by.

The illusion of a relationship, a marriage long ended.

One of the masters difficult to name is shame. Shame to tell the world how things really are, who I actually am. And so we shut up and serve shame until we are lifeless, bereft of hope and energy.

At the same time, we also serve love; focus on faith; seek God. With all our heart and mind and strength and soul. Because we yearn for the true riches God has in store for us and we await that which God promises to bestow on us as our own.

So yes, we all serve more than one master.

But, -“you can’t serve God and mammon. God and wealth.”

Luke knows he’ll catch everyone’s attention with this sentence. Everyone knows what it means to serve God and mammon, or feels they should know, and feels caught. Luke’s congregation is well off. They know wealth.

“You can’t serve God and mammon” is a way for Luke to teach his congregation the specific, greater responsibility Christians have in regards to money and business practices. How we deal with our money becomes a standard of our ethical decision making. Nothing is wrong with doing business, producing and selling goods or services for gain, but how you do it and to what ends you use it, that will show your allegiance – to God, or to wealth, to yourself. In our 21st century world Christian ethics also asks: how much stuff do I really need, how many pairs of shoes, how many computer gadgets, how much house, how many toys, how much of anything money can buy? And who do I serve with all that stuff?

That we might think about these things really long and hard, Luke gives us here that parable that Jesus told of the shrewd manager, that hair raising parable that feels just wrong. A lot of ink has been spilled trying to explain this parable, from the moment it was told. The first explanations already made it into Luke’s gospel, and are even put in Jesus’ own mouth.

The parable of the shrewd manager shows again what a rebel Jesus really was, able to set us on edge, and keep us thinking and wondering to this very day what all this might mean. Rest assured, there is no logical way to solve the problems stirred up with this parable. And that by the way proves the success of the parable. Go, Jesus!

A manager is squandering his master’s property. The owner fires him, but first requires an accounting. Full audit. The manager now commits white collar crime and reduces the debt papers of several of the master’s debtors, sort of not kissing up to them, but kissing down, so that they might become friends with him in his desperate situation. Fraud, forgery of legal documents, and bribing. Not the business practices any decent human being should engage in, whichever religion.

The rich owner, the master, commends the dishonest manager, because he has acted shrewdly!

Merriam Webster gives as definition for shrewd: a. marked by clever discerning awareness and hardheaded acumen, and b. given to wily, crafty, artful ways or dealing.

The master commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

How does that square with God who wishes to entrust the true riches to us? What are those riches anyways? How does God bestow on us what is our own?

We are left to ponder about this. Pondering, one option is to go back to the text and marvel at the artful construction of Jesus’ story dealing with an unsolvable problem. Another option is to look at Luke and note his pedagogy of teaching how baptized disciples of Jesus Christ have to reckon with the dangers of wealth, honesty, faithfulness.

And we can ponder again how many masters we shall serve.

God and mammon, God and status, God and family system, God and addiction, God and illusion, God and shame.

It is a fact of life that we serve more masters than one, even in the happiest and luckiest of circumstances. What the rich man likes about the dishonest manager is not his dishonesty but his shrewdness, his clever discerning awareness and hardheaded acumen; his crafty ways and artful dealings. It’s also known as criminal energy.

Jesus’ parable praises the drive, the energy to address those things in life that make us fall apart. That pull us into too many directions and eat us up from inside. The sentence, no slave can serve two masters, you cannot serve God and mammon, God and wealth, is then not a threat, a judgment and game over.

For God is not a slave master. God has set us free. God is the master who led Israel out of bondage and through the sea, and who led us out of the bondage of the master named death. Baptized we are free, no longer slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek, but children of God, supporting and teaching each other shrewdness to deal with the stuff of life.

Fall apart we need not any longer, split ourselves among multiple allegiances, dissolve in shame we need no longer. For God is one and in Christ has made us whole. This God we can serve at all times, we need not wait until retirement or reserve serving God for when we go on a religious retreat.

Believing, praying, blessing, serving this One God, we are given strength, shrewdness, criminal energy if you will, to name and to face life’s demands and deal with them clearly, lovingly, truthfully.

And so we give thanks, even for this upsetting gospel, its energy and drive. We join the psalmist this morning and sing, Alleluia, give praise, you servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Amen, thanks be to God.