God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Every commentary that I read about this particular gospel lesson all started with the same point: this is one of the hardest passages to understand and there are probably as many interpretations of this parable as there are readers. Even Saint Augustine is said to have remarked: "I can't believe that this story came from the lips of Jesus."
What seems to unsettle us the most is that Jesus seems to praise the dishonest steward. So let's take a closer look at what is going on. The master hears a rumor that his manager, the person who is supposed to collect the debts from people who owe the master money, is shirking his responsibilities. He is not doing his job. On the basis of this rumor, the master fires the manager. No one had unemployment or social security as a safety net in those days, so this manager was left with no way to make an income. He didn't have the physical strength to do hard, manual labor, and he was too ashamed to beg.
So the thought up a scheme that would make everyone a winner. He called on all the people who owed the master money. He reduced the amount that each person owed, in the hopes of getting them on his good side, so they might offer him a job or let him stay at their home. As a collector of debts, he wouldn't be so hated. He had to look out for himself and for his future. Even the master was pleased at the manager's resourcefulness in collecting at least part of the money that had been owed to him. Everybody wins - the debtors have less debt to pay, the manager looks good in the eyes of those for whom he reduced their debt, and the owner gets some of his money collected.
But the flaw in the story is the dishonesty. The manager has no right to reduce what the debtors owed. And he did it when he was no longer employed by the owner.
I think Jesus was praising the manager, not for his dishonesty but for his resourcefulness, his ability to come up with a plan that would help him in the future.
In our world, we have all kinds of resources to help us with financial planning, to be sure we have enough money to send the children to college, to plan for retirement, to have what we need for as long as we are here. And that is a good thing. We need to plan ahead and not just live moment to moment.
But what plans do we make for our eternal lives? How do we plan ahead for our eternal life with God? Many of us don't want to think about it, because that means we have to face our death. How many of us put off investing in a deeper relationship with God, until later? We're not going to die today, so why do we need to prepare now? But we don't know when we will meet God face to face, and it is in our best interests to be prepared.
So how do we prepare for our eternal lives? By daily prayer, inviting God into the depths of our lives over and over again, when we feel God's love and God's presence with us. By studying and inwardly digesting God's holy word, by asking God's forgiveness when we fail to follow God's ways, by being part of a community of faith, by helping those in need, by giving of ourselves. That is our preparation for our eternal life with God.
What we are talking about is stewardship. How do we use the time, the talents and the money we receive from our daily labors - how do we use that for the glory of God? How do we use our time, talent and treasure to prepare our spiritual selves for eternal life with God? How do we use our time, talents, and treasures to enhance and deepen our spiritual lives now, in this moment, at this time?
Do we care for the poor? Do we do what we can to fix the systems that keep the poor and oppressed from obtaining equality and justice? Are we doing what we can to take care of this planet that God has entrusted to our care?
God has given us everything we have and everything we are. How do we show God our gratitude for all that God has done for us? One way is to support St. John's, by giving a financial pledge to support the work of the church. Within the next 10 days or so, you will receive a letter from me and a pledge card, asking you to pledge for the support of the church and its ministries. The biblical tithe is the standard amount of giving. Some of us are there, others are working toward that goal, a little at a time. Wherever you are on that spectrum, know that, although the church needs your financial support, it's the giving that deepens your relationship with God. Pledging is something you should do for you, and to enhance your spiritual life. Some of us may not have the financial resources to pledge much, but giving of your time and talents is another way to give back to God.
When you receive your pledge card, please prayerfully consider what God is calling you to give in 2020. We ask that you consider increasing your pledge, even by 1% to move toward that 10%. God lets us keep 90% of all that God has given to us and asks for only 10% in return.
We can't serve God and wealth. Jesus states that quite clearly. Money has its place in our lives, but it should not be the focus. Money is not good or evil. It's how we relate to money and how we use what we have that is important.
Jesus praised the dishonest manager for his planning ahead, not for his dishonesty. Are we planning for our eternal life with God as carefully as we plan for our retirement? We don't wait until we are 65 to try to plan our retirement. We shouldn't wait until the last minute to make plans for our eternal life with God. Action is needed now.
It takes time to grow any relationship, and that includes our relationship with God. The time to act is now. May God give us the wisdom and foresight to do the work that God has given us to do. Amen.
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