Monday, September 19, 2016

Should We Follow the Rules OR Be Faithful?

Luke 16: 1-13
September 18, 2016

Oh my this parable.
This has got to be one of the most confusing parables.
I mean it’s easy figure out what’s going on,
but the message seems contradictory
to things that we assume about Jesus
and our place in the world as Christians
that we doubt our understanding of it.

The story itself is simple to understand:
A manager has been put in charge of his bosses  accounts
he’s been accused of being dishonest
and his boss tells him to clean out his desk
because his pink slip is on its way.

The manager knows he 
isn’t good at manual labor,
and he doesn’t want to be homeless,
so he has a plan. 
Make all the customers happy
and they’ll be nice to him later
and maybe they’ll let him 
sleep on their couch.

So he calls up Henry and says, Henry,
how much do you owe my boss?
and Henry says, 100 bucks.
So the manager says,
“why don’t you just give me 50 
and we’ll call it even?”
and Henry jumps on the 
chance and is very happy.
Then he calls up Doris 
and says how much do you owe?
She owes a hundred bucks too.
He goes, how about 80, can you do that?
She’s like, “Yeah, I can do that right now.”
So, let’s do it and we’ll call it even.

Now, you think that the boss would be pretty angry
because there the manager goes again being dishonest.
But no, the owner of the business applauds the manager
He actually approves.
He says, “that was pretty clever.”

And the first confusing thing is that act is commended by Jesus, he says,
“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”

And the second confusing thing is that Jesus seems to discredit that
statement immediately in the warning in the
next two verses.

“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.
11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,
who will entrust to you the true riches?
12And if you have not been faithful
with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is your own?

So we have the story,
The statement, “make friends by dishonest wealth”
and the warning, “whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much”

Now some people say that the
Warning doesn’t belong because it seems to contradict
the story and the statement.
And some reasonable people say that the
statement doesn’t belong because
Jesus couldn’t be praising a dishonest manager.
And some people say that Jesus never said the parable at all
and just ignore the whole thing.

Our discomfort with this parable
and why it causes so many interpretive gymnastics
 is that we can’t wrap our heads
around the fact that Jesus is praising dishonesty.
Maybe as Christians, we’ve spent so much of our
history teaching each other that to be Christian
is to follow the rules and be good citizens.

So this parable is so consternating because it doesn’t
go along with what we’ve been brought up with as Christians.

I think we have to take Jesus at face value,
We have to say that he said this, because all the proof
we have is that Luke says he said this.
So we have to deal with what he said.

And I have to say, I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here.
And I might change my mind next week, but here goes.

In the story, Jesus gives an example
of a manager being “dishonest”
Now he doesn’t rob people, he doesn’t keep the money for himself.
He’s not that kind of dishonest.
What he actually does is he changes the system.

The system is this:
There’s a boss who has a lot of wealth and people borrow,
then they owe.  They actually owe a lot.
Most likely a lot more than they borrowed.
They are in debt. That is their status.
It becomes their identity.

But when the manager came in and forgives debts,
Now their identity is not as a debtor, they are equal.

This is not the way the system is supposed to work.
You can’t just go forgiving debts.
Who will know who owes what?
Who will know who is higher class and lower class?
Now the boss will have nothing to hold over the debtors.
It changed the whole system that drives the world.

Now this actually benefits everyone.
It’s win, win, win.
The people who owed obviously benefit.
The manager benefits, because he will be welcome into
the homes of the people who owed.

And even the boss benefited because now he has $130
that he wouldn’t have had and everyone in town
thinks he’s the greatest guy in the world.

So maybe the most faithful thing to do
was to buck the system, not follow the rules,
and to be dishonest in the eyes of the world.

Now, does Jesus mean to say that we should
embezzle money from our jobs and give it away?
I don’t think so, but what do we have control over?
What has been entrusted to us?

Remember, this is all in response to the fact that
the Pharisees and scribes have been grumbling.
“Why is Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners?”
In other words,
Why is Jesus rewarding people who have so much
repenting and changing to do?
They owe so much because of their life choices.
Shouldn’t he be showing tough love to these people?
Shouldn’t he be telling them all about their sins,
and telling them that he won’t love them until their debts are paid?
If he just goes and eats with them and welcomes them,
that would reward them and they would have no reason to change.
it would buck the whole system which benefits us.

Maybe Jesus is saying the “faithful” way is to buck the system.
Maybe Jesus is saying “honest wealth” is the one where
everyone gets the benefits that God gives and not just
the few privileged ones who have been raised on the ladder of success.

Maybe Jesus is telling us that maintaining
the system is not the honorable way
and treating people with love and kindness is.
Maybe Jesus is telling us that the system is actually “dishonest”
and the “faithful” way is to go around it or change it.

So what has been entrusted to us?
As individuals and as the Church, the body of Christ?
I’ve talked before about Luther Memorial Place
in Washington DC. It’s in the middle of DC in a depressed
neighborhood and like a lot of churches, it was
struggling during the 70’s when members
started to move to the safer suburbs.
Then in 1976 there was a particularly cold
winter and several homeless people died of exposure.

So the pastor, John Steinbruck and maybe the council,
decided to open the doors of the church
and let people sleep inside the church.
Soon there were hundreds of people sleeping all over the building.
That was not part of the system as it was understood.

A friend of ours was actually a part of that church at the time,
and I asked him, did it cause any trouble?
He goes, “oh my gosh yes, there was tons of trouble.”
Lots of members of the church were complaining
council meetings were really tough for a while,
things went missing in the church.
There was no place to have a meeting.
It was real trouble.

But suddenly the church had a mission, a point.
The building served a purpose now,
the neighborhood fell in love with the church in a way it hadn’t.
Everything changed.

Steinbruck told us in a class that he taught that
when the synod asked for the parochial report
for the church-- basically asking if the membership was up to snuff
to get their mission support money from the synod--
he just counted every person that had slept
on their floors for the past year –  675 that’s our membership.
He said, (not in a nice way)
“If those people at the head office didn’t like it, they could lump it”
That was the kind of pastor he was.

Did he follow the rules? Did he go with the system as written?
Did they do things the way you were supposed to do things
in the Lutheran Church in the 1970’s no way.
Did they get into any trouble for bucking the system.
You betcha. From lots of sides.

But was it a faithful use of what had been entrusted to the church? Yes.
Was it in service to God? Obviously.
Did everyone win in this situation?
- The homeless who were previously freezing? Check.
- The congregation that was lacking a clear direction? Check.
- The national church that would come to see Luther place
 as a model of what a church should be? Check.

Maybe the most honest way of dealing with things
is the way that looks crazy and most dishonest to the rest of the world.

The children of this age are more shrewd in
dealing with their own generation than the children of the light.

Are we as Christians so bogged down with doing
the right and proper thing by the rule book that we
sometimes forget  about taking chances for God?

What if the message of this parable is that
Jesus wanted his church to stop clinging to rules and to actually be faithful?
To use the worldly wealth that we have not to keep order,
but to throw things into chaos?

What rules and systems are we clinging to?
What faithful things are we saying, we can’t do
because maybe it breaks the rules as they are?
Because the boss wants it this way?

What if Jesus is asking us to throw your rule book away?
What if Jesus is telling us to stop being responsible and start being faithful?

Is there someone who doesn’t deserve your forgiveness at all?
Is there someone who’s debt to you could never be repaid?
Is there something you feel called to do that doesn’t
meet any of your criterion for worthiness?

What if Jesus is telling us to break our own rules
that we’ve established?

Could we get into trouble?
Sure we could.  Jesus got into plenty of trouble for us.

But as Jesus said, “you cannot serve two masters.”
You cannot serve money, rules or security
and God at the same time.

Jesus is the unjust steward.
He is the shrewd manager.
He knows that the world is not saved by respectability.
Or by rules or doctrine.
The world was saved by breaking those rules
It is saved by love, by grace,
by friendships and relationships.

Salvation came through Jesus,
not through following the system,
Not through counting debts and repayments
and figuring out who was better than who.
Jesus saved all of us by releasing our debts.
By just giving it all away.
Jesus is a crook, robbing the system of its power.
Giving life to those who don’t deserve it.

We were saved by a scoundrel,
a rule-breaker a man who hung
to death between two thieves on a cross.

Jesus was faithful with what was given to him
and in return he gave us true riches.
He knew he could not serve two masters.

For our sake, he chose to serve God.

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