Inspired by Luke 16:1-13
Not too long ago I told you a sermon on money was in your near future. Well, here we are. I may have told you I was eager to do this. I may have even told you I was chomping at the bit to preach about money! Why? Because I fully believe that how we handle our money, is a spiritual discipline. How we handle our money is just as important, just as spiritual, as anything else we do on our faith journeys—just as spiritual as praying, as feeding people at the Gathering Inn, as singing your favorite hymn, as coming to the table to be nourished, as reading scripture, as being kind to a stranger, as inviting someone to come and see what we do and experience here at Bethlehem.
But we humans, especially us American humans, because this isn’t the case in all cultures, we don’t like to talk about money very much do we? When people have plenty of it, they’d just rather keep that on the qt. And when times are tough, some of us go to great lengths to try and hide that. Until I became a pastor at the age of 38, my wife and I spent all of our adult years well below the poverty line. And you would not believe the lengths we would go, to hide that from our children. But, in their own way, they knew. Even though they would have never articulated it this way—they would have never said they were poor—in their own way, they knew. I’m not sure if keeping that from them was the wisest thing to do, maybe it’s just part of the silly things we humans do when it comes to money. Only time will tell.
What I do know is this. We pastors, are not doing our congregations any favors by not talking, teaching, preaching, about money. Again, what we do with our money, is a spiritual discipline. And therefore, it’s a worship ritual of ours. When you place your offering in that offering plate as it goes around, that is an act of worship. I mean, if you think about it, we could collect your offerings in any number of ways right? We could have you mail them in. We could say from now on all offerings need to be in electronic form. Or we could do like many non-denominational churches do, like one that my family and I visited one time, and just leave a basket at the back of the church for you to drop your offering in. But no, as Lutherans we believe that the very act of giving, is an act of worship, because it is a spiritual discipline.
And make no mistake, the moment at which we take our offering during the worship service is very deliberate, very intentional. We Lutherans also like to have a reason for every little thing we do. And when we don’t have a reason we’ll make one! But you didn’t hear that from me. But think about when in the service we take an offering. It’s sandwiched between the Gospel reading and the table, between the proclamation of the Word made flesh, and our communion with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the son of the living God.
It is after the Gospel reading and the sermon as if to say, now that you have heard the Word of God, made flesh in God’s son Jesus, the gospel, the good news, and have been transformed by it, will you respond to it? The hope is that you will respond with your time, and your talents, and now, in this moment with your treasure. We even use the word treasure to avoid using the word money. Oh we silly humans! And when we drop our offering into that plate it’s our way of saying yes! We will respond. And this is how. We are fully committed to the good news that has been proclaimed today. And we are all in!
And it’s also just before we go up to the table, to commune with our God and with one another. And we bring our offerings up with the bread and wine? Why? Because we know that something amazing happens here. Ordinary people are transformed. Hearts are opened. Lives are changed. Ordinary bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ and are consumed by us so that we can be the body and blood of Christ out in the world beyond these four walls. And likewise, we bring our offerings of money up—ordinary paper, ink, metal coins—as if to say, here you go God, more ordinary things for you to transform into an abundance of love and grace like only you can, through the work of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, through us.
But Jesus isn’t constrained by this world. Jesus is the ruler of the cosmos! We are not. And though some day we will get to join him in the next world, we are still here. And that’s what this story is all about—the tension between this world and the next, between this world’s constraints, and the kingdom’s abundant grace and mercy. And Jesus knows that we need to know how to live in this world, be successful in this world, be wise and cunning in this world, especially with our money, that’s why he tells this strange story and commends the dishonest manager. The manager gets it! The manager knows how to play the silly games of this world, knows how to be successful in this world, even at the expense of his integrity.
Is Jesus advocating these dishonest practices? No, he’s simply saying that we have a responsibility, an obligation even, to figure out this world, because our job, and when I say job I mean that in every sense of the word, our job, as followers of Christ is not just to be successful here in this world and let that be the end of it, but to use our successes, no matter how small, even ten dollars at a time, to bring about the kingdom of God, every chance we get—to continue that transforming work of God, outside this place, into the world, transforming it into the place of peace, love, mercy, that we experience here, inside these four walls. For which we say, thanks be to God. Amen.