from preaching to meddling: the other six days

We worship God on Sunday, the first day of the week, but I want to talk about what we do Monday through Saturday, the other six days.  For a Christian Sunday is the Lord's Day; of course, it has other meanings; there is professional football on Sunday, Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sunday, the newspaper is thicker on Sunday.  But for a Christian it is the Lord's Day, the Day of Resurrection, the day Christians gather to celebrate the good news of God's victory over sin and death.

Sunday is important, but it is true that most of our time is spent in those other six days.  And since most of our waking moments are there, what happens in those six days flows into this one, what happens in the world of family and commerce flows into the sanctuary.  Sometimes we give thanks for something good; at other times we find ourselves confessing some flaw or failure.

The perspectives of the culture that we gain by participating and observing the culture also shape us when we gather as church.  And so we wonder how business practices could help the church, or how other non-profit organizations are similar to the church, and we bring ideas of how the church might be different, more effective, more relevant.  How might a different style of worship give us a greater market share?  How might a particular kind of communication increase our fundraising?  How might alternative scheduling be a better fit with a culture of leisure and sports?

The gospel for this morning, in a small way, is an attempt to ask the opposite question:  how might the gospel influence what we do on the other six days, and here we are thinking about our lives as managers of households and workplaces, and where we invest our time and our resources.  What does the gospel have to say to an attorney or a banker, a teacher or a saleswoman, a nurse or a supervisor? 

If we look to Luke 16, the answer is not quite the one we were expecting.  To be honest, it must be one of the more difficult teachings that Jesus shared along the road from the Galilee to Jerusalem.

A man is given a task, but he is wasting his time, and his employer's money.  This gets back to the boss, who plans to fire him, and this news gets back to the employee.  Bad news really does travel quickly.  The end is near.  And so the employee comes up with a plan; what does he have to lose?  He goes around to all of the clients.  "We've been supplying you with soft drinks, you owe us $10,000, I have a deal for you, if you pay me today the price is only $5000.  "We've been furnishing your coffee; you owe us $5000, if you can pay now it is $4000". 

And so it goes.  The  boss and the employee meet.   As Jesus tells the story, the boss compliments the employee for being so clever, some versions of the Bible translate the Greek word as "astute"  or "shrewd".   And here is Jesus' interpretation of the parable:  those who belong to the world are more clever than those who belong to the light.  And in the same way the dishonest manager prepared for his future, we should prepare for ours.

It is a simple story, on the surface, but coming up with a moral to take away from it is not so easy.  Our economic, religious and political worlds have been battered by dishonest stewards of what has been entrusted to them.  I don't need to read chapter and verse on that, if we have been awake the last few years it is right before our eyes.  Jesus is not saying, about the dishonest manager, as he says about the Good Samaritan, " go and do likewise".

The dishonest manager simply puts himself in the good graces of those who have resources, so they will take care of him in his upcoming hour of need.  It is clever, shrewd, astute.  What do we make of it?  One scholar argues that the employee had taken his own commission out of the sale, and was commended for this reason.  Another suggests that the employee is paving the way for others to show hospitality to him later. 

And so in part the employee is looking out for himself, and Jesus commends him for this.  There is a realization that, much of the time, our motives are a mixed bag!  When I was a young boy I was probably one of the most awkward teenagers in the world.   I would often attend the youth group at my church.  Why do you think I went?  Be honest.  I went because teenage girls were there.  Along the way some good things happened:  I heard the gospel.  And yes,  my motives were a mixed bag.  I have shared the story of Bill White's gift of a boat to the United Methodist Church, a decision be came to one Christmas.  What was his motivation?  Well, he loved the church, he had an interest in missions, and he told me one time and many others, he needed to make a gift for tax purposes!   Along the way the Haiti Mission was born.  And yes,  his motives were a mixed bag.

We go through our lives, especially on the other six days, and at times we are trying to do good and do well, help others and satisfy some need that is within us, for security or advancement or pleasure.  We sometimes call this a "win-win" outcome.  It is not a common biblical perspective, but it is here in the story that Jesus is telling, and I am simply repeating it to you!

If there is a point to the parable, it might be this:   Followers of Jesus uses their creativity and intelligence to solve problems.  In this way we can learn something from those who belong to the world. 

The teaching continues with a comment that is brief but powerful- whoever is faithful in a little will be faithful in much,  and whoever is dishonest in a little will be dishonest over much

I love the realism of Fred Craddock's commentary:

"Life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities.  Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake.  More likely the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday School class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice and feed the neighbor's cat".

Whoever is faithful in a little will be faithful in much.

Perhaps you remember the words are ascribed to Mother Teresa:  "We are not called to do great things, but small things with great love."  I also love the context of that quote, which is, "What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful".

It is true that what is done in secret has a way of becoming public.  Character matters.  The small things, and our faithfulness in small things matters.  The small things are an indication of how we would be stewards of the larger things.  Maybe we don't sweat the small stuff, but we pay attention to the small stuff.  The small things, as we are attentive to them together, add up to something big. 

Our gospel lesson ends with another brief proverb of Jesus:  a household servant cannot serve two masters; we end up loving one and hating the other.  We cannot serve God and mammon, or God and money. 

Jesus took a considerable amount of time along the way to talk with his disciples, his friends about management and money.  We tend to think that Jesus was spiritual, and he was, but Jesus talked more about money in the gospels than any other subject except the kingdom of God, and he often connected the two.  We tend to disconnect the spiritual life and the material world, the Lord's day from the other six days, what I do in church from what I do in everyday life.  Jesus talked a lot about everyday life.  And there has always been a bit of an expectation about the sermon.  "Preacher, we like it when you talk to us about our relationship with God, but when you get into affordable housing or health care, protecting the unborn or the environment, you've quit preaching and gone to meddling!". 

Preaching is about today, Sunday.  Meddling is about the other six days. We sometimes focus on the tithe, 10% of what we do with our income, which is the basis of what belongs to God.  That is biblical and for three thousand years the tithe, 10% is the first fruits that we give to God.  We do not often focus on what we do with the other 90% of our income.  Does God care about that?  Does it matter?  Of course it matters.

"That's my money", you're saying.  "You've quit preaching and gone to meddling!"

We sometimes focus on attendance in worship, participation in Sunday School, and this is the Lord's day, set aside for this purpose, and it has been so for two thousand years.  But what about the other six days?  Does God care about those?  Does it matter?  Of course it matters.

"What I do with my time is my decision", you're saying.  "You've quit preaching and gone to meddling!"

The thread through these complex stories is that our work matters just as much as our worship.  Perhaps we approach this by asking how our faith is a part of the bottom line, remembering that we will be accountable to the Lord for our stewardship of the 10% and the 90%, of the Lord's day and the other six days.  To be a child of the light is to remember that what appears to belong to us actually belongs to someone else, what appears to be something small may actually be of great significance, that we really cannot multi-task between God and money.  Jesus says we have to choose. 

The aha moment in the parable comes early, in verse three of chapter 16.  " I am too weak to dig and too ashamed to beg".  It is a moment of crisis and clarity.  We are, in this life, utterly dependent on each other and accountable to each other.  And what is true in this life is even more true in the life to come.    We are, in the end, utterly dependent and finally accountable to God.

What is the master calling us to do in our positions of influence?  What is the master asking us to do with the decisions that are ours to make?  What is the master expecting us to do with the resources that are at our disposable? 

Of course, only you and I can answer those questions.  These are questions that require us to think, to be as creative as that dishonest manager, but toward a greater good, and for a security that is eternal.   Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you

Source:  Fred Craddock, Luke (Interpretation).