I Get Knocked Down 9-22-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:1-13, I explore the utterly confusing parable of the dishonest manager. In this strange teaching, Jesus compares the way the world works with the freedom that is offered through the Gospel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

I am a big fan of music…and particularly the music of my formative years, the late 90’s and into the early 2000’s. And an interesting aspect of music for me is the creativity that is expressed through the names of bands. There are some amazing…albeit strange…band names. Admittedly I have no idea what these names are supposed to mean…but they sound cool.

Now some of these bands are still popular today…others are probably still around, but they’ve faded into obscurity…and others have broken up…but their names remain seared into my consciousness. Names like Matchbox 20…The Goo Goo Dolls…Hoobastank…we’ve got others like The Urge, or Clever…Mr Plow was a popular Ames band when I was in college…and then there’s one that probably wins the title of “creative yet utterly weird” band name…Chumbawumba…a one-hit wonder from 1997 with a song title that is equally as strange as their name. Tubthumping.

Now the song itself was really catchy, although there weren’t a whole lot of lyrics…I mainly remember the opening line…(Sing) I get knocked down…but I get up again…you’re never gonna keep me down (repeat once…then pause).

I can’t help but think that there is a guy in Jesus’ parable for today that can relate to that song…or in the very least…the opening phrase…I get knocked down…

The parable of the dishonest manager…admittedly one of the BIGGEST headscratchers in Jesus’ repertoire of parables. Picture if you will…a wealthy individual who employs a manager.  Now this manager…he’s really bad at it…so bad that his boss walks up and pretty much says…you’ve got to the end of the day…and then…you’re fired…and the manager…he hits the panic button.  WHAT? I’M FIRED?!?! What am I gonna due?  I have no marketable skills what so ever. I’m not strong enough to dig, so manual labor is out of the question…and I’ll never land another management gig…and I’m not going to become a beggar, that’s TOO embarrassing. WHAT AM I GONNA DO?  (pause) He might as well be singing that opening line. I get knocked down…

But then in a moment of inspiration that continues to reveal just how lousy he is at managing his master’s property…he comes up with an idea that will soften the blow he’s about to endure.  And he calls up the different individuals that are in debt to his master…You there…how much do you owe?
And I can imaging the guy on the other end is like “What? Shouldn’t you know that? You’re really bad at your job.” And the manager is like “yah I know…but seriously…what’s the damage.”  100 vats of oil…okay cool…ummm take your receipt and make 50.   And you there…how much do you owe?  And while the second guy is probably thinking the exact same thing he says “I owe 100 batches of wheat.” Yah that’s cool…ummm let’s make it 80….and then in a moment truly inspired by the Godfather…the manager might as well be saying “Just remember that I have done you this favor.” (pause)

Why does he do this?  Because he’s about to be destitute…but maybe just maybe if he butters up his master’s clients…they’ll invite him to come in and stay as a guest…he’s still gonna be fired…he’s still knocked down…but maybe, in some small way…if he plays his cards right…he can get back up again. (pause)

Now that’s weird enough by itself…but in the major twist at the end…we hear that his master…the guy who’s property has been mishandled all along…and who just got cheated even worse…he actually applauds the guy for his shrewdness.

So I don’t know what we’re supposed to make of this Jesus.  I don’t know who we’re supposed to relate to in this parable. I don’t know what lesson we’re supposed to learn…none of this makes sense on its own.

But…that’s actually pretty common when it comes to the parables of Jesus isn’t it? Think about it…in many instances when Jesus uses a parable to illustrate a point he’s trying to make…the message tends to go over the heads of his audience doesn’t it? Even the disciples…how many times do we hear that Jesus has to explain things to them.  So maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising.

Jesus is in an exchange or a debate of some sort…and he illustrates it with a parable…but what got me this time, as I thought about that normal teaching style of Jesus…is that this time it almost seems like Luke wrote it down out of order.

We’ve got the parable first…and then the teaching that needs explanation comes right after it.  And admittedly…that one is almost as confusing.  The children of this age are more shrewd with each other than the children of light.  If you can’t be trusted with a little how will be trusted with much?  You cannot serve two masters…for a slave will love one and hate the other. (pause)

Now that teaching…it’s a little vague…but its kinda makes sense…and maybe just maybe if we think about that…and then swing back around to the parable maybe we realize that Jesus is throwing the most exaggerated wink in the history of winks as he tells it.

You cannot serve both God and wealth…WINK WINK…there’s a manager that’s SO BAD that he tries to utilize every possible legal loophole just to save his own keister…WINK WINK…and this one moment of craftiness is SO good…WINK WINK…that the guy who got swindled says “nice job.”  WINK WINK.

Like, maybe Jesus is in on the joke here…and he’s giving us the nod that lets us in on it too.  Because…he really seems to be saying….all this stuff over here…that’s how the world works…the world where everyone looks out for themselves…where people are crafty…wise though maybe not in a good way…they find the loopholes…they use the system…and its all geared at the idea that we look out for number 1.  We exploit everyone and everything to make sure that we come out on top.

I think that’s one way of looking at the action of this odd-ball story…another might be Jesus saying “look what happens when you try to accomplish everything according to the rules…to the law…it doesn’t work does it? And…that’s kinda eye opening isn’t it?  Because our society…our entire way of life…its all based on that idea isn’t it? That the dollar rules all…and that no matter how hard all the rules and regulations try to cover every contingency…it never quite works out like its supposed to…and people end up hurt because of it…I think we could see that idea in this story as well.  That the crafty are gonna be crafty…and the powerful are gonna applaud them for it. (pause)

But then there’s Jesus…and he says that’s all over here (hold up one hand)…but that’s not how the kingdom of heaven works over here (hold up the other one). And even more eye opening…Jesus is also indicating that its one or the other…and even though we’ve done a really good job in this country of trying to marry the two sides together…we’re lying to ourselves…and we see that as we consider the uncomfortable language that Jesus uses when he says that we’re a slave to one or the other…A SLAVE…

We don’t like the idea of slavery do we?  It’s a big ugly stain in our society that we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist but its there…And I think Jesus uses it on purpose…and its supposed to uncomfortable…because a slave has no agency do they?  They are completely at the mercy of their master, whatever or whoever that master is.

And that’s why Jesus holds up this mirror to a system that exists only to perpetuate the well-being of the self. Because when we put every egg in the basket of “I need more no matter what it might cost someone else” or “I gotta look out for me above everything” then we’re serving the master of stuff…and the master of this myth known as wealth and money. (pause)

Now is money bad? No, we need it. Working is good. Careers are good, compensation is good.  But when that dictates our entire existence, and we exploit every loophole in that system to get ahead…then we’ve made it a god. And that my friends is known as idolatry.

And when we realize that we’re stuck in it…and no matter how hard we try, our efforts to free ourselves are in vain…that’s when we realize the truth…that nothing I do can ultimate save me…nothing I achieve will ever really be enough.

And its in that moment…that you are truly susceptible to the saving truth of the gospel.  That any idea of righteousness isn’t something that we can ever achieve through personal effort or  shrewd dealing.  Our intellect isn’t gonna get us there.  And its only in knowing that there is NOTHING you can manage, that you will finally be willing to cry out for help.

But…the gospel tells us that this help has already been offered…and that’s the other side of the coin that Jesus is pointing us at today…the world works like this…and when you realize that’s not gonna get you anywhere, then the kingdom of heaven is over here on this side and the promise has already been given to you…and the Spirit will take this truth proclaimed to you and make it real.  That’s the gospel…and that’s what it means to be a slave to God…weird as that might sound.

Now saying that…to be a slave to God…its not saying that you just have to do everything that God says…but because faith…salvation…the gospel, all of that…its beyond your control. (Pause)

Think about the idea of being in love.  Do you step into love?  Do you sit down into love?  Do you make the choice to be in love?  No…what do they say? You…FALL in love…and to fall means you are out of control…the result is out of your hands…and so is faith. We hear the promise…that the love of God, the grace of God…the mercy of God is made real through the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ…and the Spirit uses that proclamation to free you from the burden of trying to earn it on your own. (pause)

And now the really wonderful thing about all this…is that we get to live out our lives in the reality of this truth…of this kingdom…of this way of being that is so UTTERLY OTHER than the way the world works…we get to live in the joy of THAT truth right here right now.

Salvation is not just about getting to heaven some day when we die.  Its not just some get of jail free card in some cosmic game of Monopoly. Salvation gives us freedom to live…fully embraced in the love of the one who knows you can’t do it on your own…and even better…is we get to share that same amazing news with others…we share it so they can hear it and the Holy Spirit can free them from serving that same crazy cycle that dominates this world.

How great is that…that no matter how hard this world smacks us around…no matter how many times we’ve gotta sing that phrase “I get knocked down…”  We’ve got the promise of one who lifts us up…who frees us from it…and maybe just maybe…he even gives us a wink as he’s doing it.  A wink that says “Now YOU’RE in on the joke…that all that stuff, it doesn’t ultimately matter. What really matters is the joy and the love of the one who frees you from it. Amen

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