Posts Tagged ‘Dishonest Manager’

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

Confirmation Question Responses 9-22-13

Some more good questions came up both in confirmation class as well as through sermon notes last Sunday. I’ll do my best to address them here.

In class we talked about the Bible and the books that are included in the canon (or are considered to be “scripture”). We also discussed that the Catholic Bible is longer than the Protestant Bible and that the extra books in the Catholic Bible are called the Apocrypha. The question was, how many books are in the Apocrypha. The answer to that question is 16, which include the following: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, Bel, Maccabees 1-4, Esdras 1 and 4 (we don’t know what happened to 2-3), and the Prayer of Manasseh.  In addition, there are other writings that we have, particularly from the New Testament era that are not included in either the Bible or the Apocrypha. These include many different gospel accounts and epistles (letters).

The sermon, which you can read/hear here came from Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the dishonest manager. It raised the following questions from sermon notes:

-Why did Jesus teach the parable if no one understands it?
Great question, and one that many different Bible scholars have tried to answer. Different people make different interpretations of this passage, but it seems that everyone (at least everyone that I have read) agrees that it is very difficult to know what Jesus is really trying to accomplish with this parable.  That being said, we have other examples of parables that were unclear, and the audience asked for clarification. Matthew chapter 13 is a good example of this, and it also addresses why Jesus taught in parables. He used examples that people could understand, because he was relating the kingdom of God to everyday life. But since the kingdom of God goes way beyond our understanding, sometimes the audience still can’t grasp it and asked Jesus for clarification.  That could be what happened here as well and Luke simply doesn’t tell the rest of the story, or he doesn’t include Jesus’ explanation. Remember that the gospels give us a glimpse into the life of Jesus, but we don’t get every single detail.

-Why does God tell us to do one thing but then turn around and do another?
I’ll admit, I’m at a bit of a loss to answer this question, because I’m not quite sure what it is referring to. The context of the question would be helpful. But I guess if I was to fire from the hip on it I would say that God does some things that humanity is instructed not to simply because we are not God. God is the creator of everything and some of what God must do goes beyond what we are to do.  Admittedly, not the best answer, but that’s what I can offer.

-What was Jesus a teacher of?
In a nutshell, Jesus taught about God and God’s kingdom that was to come. I realize that might not really answer the question, and so I turn to John chapter 3, particularly verses 31-34. Jesus came teaching…or in this case testifying…about God and Heaven and he can do so truthfully because he has seen it. Find those verses in your Bible and read them. I think they sum it up pretty well.

I Don’t Get It 9-22-13

This sermon comes from Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the dishonest manager. In this sermon I tackle the difficult teaching of Jesus and acknowledge the fact that sometimes we just don’t understand.

Hear the sermon here:

Here’s the sermon in text form. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I’ve gotta remember to do them somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
One of the highlights of my day actually occurs twice. About 8am and about 3pm. It involves a walk of about ¾ of a mile to the school and back. First taking the kids to school and then bringing them home from school.  Right now, while the weather is nice, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few minutes with my kids. I never know what we’re going to talk about, but it’s a great way to have a couple of minutes of undivided attention.
Earlier this week, we were walking along when one of Underwood’s all black squirrels darted across the road in front of us. My daughter Ava, ever inquisitive with her 7-year old mind, asked the inevitable question… “What makes that squirrel black? They’re usually grey or brown.” (pause)
My first thought was that it was an excellent and very valid question. I thought about for a moment, and I was instantly transplanted back to my sophomore year of high school. The words chromosome, and genetic traits, and punit square flashed across my mind. You see, all through school, I was a math and science guy. I loved that stuff, and still do, and I knew…at least at a bachelor’s degree level, how a squirrel could be born with the genetic code to be black rather than the normal coloration.
But I knew that if I tried to explain all that to my daughter, she would simply stare at me with a slightly glazed expression that I see on some of your faces right now…and so I had to try to explain, carefully, how the mommy squirrel and the daddy squirrel each passed on a code for black, even if they weren’t that color. She told me that she understood, though I’m not 100% sure that she really did…and parents of youngsters out there, my apologies if I just opened a can of worms that you have to deal with later on today.
But isn’t that what teaching is all about? Trying to help someone understand a concept or an idea? Explaining it in a way that they can comprehend…even if it isn’t covering every single nuance and detail? It’s this very notion of teaching that causes me to fell massive amounts of respect for individuals that choose teaching as their profession. While I have the ability to understand a lot of scientific or mathematical stuff…I don’t always feel confident in my ability to simplify that understanding to help someone learn it for the first time…and sometimes I have to think REALLY hard about how to do it. Sometimes I pull it off…and other times…I just get the blank stares.
Sometimes I wonder about the mind of Jesus…he was a teacher…after all, countless people called him Rabbi, which literally means teacher. He had disciples that followed him around…crowds that pressed in on him hoping to learn something…and he had countless experiences with opposition that tried to test and trick him into teaching the wrong thing.
Jesus was…in every way…a teacher. And his classroom was very similar to the one that I was in earlier this week. Real life, just out walking around…that was Jesus’ classroom. And while he utilized many different teaching methods…one of the most common, especially here in Luke’s gospel…was the parable.
Now we’ve been hearing a lot of different parables lately…I preached on two different one’s last week alone. Truly, we can see from the gospels that Jesus was fond of this style. And to a certain extent, it makes sense. Take a concept, and give an illustration from regular life that helps to make that point…obviously I like it, if you’ve noticed I pretty much do that sort of thing every week. (pause)
But sometimes when I think about parables…I find myself thinking about the people that hear it…just like I often find myself thinking about how you will hear the words that I speak.  I think about them…the audience of Jesus…and I wonder if the parables always worked.
At first glance…maybe that’s a silly question. Jesus was God…he knew everything so of course his parables always worked right…he knew what the people needed to hear…but is that the way it worked out?  I’m don’t think so…not really.
Many different times we see that Jesus has to explain himself to the crowds…he has to explain what he’s talking about in the parable…and its not limited to the crowds, but even the disciples seem to miss out on his message and have to ask him what he’s talking about.
My guess is that Jesus was no stranger to blank stares…blank stares that indicate a total lack of understanding of what he’s talking about…and I wonder if that ever got frustrating for Jesus. He was fully human after all…certainly he felt the same emotions that we feel. Frustration…anger…sadness…and when I think about that I also ask myself…do you suppose Jesus was ever sarcastic? Do you think he ever got snarky?
Today’s story might just be an answer to that question. The parable of the dishonest manager…I’ll let you in on a little bit of a pastor secret. None of us really like this parable…because none of us can make any sense out of it…me included. I have read this parable many times in the past and this week, I read it countless times…and I kinda wish that I had set up a video camera to record myself because I think that my blank stare…my utterly confused reaction to the story…probably would have been hilarious to see.
I thought a lot about this parable…about this guy who is fired for being a poor manager…this guy who then proceeds to continue doing the exact same thing that he was fired for…poor management of his master’s property…this guy who is commended for being crafty and outsmarting other people to benefit himself…and I can’t make head’s or tails of it…and apparently neither can anyone else.
I read a lot of different commentaries on this passage and they pretty much all say the same thing. We hate this parable and we really don’t know what Jesus is saying here.
Who knows…maybe Jesus is being snarky…maybe he’s being sarcastic with this lesson…maybe he’s speaking tongue in cheek…but the more I read it…the more confused I get…and I’ve found myself asking over and over again “Lord…what are you trying to say?” (pause) and I find myself staring…with that blank stare.
I don’t know about you…but I find myself a little irritated by that…and maybe you find it a little frustrating too. After all…isn’t that why I went to seminary…to be able to interpret the Bible…to be able to understand what God is telling us through the scripture and then to be able to relate that on to others?  So what’s going on here? Am I just dropping the ball this week or what? (pause)
Or maybe…just maybe…God is intending a little different lesson this week. We have trouble understanding this passage…this particular teaching of Jesus…and you know what…this isn’t the other one. The Bible is chock full of stuff that I struggle to understand. Passages that are difficult…verses that seem to contradict each other. Stories that eat away at my conscience…the Bible…is a tough book…and the word of God, while wonderful…is also maddening at times isn’t it? (pause)
And I think when we are honest with ourselves…we find ourselves in the same boat as the individuals that were sitting there that day…listening to Jesus speak and wondering just what the heck he’s talking about. Even the 12 disciples experienced it.
They experienced the confusion because of 2 things…the first is that God goes WAY beyond our limited understanding. WAY BEYOND…God’s not unlike the game of golf in that respect…the second you think you’ve got something figured out…you don’t…and that frustrating truth is simply an symptom of the second reason that we get confused…because life…life as we know it…life tainted and warped by the sinful reality that we live in…is quite literally…one giant mess.
Life is messy. Because there are no rules to life. The second we think that there’s a rule to adheres to every aspect of life universally…we’re wrong. There are no certainties…although if you’re anything like me, when I say that your mind instantly goes to that old saying the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Well…sorry…not even those work. You don’t have to pay your taxes. It’s unwise not to…but you don’t have to…there’s always prison.  And death…well…the good news is…that Jesus changed that one too. (pause)
So my friends…I stand before you today…and I wish I had some miraculous insight into today’s story…some way to explain why Jesus tells this parable…about what it means…but I don’t. I find it just as confusing as you do…and if you have any insight then I’d love to hear it.
But I will tell you this…if you hear today’s story and you find yourself confused…staring blankly…well…you’re in good company…because even Jesus’ closest followers had to ask him what he was talking about pretty regularly.
And even though Jesus, in his full humanity…might have found himself frustrated with the lack of understanding…and maybe, just maybe got a little snarky from time to time…we can still take joy in knowing that God loves us enough to break into this messy reality we call life…and we can take joy in knowing that NOTHING in all creation can separate us from that amazing Love of God in Christ Jesus…even in those times when we don’t understand it. Amen.