Year C Proper 20, 18 September 2022 St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA “Shrewd About That Which Endures” Collect: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Luke 16:1-13 Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And 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. "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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." Okay, friends. Good morning. Today I need you to put on your theological seatbelts and hold on for the ride we are about to go on. It may just surprise you, and the Gospel reading may not say what you think it says. It is a little confusing, admittedly. Even St. Augustine said of this parable, “I can’t believe this story came from the lips of our Lord.”(Feasting on the Gospels- Luke, Vol. 2, p. 210) So if you are confused, you are in good company. We have a common phrase, or something like one, “If only [fill-in-the-blank] would use their powers for good.” In a day and time that is filled with superhero movies and stories, this is an easy trope. You have powers, and you have a choice on how you will use them. And our wily manager today is someone who chose their powers for personal gain, and not for the greater good. But let’s look at what it says, and what it does not say, and what point Jesus was probably making in the telling of this tale. There are basically only a few types of parables, there are the “Nature of God” parables like the Dad in the Prodigal Son, and there are “Go and Do Likewise” parables like the Good Samaritan, and there are “How Much More” parables where those in the kingdom should do SO MUCH MORE than the example given like the Unrighteous Judge. This is obviously in the latter category, where Jesus is not telling us to be like this despicable character, but to look at how he does what he does and why he does what he does and learn from them. The Shrewd Manager calls in people who owe his master debts, pretty sizable debts which would make it almost impossible for a tenant farmer to ever pay back. Like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons, these farmers “owed their soul to the company store.” The manager had already lost his position for not taking care of business appropriately for his master, but he could use the last moments of authority that he had to take care of himself. He was going to lose in the short term, but he was going to make it so that he was taken care of in the long term where he could call in the favors he was extending today. `How much do you owe my master?' `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' `A hundred containers of wheat.' `Take your bill and make it eighty.' Then he gets commended by the master, not as in “Good job! You are great!” But I see it more like, “Okay, pretty smart! I see what you did there. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” He was commended for being wily, not for being good. The owner saw the wiley-ness of the manager, not the skill of the manager. Jesus himself says, “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” The Children of the Light, God’s people, are not wily when they should be. So how is this explicitly encouraging to the disciples of Jesus? How are these instructions for us to grow in the Kingdom personally and to help the Kingdom grow? We need to be about playing the long game. We need to make wise decisions that stand the test of time to the best of our ability. We need to be shrewd, and at times, take calculated risks. And like I said, the phrase we have for it these days is more like “If only they would use their powers for good!” We have the abilities to do good, great things, but we do not think and act strategically and intentionally, like the Dishonest Manager. We also need to consider our long term care. What are we doing today that will have eternal significance? That is where Jesus gets us into the pithy sayings that we are more used to. "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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." This is far more straight forward, part of the Great Reversal teachings of Jesus. It goes directly against the prevalent teaching of his day, and too often in ours, that if you are rich you are blessed. It comes back to intent, and motivation. Why do you do what you do? Jesus' story is about making sure to play the long game, and what could be longer than Eternity? If the Dishonest Manager can worry about his future, and make sure he is taken care of, what about you? What are you doing today that echoes through Eternity? What are doing daily to prepare your soul for… forever? When we speak about our daily devotions or the Daily Office, we are serious. How do build in today what you want your forever to be? Financial advisors say people spend more time planning their vacations than they do their retirement. Let me speak to you as your Spiritual Advisor. What are your plans for the inevitable? And what about our church. Last week I mentioned in our announcements how we are at the point of “All Hands On Deck!” For us to get back to the “normal,” new normal or old normal, I do not care, but for us to do that then we need folks to step up and commit. We have a wonderful way of stepping up and making things happen, like the care shown at Wiley Hughes Memorial Service yesterday. Thanks for all those who made the day special for the Hughes family! We will see more of that at today’s reception for Dawn, our new deacon. We are good at lending a helping hand. We just need to have more of that on our sign-up lists and volunteers in our youth and children’s ministries. If we are so focused on putting out today’s fires, it is nigh impossible for us to play the long game that Jesus encourages us to be about today. We have to be intentional and strategic which takes vision, time, planning, and implementation. Our pavilion has been years in the making, months in the paperwork, and it will be weeks in the building. But it took time to see it, envision its use, and commitment for it to come to reality. We saw we could do it, and now we are doing it. Thanks be to God! There are few things that last. I had opportunity to preach on this text this week at the old school where I used to teach, Anna Julia Cooper School on Church Hill down in the city. Preaching at a middle school sermon is a bit different than a formal Sunday morning service. I started with the phrase that we used in our collect for today: while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure… So I asked the kids what lasted forever. Their answers were things you might expect. Mountains. (Remember, we are talking about kids, here.) Family. Love. God. The Agape Love of the Family of God is closer to what I am going for. But all their answers were good. We are called to move deeper into the Kingdom of God, and be strategic and intentional about growing said Kingdom is what we are really talking about. This crazy parable says as much. Friends, invest in things that will bring the greatest return. Look to your right. Look to your left. Look in the mirror. These things, these beloved children of God, yourself included, are of the greatest value for we are the very image of God and nothing is greater in all creation.
As we care for everyone, especially the “least of these” as Jesus called those in need, then we are really doing it for him. The Dishonest Manager was only looking out for himself. He appeared to be taking care of those in debt, only to ask for payback later. We give and help freely, because that is what Christ would have us do. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. May we be found faithful. Amen