Uncomfortable Wealth

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, September 18, 2022
Luke 16:1-13

    When you hear Jesus repeatedly use the phrase, “dishonest wealth,” what comes to mind?  Jeff Bezos and the Amazon empire, blood diamonds?  Factories using sweatshops in third-world countries rather than employing people here to be paid fairly with US made products?  Just this week, as we continue to mourn the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, I saw a headline that noted in a time where the British monarchy called for austerity, Prince Charles, now King Charles III of course, used inherited wealth, tax shelters, investments, and marketing to make billions for his family.  British politician Lord Acton famously said that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Today as we wrestle with this challenging parable from Jesus about wealth and our relationship to money, I think we could just as well replace power with money in that phrase.  Money easily corrupts.
Money easily corrupts.  In a marriage, financial stress is one of the leading causes of divorce.  No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, you cannot win as a politician unless you can raise a lot of money, and we see money frequently corrupting government and politicians.  Sadly, even in the church, next to sexual abuse, financial mismanagement is the second biggest cause of a church’s downfall.  Here at Faith, we are intentional about having safety protocols in place to manage your offerings just as we ensure all of our staff and volunteers who work with children are background checked trained to recognize and prevent abuse.   And even with good money management systems with checks and balances in a church, there are way too many hardworking people who have been taken advantage of by pastors and others in the church telling lies that if they contribute more money, God will somehow bless them or love them more, bankrupting people on fixed incomes while the leaders of the church own multimillion dollar homes and fly around in private jets.
Jesus actually talks about money more than any other topic in the gospels.  Jesus understands how easily money can corrupt, can cause us to be dishonest, and can even cause us to worship money as our god rather than our Lord and Savior.  The political and financial systems of Jesus’ day were corrupt.  Jesus tries to address people’s concerns about how to be faithful with money when money so easily corrupts.  This gospel passage is a headscratcher for me, I will be honest. It’s one of those that I want to ask Jesus about when I get to heaven!   Sometimes Jesus tells parables, and it makes total sense, and sometimes, like in our gospel for today, we have a parable from Jesus that we have to spend a lifetime trying to understand.
Nonetheless, here are a few takeaways:  I’m not sure that Jesus uses this dishonest manager as a positive example, but we do hear that Jesus wants us to be shrewd, faithful managers of what God has given us, which includes our material wealth.  A better translation for this word “shrewd” is “prudent” or “wise.”  It’s not meant to be a negative thing.  God gave us brains, and Jesus encourages us to use them.  Jesus wants us to take whatever steps we can take to be wise, prudent stewards of the resources God has given us.  This includes doing our best to manage our finances well.  If you have been meaning to work on a budget, or talk to a financial advisor or counselor, or reconsider your investment strategies, maybe this gospel is the nudging you need today.  Money is not inherently bad or dishonest.  You as individuals and we as the church in fact can make great, positive impacts in the world when we use wealth prudently and try to make faithful choices in managing money.
Secondly, Jesus tells us today that we can’t serve God and wealth.  Jesus again encourages us to remember what our true riches are from God, and that’s something all the money in the world can’t buy:  an everlasting, eternal relationship with God.  Our worries and thinking about money easily can dominate our time and energy.  It seems no matter how much wealth we have, we want more; and it can be very difficult to be satisfied with what we have or to NOT worry about what we DON’T have.  We are all aware that we are living in volatile times financially in the world today, and this can cause even more anxiety and attention given to our financial struggles.  We can all take small steps every day to put God first and money second:  starting and ending our day with a prayer.  Putting our financial worries down on paper in a letter to God.  Remembering to give back to God with our time, talents, and yes, our money even when money is tight.  In fact, Jesus reminds us today to remember that what we think is OUR wealth is actually God’s.  All we have has been entrusted to us to manage by our Lord, creator of all.  Thinking and praying about how God would want us to use our money – how to save, spend, and give, helps us put God first rather than use money for our own ends first and then giving God the leftovers or as a last thought.
New Testament professor and Lutheran Pastor Mark Alan Powell writes in his book, Giving to God, about the Christian conversion of the Gauls a few centuries after Christ.  The church at that time baptized adults primarily by immersion in rivers and lakes, and the priests noticed as they baptized the Gaul soldiers, they would hold their right arm out of the water as they were dunked in the baptismal rite.  Later in battle, these soldiers would do quite violent things with that arm saying, “This hand has not been baptized!”  Pastor Powell notes that we are still tempted today to do this with some aspects of our life as Christians.  When it comes to how we use our money and wealth, it’s as if some of us are holding our wallets or bank accounts above our heads saying, “but this money is mine; it has not been baptized!”  “I’ll do anything for you, God, just don’t touch my money.”  Jesus tells us we can’t serve two masters. We can’t serve God and wealth at the same time.  All of us, every part of ourselves has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We are children of the light, called to reflect the light and love of Christ that lives within us.  We have received the true riches of God’s grace, which is worth more than all of the money in the world, despite what the world may tell us about money on a day-to-day basis.
In our reading from 1 Timothy this morning, we hear how God makes an eternal investment in us by sending Christ Jesus as a human to give himself as a ransom for all on the cross.  God speaks to us in financial terms to help us understand that God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  God wants us to know the truth about ourselves, which is that we are worth more to God than anything else.  We are God’s priceless treasure.  Today, Jesus asks us to think about how we reciprocate by showing with our lives that a relationship with God is worth more than anything else to us.  This relationship is worth our investment. It is an everlasting relationship with incalculable reward.  May the Holy Spirit help us be faithful as God in Christ has been faithful to us.  Amen.