Message Supplement for 18 September 2016–“Who Ya Servin’?”

Today’s passage presents a case of bad financial management (Luke 16: 1-13). Our tale begins as Jesus discusses a rich master whose financial manager was stealing. The master confronted the manager and told him to give an account of what was going on. Knowing that his crime would soon put him out of a job, the manager acted cleverly by cutting the debts owed by his master’s customers. The wicked manager did this because he wanted to appease potential new employers. (Note: Any master otherwise willing to hire the dishonest manager should be suspicious of being duped in the same manner.)
When the master discovered his crooked manager’s ruse, something unexpected happened: praise. Yes, the master congratulated his corrupt manager for his shrewdness in cutting the owed debts. Then to emphasize the point, Jesus says in Luke 16:9 to “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth . . . .” How many investment bankers thought of these verses leading up to the Great Recession of 2008? Suffice to say that Jesus’ words are something to wrestle with, but the most powerful statement is in the last verse: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13).
The stark choice to either serve God or wealth still stands. Sadly, the earth seems to revolve by an insatiable thirst for wealth and the greed which drives it. Most things in life boil down to riches and all the irresistible allure swirling around power and purse. Even more curious is that many Christians crave wealth and succumb to its temptations as much as non-Christians. What’s up with this? More and more statistics reveal that Evangelicals and most other Christian sects have members who are just as in debt as people who claim no religious affiliation. More on this in a future message, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Humans are driven to obtain what they want no matter the consequences. As creatures caught between earth and heaven, scripture attests that everyone has the choice of one of two masters: wealth or God. We might question whether the choice is a simple black/white matter, but we get the point that we need to be conscious of the difference between wealth and God. A productive, stimulating question is to ask ourselves what we want and what are we willing to give-up to obtain it. Do you control your money or does your love of money control you? Is wealth a master toward which we should sacrifice ourselves?
Money is the food and fuel of the world system, but we are supposed to be serving God rather than just gold and glitter. It’s easy to say what we need to do; it is far more difficult to do the right thing. Christians have said much about how to please God but history reveals that we have done a remarkably poor job. Sadly, the Church has earned its reputation as a hideout for hypocrites. We may cry to the world that we are blessed and cleansed yet our attitude and behavior demonstrates something else. Our walk needs to match our talk, and our loyalties must shift toward God and away from greed.
Money matters. Modern economies can’t function otherwise. Even Jesus paid his taxes (albeit on one occasion with a coin taken from a fish’s mouth!). But in admitting the necessity of money we must not overstate the case. God doesn’t want us to act irresponsibly with our money and that opens a vast topic about how we should spend our resources and accumulate wealth. We might all benefit from a refresher in Money Management 101. The church needs to take a more pivotal role in encouraging financial responsibility (including teaching classes and holding leaders to higher standards).
What about the so-called “health and wealth” gospel. This appealing conviction holds that God will bless anyone who “names it and claims it.” Critics of this approach cite the cases of righteous people who have been poor and miserable—not at all part of the One-percenters currently mocked in our culture. Yet the health and wealth benefits are not inherently opposed to Jesus’ message. People who enthusiastically claim God’s blessings demonstrate that as joy and hope rise, so also will our account balance of blessings, spiritual and perhaps even material. It’s not that God is guaranteeing wealth and riches—far from it!—but the people who are truly transformed in thinking and behaving will by virtue of their renewal become productive in a wonderful new manner.
There are good arguments and biblical stories that can support either side of the health and wealth argument. Promises abound for those who follow God. Then there’s the image of Jesus hanging on a cross, suggesting that even the son of God can be treated horribly and die a grisly death. So, pick your path and there will be a Bible story, a biblical command or saying to support you. As always, the key is to choose wisely and not be duped.
A great path to explore is to align yourself with whatever contributes to joy and fulfillment. Life dishes out enough misery, sadness, depression. If we want to show the world how God’s Spirit revitalizes then we need to showcase how we’ve been transformed. We needn’t stick our head in our hands and sob about how bad things are. Sure, we should reject the glib version of God blessing people with dollar signs. But we mustn’t throw-out the spiritual baby with the materialistic bath water. We can be open and creative in how we define prosperity. If you prosper because of your intimacy with God then no one can take that away. Critics may condemn you out of jealously but that doesn’t undermine how God is blessing you.
Human history is an ongoing psychodrama reminding us of the pros and cons of what controls us. Wealth addiction is especially dangerous, Jesus warned, because it becomes our master, twists our thinking, and turns us away from the virtues of fulfilled living under God’s love and truth. The truest riches are those that rust and moth don’t corrupt, and that thieves don’t break in and steal. Where is your treasure? And ultimately, what type of God are you serving? –Reverend Larry Hoxey.