14th Sunday After Trinity

I’m gonna be honest with y’all:

I have no clue what’s going on in this parable.

It is baffling.

This is a story

About a wealthy man

Whose accountant is embezzling from him.

He decides to fire this accountant,

And rightly so,

But gives him advance warning, I guess?

So during his notice period,

This accountant goes around to all the guys

Who owe the rich man money,

And tells them to rewrite their contracts

With lies

Saying they will pay back to the rich man

Less than they actually borrowed.

And then,

When the rich man finds out,

He says to this thief,

“Good job! You have done well.”

And then Jesus says to his disciples,

“Good job! Do like this manager.”

I mean, what?

I always start my sermon preparation with a series of questions about the section I plan to preach.

One of these is “what function is this text designed to serve?”

Last Monday, I wrote in my notes,

“To be honest, I have no idea.”

Commentaries were no help.

One footnote read,

“The parable defies any fully satisfactory explanation.”

Gee, thanks.

I guess we can just opt out

Of wrestling with the hard passages

In a published commentary

That costs hundreds of dollars.

I guess we can just skip the sections

That are hard to make sense of.

That don’t match our pre-conceived notions

About what God might be teaching.

I mean, if you think preparing this sermon was hard,

Just wait until you hear the Kids’ Talk!

“Lying is good, kids! Jesus said so!”

I mean …….

But here’s the thing: we can’t skip the hard passages.

We can’t ignore the parables that go against the grain.

We can’t smooth out

What the Scripture has left rough

Because it conflicts with what we imagine we know about Jesus.

So I started thinking.

If we assume, as we usually do,

That the rich man represents God,

What if the dishonest manager is the people who work for God?

The Church, basically.

If we look at it that way,

What might this parable be saying?

Assuming that Jesus doesn’t actually think that lying is good,

What might he be trying to tell us,

In our work for God,

In this story that defies a fully satisfactory explanation?

I think he might be telling us that

God’s wealth is meant

To be squandered.

We talked about this back in Lent

When we heard the story we skipped over between last week and this week.

The story of the Prodigal Son.

The son who took his father’s money

And squandered it.

The Greek word that we translate as “squandered”

Literally means “living without saving.”

Not putting anything by for a rainy day.

Giving absolutely everything away.

And when I think about who God is

And how God works,

That is exactly what I picture.

A God who holds nothing back.

A God who spends every penny he has

In order to be in relationship with us.

He’s not a prudent saver.

He’s not hedging his bets.

He is betting the farm

On us.

God squanders the riches of heaven and earth

For our sake.

But we

(The dishonest manager, remember?)

Do not.

The Church

Is not a place

Where wealth is squandered.

Not that we’ve got any wealth, to speak of.

But by and large,

Christians, in 2019,

Are extremely careful with our money.

We work hard to be honest managers.

Good stewards.

Accountable to God,

And more importantly,

Or at least more immediately,

To our donors.

We make sure that not one penny is wasted.

And we set aside funds for a rainy day.

But when that rainy day arrives,

(That’d be about now, if you look at church decline figures),

We remain hesitant.

What if an even rainier day

Comes along?

Better not risk it.

My friends, this is not the Gospel!

Jesus did not come that we may have a careful, frugal, orderly future!

Jesus came that we might have life,

And have it abundantly.

And he squandered the riches of heaven itself,

Giving even his very own life away

As he bet big

On us.

So it’s time to start following his example.

It’s time to go out into the highways and byways,

To tell everybody

That the bill they thought was one hundred

Is now fifty.

That the hammer they’ve been living under

Is gone

Because Jesus gave everything he had

In order to make it so.

And we do this not only by word,

But also by example.

Because the Jesus who bet big on us,

Is counting on us

To pay it forward.

What could we do, Good Shepherd,

If we bet big

If we squandered it all

If we took a risk

For the sake of God’s kingdom?

What abundant life

Could we offer our neighbours

If we lived without saving

And gave everything we had

To get them out from under the hammer

Even at the risk of our jobs

Even at the risk of our reputations

Even at the risk of our very own lives?

What if that’s what it means to be faithful?

To be a good steward

Of the gifts God has given us?

Not to prudently set it up in a bank account

And live off the interest,

But to spend our time, talent,

And yes, treasure,

Wildly,

Riskily,

Holding nothing back

So that others may know the God

Who holds nothing back from them.

After all,

That’s what Jesus teaches in the parable of the sower!

A sower went out to sow some seed.

He didn’t set up a committee to do a needs assessment.

He didn’t analyze the land to find the best soil.

He scattered the seed wildly.

Some of it went really poorly.

Could be considered an utter failure.

Eaten up by the birds

Or choked off at the root

Before it even had a chance.

Some of it went really fantastically well!

It produced one hundredfold

What the sower expected it would.

God’s seeds are not meant to be prudently sowed.

They are meant to be scattered wildly,

With extravagant optimism

That this squandering,

This living without saving,

This betting the farm

On an uncertain future

May produce the wealth of the eternal homes.

And so today I invite you to dream big.

To consider what God might be asking us to risk

For the sake of the wealth

That can only come

When we give it all away.

Because the God who squandered the riches of heaven itself

To come find you

Gives abundant life

Beyond measure.

Amen.