Sermon: The Irresponsible Steward

The Irresponsible Steward
Luke 16:1-8
September 18, 2016

My father in law, Frank Beatrice, was 95 years old when he died 2 ½ years ago; I would consider him to be the most honest man I ever have ever known. When he worked in the lumber yard, he saw $800 in rolled up bills fall out of a man’s pocket and promptly returned it to him.  When asked why he didn’t keep the money, he said giving it back was the right thing to do.  Although he had struggled all of his life to earn a living and pay the bills, he was generous with what he had.  When Frank was in his mid-80’s, he had a part time job where he collected hundreds of dollars of loose change from newspaper vending machines.  When he hurt his back and was out of work for 6 months, the Newspaper Company held his job for him because they valued his dependability and honesty.

In our scripture text for today, the rich owner in Jesus’ parable was not so fortunate to have someone like my father in law working for him. The rich owner’s top manager or accountant had misappropriated company funds and was fired, but in a surprise moral twist Jesus implies that we should be wise or savvy when it comes to the Kingdom of God.   My text is Luke 16:1-8.

Then 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. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 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.’ 8 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. This is the Word of God.

I must tell you, this passage of scripture is considered to be one of the “hard sayings of Jesus” and it can be a head scratcher. Now if Jesus were with us today, he might have told this parable in this way:  Once there was a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company who was told that his accountant was lining his own pockets with company money.  So he called this man and demanded an accounting of his mismanagement.  But the CEO was smart enough to know that he still need the accountant to fix the mess that he created, so he gave him a two week notice and if he did a good job, he would give him a decent recommendation.  But the accountant was worried and thought to himself, “What should I do.  I have a house mortgage, a car payment and two kids in college.  Now I am about to lose my job and I am too old to do manual labor.”Then he came up with this idea that might set himself up for the future.  So he called one client and told him to meet him at a very expensive restaurant and over lunch he told him that he would take fifty cents on the dollar on all that he owed.  To the other client he made a similar offer.  Mind you, what accountant did was not illegal, all he did was take out some of the hidden interest charges and was able to make a profit for his old company.  When the CEO of the Fortune 500 Company heard what his accountant did, he commended him for his clever scheme before he sent him on his way.

Now you might be wondering, why would Jesus tell such a story with such a curious moral twist, but I believe the answer could be that our Lord wishes his children would serve Him with an honest type of creativity or savvy for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In other words, He wants us to think outside the box—to use that that skill and effort, applying it to the kingdom of God.

One example of this out-of-the-box thinking was what Christian activist and author, Jim Wallis, wrote about one church’s response to inner city gangs and drug lords in a small Detroit neighborhood. The church members saw their neighborhood had become a dangerous place to live.  Around 2005 they used some savvy and out of the box thinking to take action:  the senior ladies of the church sat in lawn chairs on each street corner; the ladies were armed with video cameras.  The funny thing about this was, that most of the ladies from the church had no idea how to work the cameras, but the drug dealers and gang members didn’t know that.  From their fold out lawn chairs, these ladies pointed their cameras at any illegal activity they suspected.  Those performing illegal activity tend to be camera-shy.

Using shrewdness, the church beat the drug lords and gangs at their own games, and as a result the neighborhood began to feel safe again. That is an example of how we could use unconventional means for good and make a difference.  And that would be in the spirit of this parable.

In early June, Stan Culy told me that he attended a most unusual church service called “Dinner or Simple Church”. As he told me about it, he was very excited about his experience and urged me to go.  I took mental note and said I would look into it, but I sort of forgot about it.  In early August, I was at a minister’s conference and heard that same pastor who runs the Dinner Church speak.  His name is Zak Kersee and he is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School.  Two years ago he was assigned to the Grafton UMC, which was on the verge of closing.  Wanting to reach the Millennials and Generation Z who would never attend a traditional worship service, he came up with the idea of a “Simple or Dinner Church.” Pastor Kersee demonstrated what he does at the conference, and I was hooked.

On Thurs Aug 25th four other people from our church joined me as we drove up to Grafton where we participated in the Dinner Church.  Let me tell you what we did: We all got into a circle where we received a word of greeting, Then Pastor Zak broke a fresh loaf of baked bread like we do in communion and we sang a song.  Then we sat down and began to eat.  Halfway through the meal, the scripture was read and we received a 2 minute sermon.  Then it was up to all of us at our table to discuss what the Lord was saying to us.  We finished the evening with the cup of communion and a final song.  What made this different was we were all active participants.  It is the type experiential service that appeals to a younger generation.  This type of church is in keeping with the shrewdness or savvy of what Jesus said.  Perhaps it is something that we might like to try here in Rockville.

There is a minister in our New England Conference who pastors a traditional Sunday morning worship service in a very nice church building. But she also has a religious discussion group that meets in a restaurant type of bar.  She told me that many people who would never attend a church feel quite comfortable in this type of setting; they feel free to talk about the things of God.

In keeping with shrewdness or savvy or creativity, there is a term I would like to introduce; it is a concept called the Emerging Church:

  • For example, I know of 5 Episcopal churches across the USA that have organic gardens which are also available to the people of the community. It is an opportunity for the pastor and church members to build relationships with other organic gardeners.
  • The River Cross Church of Gainesville, Florida asks its members take empty grocery sacks to homes in the community with instructions asking residents to fill the sack with non-perishable food. Then, two weeks later, church members return for the filled sacks and give the food to families who need it. It is like big Brothers and Big Sisters do in this area.
  • The Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois sponsors summer outdoor movie nights that people from the community enjoy.
  • The Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago has a Saturday School where church members provide free tutoring for those in K-5th grade.
  • The Rock Church in Point Loma, California has a mime ministry which is used to connect people to the gospel.
  • The Branch Christian Church in Vancouver Washington has what they call Date Night-where the church provides complimentary baby-sitting for couples in the community on Valentine’s Day.
  • The Edmund Boulevard Baptist Church of San Angelo, Texas has Community Kite Flying Day-where it gives a free kite to the first 100 children. They provide free hot dogs, chips and drinks as well. There are awards for highest, longest in flite and most creative.
  • I heard of one church that provides coffee and snacks at a local emergency room waiting area.

As we go forward with ‘holy shrewdness’, ‘holy savvy’ or ‘holy creativity’, perhaps you have a gift or talent that is unique that could be used to help others or reach them for the gospel. Perhaps our church can try something that may be out of the box, so listen to your heart.