Last week we affirmed that the mission of the church can only be God's mission. We have no other mission than God's mission. We affirmed this: that this is the church of Christ and he must become greater with no emphasis on us. All that we do and all that we are is by God's hand moving among us. He secures our future, he saves - we are merely servants of the gospel.

Now, if that is the case. If we are truly striving to be about his mission in every way, what on earth shall we say about the various ways that we spend our money and time? What shall we say about the many wonderful resources that we acquire and manage? How do we manage earthly matters and spiritual matters at the same time - especially if everything is mission?

Read Luke 16:1-13

If you have ever heard of the hard sayings of Jesus, then this is one of them. This story is controversial in the history of the church. It is a tale of thieves and scoundrels. And in its conclusion, Jesus seems to be noting that there's some worthy lesson in the action of the clever manager. [Stories about clever rogues are not unique. Everybody loves Robin Hood because he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. But however heroic we make him, he is stealing. He is breaking the law.] The commentaries give so many different views on this text that it is nearly confusing. There are attempts to clean this story up, but they always seem to miss the point ...

The point is in verses 8 and 9 when Jesus says, "For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." Jesus is taking a tale about the children of this age and placing it in contrast with the kingdom. If the scoundrels, rascals, tyrants, and desperate citizens of this present age have the imagination and determination to further their causes, then how much more imagination and determination should we have for the cause of the kingdom?

The controversy about this text mirrors the controversies we have about use of resources and wealth. This saying may be a hard saying not only because it seems that Jesus is applauded a shady character, but because this parable calls us to a singular devotion and commitment that seems radical and extreme against our thinned out religious traditions. That happens when we view our faith as static and completed rather than viewing it as mission and journey. When Christianity is a matter of correctness and formality it becomes a bureaucratic game that attempts to balance the status quo. It becomes nothing more than a set of rituals that really do not make a difference ...

[William Wallace became a thorn in English King Edward I's side because he didn't subscribe to the legal formalities of warfare. For him, this wasn't a game for nobles and lawyers. Wallace was determined to win freedom from England at all costs and would not stop until they executed him. There were no compromises.]

Our controversial little story from Jesus is intended to stir us to thought and press us to make some important decisions. The story raises two key questions that force us to align ourselves in the kingdom or the world ...

First question - Who do you serve? We need to be clear and certain in this choice. In urgent times we cannot be patient with split decisions or wavering. "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." - v. 13

For all the shame of it, the dishonest manager was clear about his master. His "boss" in the story was a means to an end. Don't assume that this manager was in any way particularly loyal to this wealthy lord. No, the manager's "lord" was his own self. He serves "mammon," and even if the Big Boss was going to fire him, then he was going to use the Big Boss to provide for his future. As a servant of mammon [or his own selfishness] he will do whatever it takes to fulfill his cause and other "so-called lords" will not deter him. He is undistracted!

Kingdom ethics are very different for the children of light, but we need to have a higher level of loyalty for our Lord is much greater and more worthy. The parable calls upon us to move from the lesser to the greater: If the children of this age are so determined and undistracted in their service to a false Lord, why aren't we, the children of light, all the more determined and undistracted in our service to THE Lord?

Second Question - How will we use the resources we have been given? If our answer to the first question is that we serve God, then that determines how we will use what we've been given. It is an issue of faith and trust. Listen again to the little proverbial statement Jesus makes and his application: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" (v. 10-11)

Sometimes you have to appreciate the enemy's style. (When an opposing team scores in a brilliant way you have to tip your hat).
The crooked manager is good at something. He's a good embezzler. Why didn't he just take the money and run? Because he sets up a situation in which he cannot lose. If the Big Boss kicks him out of the house, he has new friends who owe him favors. Yet, by being generous and forgiving debts to the Big Boss' clients he has won their favor for the Big Boss. The Boss has great honor and satisfied clients. He stands a chance of getting in good with the Boss - and if the Boss cans him, then the Boss loses honor and favor among his clients. When the little plan is over, the Boss decides that he wants someone this clever on his team - even if it means risking a little embezzlement.

Again we are called from the lesser things (little, filthy lucre) to the greater things (much, true riches): If the children of this age know how to be creative, imaginative, and bold in using resources for their unrighteous efforts, how much more creative, imaginative, bold and risky should we be for the sake of the kingdom? Don't misunderstand, I am not saying we should adopt the ethics or the tactics of the children of this age, rather I am saying we should outthink them, out risk them, and outwork them. We can develop our own creative ways of using "stuff" for God's mission.
Too often our concerns are not about ethics and mission. We are more frightened about making mistakes. We are more concerned about offending our sensibilities. We are limited in our vision and stalled to comfortable inactivity because we think that God has no hands but our hands to do his work on earth - or we think that God has no pocketbook but our pocketbook. This lack of imagination and action allows the children of this age to outdo the children of light.

I recall a conversation in the mid-1990's with church leaders who were certain that the Internet was a passing fad. One lone voice was trying to convince them that they needed to see the kingdom opportunities with this new form of communication. I would say that the lone voice won out. I don't think that conversations like that happened among the opportunists in the porn business. One of the first industries to make major use of the Internet was the porn industry. Some of the children of light avoided the Internet because of it.

Why do we let them claim turf that rightfully belongs to our master? Why aren't we bold enough and determined enough to establish our Lord's presence in the midst of hell's territory? Are we too timid or effete? Do we think that it would scandalize God or send the wrong message? God offended the sensibilities of religious nobles when he set up shop at the intersection of Sin and Shame and chose a cross as his sign. . . his message was clear!

William Willimon tells the story of a Florida church that had once been a great congregation in the heart of the city. But the city changed and the neighborhood declined. The congregation dwindled and the membership was made up of those who commuted from the suburbs. The congregation soon had a problem with vagrants and homeless men around the old church building. They dirtied the place up and on a few occasions they broke into the church building. The congregation put locks on the doors but the vagrants broke the locks. So a meeting was held to discuss better security and bigger locks. What could they do to keep these homeless people from damaging their building?

One person said, "I'm bothered by the church locking people out, especially to those in need?"

One of the church leaders replied, "Well what do you want us to do, just throw the doors open and tell them to come on in and help yourself?"

From the back of the room a voice piped up, "Why not?" It was one of the oldest members of the congregation "We've been having a tough time attracting folk to this church. Here are people so eager to get into the church that they break down the doors and we're putting locks on them! Let's let them in!"

Someone moved the question to a vote and that night they left the doors wide open. Twenty homeless men showed up. There were all sorts of problems - the kind that require creative thinking and imagination and clever action I am sure - but in time the church worked with these homeless people and people realized how new life had come to this church.

Jesus said, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." (16:9)

In our service to God's mission as saved people how are we going to be faithful with the lesser things? Will we be distracted by our sensibilities, our traditions, our nostalgic past or our presupposed future? Will we be distracted by our allegiance to comfort or fear? Or will we be faithful in the things of this world that all belong to God - yes even what is in our own bank accounts, every penny of it - and will we serve our God so faithfully, creatively, and boldly that some of the children of this age may just be drawn to the light of reflected off his children.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 16 January 2005

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