Proper 20 Pent 15A September 18, 2022 St. John, New Orleans
When my grandfather felt like he had become successful enough to splurge on a few luxuries he decided to go car shopping.
It was 1978. And the 74 Chevy was showing its age, as cars from that era often did.
Rust was appearing around the wheels. And it burned a bit of oil, I think.
He had his eyes on a Cadillac.
But he came home with a Buick Electra limited, instead.
When asked why he didn't get the Cadillac, he said, “mother (meaning his wife, my grandma) wouldn't permit it. She said it would be showing off.”
and so the rest of their days they drove Buicks except for a brief time after a 1989 Caprice.
That one didn't stay around Long.
Grandma said, “I thought I'd save a little, but it just wasn't the same as the Buicks.”
Interestingly, she said nothing when her son, my uncle, started buying Cadillacs.
While this might be a silly little story, it illustrates how impressions surrounding money and wealth cause us to make interesting choices.
Even though they were faithful Christians
and generous in their support of their church, their community,
and even foreign missions, with their gifts and offerings,
they were concerned that others would assume they were selfish or arrogant if they drove the wrong car.
I experienced this in my first call.
I was making such a small salary that the federal government said I didn't even have to make student loan payments for several years.
but I was given a used Lexus from a family member who knew we needed more reliable transportation.
A line of gossip spread that I was being paid too much,
until I was able to explain to them the car was a gift.
And it was interesting to note that those who seemed most bothered
were those who were least invested in the work of the congregation.
They were in church each week and attended every voters meeting,
but never served on boards or ministries.
If one assessed their own lifestyle choices, they obviously were comfortable.
Yet, it was offensive to them that I had an 8-year-old luxury sedan.
The readings today all deal with our relationship with money and our relationship with God and others and the resulting decisions we make among them.
In the Old Testament lesson, we see the poor marginalized and trampled by Israel.
And God's warning that he will not forget their terrible behavior.
The Epistle tells Timothy and the churches he is leading to focus their prayers on others instead of themselves. Particularly for their civil leaders, so that they live in peace.
And, lastly, in the gospel, we have the parable of the unfaithful manager.
His wasteful ways were discovered and he's about to be fired.
So, to save face and make himself look better, he has those who owe his boss write down their debts to a lesser amount.
Whether it's demeaning the poor, being selfishness in prayer and service in the church, or shoddy dealings in the business world,
people are constantly placing priority on themselves,
and making choices that not only don't consider others,
but make themselves enemies of God.
This is a difficult topic for us Americans because we are all very wealthy.
Yet, I'm sure if I asked you to ‘raise your hand if you are wealthy’ none of you would do so.
In fact, I'm positive that many of you today are very concerned about your financial situation.
And are worried about having enough money to pay the bills, and to take you through retirement.
Yet, statistically, we are all one percenters.
That is, our incomes are in the top 1% of all the people in the world.
According to a 2012 Forbes magazine article on 2010 census data,
if you make $34,000 per year, you are in that 1%. That's about $17.00 an hour.
The median, or middle income for United States households, that year was $51,914.
As of the 2020 census, that number was $67,521
and was roughly 3% less than in 2019, attributed to Covid.
Obviously, since we aren't all living in the lap of luxury, there are other factors at play.
But suffice it to say, if not for our American Birthright, our lives could be dramatically different.
And if we don't take care, we might easily be lumped along with the Israelites Amos describes in the Old Testament and the manager in Jesus’ parable.
So, when it comes to judging our relationship with money, it depends on ownership, doesn't it?
To keep the car analogy going, when you first buy a car you take amazing care of it, don't you?
You make room in the garage for it every day!
You spring for the extra wax when you go through the car wash.
But how about a rental car?
Do you vacuum the carpet before you return it?
Or do you leave your burger wrappers and coke cups in the cup holders when you return it?
Or, let me use a different example.
If your neighbor asks to borrow your shovel or a power tool, do you expect them to return it?
Or, do you say, “here you go! It's yours now. Do with it what you want?”
And here's one more, home ownership versus rental.
When we were renting in college, we couldn't hang anything on the walls with nails or pins.
And you could have any color of wall you wanted as long as it was white.
And any carpet, as long as it was rust colored, sculptured shag.
But when we purchase a home or condominium, the first thing we do is personalize it
by painting the walls, laying new carpet,
and hanging up pictures and artwork that fits our personality and taste.
As sons and daughters of God, one of the first things that we must realize is that everything comes from, and belongs to, God.
He made the Earth and sky and everything in them.
He gave us life and blessed us with talents and abilities.
Not only to provide for ourselves,
but to but to do good works that he created for us, even before we were born.
And just as he made us, he made others, and makes our paths cross each other,
so that we can benefit and grow from one another.
But also, so that we can help, support, and hold one another up when we are weak.
And, most importantly, he gave us the gift of his only son, Jesus, to be our scapegoat
So that we would not suffer eternal death for our sins
And so that we could know the peace that comes from that salvation from hell.
And so, whether we are blessed in a certain way or not, we are still the Lords.
Even if we don't want to be.
Even if we fail to fulfill his intentions for us.
Perhaps here is where our gospel lesson is most helpful. There, Jesus talks about trust even if he doesn’t use the word.
It's in his parable of the wicked manager and within earshot of the money loving Pharisees.
In terms of the cosmic scale of the universe and the scope of eternity, money is nothing.
And in the parable, money is the small thing that the manager could not be trusted with.
He was the account manager, but that was all
He wasn’t the production manager, the HR guy, or the Marketing Director
He collected the bosses money and, evidently, wasted too much of what he collected.
Seeing his failure, the owner would never elevate this manager to manage people or negotiate deals, now that he has wasted money,
So then, neither can God in trust the teaching of the gospel to the Pharisees.
It is too important a task to entrust to someone who is distracted by something so trivial as money.
And in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees where known for their affinity toward luxury and status.
Of course, When we hear Jesus scolding the Pharisees, we do a quick self-check to be sure we aren't like them, don’t we?
Surely, we are better than them and aren't as proud of our status and wealth as them?
But is that what this is about? Is it really about how much money we have?
No! It’s not how much we've been given. It's about how we've used what was given.
The Pharisees had been blessed to be revered by all of Israel.
Because they know the law and the prophets,
they can communicate to Israel about the mysteries of God
and what they mean for everyday life.
They are blessed to proclaim the coming Messiah who will save all Israel.
And in gratefulness, Israel has demonstrated their appreciation by gifting them with wealth.
Unfortunately, they forgot who owns the wealth.
Once it hit their pockets, they thought it was theirs.
And instead of asking, “Lord, how shall I reinvest these gifts into your people?”
They instead used them to meet their own desires and whims.
Remember when I told you about my meager salary as a new, Associate Pastor, driving the Lexus?
We really were poor.
In fact, if we would have lived just twelve miles east in Missouri,
we would have qualified for food stamps, but in Kansas we didn't.
But I knew that we needed to live in the community we served,
and the church promised they would work hard to raise my salary over time.
And so, every dime I made went to rent, groceries for our family of five, insurance, etc.
But, at the end of the paycheck, there was still month leftover.
And I hadn't given anything to the Lord.
After a few months, my Senior Pastor confronted me about that.
He was kind and gentle and knew just how bad off we were.
But he said, “yes, the bills and debt are yours, but the means of paying is Gods.
He lets you decide the best way to distribute it.
But he expects a bit of it first.
And it was then that he encouraged me to start small. Very small. And to give something from each and every paycheck to the church and grow than amount overtime.
He pointed me to a verse in Malachi 3:10 where God challenges us to outgive God.
He says that if we put him first, “see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no need.”
So, the first year it was $10 a week that we gave.
Then the next year, 1% of my paycheck.
And the next year, 2 1/2%.
And then five, and then ten.
In five years, God had led me from giving nearly nothing, to trusting ten percent of my income to him.
And do you know what's even more amazing?
Over that time the church had a tough go of it.
And we only got two raises in those five years, which totaled only about 3 or 4%.
Somehow, God stretched the other 90% that we set aside to live on when we contributed 10% to him first.
He found a way for us to live on less
Yet, we felt like we were living better than we were when we were short-changing God.
Our way in life promises to be so much better when we put our relationship with God first.
First off, we will know him better as we worship him and study his word.
Secondly, fueled by his Holy Spirit through that word, we will be able to see and do those good works he has set up for us.
It might be feeding the poor, as in Amos,
but it might also mean being the best employee, or neighbor, or spouse,
in order that another is blessed through you.
Lastly, you will not be as anxious about what you don't have,
because you will be so busy counting your blessings,
even if they aren't monetary.
I know I've talked a lot about money today, but I hope you heard it was also a sermon about trust and love.
Trusting God enough to see his blessings no so much as a gift, than a loan.
And that out of your love for God and his son Jesus,
you strive to take the best care of those blessings
and use them for his purposes in the world around you
so that the rest of the world may be blessed by his love as well.
In Jesus name. Amen.