Earning a sermon on Luke 16:1-8
Joe Cailles, pastor Trinity United Methodist Church
Sunday October 20, 2019, The 18th Sunday after Trinity Sunday

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

Alright, so let’s recap this story Jesus tells us to see if what seems to be happening here is what is actually happening here.

Jesus tells a story to his disciples about a manager who is charged with squandering the property of his rich master. The manger, realizing that he’s going to be fired and probably a lot worse, goes to the people who owe the rich man money, and the manager reduces the amounts each person owes so that, what, I guess, they’ll hire him once he’s fired? Like that’s a good idea to hire an accountant who fixes the accounting books right in front of you! That’s the first weird part of the story. Then, Jesus says the master commends the manager for acting shrewdly, which, yes, the manager shrewdly reduced the income for the rich man, so that’s weird, and then, finally, Jesus seems to say that the shrewd, dishonest manger is a model for all disciples, for the children of light.
What is going on here?
Is it possible that Jesus is being sarcastic and ironic here? When the dishonest manager is held up as the “hero” of the story, is Jesus using sarcasm quotes when he tells this story? We can’t see that in the text but is it possible that Jesus ends the story, His master “commended” the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. Maybe he’s saying the word “commended” but really Jesus means “fired” and “arrested” and “thrown in jail.” Sarcasm is one way to interpret Jesus’ story here.
John Wesley, the Anglican priest who established Methodism nearly 300 years ago grappled with interpreting this parable and why the dishonest manager was the commended hero.  Wesley’s view is that commendable part was not the self-serving, blatant dishonesty but the commendable part was the manager’s foresight, and consistency and his steady pursuit of his principles when his professional livelihood is threatened. He’s morally bankrupt but he’s steadfast and thinking ahead!
So the point of the parable for John Wesley is not that Jesus is telling us that it is acceptable to mismanage funds and to steal and to commit fraud but the point is we are to be forthright and steadfast and focused in our discipleship and in the ways we follow Jesus. The dishonest manager is an anti-hero like Walter White in breaking bad or Professor Snape in Harry Potter: morally bankrupt, cruel yes but fully committed to his work.
Wesley expanded his interpretation of the dishonest manager story to form the basis of a sermon he wrote in 1789 entitled, “The Use of Money.” Wesley used this story and his interpretation to ask us Methodists, what it would be like for us Methodist Christians to be forthright and steady and focused in our discipleship, particularly with our money? Wesley’s sermon The Use of Money is a very very very long sermon in 18th century English. I read it again this week and I am not going to read it aloud today. Wesley had three points in his sermon: to be forthright and steady and focused in our financial discipleship, we United Methodists today must do three things: Earn all we can. Save all we can. Give all we can. Earn, save and give all we can.
Right now we are in the season of the life of the church when we are praying about and planning for next year’s church ministries and church leadership and the church budget. What is Christ calling Trinity to do and to be in 2020. What ministries need to be done here at Trinity and out in the world which won’t happen unless we commit our time and out talents and our financial resources to them? Wesley’s three financial discipleship points. Earn all we can. Save all we can. Give all we can. Wesley included all of them in one sermon which I’m guessing took a solid hour to read aloud. We’ll break that down into parts look at each one of them today and in the next two Sundays.
When it comes to our financial discipleship and stewardship, John Wesley says first, Earn all you can. Now right away we have some caveats that we need to attach to earn all you can. Don’t earn all you can illegally and dishonestly like the dishonest manager in the story. Do not steal money from your employers or clients. Do not steal money from your children or parents to earn all you can. That is not what Jesus is saying. That is not what John Wesley is saying. Don’t leave here saying that Pastor Joe says that it’s OK to commit fraud for Jesus. It is not.
And, “Earn all you can” is not really on the same level as “love God” and “love all your neighbors.” Jesus did not say, the greatest of all commandments is to love God and love your neighbor and earn all you can. That’s not in Bible!
And that’s a relief because for many, many, many of us we don’t have much control over how much we earn. John Wesley says earn all you can but how many of us can just do that? “I’m glad Pastor Joe told me to earn all I can, I wasn’t sure before, but now I’m going to earn all I can.”
If children get allowances that’s established and set by parents. Employees get salaries set by their employers. Retirees get pensions set by the government. Some of us don’t work professionally. Some of are unemployed and without any earnings at all.
So for us today, earning all you can isn’t so much about elevating our incomes because Jesus and John Wesley tell us to.
Earn all you can for us today means considering our professions and our work and our finances as essential parts of our Christian discipleship. Christian discipleship isn’t just about following Jesus to church on Sundays. Christian discipleship happens wherever we are spending most of our time and talents, including school and on the job in our homes. Christian discipleship also means our faith informs our financial decisions.
For those of us who are students, most of our time and talents are focused on school and study and earning good grades and getting deeper knowledge and new insights and experiences. Earning all you can, means learning and earning all that the schools and your teachers are offering so that you can grow in your knowledge and abilities to become stronger, focused, disciples of Jesus Christ.
For those of us who are professional, earning salaries, don’t be like the dishonest manager stealing from your employers and clients but we approach our work as part of our Christian faith. We treat our colleagues and clients with respect and integrity. Put away gossip and malice. Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We’re ready to admit our mistakes and eager to do better. We read real-life horror stories these days about harassment and discrimination and wretched evil behavior on the job. Don’t do that! Don’t be tomorrow’s bad news headlines. For professionals Earn all you can means earn the professional reputation of being forthright and steady and a person of moral integrity.
For those of who are retired or not working professionally. For those of us who don’t’ have reliable sources of income, Jesus and John Wesley are not saying go out and get a job or go to grad school. Nope. Earn all you can there means looking for all the ways you can be loving and kind and merciful and forgiving. Trinity church could not function properly without the time and talents and the wisdom of those who are not earning a professional income. Earn all you can has less to do with making more money than with making the most of the opportunities for good works that Christ puts before you and before all of us. For all of us we are all looking for the ways that Christ’s love is expressed professionally and at a school and at home.
My entire professional life has been in the church, and so for me my faith and my profession and how I spend my earnings have all come packaged together. I give a tithe to the church and have for almost all of my professional life. It’s the first check I write each time I get paid. That’s one way I have of being forthright and steady in my discipleship. After our prayers, we’re going to hear from Courtney Diette, one of Trinity’s lay leaders about how her faith shapes her professional life.
We are all followers of Jesus; we are all his disciples here at church and at school and on the job and in our houses. We who are followers of Jesus and we who are his disciples, we make decisions about how we spend our time and how we spend our earnings because we want to do as Jesus does, alleviate the pain and hurt in our world, care for those in need and care for those around us, and we want to help his kingdom of justice and peace more real in this world. Wherever we spend most of our time these days: schoolhouse, farmhouse, warehouse, Waffle House, doghouse, cat house, hen house, poor house, or White House, that’s an area for our discipleship. Whatever we do in life preacher, teacher, student, homemaker, professional, retired, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, we do so with the Christian values and ideals of love, and justice and compassion and moral integrity. In all that we do we will be like that dishonest manager; we will be forthright and steady and focused in our Christian discipleship.