Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

What can we draw from this Sunday’s readings about God’s expectations of the present day followers of Jesus? This has special meaning today as we baptize two great-grandchildren of Alice Nolan and a young man who just started attending St. John’s last year.

The prophet Amos was sent by God from the south to the Northern Kingdom with its capital, Samaria. He comes preaching that crooked business practices have no place in the manner of life of a believer and that God is the watchdog for the poor.

Viewed through the lens of our current economic woes, we see that these are still concerns of God in the 21st Century and God does not forget!

As Paul strives to provide long distance guidance to Timothy whom he has sent to Christianize Cyprus, he stresses that the community should pray for all the needs and concerns of the community and in particular those who hold high positions of government.

We still do that in our prayers of the people each Sunday but how many of us pray for our leaders at other times. Village and Town politics may seem trivial but they are the very arena which bears most closely to our lives.

Christians have always been called upon to respect legitimate authority and support their government and yet we have Christian children who vandalize public property and show disrespect for authority. Where did they learn those were acceptable behaviors?

We all want to live lives which are quiet and peaceable. Adults need to set the example and also not be afraid to challenge inappropriate behavior. 534-8100 gets the police dispatcher and governmental help with lawlessness.

And we come to this curious passage from Jesus. And it is curious. Why is Jesus saying that the rich man lauds the dishonest steward for making provisions for his post-work life at the expense of the rich man?

I think it is because Jewish people have throughout history enjoy a story in which someone acts shrewdly and turns the tables to their benefit.

The steward provides for himself but shrewdly gets the rich man’s debtors to change the amounts owed and the rich man knows something has happened but can’t prove it because only his dishonest manager knows the specifics of his accounts.

And Jesus makes an important point—those who concentrate on doing the best for themselves will always be able to do better than the children of light—a term for those who follow the light of Christ.

Yet Jesus issues the troubling challenge—make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, there will be a welcome in the eternal homes.

But what of all these uses of the word ‘dishonest.’ What I learned in research is that the word we translate as dishonest can mean one who uses trickery or it can mean something of illusory value or unrighteous.

Thus the manager is dishonest because he shrewdly uses trickery and the children of light should make friends using what has illusory value.

In terms of the whole passage, it seems clear that when we value that which God does not, we are on dangerous ground.

In many places Jesus rails against the role that money plays in the lives of people. We cannot serve God and wealth because wealth can become an idol—worshiped instead of God. When one becomes so focused on the pursuit of wealth, the danger is to become enslaved.

Who chooses wealth over family? Sadly many by their actions would appear to. Who chooses the pursuit of wealth over physical and emotional health? Sadly, many do.

So what are the lessons for Christians, particularly our youngest Christians. The first is that the pursuit of wealth to the detriment of those who have the least is wrong. God doesn’t like cheaters.

Second, money has its place as a medium of exchange. When it begins to exert power in our lives, we need to take stock of our situation and regain balance.

To God money has illusory value. Family, care for the environment, the treasuring of friendships—these have truer value.

Treasure these and our relationship with God above all else.

Amen.