Tag Archives: Money

Money in Motion, So Goes the Heart – Luke 12:32-40 and Genesis 15:1-6

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 7, 2016

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 12:32-40 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

[sermon begins]

Right after Jesus’ lovely speech we just heard, Peter says, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”[1]  It’s a classic question.  Is Jesus’ speech a general kind of “all y’all” or is Jesus talking to me?  As if I’ll fly under the radar just as long as I don’t make eye contact with Jesus on this one.

We don’t get to hear Peter’s reply to Jesus in the Bible reading today although it comes as the very next verse in Luke.  Jesus is still talking to the crowd of thousands.  In the verses just before ours today, he warns the crowds.  “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” He wraps up those verses telling them not to worry about their lives but to strive for the kingdom.

Right away, though, Jesus says:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

This is one of the challenges in the way we read the Bible Sunday-to-Sunday.  If left with the striving of last week’s verses, we could assume wrongly that striving is the whole plan.  It’s an easy move from striving to earning.  Earning God’s pleasure.  Earning God’s salvation.  And with earning comes deserving.  I deserve God’s pleasure.  I deserve God’s salvation.  Until, suddenly, I’m left wondering if I’ve strived enough, earned enough, and am deserving enough.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”   In scripture, “do not be afraid” is the clue that we’re going to hear about God’s power and promise; God’s mighty deeds.[2]  We hear it multiple times in Luke.  Abram hears it in the Genesis reading.  These promises come from God to Abram, to Luke, and to us – unconditional promise.

Last week, I challenged us to keep our fingers pointing at ourselves to confess our own greed rather than pointing away from ourselves to someone else.  This week, Jesus is offering another way to be on guard against the greed he warns about in the earlier verses.  Jesus says:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[3]

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom!  This means that through this promise, disciples can guard against all kinds of greed and resist the urge to worry 24/7.  Jesus tells us to love our neighbor and then directs us to be generous with money.[4]  Telling us that where our treasure, our money, goes then our hearts will follow.

For Rob and I, this kind of giving starts with our family’s congregations and moves beyond it.  10% of my income comes to Augustana and 5% of his income goes to Lutheran Church of the Master with more going to other non-profits and NGOs.  At this point, we know our money goes to the work of the church impacting not only congregational ministry but also passing through to local, national, and global efforts like Metro Caring in Denver and Lutheran World Relief worldwide.  This has long been important to us although we started off low and slow – well before I began working toward becoming a pastor.  Our giving was about 2.5% when we started into it.

Why does any of that detail matter?  It matters because there’s a tendency to be private about money in a way that becomes unhelpful to anyone.  Money impacts everyone on the planet and we talk gingerly around the topic.  Funny how hesitant we can be as Jesus followers because Jesus didn’t mess around talking about money:

16 out of the 38 parables told by Jesus dealt with money and possessions.

1 out of 10 Gospel verses, 228 verses in all, talk about money directly.[5]

I get it.  The church across denominations worldwide gets into problems with money. Sinners, the lot of us.

As a group of Jesus followers who make up this congregation, we have ongoing opportunities to talk about money and its impact.  Certainly we do in our own households as we grapple with Bible verses like today’s story on our way home after worship.  The opportunities to talk about money also exist congregationally – Stewardship Committee, Congregational Council or Council’s appointed Finance Support Committee.  Recently, in fact, the Finance Support Committee put forward a recommendation to consolidate and track funds differently.  They did a ton of work.  They talked to many people in the congregation.  Council voted unanimously to adopt the recommendation.  Leadership in this congregation is aware of the accountability and works hard on it.

Jesus’ words give us pause to talk about giving and generosity – each of us in our households as well as disciples together congregationally.  This could mean that our assumptions get tossed about a bit.  Jesus is especially good at flipping over assumptions and messing with the way we think things are true.  Being the church, the body of Christ in this place together means that we span pretty much the entire socio-economic spectrum among our households.  It’s a good opportunity to have our assumptions flipped.

As with many things Jesus has to say, there are a couple of ways to hear them.  In regards to generosity, people can easily hear law.  We can hear it as “we must,” or in commandment language, “you shall.”  The other way to hear Jesus words is as “gospel.”  When we hear things as gospel promise we can hear it as “we get to.”

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Jesus gives faith along with the promise of God’s kingdom.  From his gift of faith to us – Jesus frees us to live generously, less anxiously, and into a future of God’s mercy not based on human merit.[6]  A future toward which the watchfulness commanded by Jesus is not one of uneasy anticipation but rather an secure confidence.[7]

God calls you through your baptism back to God and to neighbor.  God also knows that where your money goes, so goes your hearts.  A heart that is real, beating inside of you, and oxygenating your body is the heart through which God draws us towards each other and into the kingdom life that God gives in the here and now.

To answer Peter’s question, yes, Jesus is talking to you.  This is good news, indeed – for you, for your neighbor, and for the world.  Thanks be to God.

___________________________________________

Link: Lutheran World Relief

Link: Metro Caring

[1] Luke 12:41

[2] David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Commentary on Luke 12:32-40 for WorkingPreacher.org, August 8, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=729

[3] Luke 12:33-34

[4] Luke 10:25-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

[5] Howard L. Dayton, Jr.  Sermon Illustration: Statistic: Jesus’ Teaching on Money.  (Preaching Today, 1996). http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Economic_LifeSS.pdf?_ga=1.79714647.1553381420.1424715443

[6] David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Commentary on Luke 12:32-40 for WorkingPreacher.org, August 8, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=729

[7] Ibid.

 

Divorce, Grace, and Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

Divorce, Grace and Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 4, 2015

Mark 10:2-16  Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.’ 7 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Grace and mercy are yours, now and forever, through Jesus the Christ…

Who wants to switch places with me and preach a sermon about marriage and divorce at this particular time in the United States?  Actually, some of you might. There are a lot of us who probably have our elevator speech well-honed and ready. The speech that we could give if we only had 30 seconds to explain our position on any particular topic.  We could give that speech and another person would know exactly where we stood.  Some of us may have listened to these Bible verses today and thought, finally, we’re going to get somewhere on the topic of marriage.  Here’s a bit of a spoiler for you.  We’re not.  What I’m going to do is start by talking about divorce. That what the Pharisees are talking about.  It’s what the disciples are talking about. And it’s what Jesus starts by talking about.

The Pharisees’ ask the question like this, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  The lawful part of the question refers to the Law of Moses. The Torah. The question goes after the faithful response to the law.  Everybody sitting there knows the answer is, “Yes.”  A man could divorce his wife.  Women were property.  Women were property in the few millennia B.C.E., through the time of Jesus, and in too many centuries after Jesus.  It was legal for a husband to divorce himself from his property, his wife.

I have a dear young friend who loves Jesus.  He would stop me right here and challenge this cultural reading of the Bible.  However, this first century cultural view gives us a stepping stone to Jesus’ answer as we struggle with it culturally now.

The simply answer to the Pharisees’ question is, “Yes.”  Thankfully, for me anyway, there is nothing simple about Jesus.  Jesus’ response is intense.  His intensity fits with other stories about Jesus when people are left vulnerable by other people.  First century women had few options.  Extreme poverty was the likeliest outcome.  When confronted by questions like these, Jesus regularly ups the intensity and response in the answer.

Bible verses like these are called “Law.”  Not just because the Law of Moses is being discussed.  Although that can be a clue.  They are called law because they convict us.  It’s as if the text has a finger pointed out of it, at us.  If we leave them unexamined, Bible stories such as these become a way for us to see ourselves as okay or not okay, without sin or with sin.  Or, even worse, to decide if someone else is okay or not okay, without sin or with sin.  The danger comes when the move gets made to who is inside and outside of God’s mercy.  Law texts often go unchallenged.  As if there is no other response but to convict.  As if they answer to no other verses in the Bible but stand along, a law unto themselves.

The Christian church over time has had the same inclination.  To designate who is inside and outside of God’s mercy based on interpretation of the law.  Jesus’ intense response is one of the classic ways he responds to law questions throughout the gospels.  It’s as if Jesus wants to challenge the person challenging him.  So you think you’re justified by your reading of the law?  Think again.  There is always a way to be convicted by law – unmarried, married, or divorced.  The overwhelming message is that the law cannot save you.  If you attempt to leave someone outside of God’s mercy, there is always one more interpretive move someone else can make after you that will leave you on the outside looking in.

Perhaps we could agree that there is such a thing as being divorced responsibly and there’s such a thing as being divorced irresponsibly.  Many of us have witnessed or experienced the spectrum.  And perhaps, we could also agree that the pain of broken relationship, including divorce, is not God’s intention for human relationship.

The Bible verses on divorce are followed by the disciples speaking sternly to the people who are trying to get their children to Jesus so that he could touch them.  This is pure gospel in these verses. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  This means, in part, that there is no other way to receive the kingdom than as gift.  Receiving the kingdom of God is about our need and dependence NOT our perfection in keeping the law.  Some people call this grace.  Other people call this gospel.  When we want to corrupt the law into the final word, the Spirit works through gospel, convicting by the law and breathing out a word of mercy, a word of grace.

This word of grace includes all of us – unmarried, married, or divorced.  As it says in First John (1:8), “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

The verses today from the Letter to the Hebrews is quite ecstatic about the gospel of Jesus.  I’m right there joining in the ecstatic praise along with the mysterious poetry.  The wonder of it all.  I am not blind.  At least in part, I can see the way my sin hurts me and other people, especially people close to me.  I see my need for a savior and am grateful to God who it upon God’s self to be fleshy, and in the world, in the person of Jesus.

Everything we do as a congregation is in service to this gospel – from the sacraments of baptism and communion, to worship and praise, to welcoming each other to worship, to helping our neighbors locally and globally, to educating pre-school children, to turning on the lights, to updating the back-flow prevention in the main plumbing, to being present at hospital bedsides and in quiet living rooms, to printing bulletins, to paying bills, to hanging out with youth, to Bible studies, to making sure the roof is water-tight.  Granted, some of these things are by far sexier projects than others.  But ultimately, these activities and their associated costs are in service to the gospel or we should just not be doing them.

One of the tasks I get to do as part of my work here is to meet with the Stewardship Committee. The members of the Stewardship Committee work with the congregation on the Christian practice of giving money, time, and skills.  Helping us think about our own need to give as a faithful response to the gospel.  You should all be so lucky to sit with this group regularly.  We laugh a ton. We take money seriously.  We take the gospel even more seriously. We laugh some more. We love the congregation of Augustana.  All you people.  And we each fit into it in different ways and are sent out from it to live faithful lives in the world.

Kim, Nick, Dwight, Andy, and Braxton are interested in helping us keep stewardship simple in the midst of full lives.  This is why are four Sundays to turn in your Money, Time & Skills cards during the offering in worship.  Next week is the last Sunday.  This is why there is a challenge to you to enroll in regular, automated giving through a bank account of your choice since few people are likely to carry money and checks into worship with them.  The committee members are open to conversations – both of the easy question and challenging topic varieties.  They are available between worship services today and next week.  Come and meet them.  Talk with them.  Teach them something they may not know and learn a little something you may not know.

How am I doing?  I just talked about divorce and money in almost the same breath?  Are you still with me?  These have become tricky subjects in churches because of the well-documented sins of the wider church through time up through today.  There is a fragility to the conversations based on these sins.  People have been hurt.  People already torn and broken by divorce have often encountered a lack of grace from their church.  People who have no financial means from which to give have been manipulated emotionally and theologically to do so.  These are true sins of the wider church and many of us have personal experience with them.

The challenge as gospel people is to continue to hold the gospel as the main thing.  WE don’t always get it right.  But grounded in the gospel, we are a people set free in a world hungry for a shred of good news.  We gather in worship hungry for this good news ourselves, we remind each other that God’s promises are for us and for the world, and then we are sent our as living, breathing, fleshy reminders that God’s good news is for all.  Amen and hallelujah!

 

 

[More of the Bible readings from today]

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? 7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, 8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Genesis 2:18-24 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Matthew 22:15-22 – On Alien Annihilation, Attack Ads, and Alternatives

Matthew 22:15-22 – On Alien Annihilation, Attack Ads, and Alternatives

Caitlin Trussell on October 19, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church

 

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

 

Nothing draws people together like a common enemy.  Some of my go-to movies are a prime example.  Independence Day is one of them – a film in which a really creepy, roach-like alien species drops in to annihilate the world.  They hope to chew up the planet’s resources, spit it out when they’re done, and move on to the next planet a few galaxies over.  But those nasty aliens didn’t count on Captain Steve Miller – plucky marine pilot, or David Levinson – brilliant computer systems analyst.  Even more, those aliens didn’t count on all the sworn enemies of the world uniting to work together to get rid them.  Once the aliens’ ships ignite, explode, and fall to the earth, the movie-goer shares in the vicarious thrill of victory – treated to scene-after-scene of people from all kinds of countries jumping up and down in shared celebration.

Similarly, but with fewer special effects, the Pharisees and the Herodians unite against the common enemy they find in Jesus.[1]  The Pharisees have had it with Rome and the tax that is at punishing levels.  The Herodians are Roman loyalists who support the tax and are snooping around for evidence of treason against the state so they can report it back to Rome.  Together the Pharisees and Herodians have concocted the perfect trap.  If Jesus speaks positively about the tax, he’s doomed; if Jesus speaks out against the tax, he’s doomed.[2]  We can almost hear the political attack ad, complete with the music of doom and the woman’s voice-over that sounds like the same person from ad to ad:

“Jesus, who is he really?  Why won’t he pick a side and stick to it?” [Dum-da-da-dum]

Jesus goes on to evade the trap and flip it back on the ones who laid it.   The Pharisees and the Herodians were quite smart about at least one thing.  The money conversation can easily be used a trap.  A trap that many of us get caught in whether it’s about taxes or spending or giving or receiving or something else about money entirely.

In the Metro East Pastors’ Text Study this week we talked about Jesus, Pharisees, and Herodians, and the trap.  Many of us hear Jesus’ stories about money.  We hear directions to sell everything then give it all to the poor, invest wisely, do not hoard money.  We hear these stories and feel trapped by these stories along with Pharisees and Herodians.  Hearing the stories invokes feelings of panic, disconnect, moral superiority, or utter inadequacy.   We find ourselves thinking we should be saving more and investing more and giving more. Looking closely at these stories of Jesus, one of the discoveries is that we are not so much trapped by them as we are named in them.

A Lutheran Christian might call these feelings being convicted by the “law”; meaning that there is no way to give or spend or invest money without sin showing up.  Whether conversations about money trap us in shame or superiority, the root of the problem is the same.  Money becomes the lens through which we think about ourselves and our lives.  But rather than deal with the sin, confess to it, meet it head-on, we look for the common enemy.   Sometimes that common enemy is the church.  Sometimes that common enemy is the state.  Sometimes that common enemy is a faraway place or a mistrusted people. Regardless of how the common enemy is identified, they are the ones who come between people and money.

Whether shame or superiority is the driving force behind finding a common enemy, we need the reminder of the gospel.  Last week’s sermon reminded us that Jesus, thrown onto a cross in a place of shame, frees us from shame.  Frees us from shame that immobilizes us.   Frees us into the gospel that enlivens us.  For some of us, this freedom means taking a money class here on Monday nights to study and talk frankly with each other about faith, life, and money.   For others of us, this freedom means confessing a secret pile of debt to a partner and getting some help to figure that out.  For others of us, this freedom means that the word “money” takes its place alongside other things we publicly talk about and act on.  As a people called the church, this means we also talk about giving money and act on it.

For some of us in the church, giving money is practical.  Money is part of the cost of doing ministry within the congregation of Augustana.  These costs can be broken down into money given to charitable organizations, international ministry efforts, youth ministry, music ministry, building maintenance, ministry staff salaries, to name but a few.  These are ALL good things!  Some people are faithful givers as a practicality; meaning that they are connected with the Augustana congregation and so they estimate their giving for the year and give consistently.

For others of us in the church, giving money is theological.  Some say with the Psalmist that, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live it…”[3]  If this is so, then money also belongs to God first before it belongs to any of us.  So then giving money becomes an act of praise and gratitude.

And still for others of in the church, giving money is relational.  People before us gave money as keepers of the faith, as stewards of God’s mysteries.  Therefore, some give money now as stewards of the faith so that the faith is available to future generations as it is to us right now.

None of these reasons to give money are mutually exclusive, nor is this an inclusive list for the all the reasons people give money to their congregation.  The point is that the Gospel promise holds even in our conversations about money.  The “law” convicts us in all kinds of ways including the ways we use money.  At the same time the gospel frees us – frees us to consider our underlying assumptions about money, giving, church, charity, stewardship, faith, all of it, as the gospel also frees us to give.  Thanks be to God.

 

 



[1] Lance Pape, Granville and Erline Walker Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas.  Working Preacher Commentary on Matthew 22:15-22 for Sunday readings, October 19 2014. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2201

[2] Ibid.

[3] Psalm 24:1

Luke 16:1-13 “Seriously? Be Like That Guy?!”

Luke 16:1-13    “Seriously? Be Like That Guy?!”

September 22, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

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. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

Here’s a conversation that came up in our house:

Kid: Mom, how much money do you make?

Me: That’s not really something I want to share with you.

Kid:  Why?

Me:  Well, you don’t have a frame of reference for what that means, where it all goes.

Kid:  Well, do you and Dad make more than six figures combined?

Me:  Again, this is not something I’m comfortable sharing with you right now.

Kid:  Why? How do you expect me to learn about real life when you won’t talk about it?

 

My daughter has a way of cutting to the chase.  She can see through our conversations to the problem.  Not always but certainly more often than is fun for me.

 

Here’s the conversation as I hear it in Luke:

Rich Man:  I just heard that my property manager is doing a terrible job.  If it’s true, he’s so fired.

Manager (to himself):  I can’t dig or beg…I have to figure this out!  I know, I’ll cancel some debts for people who owe my master so they’ll treat me well later.

 

So the manager goes and does just that – cutting one debt by 50% and another debt by 20%.  Here comes the mind-bender…the master praises the shrewd, dishonest manager and Jesus is telling his disciples they should be more like that guy.

What can be made of Jesus’ directive?  Just for fun, next time you have a few minutes, web search this passage in Luke and see what comes up.  There are all kinds of interpretations of this text that leave the reader wondering why it’s sitting in scripture and maybe even wishing some sly scribe would have edited it out centuries ago.

In the midst of those feelings, here’s why I’m grateful for this parable.  No matter how you look at it, the manager seems to have one thing right.  He understands that money, and how it is used, is ultimately relational.  The way money is gained and how it is spent affects life for people and between people.   We know who treated last for lunch and we know the neighborhood we live in compared with other neighborhoods.  We notice all kinds of things that define our relationships in terms of money.   This is all publicly traded information based on all kinds of assumptions.  We can see it.  It is visible.  And yet, we make the quick almost automatic move to stop conversations about money because money is personal.

A piece of the good news in this text is that money is put into the public conversation of the church by Jesus.  This means that we, as people of faith, can talk about the nuances of money and how we put it to use in our lives.  This is a lesson for the disciples that they may not have understood as a possibility because money can be seen as everything but a spiritual concern.  Just as some of us can be inclined to see the body as not as spiritual as the mind, others of us can be inclined to see money as not spiritual, period.

We think of money as having no spiritual value for a couple of reasons.  In part, it’s because of Bible stories like this one.  In stories like these we are warned about serving God versus serving money.  They set us up for a mental dance around the subject and we want to separate ourselves as fast and as far as possible away from the idolatry of money.  The separation of church and state does a number on our thinking as well.  And religious hucksterism in churches through the centuries seems to ice the cake of all the excuses and makes us twitchy when money comes up in the church.

But we are not above the fray because money is spiritually suspect and we are somehow spiritually superior because of faith.  Rather, we are in the fray with money and each other because we are people on the planet affected by money and each other.  The shrewd manager knows this and so does Jesus.  It is not money that is suspect.  It is us.  Our use of money, our assumptions about money, and our desire not to let any critique of our use or assumptions about it are all suspect.

One of the reasons I love the confession and forgiveness at the beginning of the worship service is because it shows me my limits as a person – as much as I might want to imagine it otherwise or behave otherwise in the day-to-day.  At the same time, I love the paradox that is set up in the confession and forgiveness as I’m reminded that I’m in the hands of a limitless God.  The paradox is this:  When I feel limitless, God reminds me of my limits; when I set up a false limit, God says look in the other direction and reminds me of my freedom.

In the parable today, Jesus challenges the disciples, and their assumptions about money, by telling them that the dishonest manager has something to teach them.  We are just as dumbfounded as they are in the face of this challenge – caught by the sin that affects our relationship with money and each other.

Here’s the good news.  As church, Jesus frees us into honesty about being saints and sinners at the same time.  This is one of the gifts of the cross to the whole church.  This means that our lives of faith are our whole lives…our 24/7 lives.  As such, we are free to think and talk about our 24/7 lives in church.  This includes talking about money – the way we gain, lose it, and spend it – and the way all that gaining, losing, and spending affects our own lives and each others lives.  Thanks be to God!

 

 

Mark 9:30-37 “Money, Skepticism and Questions”

Mark 9:30-37 “Money, Skepticism and Questions”

September 23, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Mark 9:30-37 30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

 

How many of us have ever had the experience of saying something that we wished we hadn’t?  That moment where your whole inside goes, “Ugh…”  So much so, that you can feel it in the pit of your stomach.  Yup, I’m pretty sure that this is an almost universal experience.  For me, because I tend toward the chatty side, it happens with frustrating regularity.  And it’s just here in our text today that the disciples do the opposite – they stay silent; not once, but twice!  First they are silent because they were afraid to ask Jesus to clear up their lack of understanding and then they stay silent because Jesus names their humanity when he calls them on their arguing.  Their “Ugh” moment doesn’t even get to include speaking.  It just sits there in the pit of their stomach probably getting heavier as they walk along – falling back a bit to begin that arguing with one another.

They begin their arguing right after Jesus makes this big speech about what’s going to happen to him.  He talks about being betrayed, his murder and resurrection.  I picture the disciples listening attentively, perhaps even giving a nod or two to show they are paying attention and following along.  And then, they drop back a bit, and what do they do as they follow Jesus?  Argue.  They don’t even argue about what Jesus might have meant by his predication.  They argue about being the greatest.  Maybe they really don’t get it, perhaps arguing about the greatest as they wonder who will take over the leadership when Jesus goes down.  And Jesus, well, because he’s Jesus, knows exactly what they are doing.

I like to think Jesus knows what they are doing because it is simply what we, as people, do.  We follow along behind Jesus, not really sure what to make of these big faith claims in Jesus’ predication and very often afraid or uncomfortable to ask about what Jesus’ death and resurrection might mean in our own lives.  So we turn to each other and we argue.  We argue about all kinds of things but often the subtext, the argument beneath the argument, is about who is the greatest.

One of the ways in which we argue about being the greatest has to do with money.  There are obvious ways we do this in American culture, especially in a political year when we argue about taxes and government spending.  But there are more subtle ways we argue about being the greatest when it comes to money.  This can be so subtle for us we don’t tend to think about it as part of the argument we’re having.  It takes shape in whispers as we move through the world in our designated social class based on our income.  But it includes all the ways in which we look to money to tell us who we are and what we’re about.  Not as a conscious thought, but we look nonetheless.

And, suddenly, like the disciples in Mark, we are following behind Jesus but not looking at Jesus.  We begin looking to each other as we come up with our arguments.  One of the classic arguments begins with a deep suspicion of the connection between money and the church.  You hear this in comments all the time, maybe even in your own comments, that sound like, “All the church wants in my money.”  And this suspicion has real roots.

We were joking the other night at this congregation’s church Council meeting abut how fun it might be to hold a tongue-in-cheek ‘Indulgence’ sale.  Indulgences, you may recall, were a 16th century church innovation that cashed in on people’s fear for their loved ones’ eternal doom so that church buildings could be completed.  Indulgences were sold with the marketing line, “When a coin in the coffer sings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  Indulgences were a key fuel in the fury of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, his arguments against the corruption in the church.  So, even as we had fun with the idea, someone made the comment about taking extreme care with such an attempt.  Because even, and maybe especially, we as the church can just as easily as anyone else find ourselves following behind Jesus, confessing him Lord, while arguing amongst ourselves about the greatest.

This gets me back to thinking about the disciples’ silence when they don’t understand.  To my mind, the silence when people want to ask a question but don’t becomes a pregnant silence.  So, because we’d be here all day if people started shooting out questions, I’m asking that everyone take a slip of paper out of the seatback of the chair in front of you.  And for about a minute, think about what you would ask Jesus about money if you could ask absolutely anything, and write it down on the piece of paper.  This question is purely for you – no group sharing or hand raising will be requested.  This means you can send that editor that lives in your head out for a coffee break.  Okay, ready, set, think and write… … … … …

 

I invite you to consider your question to Jesus that you just wrote down as a prayer this week.  You can simply add it to your prayers.  Or you may discuss it with people.  Or think of the question from time-to-time during the week.  See what comes up for you either as possible answers or perhaps yet another question.

I invite you into this time of asking questions because Jesus has made all of us free to ‘fire away.”  Sitting here, with the whole Bible at our fingertips, we know how the story plays out.  And it is in his death and resurrection that we are made free from the fear that would stop our questions from pouring out.  So that when there are incomprehensible ideas and tension, such as disciples experience, we turn to following Jesus only to find that, with scarcely a glace from us, Jesus is already there.