17  Pentecost Proper C20              
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 16:1-13 Sermon                                          
September 19, 2010

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
426 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
537 "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee"
437 "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones"
551 "Fight The Good Fight"


 TEXT (vs. 10-13):  "[Jesus said] 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?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?  No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

            David Hunter.  Does that name ring a bell for you?  You'll have to think back over eight years ago, to a cold January day.  David Hunter was found in his SUV, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  As a way of introducing our text for this morning, I'm going to share a short article with you, one written by an ex-employee of his.  The title of the article is, "The Best Boss I Ever Had."

             In January 2002 in Lincoln, Nebraska, there occurred a sensational suicide, that of a prominent local businessman and one of the top Democrats in the state, who put the barrel of a revolver inside his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

It was screaming banner-headline news; as the story developed, he had been caught kiting $7,000,000 in checks, and was about to be called on it.

            Prominent state and city Democrats expressed surprise and astonishment; they hadn't known that David Hunter, they insisted.  They were truly disappointed, even saddened, that he had turned out that way.  Yeah, right, I thought.

            After it appeared there were all of these newspaper reporters running around trying to collect facts, but not getting the whole story, I approached a reporter for one of the big-city newspapers, telling him I could tell him about David Hunter.

            "What's your connection with David Hunter?" the reporter asked me.

            "I worked for him for four years; kept his files, read his files, organized his files--I probably even kited checks for him when he was out of town.  At the time, I didn't know for sure it was check-kiting, but I sort of suspected it was, and given the light of recent revelations, it probably was."

            "What was in those files?" the reporter inquired.
            "Stuff," I said; "you know, letters and bills and checks and stuff.  A lot of personal stuff, too, that I'm not going to tell you about, in respect for the deceased--love letters from women, love letters from men, blackmailing letters, threatening letters.  I read them all, business and personal, because that was part of my job."

            That first conversation went tentatively into other directions, until the reporter finally asked me, "Well, if you knew this was wrong, or that was illegal, how come you never told anybody?"

            "No one would've believed me," I assured him.  "After all, you had this big wheel circling around with all of these other big wheels, each one thinking it smarter than the other, and I was a nobody, just some deaf guy with a voice as flat and broad and slow as the Platte River, who worked for David Hunter, a nonentity, a nothing.  In fact, that's why I think he trusted me; no one would pay attention to me."

            The reporter and I agreed that I would provide "background," after which the reporter would ferret out facts from other sources, which he did.  Series of stories on the life and fate of David Hunter ran for weeks, in Nebraska newspapers.  Near the end, I was asked what I, personally, thought of David Hunter.

            "Well, you know, we got all these Democrats running around, saying how shocked and surprised they are at the revelations, once his best pals and buddies, now disavowing and cursing him, as if they didn't know he was the way he was.  Yeah, right.  But for me, he was the best boss I ever had."

            Thank you for allowing me to share the content of this article with you.  As I studied our Gospel lesson for this morning, the whole David Hunter fiasco came to mind.  And I think it has a lot of relevance to our text for today.

            David Hunter was a crook.  Maybe he wasn't on the grand scale of a Bernie Madhoff, but $7 million isn't chump change either.  Mr. Hunter was a well-liked and respected member of the business community.  His company, State Title Services was a trusted firm.  David Hunter had done a lot of good things for the community.  He even bought the old Elgin Watch Factory building on the University of Nebraska City Campus, and opened a place called "The Reunion," which was a privately owned student union that housed a variety of shops and eateries.  Even during the summer months, The Reunion still averaged about 20,000 people per day.

            David Hunter loved money just about as much as he loved his local celebrity status.  It might have seemed that he had noble purposes for some of the things he did, but his heart was directed inward.  He knew the master he was serving.  And when everything started crashing down around him, the only option he could see with his limited sight, was the business end of a pistol inserted into his mouth.

            It's obvious that David Hunter had no concept of God, or Christianity, or anything else apart from the god he had created within himself.  In verses 8 and 9 of our text for today, Jesus says: "...for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal habitations."

            Jesus is telling us that the way the world deals with wealth and money is different than the way a Christian is supposed to deal with it. The Greek word "mammon" which is most frequently translated as "money" as it is in our Gospel reading for today, or sometimes it is defined more broadly as "possessions."  This word is actually from the Hebrew, which means: "that in which one puts trust." In our Gospel lesson, Jesus calls it "unrighteous" to make the contrast between worldly riches and pure heavenly treasure.

            Putting our trust in the unrighteous mammon of earthly wealth and riches might make some superficial friendships for us on this earth.  It can make us look good in the community, just like it did for David Hunter.  However it does nothing for us as far as God and our eternity in heaven is concerned. This unrighteous mammon can buy us certain things; and if we have enough of it, it can wield some pretty hefty power and influence-that is, among people of this world. But God is someone who just can't be bought, at any price.

            Jesus uses the illustration of the dishonest manager to point out just how money-driven our society is.  Unfortunately it is a necessary evil.  I need it to buy groceries, to put fuel in my car, to pay my insurance, to pay my utilities, and to put clothing on my back. 

            To put things into perspective, the Apostle Paul writes the following words in his first letter to his understudy, Timothy, chapter 6 verse 10: "10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

            Those words are very familiar to most of us, however this passage is frequently misunderstood.  Money itself isn't the root of all kinds of evil, but the love of it.  Simply having money isn't a problem.  It is the effect that it has on you that is the problem.  And this is not something that is new either.  It has been an issue since the fall into sin.

            Here's another thought to add to the mix.  In Ecclesiastes chapter 5 verse 10 we read: "10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless."  People never seem to be satisfied with what they have.  They always want more.  And when it takes root like it did with David Hunter, it just spirals out of control.

            Honestly speaking, I think we can see ourselves at least to some degree in all of this.  We've all been guilty of putting money ahead of other things.  We've all had the tendency to put a dollar sign ahead of the cross, and block out our Bibles with our checkbooks. 

            Money even has the tendency to control our personal relationships.  Many divorces happen over money issues.  Friendships have dissolved because somebody forgot to pay back $20 they borrowed.  And there are instances where children have brought lawsuits against their parents.  It's so sad to see this happen.

            But you know there are the little things too.  I remember one time that a bank teller had given me $5 too much at the drive-through.  I drove back to the bank and returned it, but there was that temptation for me to just forget about it and continue on my way.  Or consider the time that I was with a group of you all at the Country Club, and I didn't get charged for my meal.  I paid for it the next week; but I could have easily reasoned that I give them so much of my business anyway, they probably "owed me" a free meal. 

            That's the kind of "money thinking" Jesus is talking about today.  And the words he uses in verses 10-11 can really hit home:  "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?"

            With this in mind, we need to heed some more of God's advice, this time from the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 13 verse 5:              "5Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" 

            This is where we turn our focus to our Saviour, Jesus himself.  Money and worldly wealth is something that can come and go, almost at the drop of a hat; but Jesus is constant.  His promise is to always be with you, irrespective of the size of your bank account or the amount of stuff that you have accumulated.  I've said it often, that a person can be stripped naked and put out in the middle of the desert without food or water.  All of the external things can be taken away from you, but nobody can take your faith.  Jesus is still with you.  That is his promise.

            That's why we always come to him in faith.  We know his promises are sure, and beyond any price.  And so we can take our unholy love for money and worldly possessions and make a trade.  We can leave all of that baggage at the foot of the cross, and receive forgiveness for our sins.

            Through faith in Jesus, we find forgiveness, love, and acceptance.  That's something that all the money in the world cannot buy.  That's ours through faith alone.

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus makes the point that we can use money to "buy" earthly friendships in a manner of speaking.  If we're flashing a huge wad of bills, people will always want to be our "friend" in the most superficial sense of the word.  But once that is gone, then all of those so-called "friends" start to disappear very quickly.

            Jesus is the only true friend we have, because he loves us without any merit or cost on our part.  In fact, that's the exact opposite of what God wants.  In Acts chapter 8 verse 20 we read, "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!"

            We cannot buy God's grace, nor can we buy what we are given through faith alone, which is the gift of life and salvation through Jesus, our Saviour.  What works for earthly friendships just doesn't fly with God.

            David Hunter lived his life according to the flawed logic Jesus talks about in our text for today.  The person who wrote the article I read and called him "The Best Boss I Ever Had" bought into his philosophy, at least to a certain degree.

            But we know the end of the story.  David Hunter put a bullet through his head when his world came crashing down around him.  And this loyal employee was suddenly without a job or benefits, and had to seek employment elsewhere.  Their world came crashing down as well.  As the old saying goes, "The chickens had come home to roost."

            We have something far better in our future.  We have an eternal hope.  We have a Saviour who paid the price for our redemption, a price that could only be paid with his life.  Dr. Martin Luther puts it this way:  "[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and with his innocent sufferings and death:  in order that I might be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead, [and] lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true."