Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Wise Stewardship

1 Timothy 2:1-7 Meditation before Prayer Time

 “Pray for all people… for he wants everyone to be saved.”  I asked you a couple months ago to pray specifically for 10 people who are outside of the Body of Christ.  I hope you’ve been doing that.  

 But I also want you to see something else here:  “Pray for kings and all others who are in authority.”  Well, if Paul wrote that, then surely he was talking about a Christian king, right?  Or one that he voted for?  Or at least he was talking about a king who was good and kind to Christians, right?  

No, not at all.  Paul had already spent time in a Roman jail by the time he wrote those words.  And within a few years, he would be put to death by a Roman Emperor who used Christians as a scapegoat.  

Can you pray for those in authority, even when you disagree with them?  Can you pray for Barack Obama, even if you voted against him?  Can you pray for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton after the election if you voted for the other one?  What about if you’re not planning to vote for either of them?  

Why does God want us to pray for those in authority?  “So that we can live in peace.”  I don’t envy anyone in a position of authority.  I wouldn’t want to be a President or Senator or Congressman today, not with the way our world is.  It’s always been a mess, but it sure seems like it’s getting worse.  So let us pray for those who are in positions of authority.  

Luke 16:1-13

 This is one of Jesus’ most difficult parables.  What is he trying to say?  It certainly doesn’t seem like an example that we should be encouraging people to follow!  

 First, we need to remember what a parable is.  A parable is a story that illustrates a point.  It doesn’t have to be a positive example to make a positive point.  You can use a negative example to make a positive point.  

 But I’m not sure that we should call this story a negative example.  We call it the Parable of the Shrewd Manager.  The word shrewd, of course, has a very negative connotation.  Shrewd means conniving or exploitative.  But the Greek word used in this

parable to describe the manager can also be translated into English as wise or prudent or thoughtful.  He certainly was thoughtful about his future, wasn’t he?  

 The story begins with a rich man.  He is an “absentee landlord,” meaning he owns land in several places.  Since he can’t be at each of those locations all the time, he hires a manager to tend to his affairs in this place.  

 The manager is a “steward.”  He is taking care of something that doesn’t belong to him.  The idea of stewardship is very important in Scripture.  Psalm 24:1 reminds us that the earth belongs to God and so does everything in it.  So we are all stewards.  Every person on earth is a steward because we are all using things that ultimately belong to God.  

 Some of the great heroes of faith are remembered especially as stewards.  Joseph was a steward in Egypt, first in the household of Potiphar, and then later over all of Egypt.  Hebrews 3 describes Moses as a faithful servant who was entrusted with God’s household.  The Epistle to Titus describes a bishop as a steward of God, entrusted with the church.  

 But this steward is found to be dishonest.  The master comes to him and says, “Get things in order, and then you’re out of here!”  He knows he’s in trouble.  If he is fired for malfeasance, he is certainly not going to get another job like this.  Except maybe in politics.  

 So he must act wisely and decisively to secure his own future.  He comes up with a plan.  He calls in his master’s debtors to “make a deal.”  

 These debtors are “sharecroppers.”  They rent land from the rich master, and in return they give him a certain percentage or a certain amount of the produce of the land.  In their own rights, they are also quite wealthy.  While the portion of the debt that is forgiven to each of them is different, the “dollar amount” of each is about the same.  In both cases, he forgives the equivalent of about 500 denarii of crops.  The denarius was the daily wage of an average laborer.  So both debts represent more than a year and a half of wages for the average person.  Not chump change.  

 It was not unheard of in Jesus’ world for a rich person to forgive all or part of a debt owed to them.  They might do it if there was a drought or some other type of calamity.  But they also might just do it for the sake of their own reputation.  A good

reputation was a valuable commodity.  People, especially the wealthy and powerful, wanted to be seen as benevolent.  In this case, the steward has no right to do this.  He’s not acting with the master’s approval.  So why is he doing it?  

 For two reasons:  First, so that he can ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors.  Now they owe him something, and in that culture, as in every culture, repaying a favor was considered to be highly important.  So if he gets fired, they might hire him to work for them.  Or at least they might offer him some kind of help down the road.

 But the second reason is that he might not get fired at all.  Why?  Because his master gains a good reputation through his actions.  And if he turns around and fires him, then the master loses that good reputation.  He might want to have the steward thrown into jail!  But if he does, then he’ll be seen as cruel, not benevolent.  So he’s kind of stuck here.  He has to admire the steward’s shrewdness.  

 What does the parable mean?  Well, the best clues, of course, come in the words of Jesus that follow the parable.  In this case, Jesus says four different things after the parable, in verses 8 to 13.  

 First, “The children of this world are more shrewd than the children of light.”  

 I think Jesus is lamenting that people invest more time and energy into winning wealth and possessions than they do on winning the favor of God.  If only we valued a rich relationship with God as much as we value the riches of earth.  If only we were as invested in our spiritual life as we are in getting a good job, earning money, and so on.  

 Second, Jesus says, “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends.  Then you will be welcomed into an eternal home.”  

 At another time, Jesus said, “Life is not measured by the abundance of your possessions.”  The very best “things” are not things at all.  They are relationships.  A good friend, a good spouse, a good relationship with your children:  Those things are priceless.  And I would add that a good relationship with God is the most valuable of all.

 Especially because, in the end, we don’t really own anything.  Whatever we have, we only have it for a while, until we die.  Ultimately, everything goes back to God, to whom the earth and all that is in it belongs.  So while we can, we should use what is available to us in ways that honor God.  

 There’s an author I’ve read named Randy Alcorn, who writes a lot about stewardship.  He writes of something he calls “The Treasure Principle.”  The Treasure Principle is this:  You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.  You can use what you have available to you now in a way that will store up treasures in heaven.  Use it in ways that honor God and bless others, and you will have “treasures in heaven.”  There was a bishop in the early Church named Ambrose of Milan who said, “The mouths of the poor are the barns that last forever.”  Use wealth to gain friends, especially to be a friend of God.

 The third thing Jesus says is a principle he spoke of several times:  “Unless you’re faithful in small things, you won’t be faithful in greater things.”  

 The chief job of a steward is a faithfulness; to be faithful to the master and use everything in ways that honor the master.  If we lack integrity in small things then we prove ourselves incapable of greater responsibilities.  There might be a point there about presidential politics.  

 Fred Craddock, a great United Methodist preacher, said this, “Most of will not have a chance this week to christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake.  More likely, this week will present no more than the chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday School class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat.  But whoever is faithful in little is also faithful in much.” 

 Finally, Jesus warns us to be careful with wealth.  Not only can it test our integrity, it can even become our master.  If we’re not careful, we can be consumed by greed, driven into debt seeking after possessions, or we might simply be overwhelmed with anxiety about material things.

 Money itself is neither good nor bad.  It’s just a thing. But it can be used for great good or terrible evil.  And it can even become an idol.  

 So we must remember:  It’s not really ours.  We are only God’s stewards.  And we should act accordingly.  

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