Do You Have What It Takes?

1 Timothy 2: 1-7           Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Luke 16: 1-13   September 18, 2016

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest is a very little is dishonest also in much.

Prayer:  Holy and merciful God, you are involved in every aspect of our lives.  May we be moved by your Spirit in ways that reflect your presence in and around us.  Amen.

Some of you know I love airplanes.  I also love movies about airplanes, and aeronautics, and astronauts and outer space—all of it.  As I pondered the key verse for today’s sermon, my mind kept coming to the movie The Right Stuff.  Ah, one of my favorites.  That movie came out 33 years ago next month.  It focuses on the test pilots and the astronauts of the Mercury Space program way back in the 50’s and 60’s—howeach person needed to have the “right stuff” in order to be in the beginnings of America’s space program.  They needed to be incredibly physically healthy and mentally fit.  They needed the inner energy and stamina to endure the arduous training needed to do the job.  Did they have the right stuff?  Did they have what it takes? Was it in them? Those questions sound familiar to us these days, don’t they?

When Jesus says “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest is a very little is dishonest also in much” to me, those words speak about what is inside a person—faithfulness or dishonesty—and in this pairing, they’re opposites.  Let me explain briefly.

There are basically four types of faith.  There are some overlaps, but I don’t need to go into all that today.  But, simply put, the first type of faith is naming and believing in a certain set of doctrines or creeds.  I believe in the Christian faith, for example.  I disbelieve the Mormon faith—disbelief is the opposite.  Second, there’s ‘faith’ as in having trust and or confidence in someone or something.  You might say to someone, “I have faith in you—you can do this!”  No confidence or uncertainty is the opposite.  Third, there’s ‘faith’ as in ‘fidelity.’  A spouse is said to be faithful to the other spouse.  Infidelity is the opposite.  And fourth, ‘faith’ is ‘fiduciary.’  This is usually faithfulness related to financial dealings or contractual or covenantal agreements.  Before we purchase a house we might receive a “Good Faith Estimate.”  Or, we might say that every month we faithfully pay the mortgage honoring the agreement in the loan.

The parable Jesus tells reflects ‘fiduciary’ type of faithfulness.  When the manager breaks his covenant with the rich man by squandering the rich man’s property, we see that the opposite of the fiduciary type of faithfulness is dishonesty. So, why does Jesus tell this parable?

Now, the gospel of Luke is arranged in such a way that there are several parables coordinated put together for a purpose—to show how Jesus understands who God is and how God’s realm is to come right here on earth.  Last Sunday, we heard the parables about the lost sheep and lost coin from Luke 15.  The shepherd searches for the lost sheep and the woman tears her house apart looking for the lost coin.  In both cases, the shepherd and woman invite everyone to rejoice when those things are found.  God is like the shepherd and the woman.

The rest of Luke 15 is the familiar parable called the Prodigal Son, or the parable of the two sons.    One son gets the father’s inheritance, strikes out on his own, and squanders it.  The other son stays back and works hard faithfully but seemingly gets no recognition.  The father throws this major party when the first son returns home, and also tells the second son not to be upset because he will receive his entire inheritance, as well, but he should rejoice now, because the first son has come home.  I think the story points powerfully describes the way God is—an extravagant God lavishly sharing forgiveness and grace.

For us, could it be that today’s parable in Luke 16 also describes the way God is?  Could it be that the rich man shows God’s incredible faithfulnesss?

One the one hand, I think the answer is yes.  The parable is about God. It shows that God has what it takes, faithfulness “in much.”  Because faithfulness by God I think is required for God to keep on loving us, commending us, even in our shrewdness, even in our dishonesty our waywardness, and our quick ability to be unfaithful in keeping our part of the covenant.

Over and over scripture affirms that God is faithful.  “God’s steadfast love endures forever and God’s faithfulness endures to all generations” (Ps. 100:5).  We also read that God is faithful and just (Ps. 111: 7 and 1 John 1:9), even though God sometimes is shorted by us in our shrewdness.

The dishonest manger cooked the books and the rich man (God) got nothing!  God (the rich man) didn’t condone the manager’s actions; but the manager (us) was commended for his shrewdness, if anything, for his hutzpah!  Such is the faithfulness of our extravagant God, faithfully keeping covenant—loving us with an incomparable love. What do you think of that! This tells me God sees us with a different vision, one out of love and mercy. A vision that doesn’t focus on our misdeeds, dishonesty, or sinfulness, but rather shines light on who we are  as children of God, as recipients of God’s love and grace.

On the other hand, I think the parable is about us.  Or rather, it’s about what’s in us.  Just as God is faithful, just as Jesus is faithful to God, so also are we, as followers of Christ, encouraged to deepen our sense of faithfulness, too?  Jesus tells us that if we have a little faithfulness in small matters, it bodes well for having faithfulness in larger, more important matters.

Like the matter of being entrusted with true riches?  Do we have what it takes, this growing faithfulness within, to be mangers of the “true riches” God has given us?  Well, let’s see...

These true riches… what are they?  And what makes it so important to grow in faithfulness as we manage them?

The first of the true riches is that God has become accessible to us!  Amen to that!  God is as close to us as our very breath!  We can have a relationship with the Holy One, both consciously and unconsciously.  We can sense God’s divine presence as life and love, as health and wholeness, as grace and mercy.  We can know God as a support, as a guide in our lives, as a friend, if we’re open to a relationship with God.

Practicing faithfulness in our relationship with God I think means continuing to put God front and center in our lives.  Taking time to worship.  Opening our hearts in prayer.  Becoming attentive to God like we would in any relationship that’s important to us.  Letting God and God’s ways influence our decisions and our actions in all areas of our lives.

þ  Preacher King Duncan asks, “What if we were as good at what we do as Christians as McDonald’s is at what they do as hamburger makers?  Or Coco-Cola?  Or Microsoft” (King Duncan, Illustrations for September 23, email from Illustrations@clergy.net, retrieved September 18, 2007)?  What if we as Christians were to have the same intense desire to show God’s love to others as Disney has to make people to happy?  What if we were as faithful in living our lives in Christ’s way as American businesses are committed to making a profit?

Perhaps a growing faithfulness in our relationship with God helps us to cherish just how close God is.  Some of you may sense that you have what it takes, this sort of faithfulness… and some of you may know that you can do better at it, too.

Another one of God’s true riches is Jesus Christ.   Amen to that, too!  Our journeys during this life are filled with places where we’ve done well, made good decisions, enjoyed the blessings.  But, we also have to deal with our imperfections, our missteps and mistakes, our shrewdness, our dishonesty, our ability to cut God and others off.

Strengthening our faithfulness to Jesus Christ I believe moves us toward new life within our spirit.  In Christ we find a new sense of freedom from the guilt and shame that comes when we mess up.  In Christ we can practice forgiveness because we know and believe God forgives, and that can mean a new start.  It’s wonderful to be forgiven, isn’t it?  To know that nothing is held against you frees you to let things return to a normal, healthy relationship.  You can start over.  So, for those and other reasons, practicing faithfulness to Jesus Christ, is a good thing to do, for Christ is one of God’s true riches.  We can manage our faithfulness to Christ regularly.

Some days you may have a good sense about practicing faithfulness to Christ, and other days, you know it could be better.  Iknow… I’m there, too.

And, another of God’s true riches is each other.  Amen!  Each one of us is a child of God.  Each one of us practices our faith unique to our own situations and circumstances.  Each one of us is apple of God’s eye, right?  Oh yes, we are!

The value of strengthening our faithfulness in caring for each other is

that all of us need love and support at different times during our lives.  We can reach out to those close to us and assist them in their walk of faith.  We can nurture the lives of our family members and church family.  And, this gives hope for their journeys.

As we practice faithfulness with one another, we know it bodes well when it comes to practicing the same faithfulness with others on the wider scale.  Others whom we don’t know or can’t see.  Others whom we know are treated unjustly or unfairly.  When we practice faithfulness to others by seeing them as children of God, we embody Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, even beyond our networks.

Editorialist Peter Marty says he has a friend who thinks that every congregation ought to own an 11 foot pole—a pole that reaches all the neighbors it wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole! (“Need thy Neighbor,” Marty, Peter, The Christian Century, August 31, 2016, p. 3).  You may have what it takes, this kind of faithfulness to others, but it’s always good to check and see if more growth in faithfulness could be good, too.

Practicing faithfulness with each other, with Jesus Christ, and with God I think mimics God’s faithfulness with us.  It’s what is in us.  It’s the right stuff.  It’s what it takes to live with God’s true riches in this world. May we have God’s vision to help us.  Amen.