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Sermon for September 18, 2022 – Proper 20

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 4043 | Where is the Balm?
Greg Williams

Where is God when it hurts? It’s a question most of us have asked at least once as we’ve watched others struggle through unbearable pain or trial. For many believers, the hurt results in genuine cries of pain and frustration. Sometimes this is followed by a nagging guilt over our own doubts and uncertainties – as if asking the question is wrong, or going through pain makes us less than… It might reassure you to know that the scriptures describe many people who cry out to God as they seek to understand where God is in times of suffering.

The prophet Jeremiah is a good example. In his response to the cries of distress from the people of Judah and Jerusalem, he famously declared:

“Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?”
Jeremiah 8:22 (ESV)

For anyone who has experienced the feel of cool aloe vera on a nasty sunburn, you will know what a balm is supposed to feel like. It is both a source of healing and of comfort. Jeremiah is asking, where is the comforter? Where is the one who will heal the people and the land? Where is the redeemer?

In a world full of conflict and geopolitical instability, it is natural that we ask ourselves such questions. They are not a sign of faithlessness, and they should not move us to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Pain, violence, and inequality are all consequences of a broken world in need of healing.

When someone collapses in the middle of a street, those who intervene might cry out for a doctor — that doesn’t imply an absence of help, rather it is a declaration of need.

Throughout this passage in Jeremiah, the language is intentionally vague as to who the speaker is. Is it Jeremiah or God speaking? The “daughter of my people” is a term best used by God. God himself is declaring the helplessness of the world that is broken and in desperate need of healing – is there one who can bring it the comfort and restoration that is needed?

When we cry out in frustration at the state of the world, we witness to the faithfulness of the Father and to his compassion that he feels as he looks upon everyone caught up in pain and suffering. He cries out with the prophet, “Is there one who can bring the comfort and restoration that is needed?”

In Jesus, we hear a resounding “yes” to that question. He has come as a physician to heal the sick and he has sent his Spirit who is a balm to fill, soothe and restore the cracks that permeate our broken world.

The next time you or someone you know calls out in despair, rest in the truth that we have God’s answer in Jesus. There is a balm in Gilead, there is a physician here. He has answered the call of a broken world. He has wept alongside it, suffered for it, and healed it with his wounds.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 79:1-9 • Jeremiah 18:18-9:1 • 1 Timothy 2:1-7 • Luke 16:1-13

The theme of this week’s scriptures is the singular faith God desires. Our passage in Jeremiah laments the fate of his people brought on by their idolatry and the Psalmist prays for their deliverance and atonement that the people might glorify him. In Timothy, Paul encourages believers to pray for the ability to lead lives focused on our faith in the one God and Mediator, Jesus. Finally in our sermon passage for today, Jesus warns that everything we have is given by God and intended to be faithfully administered in service to him.

Gifts Not to be Squandered

Luke 16:1-13 (ESV)

This year has seen the release of the latest Spider-man movie, No Way Home. In a gutsy gamble that seems to have paid off at the box office, this movie included three separate versions of the iconic superhero, drawing from previous reboots of the movie franchise, and tying them together in a neat temporally fractured bow. Most iterations of the Spider-man persona have the same back story. Newly imbued with superhuman strength and resilience, Peter Parker forgoes stopping a criminal when he has the chance, only to discover the same criminal murders his uncle and mentor moments later. With his dying breath, his uncle leaves him with one of the most memorable superhero mottos of all time: with great power comes great responsibility. Parker decides to live in honor of that statement, seeking to not squander the gifts he had been given.

Perhaps after hearing that quote, some people feel inspired to live up to their potential, while others breathe a sigh of relief and thank God they don’t have “great power.” Well, our message today is going to bring good news and bad news to both groups of people:

We may not have great power, but we do have great responsibility.

These are two truths that Jesus shares with us throughout his ministry, the implications of which can be found in our scripture passage today.

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.”

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He said, “A hundred measures of oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” He said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.”

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. 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 wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money. (Luke 16:1-13 ESV)

When tackling a parable, it is worth considering who in the parable we are supposed to identify with. In this parable it does not take long to realize that we are supposed to see ourselves in the place of the shrewd manager. Parables do not present perfect parallels for reality, but express practical, moralistic, and theological concepts that we as followers of Jesus need to embrace. When they are given in a series, as this one is, each one contains truth to be contemplated, but it’s all those truths woven together that form Jesus’ message. In this case Jesus weaves together a message for the Pharisees who were deriding the time he spent with sinners and tax collectors, and a message for his disciples who were also listening (Luke 15:1-2).

So, what is the message of these parables here in Luke 15:3-16:13? Let’s take a moment to outline the lessons that Jesus is sharing and how they tie into a larger conversation between him, the Pharisees, and the disciples:

  1. The parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:3-10) give a message of hope for those who have gone astray. The parables are to be understood as God going to the sinners to bring them back into their relationship with himself. God pursues us and so we are saved. The return of those who are lost is a cause for rejoicing.
  2. In the parable of the Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus expands on the sheep and coin. Not only is the return of the son who is lost a cause for rejoicing, the father happily and willingly forgives the son who turns from the path of self-destruction. We are left with a question in this parable: what will the envious and resentful older brother chose? Will he renew his relationship with the father, or turn and walk the path of Cain, allowing his pride and anger to rule over him?
  3. In our text for today, the shrewd manager continues the narrative of redemption that has been outlined so far. Having established that God pursues us, forgives us, and rejoices at our reconciliation, Jesus is free to turn to the question of our past choices and how we should act in light of them. This parable, which is directed to the disciples rather than the Pharisees, calls for them to follow in the example of generosity given to us and extend that generosity to others.

Jesus’ conclusion following these parables is that one cannot “serve God and money.” This statement from Jesus cuts to the heart of both Pharisee and disciple. It sets before them a clear dichotomy: opposition to God is not just defined by bad choices, sinful acts, or dubious professions, it is also defined by the pursuit of wealth, comfort, and earthly influence. The Pharisees hated what Jesus said here; they saw clearly in this message a condemnation of their lifestyle as well as a dismissal of the sins of the people Jesus was spending time with. They could not comprehend that the relationship with the sinner was more important to God than condemnation of the sin, so much more important that he sent his Son to remove the condemnation in order to restore the relationship.

In our passage, the shrewd manager is not a person to be idolized or celebrated, yet he is presented in the parable as the hero. He has cheated and swindled, and only at the last moment, with the certainty of unemployment and disaster upon his doorstep, does he change his ways. Yet this corrupt manager is set up as making the correct choices for one simple reason: he looks to the future.

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. 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 wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8-9)

No power of our own

Jesus is telling his disciples that they need to change their perspective if they want to follow him. They need to look heavenward, with eyes firmly fixed on the eternal prize in Jesus. Many choices presented to us will have one of two outcomes, either to build unrighteous wealth here or true riches in heaven. While sins are forgiven with the costly grace of God freely given to us, pursuit of wealth for personal comfort and social status binds us in service to sin in a deep and dangerous way.

Within the narrative of this parable is a freeing truth: we possess nothing. Just as the manager has no wealth of his own, we too cannot claim anything for ourselves. Our wealth, our land, our health, our skills, and our potential, are all gifts from God. This is what was meant when we said at the beginning that we have no power. The question asked of us here is simple: what will we do with what we’ve been given?

Great responsibility

The prodigal son and the older brother, the lost sheep and coin, the disciples and pharisees, you and me, we all have a moment in our lives where we find ourselves in the shoes of the shrewd manager. Like the manager, all we have is not our own, but gifts given to us. Like the manager we realize that we have been unwise with these gifts, squandering them for our own gain.

This is where we are called upon to ask the question: what should I do next?

The choice the manager makes is based not upon his present needs, but rather what he hopes for in the future. This is the moral we are called to embrace. Christian forward thinking is not a matter of hours, days, or years, but of our eternal relationship with the Father.

Our great responsibility then is to seek guidance from that relationship. The generous gracious heart of the Father is our guide for good stewardship. Christian fiscal responsibility is realized when we are prayerfully considerate with the gifts we have been given.

Whether you are donating to churches and charities or buying a family home, this wisdom can be applied. Use of material wealth for our own need and even comfort is not necessarily sinful, but the parable warns us against placing those purposes before faithful service to God.

Our great responsibility is to take what we have been given and put it toward our eternal purpose, a life lived with God and one another. In so doing we will have been faithful with the unrighteous wealth that once held us in its grip, and gained in its place the true riches that come from service to God.

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

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September 18 – Proper 20
Luke 16:1-13 “Trustworthy”

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Program Transcript

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope, which is Luke 16:1 – 13. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 20 in Ordinary Time, which is on September the 18th.

And it reads,

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Verse two tells us, Rex, to give an account of your management. What my experience is, most people dread hearing come to the principal’s office or we need to talk, or the boss wants to see you, man.

It can just elicit anxiety right away. So, why do we fear being held in accounts?

Rex: Because there is a big part of us that feels we are not able to measure up. When you’re called like that, we fear being held in account. What did I do wrong? We’re focused on my mistake or what did I miss?

Because usually when we are called by our superiors, especially in that tone of a voice, oh, it’s, “Give me an account of your manager.” So, I think it’s by default that we look at ourselves as not good enough. So, when someone ask us about something, whether it’s a report, or it’s a computation, or it’s a whatever we’re supposed to finish, or a project, and there is that fear. Is this good enough? Is this something that’s possible?

I’m a student right now, and I think you are too right, Anthony?

Anthony: I am. Yes.

Rex: Yeah. So, when you turn in your paper, and you look at your paper and you try to see the comments. And I remember even in college where you look for the red marks. You look for the encircled sentences.

And then no matter how well you have done sometimes, that one little red mark could really throw you off. So, no one’s going to say, Hey, come on, call me and ask me for an account of your management.

If you are a fiscal manager, just like what we have in this passage, he knew he was going to find out. He knew he’d be caught wasting the money of his boss. But what’s amazing here is that he was commended. And that’s why this parable really needs to be studied well, because if you just read it, your first reading would be like, what? You’d be asking, what? This is a dishonest steward, and yet he’s being commended?

It doesn’t make sense. What’s interesting here is that in Luke 16:8, the sons of this world. And there’s a comparison, the sons of this world and the sons of light. It’s a distinction. I think it’s a Jewish category of delineating good people. The good question that we need to ask is, why was he commended or why was he commended after all these things?

It’s getting clearer here that he was commended for his foresight. He was not being commended for his wickedness, but for his foresight to take care of his earthly future. And there is that call for us. I think I’m answering the second question here, but there is the point where we as Christians need to be as determined, as focused when we consider our life in eternity. Our eternal life needs to be as determined, needs to be very focused on our priorities, of making sure that our lives become an expression of who we are in Jesus.

Anthony: Yeah. I think sometimes accountability is seen in a negative light, but accountability is not persecution. The Lord wants us to grow up into the head who is Christ, to mature in him. And we always go back to the question: Who is God? Who is Jesus, who is the Spirit, who is the Father?

We realize in giving an account of ourselves (as you’ve already vividly and very eloquently talked about the love of God), there’s nothing to fear in being held in account. We will all give an account. And I think on some level, it is going to be excoriating — not because God doesn’t love us, but we’ll see and be thankful for what God has done for us to wipe the debt. So, in that way, I long for it.

But this is interesting, Jesus talks so much about fearing not, because he knows us. He’s human, and he knows what the human experience and condition is like. So, we’re going to have fear, but the more that we focus on our Lord, that fear begins to slowly dissipate and know that he has given an account for us, and his account says that he loves us. Hallelujah praise God for that.

The scripture goes on to say that no slave can serve two masters. And I hear that a lot. Sometimes it’s preached well sometimes, not. What is the big deal and how can we think through that statement?

Rex: Yes. I think for me, if I’m going to explain this to a person right next to me, I would begin with asking, what’s the most important thing in your life? Because Jesus is making that contrast between serving God and serving mammon. And he’s the one who already told us that you cannot serve both God and money.

He’s already telling us. And Jesus is talking about what we serve or what we worship. Clearly, some people serve money, but we are very much encouraged to really think again and ask. We are to serve God. We need to be making sure in our hearts that we are not serving mammon and money.

And the question is, so how can you tell? How can people serve money? Because typically we’ll just say, I own it, I spend it, I’m not serving it. But when we see it as having its power over us, when we see money as a source of our security, a source of things that we want, we need, when people work so hard to obtain it and treasure it, of course, and all of these things would indicate that money is worthy of all my energy, my time, and my attention.

And there are times when money is looked at as security for the future, or even as something that’s very essential.

There’s so much fear going on in the world right now. And what’s the first thing that a lot of people could think is: I will be unscathed if I have all these riches to protect me. That’s how people serve money when money becomes everything for them.

But the next question would be: how much do we value our relationship with God? How do we look at God? Is he really our security? Is God really a source of all things that we need and want? Do we treasure him? Are we so compelled by his love for us that all of the things that we have – time, money, talent, possessions, and all that – are offered to him?

Anthony: That’s a good word. And a very relevant word for our time, Rex. Thank you.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you ever had to cry out for help when you or someone with you was injured or in distress? How did you feel when you cried out? Contrast that to how you felt while you were waiting? When help arrived?
  • Have you ever cried out passionately for help from God? What prompted the call and how was it answered?
  • Jesus answered the call of a broken world; he wept, suffered over it, and healed it. How do you think we can be living out this continued ministry of solidarity and healing within your church neighborhood?

From the Sermon

  • What do you think are the upsides to having no power but still having great responsibility?
  • In the sermon we said the Phariseescould not comprehend that the relationship with the sinner was more important to God than condemnation of the sin, so much more important that he sent his Son to remove the condemnation in order to restore the relationship.” What can we be doing to ensure that the gospel people hear is one of freedom from sin and adoption by God and not one of condemnation of the sinner alongside the sin?
  • The sermon encouraged being prayerfully considerate with the gifts we’ve been given. How do you practice a discipline of prayerful financial management?

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