Money Talk

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S (Scripture): Luke 16:1 Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’

3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.

5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11  If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12  If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13  No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

14 The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God…”

O (Observation): Jesus at it again…turning the world of the Pharisees (and us) upside-down. Those folks who owed money should have not been given a break. The steward should have walked away and let everyone pay back what was owed.

The fact that Jesus points out that the Pharisees were money-lovers drives home the personal nature of the story. Jesus is trying to make things very simple: you love God OR money; you can’t love both!

Jesus must sense that the Pharisees (and us at times) are too caught up in the worldly impact that wealth has on leaders. Wealth informs our decisions and especially has an impact on our relationships.

What is important here is that Jesus is lifting up relation over wealth / status.

A (Application): How often do we allow the things of this world to make our decisions for us. Our money drives our status / power. Our status of our relationships can even cause us to work towards maintaining power over another, rather than allowing equality in the relationship.

We so love money that we allow its influence to drive our choices: cars, homes, clothes, school system, etc. We let money come before God, when we choose to give to God what is leftover at the end of the month, rather than determining a goal or percentage. (Listen: if you don’t hit the goal, God ain’t gonna zap ya…it’s the intentionality that counts, here.)

Determine what is faithful What honors your neighbor? What honors God? Answer those questions, and you will have done well.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us in our discernment. Amen.

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The Gold on the Altar

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S (Scripture): Matthew 23:16 Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “How terrible it will be for you blind guides who say, ‘If people swear by the temple, it’s nothing. But if people swear by the gold in the temple, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 17 You foolish and blind people! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold holy? 18 You say, ‘If people swear by the altar, it’s nothing. But if they swear by the gift on the altar, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 19 You blind people! Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? 20 Therefore, those who swear by the altar swear by it and by everything that’s on it. 21 Those who swear by the temple swear by it and by everything that’s part of it. 22 Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

O (Observation): Jesus is caught up in straightening out the misguided thoughts of those who established and interpreted the laws for the Jewish people: the Pharisees. Many things the Pharisees do (and have done) frustrates Jesus, as he saw these legal experts contorting the laws of God towards selfish and self-serving means.

Jesus saw that the Pharisees were constantly navigating adventures in missing the point.

The gold in the Temple – as beautiful and attractive as it was – was not the point. The point was the reason for the special nature of the Temple and the altars upon which the gold resides: God promises to be present in the Temple around the altar.

If you make a solemn oath at the Temple, you don’t swear by the gold, but you swear to the one for whom the gold exists: God!

A (Application): What is the gold upon which we pledge loyalty in our congregations? Is it the carpet or the walls or the decorations or the lack of decorations? What do we get caught up in?

What is the most important part of our worship space? Font? Altar? Pews?

What makes our buildings holy? Is it the stone or marble floors or stained glass windows?

All of these things can help…but let us not infer that the “stuff” that makes up our worship spaces – as beautiful as it all is – ever takes the place of the fact that where we are when we worship and confess and receive forgiveness… is Holy Ground. And it is such, not because we wear the right stuff or hang the right pictures. That ground is Holy Ground, because when we gather in the name of the Lord, God promises to be present. And that is all we ever need.

P (Prayer): Lord, strip us of all pretense and make our gathering spaces holy. Amen.

“Ahem!  I’m Standing Right Here”

 

 S (Scripture): Matthew 12:38. Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered Jesus, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. 41 The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them – and now, something greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon – and now, something greater than Solomon is here!”

O (Observation): The Pharisees are at it again.  And this time, Jesus puts them lower than the evil residents of Ninevah and the outsiders in “the South” (perhaps the Ethiopian region).  Talk about a slap in the face!   

Of course, Jesus lifts up these strange folks as examples, because they saw the light of God, peeked into that light, and recognized God’s sovereignty.   The Ninevites “repented when Jonah preached” (Mt 12:41) and the queen of the South “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon” (Mt 12:42).   And now, with Jesus, who is healing and teaching with authority ALREADY, he is that much greater than Jonah or Solomon!   And the Pharisees still want Jesus to show them a sign!   They are still not satisfied.  

Jesus acknowledges that these folks just won’t see the light…and he is deeply troubled by their resistance.  He is troubled with them, because the gift of God – Jesus, himself – is in their very midst and yet their hearts and minds are blind to God’s presence on earth.   It was easier for those outside the Church (Ninevites and Ethiopians of the time) to see God on earth than it is for this group of Pharisees  to see God in the person of Jesus…in the flesh and blood.  

A (Application):  I still sense that God has work to do in me, in terms of keeping my eyes open to God’s presence.  I’m a pretty insecure person, and I tend to look at what others are doing and compare myself.  Sometimes my insecurity leads me to inaction, because I think I’m not good enough to complete the task…to the point that I don’t even take step number one.   

Then I read a text like this and find that I’m in the seats with the Pharisees.   I’m looking for a sign.  And the truth is Jesus is already in my midst!  The sign is Jesus himself!  And stepping out in faith is less scary knowing that He is with me.  

What insecurities block you from moving forward in your callings and in your ministry?  Can you look back and see moments where Jesus was carrying you through with grace?  Or times when the Spirit was clearly in charge of giving you faith to move?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to know that you are already and always helping us to take one step forward in faith toward you and in love toward one another.  Amen. 

Are We Still Listening?

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S (Scripture): John 9:13 They brought the man who used to be blind to the Pharisees. 9:14 (Now the day on which Jesus made the mud and caused him to see was a Sabbath.) 9:15 So the Pharisees asked him again how he had gained his sight. He replied, “He put mud on my eyes and I washed, and now I am able to see.”

9:28 The Jewish religious leaders heaped insults on him (the man born blind), saying, “You are his disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses! We do not know where this man comes from!” 9:30 The man replied, “This is a remarkable thing, that you don’t know where he comes from, and yet he caused me to see! 9:31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is devout and does his will, God listens to him. 9:32 Never before has anyone heard of someone causing a man born blind to see. 9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 9:34 They replied, “You were born completely in sinfulness, and yet you presume to teach us?” So they threw him out.

O (Observation): Phew! Lots going on here. Man born blind – Jesus heals him on the Sabbath – Jewish leaders try to trap Jesus again – Man born blind progresses in belief – Jewish leaders pull rank and dismiss the man born blind as a sinner, because he considers himself a disciple of Jesus.

Two things stand out to me.

1. Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
2. When push comes to shove, the Jewish religious leaders default to titles and tradition, not God.

Healing on the Sabbath was considered sinful. This was a work, and people were not to work on the Sabbath. (See the 10 Commandments.).

Once again, Jesus bumps up against the traditions. This puts him at odds with the religious leaders. This also means that he is coming back to the main point: Which is more important? Sabbath, or bringing someone back into the community where that person can worship God?

When challenging the man born blind, the religious leaders have the tables turned on them by this very man who has been healed. He seems to think that they want to follow Jesus, but they end up claiming to be disciples of Moses. Moreover, when they get frustrated with this man they just pull rank and fall back to their titles as positions of privilege. They then declare that this man just simply must be sinful, even though he’s been healed. Have the religious leaders stopped listening for God’s voice, and instead, clung to their human-made traditions to seek life in God?

A (Application): Are we still listening? Do we still listen for God’s voice? Do we still listen to seek what it is that God would have us do in this world?

I wonder if we are not like these Jewish religious leaders at times – leaning on tradition and titles and positions of power in the church and in the world.

Do business people and bankers and politicians and entrepreneurs and cooks and nurses and doctors and lawyers still listen for God’s voice? I hope they do. Yet, too often we rely on our hired religious leaders to speak about faith and do the “spiritual thing” for us.

Whether we are in a church building, at home, in the workplace, at school, listening for God’s voice is extremely important. When we fail to stop and listen, we fail to notice God breaking into the world. When we don’t notice God, we fall back on our own traditions and our own ways. These traditions and ways are not life-giving in and of themselves.

The Protestant Reformation is a testament to continually looking for God in the world. Martin Luther, and many others who helped paved the way for him to lead, challenged the traditions of the church, and God’s voice was heard and acted upon.

May we continually live in a state of “reformation.” A reformation not of our own doing, but of God’s doing. Let us hope that God can take us…broken, tattered and torn, heal us, and then set us free to do God’s will.

Where have you seen a need for reformation? At home? At school? At work?

Listen for God to call you forward. God heals. God saves. God empowers. Follow.

P (Prayer): Healing Lord, bring us to see you in our simple, normal, everyday lives, and bring us new life to share with others. Amen.