A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on September 18, 2022
Luke 16:1:13 …..“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. . . .
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Every three years pastors all over the world shudder to realize that we’re back to this very very strange story about the cheating manager. It’s not that there is a cheating manager… people cheat, we know that. What’s strange is how it seems that Jesus approves of his actions…. and that is strange, because it’s really hard to see any part of the way of Jesus here.
Let me pause and give you a little scholarly background… because I think we can all agree, something’s not quite all there about this reading. The scholars tell us that this section (the technical word is pericope) is kind of a mishmash. Even the greatest scholars of the Bible don’t really understand all about this pericope. Personally, I think that Luke was getting tired; it was the end of the week, and so he didn’t really think through everything, and assumes things that we just don’t know. But it does seem clear that he’s trying to tell us that Jesu thinks that wealth burdens the wealthy. The cheating steward works to use his master’s money, for instance, to put others under obligation to him…. in other words, getting this new money puts people into debt, moral debt, ethical debt… but it’s not a free gift. In fact, it’s a bribe, intended to purchase their support in the future.
This story is trying to help us understand that wealth weighs us down, that the attempts to protect our wealth cause us to do things, to behave in ways that are more self- protective than community-protective. God offers us a kind of wealth that can’t be bought, can’t be sold, and isn’t any part of the corruption of possessions.
It’s a big concept, but it’s worked out in so many little ways.
I’ve come to understand that these strange stories are here in the Bible to push us to think about our faith in ways we might not if all the stories were as clear as the one about the Good Samaritan. Everyone gets the point of that story right away. But this one… oh, this story begins with frustration and makes us really think.
Jesus said, there once was a man who had a manager who was doing a terrible job, losing money hand over fist. The boss decided to fire the manager, who, learning he was about to lose his job, ramped up the teaching and, started settling his employer’s accounts receivable at a discount, taking a hefty bribe each time. His boss praised him… and it looks like Jesus admires him too.
But then comes the stinger. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. . . Look again at that dishonest manager… he was at least consistent, unfaithful in every act… it seems to me that the first thing Jesus suggests here is that we not be surprised if someone who’s mean to the unimportant is also mean to the more important, even if they take caution to do it behind their back. There’s more here, but that’s enough for today. Little things matter.
Maya Angelou, the author and poet, wrote: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. Remember this because it will happen many times in your life. When people show you who they are the first time believe them. Not the 29th. time. When a man doesn’t call you back the first time, when you are mistreated the first time, when someone shows you lack of integrity or dishonesty the first time, know that this will be followed many many other times, that will some point in life come back to haunt or hurt you. Live your life in truth. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. You will survive anything if you live your life from the point of view of truth.”
Little things matter.
Little things matter all out of proportion to their size or visibility. I don’t know how many times in the last week, in reading a news story or watching tv coverage of the ceremonies around the death of Queen Elizabeth, people have mentioned some little thing that this very important woman did, some little thing that gave value to the other person’s life. “She handed around the sandwiches, like she thought I was important,” one woman noted. It was a little thing, and it gave great value.
Little things matter.
Every once in a while, someone does something spectacular. Just a few days ago, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, along with his family, gave his company away to a trust. Future profits will be dedicated to combat climate change. Now that’s a spectacular act. The lesson for us in today’s reading is that we don’t need to be Yvon Chouinard, we don’t need to be able to give away billions. Yes, those big “gives” are spectacular, and we’d love to see more of them, but really they’re not representative of real life.
In real life, it’s the little things that matter.
Every year at Christmas, Julie Hurlburt has masterminded a sit-down Christmas Dinner for 300 or so people. That looks like a big endeavor, and we’re understandably intimidated by the idea of doing it this year without Julie – you’ll remember she said she wanted to retire last January – but we’re going to do it. One of the ways we’ll make it work is that we’re not going to ask any one person to do all that Julie did. While some of the jobs are big ones (we need someone to be the overall manager, for instance), we’re also going to need dishwashers and food servers, shoppers and cookie makers. Everyone’s small contributions will add up to a joyous meal for 300-400 people on Christmas Day. It’s going to be a project where every contribution will make a difference. And it will be one of those times when little things will matter, a lot.
Little things matter.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child