Archive for November, 2012

“Those who stake their all on the coming kingdom”

November 1, 2012

Methodist preacher’s kids at the Wesley statue in Savannah

I enjoyed spending a lot of time last week with a difficult parable, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, in Luke 16:1-13. Before I leave it behind completely (at least until the next time it comes up), I want to share an insight from John Wesley’s commentary on v. 8, which reads (in the King James): “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” In my view, he gets it exactly right. He writes:

And the lord commended the unjust steward – Namely, in this respect, because he had used timely precaution: so that though the dishonesty of such a servant be detestable, yet his foresight, care, and contrivance, about the interests of this life, deserve our imitation, with regard to the more important affairs of another. The children of this world – Those who seek no other portion than this world: Are wiser – Not absolutely, for they are, one and all, egregious fools; but they are more consistent with themselves; they are truer to their principles; they more steadily pursue their end; they are wiser in their generation – That is, in their own way, than the children of light – The children of God, whose light shines on their hearts.

We Christians should show the same “foresight, care, and contrivance” for heavenly concerns that the steward showed for worldly concerns. We should work at least as hard pursuing God’s kingdom as the steward did pursuing his own interests. If we don’t, then, unlike the steward, we’re not being true to our own profession of faith, our own principles.

In his commentary in the the New Interpreter’s Bible, Alan Culpepper, a Southern Baptist scholar, said as much:

Instead, the parable turns on the steward’s shrewd response to the urgency of his situation and invites hearers to understand that they are likewise in the midst of a crisis that demands an urgent decision if disaster is to be avoided. Faced with loss of his position, the dishonest steward acted decisively to provide for his future. One who hears the gospel knows that just such a decisive act is required of those who will stake their all on the coming kingdom of God.[†]

“Those who stake their all on the coming kingdom”? Who are those people? Not me, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong: I want to stake my all. I should. But do I? Does all mean all?

I had a friend in church years ago who sang in choir. He said that whenever the choir sang that classic hymn of invitation “I Surrender All,” he felt tempted to walk out of the choir loft. He didn’t want to be a liar in church. “I don’t surrender all!” he said.

I totally get what he meant. Needless to say, this parable, like many others, kicks my butt.

R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 310.

Sermon 10-28-12: “The Shrewd Manager”

November 1, 2012

An etching by Jan Luyken illustrating Luke 16:1-9 in the Bowyer Bible, Bolton, England. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus’ Parable of the Shrewd Steward is probably the most difficult of all Jesus’ parables. What does it mean that Jesus says that we should be more like the “hero” of this parable, who is—let’s face it—a scoundrel?

I deal with this question in today’s sermon, preached on Stewardship Sunday. I challenge us to use all the resources God gives us—time, talent, energy, intellect, possessions, and money—for the sake of God’s kingdom. And because our time to do so is limited, we need to approach this task with a sense of urgency.

Sermon Text: Luke 16:1-13

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

About ten years ago, as some of you know, I was perfectly happy working as an electrical engineer when God called me to be a pastor. In the eight years that I’ve been a pastor, however, I have forgotten nearly all engineering knowledge. I would now be useless as an engineer. So… all I can say is, this preaching gig better work out because otherwise I’m in trouble. I’m no longer qualified to do anything else. I don’t have a fall-back or a safety net.

Nah, I’m kidding. I’ve been doing this pastor thing for a while; I think it will work out O.K. If not, my wife, Lisa, can support me!

All that to say that I deeply sympathize with the plight of the manager in today’s scripture. When faced with the prospect of losing his livelihood, he says, “I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m too proud to beg.” Like me, he can’t do anything else at this point in his life; he has no fall-back or safety net. Read the rest of this entry »