Luke 16:1-13

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position 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 dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own genera- tion than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dis- honest wealth,[d] who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faith- ful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

A good friend of mine, Dr. Dean Nicholas, who’s the principal at CHCA and holds a Ph.D. from Hebrew Union and lives just up the street from us, wrote a book on the “tricksters” in the Bible.

This concept as a long history in many ancient cultures, and certainly in Jewish writings. The basic concept is that God will sometimes honor folks in the Bible who trick others into doing or acting a certain way to get themselves or others to move in a different direc- tion, to change the story that we find ourselves in. The story of Jacob and Esau, of Joseph and his brothers, etc. All have a sense of “tricking” if you will, or doing something that isn’t obvious at first, and then moving folks towards a different outcome…and seemingly God works it not only for their good, but for the good of others.

Our gospel lesson this morning has a sort of “trickster” feel to it. Jesus is sharing a parable, a story about a rich man. Many of Jesus’ stories talk about wealthy folks. Essentially, because Jesus is drawing out that wealth oftentimes gets in the way of how others are treated or looked upon. It’s sets up real boundaries or walls between us.

This story is in between the stories that Jesus shares about the prodigal son and the divide between the rich man and Lazarus, but with a twist.

This rich man has a manager for his business dealings. Apparently this manager wasn’t doing so good, so the rich man calls him towards accountability for how he’s handled his possessions.

The manager realizes his job is about to be taken away, he realizes he doesn’t want to be out on the street or doing hard labor…he’s not depicted in the most flattering way, is he? But, he is shrewd, so knowing he has nothing to lose because his boss is going to take his job away, he goes to the people that are indebted to his master. He takes their accounts and greatly reduces the amount that each person owes. He does this knowing that his master’s debtors will be grateful and take him in, show him hospitality as he gives them a huge break. He tricks the master before the master actually fires him. Pretty dishonest, and the master realizes it.

So, what does the master do, he commends the manager, congratulates him even.

Now, we may read this today and think at how wrong this is…at best, we wonder why this is even the bible. Is Jesus telling us to act shrewdly? Jesus doesn’t say to be dishonest, but Jesus does say that we can learn from folks who act in gracious ways, even if it’s out of self-centered way. Oftentimes, unchurched folks act more gracious than the disciples, or the children of the light as Jesus says in this passage. It may be out of a sense of self-preservation, but their actions still produce a blessing.

In essence, Jesus is saying that God works through the actions of the trickster manager, he redeems his actions somehow and blesses others. That no matter what happens, God will work towards the good of others.

One commentary that I read this week brought it home well. The manager is making friends through dishonest wealth, yet those friendships are there for him. God is calling us towards a relational way of living, we are called to make friends as well, albeit in a more just and honest way. We are called to not collect debts, just as we pray to be forgiv- en of our debts and to forgive our debtors. By so doing and acting, by working towards unity and friendship and not trying to win or dredge up past wrongs or indebtedness, but through forgiveness and grace towards others and ourselves, we can love well and see friendships, true friendships form.

We need that kind of wealth of community. By so doing, by blessing others and our neighbors, when we need them, they more likely to be there for us.

Jesus is telling his disciples, learn to make friends, and in so doing, cultivate a healthy sense of reciprocal love.

So much of Jesus’ followers existence was based on the hospitality of others, so it must be with us. It is hard for us to lean in on the generosity of others, yet we learn a lot when we do…and when we extend it with true authenticity and not for any other reason than to bless others.

Jesus is saying also that we have to understand that we can’t serve two masters, it’s either the way of money, our a life based on transactions, or the way of God, which is based on authentic love and community. You can’t have both being dominate. Our attempts to preserve ourselves or our institutions through maintaining a status quo mindset ultimately still leads towards death. We have to have movement within our institutions that is initi- ated by authentic friendship and working towards the common good…institutions then can bless that work, which actually, ultimately, leads to their reformation and growth. If we share what we have, as Jesus says clearly in this passage, being trusted with much means to share it with others…this trust that God has given us with materials to bless others, then we will be given true riches as it says in verse 11…those true riches are found in the Kingdom of God, the presence of God with one another.

The manager in our gospel lesson may have learned something as well even beyond his part in the parable…a lesson open to all of us. God’s love for us is fierce. It doesn’t always make sense, this love sometimes seems to trick us into doing and being in ways that we don’t understand. Yet, the love also produces within us a fierceness that moves us towards the other, towards accepting ourselves, and to a God who rewards us with rela- tionships and community that may surprise us.

Friends, may we live in a fierce love of God, not of money or possessions, or even institutional preservation…may we live loving new folks that we meet in and out of the church, and may we live loving each other even as we experience God’s love for us.

Lost Found

Luke 15:1-10

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine right- eous persons who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or what woman having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Have you ever lost anything? I know I have. Especially car keys! I try to put my keys in the same place all of the time, but sometimes I don’t. Then, when I’m running late, trying to get out the door, the sense of panic as I rush around trying to find them. Then, when I do find them, the sense of relief!

As I was thinking about this passage, I thought a lot about our national and international climate that we find ourselves in. It seems like we’ve lost a lot in our dia- logue, or lack of dialogue with one another. We are content to toss out civility and even share outright lies, make up things on the spot or make huge statements that contribute to relational breakdowns and anxiety. We have lost something, and in this time in our culture, are we willing to look for something of greater value or simply just accept it?

Or, maybe we have lost something in our lives, maybe a friendship or someone close to us has hurt us or we have hurt them, or some misunderstanding has caused a break in relationship. We want to search out what has happened in order to find or restore something that was lost.

This morning our gospel lesson is about losing something and then finding it. The context is interesting. Tax collectors, folks who were not well thought of in Jewish society at the time. They’d often collect more than what was required for taxes to the occupying forces of Rome in order to enrich themselves. Then there were the sinners…folks who had somehow found themselves outside of community because of something they’d done or not done. But, they all felt accepted for who they were and they gathered around Je- sus.

Jesus didn’t condemn folks or try to control them. He didn’t want to put stress on them, he simply loved them and accepted them. He believed in them. Jesus knew their imperfection, they weren’t hiding anything, and somehow they knew that Jesus embraced them in their humanity.

On the other hand, we also have the Pharisee’s hanging out. These were the people on the inside of the religious structure. They followed the rules and they even made many of the rules, most of which were not what God had intended. These religious leaders, these insiders, were complaining and grumbling as they often did. They wondered aloud why Jesus would welcome these sinners and even eat with them, which in that culture meant bringing them into friendship.

Quite a contrast. The sinners were experiencing hospitality and radical grace from Jesus…so were the Pharisees. Yet, the sinners were drawn in closer to Jesus and the Phar- isees, for the most part, kept their distance and complained.

So, Jesus goes into these two parables. The first about losing one sheep out of a hundred. Some might say why go after one, take care of the rest…you still have 99. Yet, Jesus is saying that this sheep matters, that we all matter. And, if one of us is lost or feels marginalized, then leaving the majority and going after the minority is God’s imperative. Work hard to find that lost sheep.

Then, when finding it, call the neighbors and friends over, have a celebration.

The story goes on to say that’s exactly what happens in the universe all around us, that’s what God does…God rejoices when one sinner, someone who’s maybe feeling lost, repents.

Again, we’ve said this before about repent, in Greek it’s metanoia, which means to change one’s mind, which then also begins to change one’s heart. When that happens, conversion or transformation can take root.

In a similar way, Jesus talks about a woman who loses a coin. She lights a lamp, sweeps, does some work in her house to find that coin. She has 10, so losing one still leaves her with 9. But, she still knows something is missing. When she finds it, she calls in her friends and neighbors and celebrates as well.

Again, the writer says God does the same.

Jesus is trying to tell us that we all experience being lost. And that God wants us to be found and is searching us all out. Sinners and Pharisees. When we experience things in our lives where we know something is missing inside of us, or maybe even outside of us. When we know we feel empty or alone, or when we have done something to others or others have done something to us, that those can be opportunities to search for something of great value within us and with others.

The sinners, well, in this story, they repent and move forward. Jesus isn’t trying to control them, on the contrary, he’s freeing them and leading them towards a great treasure. Relational connection within themselves, others, and God. Life begins to be a joy and a cause for celebration.

On the other hand, the religious leaders can’t let go of their stuff. When they lose it, they simply circle the wagons, silo themselves off, they don’t do the hard work of searching for what is lost, but settle for what they have left. When they see Jesus, when they experience the crowds coming around Jesus, they grumble and complain that Jesus is doing right or the way they’ve always done things. So, they end up becoming more bitter, more anxious.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t give up on them either. They may not know they are lost, they may not even want to be found. But, they are still human and still connected…so their is hope for them also to experience God’s love and to celebrate and experience real life.

There’s a lot in this morning’s passage for us. Where do we find ourselves in these stories? Are we lost and are we willing to look for what we’ve lost? Are we willing to do the work to find ourselves in a place of growth and love in our lives? Or, are we OK to settle for what we think we have? Are we willing to know who we are and look at ourselves with honest first before we complain and grumble about what others do or don’t do? Will we choose bitterness and lostness or celebration with each other and joy in friendships?


Luke 14:25-33

The Cost of Discipleship

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to
26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

One of my passions over the years has been backpacking. I’ve had some amazing trips throughout the US and Canada. I’ve also taken groups of high school students on some amazing adventures, as well as with friends and family my age. I haven’t done as many lately with my kids being older and involved in so many activities, but I’ve enjoyed those trips immensely.

I even like the process of preparing for a backpacking trip. One of the most enjoyable trips was a trek to climb Mt. Whitney with some of my closest friends while I was at Fuller Seminary in California working on my M.Div.

We started several months before as we had to apply for a permit to climb Mt. Whitney with the National Forest service. It was a lottery system and we were sure if we’d get it. They said to stay away from busy weekends and have no more than 2-3 folks to increase our chances of getting a permit. We picked the 4th of July weekend and had 5. Yet, we somehow were still selected for a permit!

We planned meticulously, all of us contributing something and distributing who would carry what. We planned for contingencies, and we made sure that we had everything lined up in case of emergencies, our route we’d take, etc.

We wanted to make sure that we had “counted the cost” of what it would take to do this trip and to do it well. We did have some unforeseen issues, as often happens when you are on an adventure, some things unplanned, but because we had counted the cost, were prepared, we were able to overcome some things and had an amazing adventurous journey together…and great stories to share!

Our passage this morning finds the writer of Luke picking up the journey motif again with Jesus.

Jesus in on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples with a large crowd that was following him. Many of the folks in that crowd were probably neutral in terms of what they thought of Jesus, maybe just curious, but they were still drawn to him. I believe that Jesus, when he turned around and addressed the crowds, was wanting to draw as many of them who were willing to have eyes to see and ears to hear, the cost of what it means to truly follow him.

Jesus goes on to say that one must hate his father, mother, wife, children, siblings…even their very lives to follow him. When we read that today, we have a very black and white understanding. But, in the first century, where family ties are central and there is an honor and shame culture like we discussed last week, Jesus is trying to break through to the crowds that there is a deeper community, deeper relationships, than simply familial relationships, that we are all bound together in our shared humanity, and we are being called into a new way of living and being with one another. Jesus is telling the crowd that there is a deeper priority than even familial connections.

The word hate as understood by a first century audience is equivalent to disgrace. Are you willing to be shamed, to risk your honor, by walking towards a love for all of humanity, to follow Jesus, the reformer of a system that you’ve been brought up in? Are you willing to risk everything to be a part of the ethos and reality of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is sharing?

If you are, count the cost. Jesus goes into the metaphors of building a tower and a war campaign…build a strong foundation first, but also build something on top of that foundation. If you are going to wage a war, do you have enough fighters. I wouldn’t read into the metaphors too much other than Jesus is using some imagery that folks could understand, contemporary examples, that’s telling the crowds that following him is more than simply showing up at an event or at the temple occasionally, it’s all about a lifestyle.

It’s also about letting go.

We hold on to so much. We hold on to our shame, our image of honor, or possessions such as material wealth, even those possessions we hold in common like a neighborhood, a country, or even a church. Yet, Jesus is saying that we should let go of all of that to work towards a better vision of what God intends.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a great German reformed theologian. PP

He lived through Nazi Germany until he was arrested for his role in an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler. Which, we won’t have much commentary on today, there’s so much more to Bonhoeffer’s life.

He lived through Nazi Germany until he was arrested for his role in an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler. Which, we won’t have much commentary on today, there’s so much more to Bonhoeffer’s life.

He also wrote some great books like the Cost of Discipleship where he says that the grace we have isn’t cheap…it has a cost, it is painful as witnessed in our lives and in the crucifixion of Jesus. He also says that discipleship isn’t cheap, nor easy. We are invited into a better story, a better way of living, yes, but that comes at the cost of having to look deep inside of us to where our loyalties lie, to be aware of what it means to ask ourselves hard questions and be willing to trust in the mystery of God around and in us, and of God’s vision for our lives.

One of Bonhoeffer’s books is the Life Together. It was written for the underground church in Nazi Germany on how to live in community. In it Bonhoeffer says that we need to “kill our wish dreams” for our lives and the church. Why? That seems harsh, especially as we often talk about having a vision for our lives and our church. What Bonhoeffer is driving towards is that are wish dreams are more about us than what God intends…which is a much larger, much more expansive, and deeper wish dream or vision for us and for the church. Yet, we have to let go of our dreams and work on listening to God’s voice in others and in us and around us to sense what God’s dream for us will be.

Jesus is reminding us that God does give us grace and grace is found in the very being of God’s character. Also, God’s covenant loyalty is to us…all of us, in community with us.

Friends, we are in community. And community takes hard work to build. When we build it on love, when our loyalties are with God and understand deeply that God’s loyalty is to us, when we do the hard work of not only counting the cost, but carrying the cross of Jesus’ work on our behalf, of living into the lifestyle and the work of following Jesus, then we can begin to see and experience God’s vision for us, we can go on a journey with God that will lead to our growth, and to our collective growth as a church in our neighborhood placed in our city.

Counting the cost of starting something new is so important. So is counting the cost of letting go of something in order for that new thing to arise. It is a journey when live life together and work towards the common good of those around us.

We are reminded of God’s calling to us to count the cost and to be that community that God calls in scripture the body of Christ. Jesus is not only calling us through the scriptures to follow him, to bid farewell to whatever is holding on to us or that we are holding on to that prevents us from following, but through Jesus being present with us now, in this space, and in all of time…this sacred moment is to remind of God’s work in our midst on our behalf.


Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jesus Heals the Man with Dropsy

14 On one occasion when Jesus[awas going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

Humility and Hospitality

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

What does it mean to be invited? Doesn’t it feel good to be included?

In Jesus’ time, the whole social system was based on transaction. Invitations came with a price and an expectation. If you do this, you will earn my honor, if you don’t, then my shame. That’s why poor folk weren’t invited to banquets of wealthy folk, they couldn’t return the favor and it was viewed as dishonoring to the poor. But, as you can imagine, it created and promoted an inequitable system…it kept people separated in relationship. It also created an “either/or” situation.

Usually, we get invited to events because of relationships of some sort. Family members, friends, folks that we’ve been around. Sometimes we get invited to other events because of our affiliations or because of something we’ve done. Weddings are a great example.

I love officiating weddings.

This summer I’ve officiated two. Both were former youth group kids at Northminster. One was at Northminster, the other at Rhinegeist. Both, very fun…and both planned out meticulously. The invitations were sent, the only expectation, show up and celebrate… except of course for me, I had some work to do! Some very fun work I might add!

In Jesus’ time, folks were invited to banquets, or dinners, even weddings, often for favors.

There was a strict social norm for invitation. If you were invited to a meal or a dinner, you were expected to some time return the favor in this honor and shame culture. It was about patronage and earning that persons honor. If one did not return a favor, then they were shamed. Therefore, a person of means, of wealth, would not invite a poor person because they would shame the poor person because they would not be able to return the favor.

Jesus was invited to this particular meal because he was a prominent teacher at the time. Probably folks in the religious leadership were curious as well, or maybe they had heard about Jesus’ words or his miracles and were intrigued. Jesus certainly had the ear and imagination of the people that the religious leaders did not.

At the beginning of this meal, Jesus does perform a miracle. A man with dropsy, or an edema, a swelling of tissue that could be caused by something like congestive heart failure, came to Jesus for a cure. Jesus asked the religious experts, those who knew procedure, rules, and the law of temple worship if it was OK to heal on the sabbath, to deliver this man. The religious folk were silent, even as they were confronted by this man’s humanity. But, their silence betrayed them…their inaction gave witness to hearts formed by the status quo rather than the dynamic love of God.

So, Jesus, out of love, healed the man and, the scripture says, released him. He was released from his crippling physical issue, as well as the rules and the social structure that kept him in a crippled state as a person.

Jesus doesn’t have animosity for the religious leaders, he simply wants them to break free into the expansive grace of God’s presence, God’s flow of love into their lives.

Jesus also wants to let them know that the Sabbath is not simply a time to stop, but it is a time to step back, look at our lives, be transformed and healed. To think about the things that are close to God’s heart. It is not meant to simply be a time of doing nothing, but on the contrary, a dynamic time of seeking God, seeking inner healing.

Jesus is, in effect, turning upside down their worldview, one of keeping things in a static state…which will lead to a slow death. Instead, pondering on God’s active and dynamic presence can lead to change and growth. But, You know, I can’t blame the religious leaders, they’d been raised in this culture, it’s what they knew. They were probably decent folk who had emotional attachments to a system that seemed to be working and it seemed good for them, or so they thought.

Jesus has gained their attention through his miracle and comments on God’s desire for the sabbath…now he’s inviting folks to think with a worldview that God intended. One that isn’t “either/or” but “both/and”. A Greek honor and shame worldview was dualistic, black and white, hierarchal. Jesus is saying that God’s worldview is non-dualistic, based on the oneness of God’s being and presence that encompasses us and calls us to be in in equitable and honoring relationships with everyone…we don’t earn honor, nor do we expect others to earn our honor, we give it freely to all, even to those who may not deserve it.

That’s hard to do, that’s not what we think is fair, yet that’s what Jesus teaches us all of the time…that’s why we often struggle with stories like this or with parables about folks getting paid the same wage whether they worked all day or an hour. God doesn’t show favoritism and wants us to let go of interacting with others in a way that really is countercultural, even now. Give folks honor, give them respect, even if they don’t always earn it. We are often so quick to criticize, to complain, and even live in our own shame, maybe even shame others. But, God’s way is a way of encouragement, including, and loving…that doesn’t necessarily lead to a transactional relationship, but it does lead to transformation and real growth.

Jesus calls those at the banquet his friends, and he wants his friends to break away from the worldly patterns of shaming others and feeling shame, which robs them, and us, of life, but to live in encouragement of one another. In our story, Jesus says to serve others, to not look for the places of honor, but to allow the master of the banquet to lift us up… not because we’ve earned it, but because we are loved. Jesus also understands that it takes inviting others in to our homes, churches, and even our very lives, folks that can’t necessarily give us what we think we need. It’s easy to invite our friends or ones who we know will return favors, people of means, but Jesus says to go out get the lame, the poor, the immigrant, the crippled…that when we do, we will be blessed, not with earthly blessings…folks may not repay us, but we will be blessed in another way. We will experience resurrection. By doing the right thing, being righteous in our relationships, we are resurrected in our own lives.

Friends, that’s what God is calling us towards in our own lives, and in this church. WE are called to invite others in to a great banquet of a church that is to be a foretaste of the the Kingdom of God…now, folks may not repay us with much, they may not be able to earn our honor or repay us with a good tithe or what we may think we’d want, but God says that as we invite folks, open up our church to others, and as we honor them and as we humble ourselves before each other, maybe not getting exactly what we thing we want, we will be blessed and we will receive God’s honoring us with resurrection in this life which will be with us into eternity. We can grow this church, and grow ourselves…it may not look the way we think it should right now, but God has a vision for us to be a place of right relationship in a world that’s desperately searching for some kind of authentic love.