You’re Invited – Plus One

January 28, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

 Luke 16:1-9

To conclude the “You’re Invited” sermon series we look at the mysterious parable of “The Shrewd Manager.” In its teaching, we’ll see the connection to our mission of inviting others to join us in finding a life in Jesus. It’s a big idea meant to challenge and to motivate us toward the advancement in eternal relationships – all for the glory of God – using what He has entrusted to us for this purpose.

  1. The Parable: A manager uses short-term stuff to gain long-term friends. In the introduction of characters, we become aware of the problem: a wealthy landowner accuses his manager (or steward) of misusing funds. In settling the landowner’s accounts, the manager devises a plan to win him friends and influence people who may provide for his future. The landowner commends the manager for his shrewdness. This unexpected response may suggest the misappropriated funds were obtained through illegal interest charged at the landowner’s discretion. Thereby, the manager minimized what debtors’ owed by collecting only the “legitimate” debt. His plan protected him from fault by the landowner while gaining him favor with the debtors he helped to save money. He was clever to use resources available to him now for future provision.
  2. Point: Earthly people are better at preparing for their earthly future than heavenly people are at preparing for eternity. Unbelievers are more clever and savvier at preparing their earthly futures than believers are at planning for their kingdom future. Surprised? Consider the last time you thought about laying up treasure in heaven, or, the last time you were motivated by eternal rewards? Yet, Jesus poses the solution to the problem, which is the connection to our idea of inviting.
  3. The Prescription: Use short-term stuff to gain long-term friends In the parable, Jesus is teaching us to use whatever earthly resources God has given us to build His kingdom. Ponder this: those we invite now could become eternal friends who go before us and will then welcome us in heaven. But, first, we have to find common ground to start the conversation — to gain access to peoples’ lives – so we can invite! Get creative, then invite across the ocean and across the street to reach others for the Kingdom!

Discussion Questions

  1. What allowed the manager to be so generous in debt forgiveness? (Hint: Relate the answer to us as stewards of God’s resources).
  2. What hobby, skill, or experience might make you “likable” or at least “approachable” to an unbeliever? Brain storm ideas for gaining an entry point to share the gospel.
  3. We often consider our time, talents, and treasure in regards to how we can serve in our churches. What shift in purpose is presented in the parable for these resources? Is that a new or challenging idea to you? Explain. (See Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.)
  4. Why is the idea of inviting significant to us as Christians? (Hint: it’s a heart issue.)
  5. Who are you wanting to invite to TC@PC? What resource can you use or conversation can you have to connect with this individual? Be in prayer for these individuals and about these opportunities.

Today we are concluding our sermon series called “You’re Invited.” “Invite” is our word here at Perry Creek for 2018. We want to be thinking and praying as a church about how to invite people to join us, as we find life in Jesus.

We thought we would start the year with a series where we look at four of Jesus’ parables about inviting. We began the series by looking at God’s invitation to us in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Then, we looked at the Parable of the Soils and saw our need to invite others to Jesus. Last week,  we looked at the Parable of the Great Feast and talked about who we should invite. We found that we should invite not just those we think are likely to respond to our invitation, but also the unlikely and even the unknown. Now today we want to conclude our series.

As we conclude, there’s one question that remains unanswered, one question that we have to at least start to talk about and that’s the question “How?” How do we start the conversation to invite? I don’t mean what are the exact words we want to use – that will vary from person to person. I mean “How do we reach people? How do we gain access to their lives?” We’ve talked about reaching the unlikely and the unknown. That’s fine, but how do we connect with them? None of us wants to go into eternity empty handed. We would like to take a guest with us. So how are we going to get access to our “Plus One?”

Luckily, Jesus gave us a parable that addresses that very topic! Turn in your Bibles to Luke 16:1-13.  We are going to look at a parable today that is called “the Parable of the Unjust Steward” or your Bible may call it “the Parable of the Shrewd Manager.” Now that’s a mysterious title, and it’s a mysterious parable! This may just be the most difficult of all Jesus’ parables to understand. It raises lots of questions as we read it!

This parable does more than just raise questions. It also begins to address that question – how do we start the conversation to invite? How do we gain access to people’s lives? This parable and this sermon certainly isn’t going to answer the question in detail. If anything, this is just a conversation starter for your small groups and families. Jesus did tell this parable to address that question. Let’s just read the Parable of the Unjust Steward from:

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 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.’

“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  I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

“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.’

“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. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

– Luke 16:1-9

As we look at this parable, the questions abound. We wonder as we read this: 

  • Why is Jesus, who is usually telling us not to worry about wealth, suddenly telling us to focus on it?
  • Why do the debtors in the story have their bills cut by different percentages?
  • What exactly does Jesus mean when He says “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light?”
  • And maybe just maybe the biggest question: Isn’t this wrong? Why does the master praise the manager for doing this? Why does Jesus seem to hold this man up as a good example?

Lots of questions! Here’s what we are going to do:

  1. We are going to look at the Parable and see if we can figure some of these questions out.
  2. We are going to look at the point. Jesus gives us the actual point he’s making.
  3. Just because I have to alliterate, we are going to look at the prescription – how Jesus says we should solve the problem that the parable exposes. That’s where we’ll get to the question of how we can invite? How we can get access to our “Plus One?”

There is one question that I want you to be puzzling through in your mind as we look at this one question. I want you to talk about on your way home from church today and in your small sroups,  and it’s this: How can I be using short-term stuff to make long-term friends? Let’s start today by looking at the parable itself, and the parable is this:

The parable: A manager uses short-term stuff to gain long-term friends

Let’s just walk through this parable and see if we can figure out what is going on here and why the main character is commended. Jesus introduces us to the characters:

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.

– Luke 16:1

So we have a wealthy landowner, and a manager or steward This manager would have lived on the estate of the rich man and managed the day to day affairs of the estate. As a steward, he would have had a lot of power. He would have had quite a bit of status, but he would not have had much wealth. He didn’t own the house or the land that he lived on. We have the problem:

“There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 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.’

– Luke 16:1b-2

So someone brought charges to the landowner that his steward was wasting his master’s wealth. The word “wasting” means “to scatter” like you would scatter seed. It could mean anything from carelessness to embezzlement. This is the word that is used to describe what the Prodigal son does with his Father’s wealth. He is accused of misusing funds. Since he doesn’t fight the accusation, Jesus probably wants us to assume that it’s true. The landowner responds accordingly. He fires the steward and tells him to finish the accounts and turn them in. Now at this point the manager realizes he’s in big trouble:

“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. 

– Luke 16:3

He can’t be a steward anymore. Nobody wants to hire a wasteful steward. He says “I’m not strong enough to dig.” He’s too ashamed to beg, so it looks like he’s stuck. He doesn’t actually own much,  and everything that is at his disposal is about to be taken away. He tries to figure out what he could possibly do to make his future better. He hits on a plan:

I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

– Luke 16:4

He has an idea so that when he is kicked off his master’s estate other people will welcome him into theirs, either for an extended visit or to work. This would be common on big estates. They would have all kinds of extra housing for workers and rich friends. This guy has now found a way to get invited to people’s homes. Jesus tells us what it is:

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ “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.’

– Luke 16:5-7

Whoa! I’ll say he has a plan! He gives these guys deep discounts! The first guy owes 800 gallons of olive oil. That’s the yield from about 150 trees, a pretty big orchard! The value of this is over three years’ wages for a common man. The steward cuts it in half!

The second guy owes 1,000 bushels of wheat, the yield of 100 acres. The cost of this would be about eight years wages for a common man. He reduces this guy’s bill by 20%. The Greek implies that he did this with every one of his master’s debtors!

Now I’d call that a plan. Pretty shocking, really. But what is even more shocking is the landowner’s response. Given what we know what do you expect the owner’s response to be? Not Good, but look at:

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

– Luke 16:8a

He commends the guy! Why would the master who had just fired a guy for corruption commend him for more corruption? Why is Jesus going to hold him up as a good example? Does this bother anyone? This is the sort of thing that should really bother you! This is like  “I got fired from the Chevy dealership for corruption, so I gave Corvettes to all my friends and the dealership commended me.” People go to jail for this sort of thing. So how does this work? There are a couple of explanations for the Steward’s behavior here:

First, it could just be that the steward was stealing from his master, just like it seems when we first read it. He was dishonest before. He’s just continuing to be dishonest. He’s thinking ahead. He’s making a place for himself, but he’s stealing from his master. That’s possible, but it makes us wonder – why would the master actually praise him for that? Why does this manager give different discounts to different people? Why does he discount for everyone? Why not just pick a few?

There’s a second explanation most modern scholars find more likely, and I tend to agree. That is that someone is charging interest here. Charging people interest for what you loaned them was strictly forbidden in the Old Testament. Five times, it says not to do that. To charge interest against a fellow Israelite was viewed as robbery. Historians have found that there were ways you could get around this. You could, for example, hire a steward to run your affairs. If he got caught charging interest, he was liable – not you. If a steward was going to charge interest to protect himself, he would not reflect the interest on the bill. He just gave you 40 bushels of wheat, but wrote on the bill that you owed 50.

Historians have also found something else. The typical interest rates that were charged for commodities are reflected in this parable. If someone borrowed wheat, they were usually charged about 20% interest. Oil was a bit riskier. It was perishable. The quality of the crops varied greatly, and you could add cheaper oils to it. So you might lend good oil and get bad oil back. So they charged double what they lent for oil.

The idea then is that what the Steward is doing here is knocking off the interest he had charged the men. So the debtors are happy, because he’s saving them money. He’s happy, because he’s using something he’ll never see anyway. The owner isn’t exactly happy, but he doesn’t really lose anything because this is interest not principle. The owner can’t rebuke him, because to do so would be to open himself to the accusation that he was charging interest. So whether it was the steward’s choice to charge interest or the owners he can’t be reprimanded. In one smooth stroke, he’s earned goodwill, secured himself a future, and gotten rid of charges that were against the law anyway. Now that’s the view I tend to lean toward. You may buy that explanation or you may not. We really don’t know which of these is the case, because Jesus doesn’t tell us.

I know we get hung up on the morality of this. I know it seems crazy that Jesus would commend someone who does something wrong, but really it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter which view we take. Because the steward is not commended for his morality, he’s commended for his shrewdness, his cleverness. The point that Jesus is making here is not that the steward was exemplary in every way. Rather there is one point here and it’s simple: The steward is commended because he uses what is at his disposal now to prepare for the future. He’s using short term stuff to gain long-term friends.

It’s not that he is a great guy. It’s that he recognizes that his control of those accounts is temporary,  so he uses them to prepare for the future. He uses it before he loses it. He uses short-term stuff to gain long-term friends. So that’s the parable. Now in the second half of verse 8 Jesus gives us the point of the parable:

The point: Earthly people are better at preparing for their earthly future than heavenly people are at preparing for eternity

Jesus makes a mysterious statement:

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

– Luke 16:8b

What on earth is Jesus saying there? In light of the parable, I think he’s saying this:  The people of this world – in other words people who are earthbound, people who are not part of the kingdom of heaven, unbelievers – are more shrewd at dealing with their own kind – their own kind of people  but also their own kind of stuff – than people of the light (or people of the kingdom, believers) are at dealing with their own kind.

In other words like the steward in our parable, earthbound people are very clever when it comes to preparing for their earthly future, more clever than heaven-bound people are at preparing for heaven.

That’s Jesus’ point: When I read Jesus’ accusation there, I don’t’ know about you but for myself I have to think “guilty as charged.” As a modern American Christian, I simply do not give much thought to preparing for eternity. I pay plenty of attention to getting to eternity, to going to heaven. But I don’t think much about the kind of eternity I’m going to have!

I think of some unbelieving, earthbound friends I have. They are very diligent when it comes to preparing for their earthbound future. They have their 401K and their IRA’s. They watch their investments carefully. Last week, I thought we were going to have a riot in our neighborhood, because there was an email stream going around that someone wants to put a sports complex near us, and people are afraid that their property values are going to go down! They are very calculating when it comes to their earthly future and so are many of us.

But now ask yourself “When was the last time you deliberately thought about laying up treasure in heaven at all?” When was the last time you faced injustice or adversity and thought to yourself: I will have a reward in heaven if I respond properly? When was the last time you thought: If I’m last here, I’ll be first there? But Jesus taught about that a lot! He taught that we should be thinking about that a lot! Read the Sermon on the Mount!

I ask myself when was the last time I was motivated by eternal rewards? Personal growth, yes.  Obedience, yes. Integrity. yes. But eternal rewards? Not so much. I’m not going to belabor the point, but can you see why Jesus says “Earthly people are better at preparing for their future than we are at preparing for ours?” Guilty as charged!

So what are we supposed to do about this? How do we change our perspective? Luckily Jesus didn’t just give us a parable and a point. He also gave us a prescription. He gave us the solution to the problem he has pointed out and this is also where we see the connection of this parable to the idea of invitation.

The prescription: Use short-term stuff to gain long-term friends

Jesus tells us what to do:

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

– Luke 16:9

In other words, the solution to the problem is to do what the manager in the parable did. We should use the resources that are at our disposal right now to make friends that will welcome us in the future in eternity. We should use short term stuff to make long term friends. That’s what we should do! That’s one way that we can start the conversation, one way we can gain access to people’s lives.

Now just to be clear, Jesus is not saying “go steal something from your job, like 400 stolen gallons of olive oil, and make friends with that!” Jesus is saying that we should use all kinds of resources that we have here on earth. We should use everything that God has entrusted to us – our money, our possessions, our time and abilities, our education and influence, our relationships – all of the resources that God has entrusted to us. We should leverage all of those to make eternal friends. How do we gain eternal access into people’s lives? We use what we have now.

Now that raises a question: How on earth do you do that? What would that even look like? That’s where, like the manager in the parable, we really get to use our noggins and be creative! Every situation is different. I hope you have some awesome small group discussion around this.

There are about a thousand ways we can do this, because we can use any earthly resource to make an eternal friend! Any resource! Let me give you a few big examples and then challenge you:

           

Let me start with Doug and Kathy Starkey Doug and Kathy have been using their vacation time (which is a resource) and their money (which is another resource) to go down to Reynosa Mexico with Faith Ministry and serve the poor by building homes for them for the past 20 plus years. Every year, they go down there. They don’t miss. I know they give financially to that ministry and that Kathy has used her abilities to serve on the board. They have heavily invested. They have a place down on the border, so they can be there regularly and serve! They are using their short-term stuff!

It would be commendable if they were just going down to give earthly stuff to earthly people. It would be nice if they were just building homes for people that don’t have homes. But that’s not all they are doing. They are doing more. They don’t just want to help these people in the here and now. They are making eternal friends. Doug and Kathy can tell you about the eternal friends they’ve made. They can tell you about their friend, Dentine, who started Faith Ministry. They can tell you about the workers, Chuky and Anhel. They can tell you about Kati, the little girl that is named for Kathy and just had her quinceanera. Eternal friends! They can tell you about the three Martinez sisters, who are all mentally challenged, all disabled and who used to crawl to church every Sunday to worship Jesus until someone bought them scooters!

Doug, Kathy let me ask you guys a question: What do you think it’s going to be like when the Martinez sisters walk up to you in eternity and invite you who have built so many homes into their eternal home? Eternal Friends!

Doug and Kathy get it! They are using short-term stuff to make long-term friends. I’m not holding Doug and Kathy up as perfect people. They are probably a little embarrassed that I’m singling them out (but I have a list of their sins). They’re not perfect, but they get it.

Let me give you another example. Craig Deal is a Zimbabwean farmer whose resource is his knowledge. Craig has started a farming program that we mentioned the other week, called “Foundations for Farming.” This is a program that goes to African farmers and teaches them zero-tillage, sustainable farming and creation care. It teaches them how God made the land to work, and it teaches them the gospel. It’s now grown to several countries. The Zimbabwean government has said that they are going to adopt it as their official model of farming.

So that’s Craig’s ministry, and you can see his heart. Now there’s one more thing you need to know about Craig Deal. His farm was invaded and forcibly taken from him by the kind of people he’s training. If you read his testimony, he says that when he lost his farm he knew that he had a choice to make: “We could flee, we could fight or we could forgive.” He read where Jesus said “If a man takes your coat, give him your tunic as well.” He decided “These guys have taken my farm. Now what am I going to do? I’ll teach them how to farm it.” Now can you see his love for the people of Africa? Can you see how Foundations for Farming is all about the gospel? Can you see how he has used his short-term resources his land, and his knowledge to turn enemies into eternal friends? He gets it he really gets it.

Beau and Joel get it. They are headed out tomorrow to Honduras to build houses for the poor. Joel will tell you he’s been going down there for years, and he’s never gone on the trip and not had a chance to talk to someone about Jesus.

The Starkeys get it. Craig Deall gets it. Beau and Joel get it. Now listen we need to get it. I know those are kind of bigger foreign examples, but we need to get it like they do. We need to ask ourselves “How can I use my short-term resources to make eternal friends?” Across the ocean but also across the street, what do you have that you can use? I guarantee you have something! Do you have a vehicle? Can you give someone a ride and share Jesus? Do you have a house? Can you put someone up for a while and share Jesus? Do you have a skill that can be used on the mission field or here at home to create a relationship and serve someone and invite them to find life in Jesus with you?

How can you use your short-term stuff to make long-term friends. How can we invite people – the likely, the unlikely and even the unknown – to join us as we find life in Jesus?