I invite you to look with me at Luke, chapter 16 and we are going to go to verses 1 through 9. I decided to continue with this theme of the stewardship and of good management of God’s assets. So, I thought it would be nice and kind of illuminating to see two parables that Jesus related regarding the same subject. I’ll try to remind you, of course, I know that my last sermon is firmly edged in your mind and you sensibility and you remember every word of it, but I’ll try to remind you just a little bit so that, just to be redundant. But I thought it would be a nice contrast between the two.
So, Luke, chapter 16, let’s begin with verse 1, and it says here that “… 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.’ Now, the manager said to himself: ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job, I am 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 and he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘800 gallons of olive oil’, he replied. The manager told him ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it 400.’
Then, he asked the second ‘And how much do you owe?’ 1000 bushels of wheat’, he replied. He told him ‘Take your bill and make it 800 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.”
Praise the Lord for his word. Again, as I told you, I thought it would be interesting for us to contrast the two parables.
Greg, why don’t you come here quickly. I’m going to put you on the spot here for a second and I need you here because we need the mike, so just make it a little bit more dynamic. But maybe Greg being the pastor and the preacher, can give us just a quick summary of what you remember, I mean, it maybe two sentences or three. Just put us in terms of what we talked about last Saturday, you know, what you remember of it and how it impacted you, whatever. And then we’ll try to pick it up from there.
So, go on. Let’s make this a team effort here.
This can be an extremely embarrassing moment, so it’s a good thing I happen to remember what we talked last week. Last week was the parable of the talents, remember? Where the supervisor gives a certain number of talents to all his different employees and then he demands an accounting from them of how they used what had been given to them.
And there were some of them that were, you know, who had done business, they had invested and they’d made more money, and then there was the guy who was afraid, who buried it. He said: ‘No, I was afraid so I just hid what you gave me and here it is back’. And that guy got in big trouble.
And it just really impacted me because I just remember, I got up and blabbered last week, that I had… during that week I had performed a funeral for a woman who was just a quiet, humble little lady, who just quietly served and touched hundreds of lives in this congregation and around Boston and you would never know it. I mean, we hardly, you’d hardly know she was there. When she passed away, she had one brother living here and her funeral was packed with hundreds of people who were talking about all the things that she had done to bless them and I remember her the last day of her life, she had spent taking care of kids here in the church in the name of Jesus. And I thought, ‘God, that lady was faithful, she used what you had given her and made a difference in the world.’ And I thought: what do I do with the time and energies that God has given me?, and am I investing in, am I using it about things that are really relevant in the eyes of God?
So, that’s what I remember from last week, so I don’t know if that’s what you meant to say but that’s what I remember.
Continue preaching the sermon now, I mean, you did a great job. You kind of put me on the spot here now. Now, I feel that I’ve got to really make an extra effort. Thank you, that’s perfect.
You know, the whole idea, outstanding… it was this sense of the Kingdom of God being serious business. I don’t know if you got that clarity from the atmosphere that was established by that parable. The fact that the master brought his stewards, his servants, before him and it was like, let’s give me and account; there was business. And it wasn’t like an optional kind of thing. This man, this businessman expected a return on his investment. He gave them something, he entrusted something to them, is the word that is used in the scriptures and he expected profit from them.
And we’re talking about the fact that what Jesus was intending to say was that each of us, just like each of these servants received a gift, or an investment, a piece of capital, each of us has been given by God with the Holy Spirit a gift, an ability of some sort, a talent of some sort. With the Holy Spirit comes an endowment of power.
The book of First Corinthians speaks about the manifestation of the spirit and God tells us that when he comes into us, he comes with abilities, with endowments of power and gifts that he expects us to put to work while we are here in earth.
So, you know, we need to abandon this idea of Christianity as simply being: ‘well, God giving me something and my coming to church to receive something and accept that Jesus Christ to be saved and to go to heaven and to be given money, and to be made comfortable, and to be made healthy and so on and so forth. Yes, all of these things do apply, but God also gives us his blessings in order that we, as Christians, might give something in return to the Kingdom of God.
While we are here on earth we are expected to work. And so, when we come before the kingdom, remember we talked about that judgment seat of Christ, where the Bible speaks of believers being brought before Jesus to give an account of how they did here on earth and what they did with what they had been given.
And, you know, clearly we cannot let fear hold us back. I put Raquel on the spot this evening because she doesn’t like to speak in public and I said: ‘Raquel, come on up and give the announcement’. You know, it’s this idea, I remember when I started preaching I was scared to death, because I had two incredibly good preachers who had been the pastors and the preaching pastor of the church that I now, as young, you know, untrained aspiring pastor, I had had them before me, and so I had this shadow hanging over me. Two really outstanding preachers and here I am, you know, fumbling along with the Bible and I remember every Sunday when my car turned the corner towards the street of the church it was like a knot in my stomach. And I experienced that for months and months, and months, until I finally started relaxing and so on and so forth.
This steward, the bad steward, the bad servant he allowed fear to freeze him and God says, ‘No, do not let fear stop you. You have to make an effort. I have given you gift and you must work at it and you must develop it.
So this idea of serving the Kingdom of God is not optional for any of us and that’s an important concept that I wanted to develop with you. So, you know, I like this second parable because it keeps the same themes keep coming up again. And so it tells you that this was something that was very much on Jesus’ mind. It was no coincidence.
You see, when Jesus gives the same kind of concepts time and time again, it tells you that you’re latching on to something that’s very important. So you see here the same kind of idea: this sense of giving an account, number one. In this parable, this manager, and I like the word manager because it really relates to the modern times. Steward is a word that sort of more archaic, but manager we can understand, and a woman like Susan ….. would understand this language here of the marketplace.
This manager is called by his master, by his boss to give an account of the use of the master’s properly. And he has heard reports, and has had indications that this steward is not using his master’s assets appropriately. So, there is always this idea, you know, am I using the gifts that my Father has given me, the benefits, the blessings that God has given me, appropriately?
It gives you the idea that God is looking over us, I mean, not in the sense of with a whip in his hand, but God is interested in what am I doing? Every day I need to ask myself that question as a Christian. You know, am I making the best of my life? Am I using God’s assets appropriately? Am I investing? Am I making efforts? Am I being entrepreneurial? Because it’s a crucial question: God is interested in how we are doing with his assets. And that concept is so crucial that you see Jesus using it on two occasions.
I’m impacted also by, in this parable, by what I said before, the use of language of the marketplace, it’s business language. You know, the manager, actually the word manager the Greek is oikonomos, where the word economy or economist comes from. It’s this idea of somebody who manages a household and administers the goods of the household. This idea of giving an account, the idea of possessions and riches, and of debts and of taking a bill, and cutting it in half and so on and so forth. All of this is the language of the marketplace, the language of business. And in a sense, you know, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Christian life, is something like a business.
You’re given something and you’ve got to work, you’ve got to invest, you’ve got to be entrepreneurial, you have to be diligent about it, all of these things are expressed here. What I like about this parable is, above everything else, it gives you a king of mentality that you need to adopt as a Christian. Really, that’s what I think the essence of this parable is. It’s calling us to adopt an outlook, a way of looking at things, a way of doing things. And I am going to impact that a little bit more.
But, you know, I think we need to adopt this attitude of businesslike in the Kingdom of God. I think we are so lax as believers many times, basical, so informal about the gifts that we have received and about the seriousness of the Kingdom of Heaven and about God and how serious it is to serve this God who loves us but also expects us to work on his behalf; that if we change our attitude, and this is what Jesus is saying. He says, where he says ‘the children of this world are much more shrewd in their dealings with others than the children of light’, he was making a point and he was very cryptic kind of statement, but it means a whole lot.
And I think that it is in this idea that the children of this world are so much more diligent, astute, businesslike, they’re more intentional, they plan more, they are more concerned about making a buck and making profit, than the children of the spirit, who are so much more, you know, matter of fact and kind of ‘yes, if I can I’ll do it, if not that’s ok, because God is good and God loves me’. And Jesus is saying, ‘we as children of the spirit we need to adopt the same kind of diligent attitude that the servant shows here in this passage’
You know, I think, one of the big problems that I see many times with the people in the kingdom, in church and ministers and so on and so forth is this lack of excellence, this lack of diligence about the Kingdom of God. You know, when I look at people in the business world, I see the very opposite. I mean, if you don’t render profit to the company, you’re cut loose, so you’ve got to be at it, you know, all the time. You’ve got to be trying to make a buck. You’ve got to be planning how to combine this.
You know, a movie comes out, the Mc Donalds buys the rights of the movie and then starts to making hamburgers that look like the main character in the movie. Or, you know, a cartoon comes out of the movie because it makes money, and so they think ‘oh, we can make more money.’ Or, you know, the sequel comes, it’s this thing. You know, people are always thinking: how can I provide? How can I fill a need? How can I get money out of people? How can I make a product that will create a need that will enable me to make money out of it?
I mean, that’s is a very entrepreneurial, a very diligent kind of attitude. And Jesus is saying, ‘you know, you must transfer that same kind of diligence to the things of the Kingdom of God. You must be just as vigilant. You must be just as active in making profit for the Kingdom of God. You must adopt that same kind of mentality, that same kind of business outlook, so that if you invest a lot, you can get more out of your money. If you are creative and you diversify your talents, you can get more out of it.
You know, today we had an evangelistic event here at the church, women put together an evangelistic event. I remember my talking with my wife a while ago about ‘hey, why don’t we do something just to invite women and we make the price of admission bringing a friend, bringing somebody who doesn’t know the Lord? And we started experimenting with that idea, about 4 events ago and God has rendered such a fruit out of these efforts that it’s just amazing.
Today we had about 120 women who came to that event. And there was a lunch with one woman gave an exposition on how to make flower arrangements, and the idea is how to bring beauty out of your life over the person of Christ in you. Another woman gave a testimony on what God had been doing in her life and how God had been so detailed oriented in orienting her life. You know, out of that event, 15 women I think it was, received Jesus as their savior, and about 40 women, thirty some women came who did know the Lord for the first time to the church.
And so, you know, you see that out of one idea, out of one event, so much profit was obtained. And so, we’re already talking about this summer going to a festival here, that’s called the Puerto Rican Festival, where thousands of Latino people go to Franklin Park for 3 days and we’re already making plans: how can we use that opportunity? And we’ve already bought a booth there and we’re planning how can we get profit for the kingdom out of that. How can we bring people to the kingdom, making publicity, getting some food for the people who are going to be visiting us, doing all kinds of displays and so on.
You know, I think that’s what God wants us to do: to be active, to be alert to opportunities and to invest in the Kingdom of God in all kinds of creative ways. It’s an outlook, it’s a mentality.
Now, let’s look for a moment at what the steward does, this manager and see how we can imitate him in that sense and how his conduct illustrates what I’m talking about. You see that this guy, his master finds him out, he’s kind of an ambivalent character in a way, because in the one hand he’s not very attractive because he’s been mismanaging, and probably stealing is the word, from his owner’s assets. So, he’s found out and he’s in big trouble. Now, he knows that the day of reckoning is coming. Now, what does he do? This is what Jesus lashes on to. Instead of sending his resignation just like that: ok, I’m going to be fired and that’s it. Well, too bad. Instead of being fatalist and being defeated in his attitude and being kind of, just well, what can I do? They got me and I’m just going to resign, he hatches a plan, he becomes active and he starts thinking: well, I really, physically I’m just used to the good life so no thought about going to work in the construction business, that’s out of the business; and I’m too proud to beg to anybody, so that’s out of the question. There weren’t too many options really in those days, so he hatches an idea.
You see, it’s this idea of planning, of thinking about the future, strategic…… what I see in this man is his capacity for strategic thinking. He plans about the future, he envisions the future and he conceives a plan. I think that’s one of the things in the Kingdom of God of we need to do. We need to stop and reflect. We need to ask ourselves: how can God use me? And we need to set up a plan, we need to conceive a vision of what we want from God and how we want God to use our gifts. We need to draw up ideas, we need to be intentional. We need to identify that neighbor that we’re going to start praying for and that we’re going to start preparing to invite him one day to come to the church and we need to set up conversations that can lead to a presentation of the gospel. We need to prepare by studying the word of God so that we have the right concepts and the right ideas to present to people when the moment comes. We need to be memorizing some texts in the Bible so we can use them appropriately.
All of these things, you know, it’s this idea of planning, this idea of looking at the future. I’m sharing with the congregation these past few weeks about the successful like and one of the key elements of a successful life is precisely this ability to envision things, to think clearly about the future, to envision a future for yourself and to be specific about what it is that you want God to do in your life, in a particular area of your life, whether it’s intellectual, academic, emotional, relational, marital, family, whatever it is, ministerial, we must envision a future for ourselves. We must plan ahead. When we plan, when we envision, when we write down our visions what we are doing really is we’re coming before the Lord and presenting our prayers before God and the Holy Spirit will bless those prayers.
Most Christians what we do, we simply improvise. We do what we can and you know, we wake up and if it happens fine, and if not that’s ok. God wants us to be intentional. This man is anything but lazy in a sense, or fatalist. He analyses his reality very lucidly, very intelligently, he knows what the options are and what they aren’t and he conceives a plan as a result.
You see, this is the kind of lucidity that we need to have as the children of God, not the kind of lackadaisical, improvisational attitude that characterizes many Christians. God honors a diligent person. God honors somebody who invests. God honors somebody who thinks strategically. God honors somebody who envisions things in the future.
So, that’s one thing: he thinks about the future and he hatches up a plan and so he goes to the people who owe his master money and he has them reduced, he has the bill and so on at his disposal, he can change the numbers, so he reduces the amounts that they owe his master significantly. I mean, these were huge amounts of money those days, that are being given here by Jesus, and so he cuts the money that they owe in accounting wise so they’ll have a debt to him. They will be grateful to him and in a sense also, they will be probably legally bound because he can probably blackmail them as a result. But he’s doing, he’s it setting the situation for when he’s fired, he can go back to them and cash in on the favor, you see. So he planned ahead and he was diligent about it and he thought strategically and he manipulated things.
Now, let me tell you something, it says here that the master was amused really, when he found out what this guy had done. I mean, he definitely, Jesus is not at all supporting or ignoring the immoral nature of what this man did. What he is looking at is the attitude that he displayed: the attitude of diligence, the attitude of planning, and of cunning and of calculation. That’s what touches, because these skills, these attitudes can and should be used on behalf of the kingdom. It’s not the dishonest part that impresses the master, it’s the cunning part, it’s the planning part, it’s the diligent part, it’s the visionary part that Jesus is indirectly saying in the words of the master that we should imitate.
So, it says ‘the master commanded the dishonest manager, you see, it’s not minimizing the dishonest part. That’s why I think it is pointing out. He could have said, ‘the master commanded the manager’. No, but the Holy Spirit put that word ‘dishonest’ in there to make sure that we understood. Well, you know, as Christians we’re not supposed to act that way. It’s not that part is being praised but it was the part where it says ‘for the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.’
So it’s this idea of being shrewd, of being intelligent, of being wise in how we deal with people. I mean, we need to think, how can I bring people into the Kingdom of God? Am I going to use, for example, the same method that we use a hundred years ago, or do we need to contextualize how we preach the gospel? If I’m going to preach to a Latino or to an African American or to a middle class Anglo European in the suburbs, I have to use different methods, different languages for each of these different people.
You know, yes I may be able to approach a Latino with a pamphlet and stop him in the supermarket because maybe our culture is more open to that sort of thing. You know, we understand each other and we have less barriers, but a middle class North American, very protective of their space and of their privacy, I don’t think so; or somebody who is highly educated. And so we need to be shrewd of the ways we present the gospel to different ways of different people, and on and on and on. We need to find a creative way to presenting the Kingdom of God. We need to educate ourselves and so on.
Yes, we need to present the gospel in very creative ways and we need to be asking the Holy Spirit to make us enterprising, to make us shrewd in the way we pursue the Kingdom of God. I think this is the main problem why I see, for example, many times when I think the church of Jesus Christ has so many millions of believers here in America, for example, and yet many times churches are scrambling for money to build our sanctuaries, to carry out the mission of the church. And I say why, how is that possible? I mean, we have so many believers and here you have at Harvard somebody gives ten million dollars to repair the steeple of a hall, you know, and another one gives 5 million dollars to endow a chair for a professorship.
And I say why can’t the people of God have access to that same kind of financial resources?, you know. I mean, why must the churches of the Kingdom of God who is the owner of what is it a thousand or something like that? Why must we be begging and always scrambling and counting our pennies? It’s the attitude of God people, it’s the outlook of the church many times. It’s our lack of capacity to deal with the language of business and the language of reason and of planning and of strategic thinking and of systems’ thinking. You know, we have the Holy Spirit but somehow we have failed to translate the mind of Christ into tools that can enable us to advance the Kingdom of God and it’s not because God doesn’t want to give it to us. It is because we are not using the Holy Spirit he has given us to think in those terms.
So, this has been one of my challenges as a pastor of this congregation for the past few years. How can you turn Latinos who are not used to thinking in strategic terms and in terms of business and of institutional development and systems’ thinking? How can we turn this church into a church that can function in those terms and that perhaps even be an example to other Latino churches? This I’m talking about the Latino congregation in order to teach them how to think in those terms, how to be able to prepare a business plan so that they can get money, for example, to build a sanctuary or to get a grant from the government.
All the time non profit groups get hundreds of thousands, and millions of dollars from the federal government and yet churches that have, you know, non profit faith-based institutions, we cannot get it. Why? Because we don’t have good accounting, we don’t have outcome based measurement that is required by many institutions out there, we don’t have good boards, we don’t have good governments. And so, when we go out there to procure resources so when a business person comes into the Kingdom of God and sits at our chairs in our sanctuaries, and they’re thinking in business terms, they’re thinking in hard terms and they don’t see from that their pastor, they don’t see that from their church. Things are a mess. You know, nobody knows where money is or whatever and so people lose confidence and they’re not really encouraged to give and we lose the opportunity because God has given us abilities, God gives Christians institutions and individual Christians abilities and gifts, but we need to invest, we need to develop them, we need to make efforts, and then what the Holy Spirit does is he energizes those efforts, he develops in more.
This is why the Apostle Paul tells Timothy ‘I urge you to develop the gift of God that is in you’, because God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of love, of power and of self control. In other words, God has given you and God has given the church the power and the ability to do incredible things, to develop themselves institutionally, to manage buildings and buy property and to develop themselves in all kind of big ways. But we need to have this attitude that the manager shows here, of diligence, of planning, of astuteness, of sagacity, of turning problems into opportunities as he does here, of analyzing situations lucidly and clearly and then formulating a plan in the light of that.
All of these ideas are here. This is what the world does all the time. This is why they make so much money. They make billions and billions of dollars. They have learned how to operate according to these principles and if we use those principles, imagine we have the power of the spirit, we have the blessing of God, we have the backing of the creator of the universe behind us, how much more we would be able to do?
You know, I spend a lot of time, as much as I can in my life, reading books about leadership and about management and about institutional development, because I have found, you know, and I don’t read as much from the Christian world, I read more from the secular world, because I find that I can learn so much more there and what I do is that I sanctify what I read and I compare what the scripture says, I align these principles with scripture and I appropriate them and I try as much as possible to apply them to my pastor and I have benefited a lot from that process.
And I think we all need to do this. This is why we need to learn from the children of the world. The children of the world, they think that this world is everything. That’s why Jesus puts in those terms and so for them, I need to make money, I need to have a house, I need to have a car, because in their mind they belong to this world. You see, their whole thing is this world, it’s making profit in this world. It’s making it in this world. The children of light, they’re thinking about eternity, they’re thinking about spiritual things, so often they don’t emphasize as much and they do not give us much consideration to those principles that are going to enable them to be functional in this world. And Jesus is saying, God is saying to us ‘No, yes, be concerned about the other world, use the things of the spirit, walk in the spirit but also apply the lessons of this world in order to produce benefits for the Kingdom of God’.
So, I want to leave you with that basic idea; that, you know, God is endowing us, as we said last week, and has endowed us with all kinds of gifts, with all kinds of abilities, but he says ‘you know, what I’m doing, I’m going to put a deposit of energy inside of you, like an embryo of power. Now, I want you to use your authority and to develop that, through diligence, through creativity, through all kinds of different efforts, to be attentive to opportunities, to develop your gifts, fashion a plan for yourself. How can you in ten, fifteen years become a mighty minister for the Kingdom of God? How can you in ten, fifteen years use your business degree to bring profit to the Kingdom of God? Even, as you yourself benefit from the gifts that he has given you. What do you need to do to become a powerful evangelist or a good teacher, or a counselor, or a mentor?, and start thinking about that, and start planning for it. And if you have some limitations, whatever turn those limitations into assets.
If you come from a poor family that never succeeded, well, great, turn that into an asset by using that intimate knowledge of what it is like to be poor and disadvantaged to speak to poor and disadvantaged people, to bring then into a higher level of functionality for example. So use your limitations, even your limitations. Use your failures. Use your defects into assets for the Kingdom of God and make sure you’re diligent about it.
You see, the beautiful thing about God is that he can turn anything into gold. God is a master at recycling. He’s the alchemist par excellence. He turns base medals into beautiful precious jewels, and all he needs is our effort, and all he needs is our diligence and all he needs is our commitment and our understanding that yes, he does expect us to work hard and that what we have is not ours. My intelligence is not mine, your beauty is not yours, your energy, your athletic gifts are not yours, they’re your master’s. He’s simply lent them to you to manage them.
And if you take him seriously and you make every effort to render profit to him, he will make sure that you never fail, even if it’s just a little bit that you return to him, he’ll be happy with that, because you did your best. That’s all that God asks. Do your best and make sure that at the end of the day, at the end of your life you have brought profit to the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Let’s thank him for his word and let’s appropriate that teaching, that seed of life that he has put in us tonight and why don’t you take a moment to say Father, yes I do understand that you’re calling me to be diligent and you’re calling me to make a commitment to bring profit to your kingdom and I accept the responsibility and I accept it with joy, not with fear, because I know that you’re a loving God who wants me to succeed, not fail.
Thank you, Father. We do worship you, Lord. Help us, by your word to become those diligent managers 24 hours a day. Father may we be restless in the best sense of the word, restless about our responsibilities.
May we understand how richly you have gifted us, each one of us, in order that we might bring profit to your kingdom. You could have done it some other way, Father; you could have done the work for us, but you valued us too much, you respected us too much to replace us, so you decided to use us.
And so we accept joyously, hopefully that calling. Father, right now, I believe that you will unleash gifts in those who are here in attendance tonight by the power of Christ and the authority that you give your servants, I release the calling in some of those who are here tonight who may not yet have, even thought that they were called. In the name of Jesus, we release those gifts, we call them into manifestation tonight.
And Father, we sense a restlessness in hearts of some here tonight, that their minds might be opened to the wonderful possibilities ahead of them. That they might appropriate that calling, if they didn’t do it already and they might embrace that call to an active, Christian life, not a passive one, not one for mere benefit for self, but for the benefit of your kingdom. They may adopt that diligent, enterprising attitude which so honors you, the creative God who never stops creating, never stops sustaining, never stops looking for opportunities and for ways to activate spirits and enrich people and rich world. We want to imitate you, Father. May that be so tonight. Thank you for your presence, thank you for your word in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.