by Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Have you been making good investments? Have you been planning for your retirement years? Have you been making shrewd investments with those dollars you have saved?
When a person reaches a certain age and I am not sure what age it is, a person starts to think about retirement. We then ask ourselves, “How much money is needed for retirement?” Basically, people ask two questions: “How much money will I need to retire comfortably?” The second question is, “Will I be able to die in dignity?” If we are honest, most of us don’t want to die in poverty or in the slums or in one of the poorest of poor retirement homes.
Have you been making plans? Have you been making plans for your long-term future?
The Presidential Commission on Retirement informs us that you will need about seventy percent of your present to live a similar life style. If you like your present lifestyle and it costs you about $50,000, then in retirement you are going to need about seventy percent of that. In other words, you are going to need about $35,000 to retire comfortably.
The Presidential Commission on Retirement says that are three resources for our income of the future: Social Security, the retire program from your place of employment, and your savings account.
Are you making long term plans? For your long term future? Is that important to you?
Well, let’s first talk about Social Security. From reading the paper, we know that many of us are worried about the future viability of Social Security. We know that in the distant future, Social Security benefits will be reduced. We know that there are enormous numbers of workers who are retiring now. In ten to twenty years, it appears that there will not be a sufficient number of workers in the workforce to pay for the huge number of people who have previously retired. In the future, there will be vast numbers receiving Social Security and there will be fewer people in the workforce to fund Social Security.
Yes, we are worried about the future viability of the Social Security programs.
Now, a second major source of income for your retirement is the retirement program of your corporation. We live in Seattle. Seattle is Boeing country; it is Weyerhaeuser country; it is Microsoft country; it is the airlines country. But are you aware that seventy percent of the people living in the United States of America do not work for a major corporation? Are you aware that seventy percent of the people working in America do not have a pension program through their corporation? Do you realize that? How would you feel about it if you were planning for your retirement and all you had to count on was Social Security?
Well, the third source of retirement income is savings. We know that Americans are notoriously poor savers. Not many Americans have saved enough money to pay the bills of their future retirement. Compared to the other industrialized democracies, Americans are very poor at saving financial resources for the future.
Are you making plans? Are you making plans for your long-term future? Are you? Are you thinking about that?
We know that many Americans are living much longer today, and we are becoming much older as a country. The average age of an American male is now approaching seventy- eight years old. This has increased three years during the past twenty years. There are numerous members of our congregation, primarily women, who are now ninety to ninety-five years old.
And many of these elderly; in fact, most elderly in the United States cannot afford to live in the nice retirements that are near our church such as Wesley Terrace, Wesley Gardens, Judson Park or the Foundation House. Most Americans cannot afford to live in fine retirement homes such as these or their equivalents.
Are you going to die with dignity? Are you sure? Are you sure that when the end of your life comes that you are not going to end up in bankruptcy and living in poverty?
Are you making plans for your long-term future?
It is with this mood that we approach the gospel story for today. The basic thrust of the gospel story is this: Are you making plans for your long-term future? That is, are you making plans for your long-term future…with God?
O yes, we spend all kinds of time worrying about what is going to happen between sixty-five and eighty-five. We spend all kinds of time worrying about what is going to happen for those twenty years, but are we equally thoughtful about those twenty light years in the future with God? Are you planning for your loooooonnnnggg term future? Are you shrewd? Are you really shrewd?
Are you concerned about laying up for yourselves treasures on earth for your retirement? Are you equally concerned about laying up for yourselves treasures in heaven for your eternal retirement? Are you all concerned about maintaining for yourself an earthly inheritance which your kids are going to waste away anyhow? Are you equally concerned about laying up for yourselves a heavenly inheritance, an eternal inheritance? Are you shrewd? Are you wise? Are you planning for your looooooonnnnnggg term future? Your looooooonnnngggg term investments for the twenty light years that you are going to live with God face to face? That is what the gospel story for today is all about.
Before we approach the gospel story for today, we need to remind ourselves that this parable is one of the most difficult parables of Jesus to interpret. Most often, the meaning of Jesus’ parables are clearer than clear. The very nature of Jesus’ parables is their simplicity and clarity. But this particular parable for today is “ more obscure than obscure.” We need to remember that this gospel lesson for today is a very, very difficult passage to interpret, and that there are many differing interpretations of this obscure passage.
It has taken me many years, but I think that I am finally beginning to understand this particular parable for today. After all these years. This morning I would like to help you to understand this parable as well.
A fundamental presupposition of all Biblical studies is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. When you delve into a complex story in the Bible, you try to find other Bible verses on a similar theme. The gospel lesson for today is complex and obscure so it is wise to look at other similar passages in the Gospel of Luke and see if those clearer Bible verses can help us interpret this more obscure Bible passage in today’s gospel.
Do you realize that one out of seven Bible passages from the Gospel of Luke, where our text comes from today, is about money? There are more passages in the Gospel of Luke about money than there are about marriage, sex or family values. There is more about money than any other topic in the Gospel of Luke. Why? Why is there so much about money in the Gospel of Luke? It is because all human beings have a hard time handling money. Money usually handles us.
Also, in the Gospel of Luke, money is always referred to as “unrighteous mammon.” In other words, it is always “dirty money.” There is something about money that corrupts every one. I will say that again so that you hear me clearly. There is something about money that corrupts every single human being. Just as cocaine always corrupts. Just as a bad blood transfusion always corrupts. Just as pornography always corrupts. So also, there is something about money, according to the Bible, which corrupts every human being. It is the very nature of money to corrupt us and control us. Soon, we begin to live in order to accumulate money and what it can buy. Whenever the term, “money,” is used in the Gospel of Luke, it is always dirty money. It is always sinful money. It is always corrupted money.
The story for today is unlocked by all those Bible verses about money in the same chapter as our gospel lesson, in Luke 16.
In Luke 16, there are five consecutive stories about money. Boomp. Boomp. Boomp. Boomp. Boomp. The story for today is one of five consecutive teachings about money. These stories try to teach us Christians the proper use of money. Our particular parable today is also trying to teach us about the proper use of money for Christians.
Within this sequence of five stories about money, it is the last story which is the most powerful. That story (next week’s gospel) unlocks the meaning of this parable today. Do you know what the next parable is in Luke? It is the rich man and Lazarus. Yes, the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man thought he was so smart because he planned for his economic future. The rich man thought he was so smart because he planned vigorously for his twenty years of economic retirement here on earth. The rich man thought he was so smart because he had built barns and bigger barns, thinking his future was secure. And? And? And he ended up in hell. The rich man did not plan for his looooooonnnnnggg term future. The rich man wasn’t so smart after all…because he ended up in hell.
As I said a few moments ago, this parable for today is very complex. Even so, I want to ask you that simple question: Are you making plans for your looooonnnnggg future? I hope you are. Are you smart? Are you shrewd? It would be a fool who did not plan for his/her loooonnnnnggg term future. The rich man in next week’s parable did not plan for his long term future.
And neither did the man who built barns and bigger barns and the biggest barns you ever saw, falsely thinking that his future was secure (Luke 12). Earlier, Luke had told the story of another rich man who planned his retirement by building barns and still bigger barns. The rich man said to himself, “I have ample goods laid up for many years. Eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool. This night your soul shall be required of you. You have laid up treasures for yourself but you are not right towards God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
How about your loooonnnggg term future? Did the rich man with Lazarus plan for his looooonnnnnggg term future? No. Did the other rich man who built all the barns plan for his looooonnnggg term future? No.
At this time, I would like to retell Jesus’ parable but I would like to put it into a contemporary setting. Once upon a time, there was a very wealthy man and his name was Bill Gates. He was one of the wealthiest men the world had ever seen. In fact, he was the wealthiest man in the United States of America and even in all the earth. He had made hundreds of billions of dollars from computers and software. He had many high level managers whom he entrusted to care for the various divisions of his companies.
Now, one of his high level mangers was a man by the name of Johnny Christian. Johnny Christian was one of the top-level managers there at Microsoft but he wasn’t a very good manager. Johnny Christian was losing all kinds of money for Bill Gates. One day, Bill Gates said, “Johnny Christian. You need to come into my office.” Johnny Christian came. Gates continued, “Johnny Christian. You are not doing a very good job. In fact, you are doing a lousy job. You are fired. I’m giving you a thirty-day notice and you are out of here.”
As Johnny Christian closed the door to Bill Gate’s office and walked down the hall all alone, he was deeply upset. He thought to himself: “What am I going to do? I can’t go out and work with my hands. I am a white-collar guy. What will I do? Hmmmm. I know what I will do.”
And so he telephoned many of the people who owed money to Bill Gates. He said to the first, “You owe Bill Gates one hundred million dollars?” “Yes.” “Well, you write out a check for fifty million and your debt will be paid in full.” Remember me in the future. Maybe I can work for you someday.” Johnny Christian telephoned the next guy and asked, “How much money do you owe Bill Gates?” He answered, “Ten million bucks.” Johnny said, “Write out a check for five million bucks and we will call it even. Remember, that you and I are friends for the future.” Johnny Christian then telephoned the third person and asked, “How much do you owe Bill Gates?” He replied, “I owe him a million dollars.” Johnny Christian told him to write out a check for $500,000 and said, “Remember me in the future.”
Jesus then concluded the parable, a story with a symbolic meaning, by saying, “I commend the dishonest money manager for his shrewdness. For the children of this generation are more shrewd in dealing with money than are the children of light. The sons and daughters in the marketplace are more shrewd in dealing with earthly money than are God’s sons and daughters in dealing with their eternal salvation.”
Then Jesus gave a key line, “Make for yourselves friends by use of dirty money, so when it is gone, you may be received into eternal life.” … Make friends for yourselves by means of dirty money, so that when it is gone, you will be received into eternal life. Be wise and shrewd in dealing with your eternal spiritual assets as people in the market are wise and clever in dealing with their earthly financial assets.
So what does this parable mean?
Well, how does one go about using dirty money? How does a Christian go about using dirty money and at the same time, pleasing God? That is the question. Basically, the answer is this: the way you please God is by using dirty money in order to give generously and excessively the poor, the hungry, the starving and the homeless of the world. You want to make friends with God? You want to please God? One way that you do it is with right use of wealth. The right use of wealth, according to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, is to help the poor, the hungry, and the starving. That is the way that you make friends with God and please God according to this text.
You lay up for yourself treasures in heaven by sharing with the poor and the oppressed. You lay up treasures for yourself on earth by hording and spending your income on yourself.
Let me illustrate. Last Sunday in the children’s sermon it was so clear. There was a big mob of children up in front of the church. And I had this mob of children all shouting and wailing at the top of their voices, “I am hungry. I am hungry. I am hungry.” The mobs of children up front just kept on shouting and wailing that refrain again and again. “I am hungry. I am hungry. I am hungry.” The children were shrieking at the top of their lungs and it was awful. Now, over at the side of the chancel area, I had three kids chanting proudly, “I am full. I am full. I am full.” Both sets of children were chanting their lines at the top of their lungs. I then turned and addressed the congregation, saying above the clamor of the shouting voices of the children, “I am God and these are all my children. Do you want to please me? Do you want to make friends with me??? Then feed my hungry children.” … Do you understand? Do you understand how to make friends with me? Do you understand how to please me? You feed my hungry children.
That is what this gospel story is all about. Make friends with God by making use of unrighteous mammon is to feed the poor, the hungry and the starving. Please God by helping the lives of the poor around us and in the world.
Now, there are many people who live a life of generosity. There are many people in our congregation and throughout the earth who understand that God has given us money to be generous to the needy, the poor and the starving. Many of you are making wise investments for the future. You give to the Lutheran Compass Center in downtown Seattle, to Catholic Charities, to Lutheran World Relief, to the Children’s Orphan Fund, to the Mexico Orphanage, to the Grace Homeless Shelter, to the World Hunger Program and the list goes on and on.
For example, recently, I went out to the airport to see Lou Overbo and Harold LaDuke off to Haiti. Those guys were so proud. They both had two suitcases, seventy-five pounds each, loaded fully with medicines that they were taking to Haiti and to the medical clinic that they had helped build down there in Jamaica. From the past, I have fond memories of Lou Overbo when he sat in a front pew for five years before he ever joined this congregation. Before Lou ever came to the adult membership class, someone badgered him into going to Haiti. Those trips to Haiti changed Lou’s life. Out at the airport, Lou said to me, “Anne Markley told me. Lou, be careful. If you go to Haiti, God may get his hands on your heart.” God did. Lou works for the gas company here in south Seattle and the gas company had a meeting recently. Lou told his friends at the gas company that he was going on a Christian mission to Haiti and he would like his friends to give money for the mission. Lou said to his friends, “This is something you want to do.” Lou didn’t realize it, but in his own simple way, he was making investments for his loooooonnnnnggg term future. By his work for the people of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Lou has been laying up for himself treasures in heaven. Of course, he doesn’t think of it that way.
Are you smart? Are you a thinking person? Do you plan for your future? Are you planning for your looooonnnnggg term future?
I like the truth of the quotation: “A person’s true wealth is not in what they keep but in what they give away.”
Some years ago, I watched a political advertisement for a presidential candidate. His name was Ross Perot and he had these big, wide ears that stuck out of the side of is head. On that paid political advertisement, Ross Perot brought several charts that described economic life in America. One of his charts fascinated me and I remember it clearly. That chart showed the level of poverty of our nation’s children compared to the levels of poverty of children living in other European democracies. What percentage of the children who lived in European democracies were poor? About five to seven percent. What percentage of American children were poor? About 20%. The USA? 20%. No industrialized democracy was even close to the high number of 20% of American children living in poverty. Then Ross Perot said, with his big ears wagging, “It ain’t right, folks.”
The Bible says, “It ain’t right folks. It is unjust that 20% of American children live in poverty.”
The Bible would say it more strongly. “God will punish any nation which does not take care of its own children.” Just as in individual is accountable to God and God says to individuals, “How are you planning for your looooonnnnng term future and how are you taking care of the poor?” So also a nation will stand before God and will be asked questions of accountability. The United States will stand before the throne of God and God will ask, “How come 20% of your children were poor? Why did you allow that to happen?”
Are you making plans for your loooonggg term future? Are you smart? Are you shrewd? Are you planning for twenty years or twenty light years? Where do you put your energy?
I like that story by William Barclay, the New Testament scholar. Like all parables, it has its essential truth but a person can become tripped up with the loopholes. And so with the following story. I have taken Barclay’s story and massaged it.
This parable is one of those “got up to heaven and was met at the pearly gate by Simon Peter” stories. One time, Johnny Christian died and he went up to heaven. Johnny Christian came up to the pearly gates and said, “Hi Simon Peter. I’m Johnny Christian.” Peter said, “O, am I glad to see you. Come on in through these pearly gates and I will show you around.” Johnny Christian said, “Where is my house up here? Where am I going to live?” Peter said, “Hop in my car and I will give you a ride to your destination.” They pulled out in the car and drove through a neighborhood with some of the fanciest houses that Johnny Christian had ever seen. He thought to himself, “This is what heaven is all about. Big mansions.” Johnny Christian loved those palatial palaces, especially those that were on the lake. As they drove by the mansions, Johnny Christian was carefully looking at the names listed on the mailboxes but he didn’t see his name of any of those fancy mailboxes. Peter continued driving right through that fancy neighborhood and drove into a lesser neighborhood. That neighborhood had little three bedroom bungalows with white picket fences and campers in the back yards. Johnny Christian was again looking carefully at all the mailboxes of these smaller modest homes but Johnny couldn’t see his name. Peter’s car then drove further outside of town to a slightly run down apartment complex. This run down apartment complex had a long wall of mailboxes out in the parking lot, but Johnny couldn’t find his name on any of those mailboxes in the parking lot. Hmmm. Simon Peter and Johnny continued driving and drove and drove until they came to a lot near the edge of a garbage dump in heaven. And there was an old tar shack. Simon Peter pulled up to that old tar shack and there was the name of Johnny Christian on an old dilapidated mailbox. The name, “Johnny Christian,” was right there on the side of the mailbox. Johnny Christian said, “Simon Peter, I kind of liked it back there in the neighborhood with all the mansions on the lake or even the three roomed bungalows with white picket fences. But what’s going on here?” Peter said, “Johnny Christian, we used all the material that you sent up here to heaven. That is all that you sent up when you were living down there on earth.”
This parable by Barclay has its obvious loopholes, its ambiguities and its inconsistencies, but the question still persists: “Are you smart? Have you been sending good building material for your llllooooooonnnnggg term retirement?”
One thing that gets in the way of many people in a sermon like this is they say to themselves, “I am a good Christian. I know for a fact that salvation is a pure gift. Don’t talk to me about rewards.”
Now, one of the complexities of life is that you can talk about unconditional love and you can talk about rewards at the same time. For example, at our home, my wife and I freely love our children. There is nothing that they could do to stop us from loving them. Our children are loved no matter what. Love is given and given and given. At the same time at our house, there are rewards and punishments. That’s just the way it is. At our house, if you mow the lawn, you get a reward. If you mouth off to your mother, you get a punishment. There are rewards and punishments at our house but there is also the free gift of unconditional love. And so it is God’s grand design. God gives us the gift of eternal life which is unmerited and unearned, but God also has rewards and punishments.
Are you shrewd? Are you making plans for your looooonnnnnggg term future? How is your investment program? Are you laying up for yourselves treasures in heaven? Amen.
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