Sunday, September 18, 2022

“What's It Mean to Be Shrewd?” The Gospel Message for Sunday, September 18, 2022 — 15th Sunday after Pentecost


Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 16th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 1st verse.

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 generation 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.

“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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 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.”

All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that word, we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


“What’s It Mean to Be Shrewd?”


Do you know any shrewd characters? It all depends on our understanding of the word “shrewd.” That word seems to cause red flags to come up in our minds. Perhaps we equate shrewdness with dishonesty. We might think a businessman is shrewd if he cheated his company out of millions of dollars, when that’s not being shrewd, that’s being a cheat.


Jesus actually says that shrewdness is a commendable quality. He teaches this to us with a parable. In this account, Jesus answers this question: WHAT’S IT MEAN TO BE SHREWD? In God’s kingdom, shrewdness means that we: 1) Consider the Outcome. It also means that we are to 2) Be Creative.


Consider the Outcome


In this parable, we encounter two main characters: the dishonest manager and his master. These men had one thing in common – they appreciated shrewdness. To be shrewd means to consider the bottom line. We’re told what the bottom line was for this servant: “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, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’” There’s the bottom line. The wealthy employer had found out his employee was cheating him, so he called him to prepare his final financial account and then announced that he would be fired that same day. The manager knew his job was finished. He had to do something. But what?


“‘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.’”


This man considered the outcome. He knew the bottom line. He’d be fired. Now, the bottom line was his own doing, resulting from being a cheat. He was obviously not faithful to the position his master had given him. Notice how this man handled his situation, though. He didn’t waste any time. He assessed the circumstance, considering everything carefully, and then he acted. He thought of a plan to help him expand his options and his bottom line.


What’s surprising is that the employer commends his dishonest, yet, shrewd worker. His cheating and deceitful ways were not commendable. What was admirable was how this wily fellow considered the outcome. He was shrewd enough to know he had to be one step ahead. If he were going to get caught, at least he would have his “bases covered.”


In the same way, Jesus tells his followers to have their “bases covered.” “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation 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.” How shrewd are we? Do we consider the outcome? I believe we Christians get so frustrated because we see so much potential work that could be done, but then we look at ourselves and see nothing but limitations. Sometimes we’re tempted to look around and say, “this is as good as it’s going to get,” and we leave the bases uncovered.


We don’t always consider the outcome. There are two reasons for this. We are either tempted to think we are inappropriate or inaccessible. Sometimes we’re tempted to believe that God can’t possibly use our talents or abilities, or we might think that we’re just the wrong choice. “God can’t possibly use me. I can’t serve God’s church in that way. There’s bound to be someone more qualified!” so we think. Then there’s the temptation to think we are too inaccessible to God. It’s as if we tell God we’d love to serve him, but all our assets are tied up. We tend to become so selfish with things that don’t even belong to us. Our lives—our wealth, health, possessions, time, talents, and abilities—are gifts on loan from God. Still, we are so greedy with these things because we’re so concerned about our bottom line, our goals, and our agendas. Then we’re tempted to be the ones who are the dishonest, unfaithful cheats.


Consider the outcome. There was a time when we faced a bleak future, and all the bases were wide-open. As sinners born into this world, we were looking at an eternity of destruction, which was as good as it would get. That was the bottom line. Yet, God considered that outcome, and it broke his heart. He could not stand to see us suffer for all of eternity. God was shrewd. He considered the bottom line and then took action. He sent his Son to cancel the debt of sin. Christ shed his own blood to pay the outstanding balance sin had left on our account. And Christ Jesus rose from the grave, proving the transaction had been made. The debt had been canceled. That account still stands clear to this day. Christ’s forgiveness is still credited to us. His love still governs our cheating, dishonest hearts. His faithfulness cancels out our sinful feelings of inadequacy or stinginess. He frees us from our own sinful limitations and inspires us to serve him with the strength and ability he provides. Our Savior shows us how he first considered the outcome for us, and then he calls us to consider this outcome in light of others. He covered all the bases. Now, that’s shrewd.


Be Creative


The result is the bottom line has been changed. In fact, God has given us a new bottom line, an eternally positive outcome. What’s the bottom line? Jesus tells us: “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.” The business of God’s kingdom has been entrusted to us. When you think about it, that’s a great privilege. Christ Jesus considers us faithful, and he entrusts his kingdom to us for which he shed his blood. Investing our wealth into God’s kingdom means we believe it is worthwhile. It means we believe the message of grace God’s kingdom—the church—proclaims. We believe this message has the power to change hearts and lives. And then, we are told to use whatever gifts the Lord has provided to ensure that this message is shared with others. As God’s friends in Christ, we are able to make friends for Christ.


“Be passionate! Be creative!” Jesus says. People who are preoccupied with this world are very shrewd when it comes to business matters. They are passionate about their earthly future and act to provide for it. We need to have the same creative passion for our eternal future.


Jesus gives two examples of creative shrewdness. The rich master in the parable tells the dishonest manager to prepare a final report, so the manager uses this time to his advantage. He calls in several of his master’s clients and discusses each of their accounts. He tells them that since they have been such good customers, he is offering them a refund that will be credited to their accounts. They sign the papers, shake hands, and leave thinking the manager is a wonderful man.


Later that afternoon, the account manager brings his ledgers to his master’s office. The boss takes one look at the books and says, “You’re fired, but before you go, let me tell you, you’re a dirty, rotten scoundrel, but a shrewd one. I must admire the way you used my money to buy yourself some favor with my top clients.” This was a creative approach. Even though the man was dishonest, he was shrewd. And that’s the way it is with the world. Christ says we are to be creative with things that are above and beyond this world. Be creative with the opportunities to share your faith.


Our prayers are an example of this creativity. Time spent praying for others is time spent making a friend for Christ, but let’s be creative. Don’t limit your prayers as if to say, “Dear Lord, for my spouse, children, parents, sister and brother, for these five I pray and no other.” We can pray for all people from all walks of life. Pray for our government leaders. Pray for your neighbors. Pray that God would guide his Church so that the gospel can be freely proclaimed.


We can be creative in our use of time. Time spent helping out around the church property is time well spent making a friend for Christ. Time spent talking with someone who has a heavy heart or is in the hospital is time well spent. Time spent providing flowers for the altar or snacks for fellowship is time well spent. It is a chance to make a friend for Christ.


The offerings we give are gifts well given. They are used to make friends for Christ by promoting the gospel ministry. Musical talents can be used to make friends for Christ. Business savvy, communication, administrative, or organizational skills can be used to make friends for Christ. Imagine what we could do with a bit of creative shrewdness. Imagine laying up lasting treasures in heaven to help people who have never experienced the love of Christ. We don’t have to imagine that that is a reality. We are striving to consider the outcome. The bottom line is every single soul with whom we come in contact. The gospel has made us shrewd people willing to consider the outcome and creatively pursue it. Let’s continue to be in the Word and worship our Lord so that we grow in our faith and don’t lose the Gospel’s shrewd passion and creativity in our lives.


Now, Al Copeland, Bill Gates, and Malcolm Forbes are all examples of shrewd businessmen. They’re not afraid to spend time, energy, or money to accomplish their goals. “Oh! They’ve got it to spend, though,” we might argue. True. But so do we. We may have what seem to be limited resources—time, energy, or money—at our disposal, but these are from God. And we have one thing none of those entrepreneurs do—a sure thing. Heaven, our goal, is already ours.


Act shrewdly! Whatever we spend of ourselves to proclaim this truth, God will repay. Use what belongs to our master to benefit others. Use the life that he gave you to help others. In doing so, you will lose your life, which is not really yours, and, yet, you’ll gain it! How shrewd!


Father, make me wise in how I use the many blessings you have lavished upon me. Make me a conduit of your blessings. Help me find ways to put your resources entrusted to me to work in building your Kingdom and blessing those you would bless. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Edward Frey.
Christian shrewdness means to use earthly treasures to build heavenly friendships.

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