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A House Divided (2)

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A House Divided

I Timothy 2:1-7

Luke 16:1-13

September 19, 2010

Never before have we had more labor saving devices; and never before have we been so busy.

Never before have we had so many choices about how we spend our time; and never before have we been so out of control of where our minutes, hours, days, and years go.

Consider the Youth Minister who asks a high school junior if she is going to be able to go on the presbytery retreat. The answer has become familiar: “I don’t think so. Weekends are my busiest days. I have cheerleading on Friday night, I volunteer at assisted living on Saturday morning. I have to work Saturday afternoon; and Saturday night we are going to my grandmothers for her birthday party. Sunday afternoon I have to work on my science project; and Sunday morning is the only time I can sleep-in.

Or the Mission Committee chair who asks a man in the congregation if he can help with Habitat on Saturday; again the answer comes, “Not this weekend. I have had to put in weekends on a special project for the last month. This weekend I have a list of things to do around the house that have been piling up. If I don’t get started, I will never catch up.

Or the Nominating Committee member who calls and asks a woman if she will allow her name to be put forward to be elected an Elder; “No I couldn’t possibly do that. I just don’t have any time left. I spend all my time behind the wheel driving my kids to after school activities. I am a classroom volunteer. I have just been elected secretary of my service club; and I have just agreed to fill in on Sunday mornings in my Sunday school class. I can’t take on another thing.

Or the retiring Usher Captain who asks a man to take over Captain duties next year: “I am willing to help when I can, but you know since I retired we are away most weekends visiting the grand children. If it is not the grand kids then it is my wife’s mother. I don’t know how we did it before we retired. I am as busy as I have ever been in my life.”

Busy as I have ever been—it seems that this has become the American Way; and no segment of our population is immune from the disease of busyness. Don’t stop; not now; maybe some day.

And it is not just that we are busy. We humans have been busy ever since Cain was expelled from Eden and destined to earn his keep by the sweat of his brow.

Being busy comes with the territory; that is why God created Sabbath, to ensure that we would stop for at least one day out of seven—which of course means that for six straight days we were bound to be hard at work. But of course even the Sabbath has become a thing of the past for most of us.

Many of you, as do I, remember when this wasn’t so. The Sabbath was regulated for us.

In the town where I grew up virtually everything but the church was closed on Sunday.

The pharmacy was opened from 2-5 on Sunday, but not its soda fountain. You couldn’t even find a gas station to buy a gallon of gas; and believe me, there were no soccer games or other sports played on Sunday. But those days are gone.

Methodist Bishop Will Willimon writes in his book, Resident Aliens:

“Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh, new world began.”

He goes on to say that the old world ended in Greenville, SC on a Sunday Evening in 1963. “Then …in defiance of the state’s time-honored blue laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday. Seven of us regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Buncombe Street Church—made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox.”

With those two acts of defiance, the first by the Fox Theater; the second by the seven boys from Buncombe Street, a new world of expanding opportunities and choices about how we were going to spend our time, our moments and our lives, opened; and we have been awash with options ever since.

At the same time, this new found freedom, as it always does, ushered us into a brave new world of decision making.

With each new opportunity and choice came a corresponding choice we had to make. Shall it be Buncomb Street and the youth fellowship or John Wayne at the Fox. With each new choice the options and decisions expand exponentially until we find ourselves where we are today: adrift in a sea of freedom, surrounded by a universe of options.

The question is whether we have a since of the shoals that lie ahead, or a compass to help us safely navigate the seas and make the choices we need to make in order to……in order to….heaven knows what.

And this is the question the text lays before us today: What choices do we make about how we spend our lives; and why do we make them?

According to the text, there was a rich man. The rich man had a manager who was in charge of the rich man’s property. Word had come to the rich man that the manager had somehow wasted the rich man’s property; the text says squandered it.

Just how the manager wasted the money is not clear. Squander here does not mean cheating and stealing so much as dribbling it away. From the parable we know that he liked to be liked-maybe he used the owner’s property to entertain his friends or to buy their favors. That is what happens later when he is found out.

Anyway, the owner asks for the books and fires the manager. But before he goes, while everyone still thinks he is in charge he does some wheeling and dealing-reducing the bills of those in debt to the owner. Why?; So that when he is out of work those who have had their bills reduced will treat him well. So again, the manager exploits the owner in order to feather his own nest.

There is nothing in this story that we would call admirable. Yet there is a strange twist. The manager commends the manager for his shrewdness; and to make matters worse, Jesus apparently adds his approval—although the meaning here is less than certain.

The passage begins to make more since when we simply take the parable and combine it with the final words chosen as the text for this morning’s sermon:

“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.”

Taken this way the parable’s meaning opens up.

As the story unfolds so does its meaning.

In the beginning we discover there is a problem.  The figures don’t add up. The accounts are out of balance.

The rich man discovered what the manager had done, the manager is fired; and in that crisis the manager’s real commitments were revealed—he again squandered his master’s wealth by reducing what his friends owed so that they would look out for him when he lost his job.

The only master the manager ever served was his own self interest. He squandered the master’s wealth to feather his own nest; and when he was fired he did the same thing. He reduced the money owed his master so that the debtors would look out for him.

This is not a story about someone whose example we should follow. It is about someone whose life and actions illustrate the main point:

“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.”

The manager loved only what money could do for him and turned his back on his employer; the only master the manager ever served was his own self interest, and betrayed the man who trusted him because of it.

Everyone in the crowd listening to Jesus would have gotten the point right down through the words, you cannot serve two masters.

It is what came next that was and is the sticking point:

 “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

OK. What now? The passage simply ends; leaving us perched precariously on the edge of a cliff.  A choice is set before us; the freest choice and the biggest decision we will ever face: whom do we serve; really. When the log books of our lives, the records of how we spend our hours, days, and lives, what will they say about us and the master or masters we served?

It’s a fascinating thing this metaphorical way we have of speaking of time in terms of money; and money in terms of time. It wasn’t lost on Jesus, that’s why he spoke so often of money-not because he was all that interested in money, but because he knew that money is a powerful metaphor for life and commitment:

“Whose image is this on this coin he asked”….and the question was not about coinage. It’s about whose world this is.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”…and the question is not about investing. It’s about what really matters.

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents,* to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability…and the issue is not about who got what and what they did with it. It’s about discipleship.

And finally, today’s text: “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.”

This passage, like the others, is not about money. It is about what matters most to us; what we value most; what gives focus and meaning to the choices you make.

That is why the question really is, when all is said and done, if we had nothing to look at but a log of how you spent your time, invested your time, would we conclude that your life had be squandered? Or would we see clearly what mattered most to you? And would what mattered most to you ultimately matter at all.

Abraham Lincoln, speaking years ago, and in another context, said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In other words, we cannot long endure being double minded or two faced about our loyalties; the masters we serve.

Jesus put it bluntly: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

We have more options than any people living anywhere as to how we are going to spend our lives; how we are going to invest our lives; and that brings with it fundamental and enduring questions about our true loyalties and commitments.

Over the years it has been my privilege to visit many, many older church members and friends.

One of the things I hear over and over when I visit them is the statement, “If I am still here, it must be for a purpose.  God must have some purpose for keeping me here.” I hear it also from people who have had serious illness or brushes with death. I almost never  hear it from young people including young adults and young couples—or even early middle aged people. I guess it is because the elderly and those who have had a brush with death have seen the edge of the cliff. They grasp the seriousness of the question of how they will spend their days.

Pam and I have a friend. His name is Paul. Recently while on a trip to visit family, he planned his route so that he would pass through Columbia so  we could have dinner together—he had driven from the Gulf Coast, to Washington, D.C., to Detroit, and was on the homeward bound leg of his trip—he had planned to go on to Atlanta, but had developed car trouble.

Now the thing I haven’t told you about Paul is that he is 93 years old; and that’s not all. His wife died about eight or nine years ago.  After a period of deep grief he came to a point of decision: I can either stop living or I can find the thing that God wants me to do and get busy doing it. He chose the latter.

He became very active in our church, helping out any way that he could. A couple of years ago he went on a weekend spiritual renewal weekend and kept up with everyone and passed others.

A couple of years ago he was elected elder for the first time. This year, at age 93 he is serving as the head of the Christian Education Committee where he is recruiting teachers, helping plan curricula, and attending every event at the church, because, as he says, “If you are going to be a leader, you have to be present.”

Paul is someone who, at the age of 93, buried his beloved wife, and discovered the value of time and the simple fact that how you invest the time given makes all the difference in the world.

He understands that he is here for a purpose and that it is God’s purpose and he best be about that purpose, because spreading your time among many masters serves none; in fact, “No one 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.”

Amidst all the options before us; the choice is ultimately ours to make: whom do we serve; really; deep down where it matters?

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