14th Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Amos 8. 4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2. 1-7; Luke 16. 1-13 (view all)
As a Minister, I find myself sitting in on plenty of meetings — from church councils to school governors, and from Diocesan committees to ecumenical meetings.
One thing I’ve noticed which is becoming increasingly common, and rightly so, is for meetings to begin with declarations of conflicts of interest. Members are asked to think carefully about their different business interests, in order to ensure that any decisions are properly considered and not skewed by outside influences.
It is this concept of the conflict of interest that defines one of the most well known sayings of Jesus, in today’s gospel reading:
No slave can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and wealth.
So, how can we avoid a conflict of interest in our own lives? How can we get our priorities right when it comes to God and money?
Alongside a challenging statement, in today’s gospel we also find a challenging parable about a master and a manager. Although the manager is entirely dishonest and despicable in his actions, there is one thing he has managed to get right.
He has realised that all the money in the world is worth nothing, if in the process we are left isolated and lonely. So, in reading, we are provoked to think about what the point of our wealth actually is — to step back and decide what is most important.
Often in life we can very easily float along, buying into the priorities of our wider culture, without really thinking through the implications of our decisions. But ultimately this leads to the kinds of exploitative use of money, which the prophet Amos calls out in our Old Testament reading —behaviour which leaves the land in ruin and the poor even poorer.
Sadly it was similar short-sighted decision-making which, in many ways, brought about the financial crisis of 2008. And on an individual level, we can often fail to think critically about our spending decisions: For instance, continuing to buy sweat shop clothes because they work out cheaper for us in the short-term; or contributing to the destruction of our environment by buying products packaged in large amounts of single-use plastic.
I’m not just saying all this to give us a good moral beating, so we promise to try harder — it’s to illustrate a deeper point which today’s gospel passage reveals.
This is it: Our resources follow our vision. Or put another way: our spending follows our seeing.
If our sight is focused on our personal, physical wellbeing, then our spending, our bank balances, will follow. If, however we have caught a greater vision, a picture of God’s kingdom, then the way we use our resources will shift. We realise that we are not our own masters, but entrusted as managers — or stewards — of God’s resources.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul shows how this kingdom vision is not just about the church, but about the whole of society, as he implores us to pray for our political leaders. Paul’s vision is a world where weare able to live in peace and dignity, in right relationship with one another and with God. A vision which, he tells us, God desires for everyone — rich and poor. A vision which is worth investing in.
If, like the prevailing culture, we are sleepy and short-sighted, then we continue to use our money in the same way as everyone else. But as we wake up to God’s kingdom vision — as we take the long view — we begin to invest what we have, our money as well as our time and efforts, in ‘the true riches’ which Jesus talks about.
We begin to invest in our relationship with God which will last into eternity, and in our relationships with others and with our world. We begin to look around more and more for ways to use what we have to usher the reality of God’s kingdom into the present.
So, I wonder, are we willing to catch this vision — to see higher and further, in order that our spending might follow?
Instead of spending on ourselves, will we look out for opportunities to be generous to others? Instead of spending without thinking, will we look out for opportunities to use our money to bring peace and justice to our world?
Instead of allowing our spending as a church and Ministry Area to be focussed on us, will we look out for opportunities to invest in growing God’s kingdom in our community?
The wonderfully quirky evangelist, and Church of England Minister, J. John tells a wonderful story about our attitude towards what we have. He says, ‘Imagine a man on his own in an airport lounge – who bought a coffee and a bag of mini-doughnuts.
‘He sits at a table where there was a man reading his paper.
‘He opens the bag of doughnuts and takes one.
‘The other man looks, reaches down and took one, to the astonishment of the first one.
‘He does it again and again and the first man finds himself getting increasingly annoyed, not saying anything, but fuming: ‘How dare he take my doughnuts!’
‘The man with the newspaper looks in the bag, sees one doughnut left, rips it in half, eats his half and pushes the bag towards our guy, before getting up and going to his flight. This is the final straw! What a cheek!
‘But when the first man gets up for his flight, he looks down and suddenly sees his own bag of doughnuts on top of his suitcase. Oops! They weren’t his doughnuts which the other man was stealing, but he who had been pinching the other man’s all along.’
J. John then makes his point — they’re all God’s doughnuts. All our wealth, our possessions, even our time and energy, is a gift entrusted to us by him.
When we forget this, we can end up acting ungratefully.
But when our vision is clear enough to see God’s kingdom, then we can look for opportunities to make good use of what has been entrusted to us.
So this morning, as we gather at the Lord’s table, may we catch a vision of God’s kingdom, and receive the grace to steward what we’ve been given wisely and generously.