Yes, it is Stewardship season! In just 3 short weeks, we’ll be turning in our 2020 pledge cards-
our promise to the well-being of our congregation: to the people beside us, to the beliefs which support us, to everything that Emmanuel means to us. Dec. 1, it will be a privilege to get to come and lay our hopes for our church into the gathering basket.
Which brings us to today’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke- the parable of the investment administrators. Investment advisors??? Yes. A lot like Edward Jones. We give them our money; they make more for us, so that we can live comfortably in our retirement. Yes- a lot like that.
A nobleman goes off to court to be crowned with the authority to rule: to come back to his homeland as king. The part of the scripture I didn’t include was that a lot of the citizens didn’t WANT him as their king, and were rioting in the streets. But that part of the story takes me haring off into a different sermon.
Before heading off to court, the nobleman calls in 10 investment administrators (also known as financial slaves) to operate his realm in his absence. He gives them all the equivalent of 3 month’s wages- not for their own use, but for them to build up his realm. Then off he goes.
The ten investment administrators know what is expected of them: Pounce on opportunity! Invest to advantage! Or if nothing else, Compound that interest!
The nobleman comes back about 3 months later, fully crowned as king, and calls his investors to account. The first one jumps up and says, “I doubled your money!!” And the king said, “Well done, good and faithful investor! Because you’ve been trustworthy in this small job, I’m making you the governor of ten towns.”
The second investor comes up and says, “I have made a 50% profit on your investment!” And the king said, “Well done, good and faithful investor! Because you’ve been trustworthy in this small job, I’m making you the governor of five towns.”
The third investor kind of slinks up and says, “Here’s your money back. I kept it safe and sound and didn’t lose a cent of it.” That’s not what an investor is supposed to say. If the market was bad, he could have gotten a money market certificate or invested in some bonds. At the very least he could have put it in a savings account where it could accumulate interest.
But no. He was afraid of the king, knowing him to be a hard and shrewd man. So he just sewed the money into his mattress and prayed there would be no thieves.
And he was right. The king is a very hard and shrewd man. And when he had found that the investor had done absolutely nothing for the king’s realm, even when he had been given everything he needed and more to make a difference. But no; the investor’s true master was fear, not the king. And so the king took everything he had given him, and gave it to the one who had boldly gained the most advantage for the king and the realm.
Risky investing- I think that’s the point of the parable. But investing in what? What would most benefit the kingdom?
When reading scripture, we never want to read one part of the scripture just by itself. We always need to read what comes before, and what comes after, to give a context to the story. Kind of like when a parent says, “I’m going to take you and hang you by your thumbs!” Just read like that, out of context, we’d call Child protective Services.
But when we put it in the larger context- that the parent had just come home from a horrible day at work, and finds her teen has been on the computer with her credit card for the past 3 hours, downloading apps and buying presents for his friends- somehow this threat of hanging said teen by his offending thumbs seems like a really good idea!
The context for the Parable of the Investment Administrators is this: Right before this parable, Jesus is talking to a rich tax collector named Zacchaeus. Nobody liked Zacchaeus because the way he got rich was by overtaxing his fellow townspeople. It was legal; Rome commissioned him, and said as long as he got the taxes Rome required, he could charge whatever more he wanted for his own pocket. A great way to get wealthy, but not a good way to endear yourself to your neighbors.
Zacchaeus knew all this, and must have thought that investing in his own pocket might not be the best for his ultimate welfare, so he climbeda sycamore tree to hear Jesus talking about healing and liberation. Jesus called him down, and said He was coming to dinner at Zacchaeus’ place. Zacchaeus stands there, dumbfounded, and finally stutters out, “Lord, look- I’m going to give half of my possession to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to your house. You too are a son of Abraham. For I have come to seek and save the lost.”
And then this is the segue: As all the townspeople were listening to this conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus, Jesus told this parable… The parable of the investment administrators.
How does that change how we hear this story of servants who have been given great gifts to use for the kingdom? If Zacchaeus is one of those investment administrators, how did he use his money? What did he end up investing in? He ended up investing in trying to restore his community and the people who were in it. He ended up knowing salvation, liberation. He ended up with Jesus coming to his house for dinner.
Now, back to context: Right after this parable of the investors, Jesus goes into Jerusalem. It’s Palm Sunday. He makes His triumphal entry through enthusiastic crowds crying, Hosanna! Save us! Save us, Heir of David!
And for 3 days, Jesus openly teaches and heals in the streets of Jerusalem. And on the fourth day, He gathers with His disciples in an upper room, to share the Passover meal, the meal of liberation, His Last Supper. And on the fifth day, Jesus is tried and executed. And two days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus rises from the dead.
That’s the context: Zacchaeus giving all he had; Jesus giving all He had. And tucked between them… us. The servants, the disciples, God’s investors. Who try our best to give all that we have been given to the best use of God’s Realm.
And the words spoken from the throne of God to each of these offerings is: Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in little. I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your God. (Matthew 25:23)
Either that, or “Not so hot, buckaroo.” Actually, what the scripture says is: “I will judge you by your own works, you wicked slave.” (Luke 19:22) Harsh words, but I think God might mean them.
Three weeks from now will be Stewardship Sunday, the time of investment, the time of accounting. The time when we take account of what God has given us, and- not doling out what seems right- but investing in the realm of liberation and compassion that God has promised us. And the words I long to hear- we long to hear for the summary of our life’s work:
Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your God. (Matthew 25:23)
In the Name of the One who calls us to account, and will never let us go: Even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: Theologyofwork.org, 2013
Scripture for Nov. 10, 2019 LUKE 19:11-13, 15-26 (translation: The Message)
As the crowds were listening to Jesus praise Zacchaeus, the repentant tax collector, Jesus saw that He had their attention. So because they were getting close to Jerusalem, and expectation was building that God’s kingdom would appear at any minute, Jesus told this story:
“There was once a man descended from a royal house who needed to make a long trip back to headquarters to get authorization for his rule. He called ten of his servants together, gave them each ten pounds (which was about 3 months’ salary for a laborer), and told them, ‘Operate my affairs with this money until I return.’ When he finally came back, he called those ten servants to whom he had given the money, to find out how they had done. The first said, ‘Master, I doubled your money.’ The nobleman said, ‘Good servant! Great work! Because you’ve been trustworthy in this small job, I’m making you the governor of ten towns.’ The second said, ‘Master, I made a fifty percent profit on your money.’ The nobleman said, ‘Well done! Good work! I’m putting you in charge of five towns.’ The next servant said, ‘Master, here’s your money safe and sound. I kept it hidden in the cellar. To tell you the truth, I was a little afraid. I know you have high standards, and hate sloppiness, and don’t suffer fools gladly.’ The nobleman said, ‘You’re right that I don’t suffer fools gladly- and you have acted like a fool! Why didn’t you at least invest the money in securities so I would have gotten a little interest in it?’ Then the nobleman said to those standing there, ‘Take the money from him and give it to the servant who doubled my stake.’ They said, ‘But Master, he already has double…’ The nobleman replied, ‘That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.’
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.