Monday, September 20, 2010

Shrewd Thinking

I have to tell you this morning that our Gospel reading from Luke is one of the hardest most challenging Gospels there is.
What makes it difficult is that Jesus seems to be commending someone who has been dishonest in their business dealings.
The verse that always perplexes me is Verse 9 “And I tell you make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth.”
Someday I am going to a sermon series of all the things Jesus says that makes us “what did he just say?”
Does Jesus really want for us to make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth?

I think we should start by saying that we live in a complex world.
What I like about this parable is that it is honest about the world we live in.
It acknowledges right off the top that we live in a world that has in it people willing to do anything for themselves or for money.
We live in a world where what is right and wrong is not always black and white.
For example, my father worked for 25 years at Sears.
Every time there was a big sale my Dad would go to work early because that meant they had to mark everything in the store up 10% so they could then sell it for 10% off.
On the other hand that job helped my father provide for his family, it put food on our table, a roof over our head, and gave us a little extra to give away.
Jesus is not being cynical about the world he is being honest.
Jesus knows that his disciples are going to have face some difficult moral decisions in their lives after his death, resurrection, and ascension.
And this parable perhaps is preparation for that life because it tells us to be shrewd.
Notice in the parable that Jesus never commends the manager for lying and cheating.
Instead he commends him for being shrewd.
And for me this is where the parable turns.
“for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
This is so true.
People in the world who are out to make money, out to sell us all kinds of things are simply better at it then the Church.
Think about how much advertising our children are stuffed with everyday, and that is even without turning on the television.
Think about the way we are sold things we don’t need for problems we don’t have.
This years in shoe is low healed, next years will be high healed.
You certainly need a new computer because the one you bought five years ago is terribly out of date.
Certainly we would not look good or be cool without this vehicle or that one.
This is nothing to say of the way we are sold easy sex and easy answers at every turn.

To be a child of the light in this vast landscape will take shrewdness on our part.
Shrewdness is sometimes seen as a bad thing.
But the word really means: having or showing sharp powers of judgment.
To be shrewd means that we can see the world for what it really is a fake superficial money hungry, self serving, place.
To be shrewd means that we can see the importance of using what we have for good, and for the kingdom of God.

A friend of mine told me this story recently about a scam his family had run on them.
It seems that a couple of people tried to pull a scam on his grandmother.
What they did was follow around his cousin we will call him Vinny.
They learned everything they could about his background, about where he went, who he talked to, where he went to school, where he worked..etc.
Then they called his grandmother and told her that Vinny was in jail and they needed the money to bail him out right now.
They were really convincing.
The grandmother was about to write a check as she was distraught about her grandson being in prison.
Luckily my friend’s mom was visiting his grandmother when these guys called.
She was able after a long time to figure out that this was not right.
When he told me this story my initial reaction was how said that people use their time, energy, and money to do evil things in the world.
What would happen if more people put time into doing good, into helping others, into working for the kingdom of God.
I think that is what Jesus is trying to get us to see in this parable this morning.
If the people of this age are so shrewd in doing bad, shouldn’t we who are the children of light be just as shrewd in doing good.
Shouldn’t we work just as hard to figure out ways to get people to do the right thing, and shouldn’t we be just as smart about it.

One of the things that I know takes shrewdness is parents getting their children to Church.
I know all of the things that kids say about Church (probably because I said them when I was a kid), “It is boring”, “I don’t like it there”, “I would rather be doing something else.”
I know that it is hard as a parent to convince your child that coming to church is somehow more important than all the other things that the world tells them is important.
I mean kids don’t get the payoff.
In our world everything is about instant gratification.
Feel good now, be better today, look good, dress good, be good.
And church is an exercise in the long haul.
The benefits are not immediate nor are they always visible to the naked eye.
Jesus is talking about being shrewd so we can have our reward in our eternal home.
I just don’t think kids think that far ahead.
But we must be shrewd with our children.
We must help them see the long term benefits; we must help them know the goodness that comes in coming to church.
For statistically speaking (and of course nothing is ever guaranteed) kids that have a religious grounding and have parents that model faithful behavior are less likely to partake in risky behavior, are more likely to be close to their parents, are more likely to do better in school, are more likely to have a positive attitude, are more likely to have positive self attitudes.
In other words having our children in church is good for them.
The benefits far out way the negative.
That is why I am so glad that we here at Concordia see our children as an asset.
This is why a good Sunday school with dedicated teachers is so important, because it give our children an important instrument in their lives.
It gives them the ability to be shrewd when they grow up and face the world on their own.
It helps them to have sharp powers of judgment.
Having a religious community to belong to and that cares about them will give our children the tools to be able to see the good from the bad, and seek the good in their own lives.

I know this now more than ever as a father.
For to be a parent in today’s world to help our children fight off the messages that those out to make money are bombarding them with means to have to teach more carefully, to love more deeply, and to instill in them the knowledge of God’s love.
I think this especially of my daughter Phoebe.
The things that our culture says to women are just appalling to me.
The things that our world tells women they have to be in order to be good enough is immense.
As I get older I think of the need for shrewd thinking.
The world tells us that getting old is bad, ugly, and useless.
But our faith gives us the tools to know that getting old is just part of life.
That it is not a curse but a blessing to be able to retire, to travel, to hand over things to the next generation.
I know that we are up to facing these challenges because I believe that we have all the tools in order to be shrewd.

We have been given these tools by God as a gift.
God has given you the tools in your faith journey to be able to handle the world.
God has claimed you as God’s Child in Baptism, God has given you his Word, God has sent his only Son for you, and God has blessed you with gifts and passions.
Now the only question is will we use them to be self serving or will you use these things to make friends so you will be welcomed into your eternal home.

Let us be shrewd.
Never tiring of doing God’s work.
Never wavering from living as Children of the light.
Let us live in the sure and certain hope of knowing that God has given us all we need to have sharp powers of judgment to make it to our eternal home.

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