It’s not business, it is personal!

September 22, 2019 (15th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Jeremiah 8:18–9:1

Psalm 79:1–9

Luke 16:1–13

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

16:1 “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. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 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.’ 8 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. 9 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. 10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 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.” (Luke 16:1–13, NRSV)

Let us pray: Loving God, open our ears to hear your word and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.

It’s a dimly lit room. The kind of room where sinister schemes are planned. It is the kind of room where you expect bad things to happen.  The kind of room where gangsters hang out.   In this room three men are gathered planning for revenge.   Michael Corleone the youngest son of Mafia boss Vito Corleone says to his older brother Sonny, “It’s not personal it’s strictly business.”  This statement comes from Mario Puzo in his famous book The Godfather and the Frances Ford Coppola movie of the same name.

Michael’s line: “It’s nothing personal, Sonny—it’s strictly business,” is one of those lines, it is infamous statement. That even if you have never seen the movie or read the book you are probably familiar with it.  It’s a great line to deliver but a terrible one to get. 

It is a phrase that conveys that whatever the action is, it has got to be done.  It is said to relieve any guilt associated with the sinister act.  As in the Godfather, “I am going to shoot this crooked policeman, but it is nothing personal, it just has to be done.”

Obviously, I am not a businessperson and I have not been to business school, but I understand that business can be ruthless. 

There are decisions that go your way, and decisions that don’t.   Business can be survival of the fittest – use any means necessary to make the sale, to cut the deal, and to earn the profit.  You must be shrewd to get ahead…

Keep this in mind as we hear Jesus tell this parable we just read from the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the Dishonest Manager, as the late Phyllis Tickle, refers to it “the most difficult parable of them all.” It is about the work of one particular businessman, who uses any means necessary to save his own skin.

A fellow employee goes to the business owner to report that the office manager is stealing from him.  The business owner calls his office manager in and says to him “I hear you are stealing from me. You’ve got two weeks before I audit you. “

The office manager knows he’s in deep trouble.  But he like most con men – he is much too proud to beg; and way too soft to work; so, what does he do to save his own skin? 

He comes up with a scheme.

In one of those dimly lit rooms.  The kind of room where sinister schemes are planned the office manager calls in some of the company’s biggest customers.

“Have I got a deal for you?”

Here is his plan.  He cuts their bills in half.  It will bring in money for his boss and it will also make the debtors happy to have their debts off the books. 

Fast forward two weeks and it is time for the audit; the business owner looks at the new books and he knows what has happened but there is nothing he can do about it.  He knows he has been conned. 

And here’s the surprise.

The business owner says to the office manager: “I have to admit it, you were pretty smart.  You got me.”

Up to this point the story makes sense; especially in our current culture of greed.  What doesn’t make sense is it seems like Jesus is praising the Dishonest Manager and his deceit.

What in the world is Jesus thinking?

Doesn’t Jesus know that getting ahead by any means is counter to the Gospel, counter to everything Jesus tells us? 

But if you look closely you will notice Jesus does not praise the Dishonest Manager. Imagine having that single-mindedness in our faith and our service to God?  Imagine every minute of every day totally committed to following Christ. 

Just imagine…

This strange story is really asking us to imagine our faith in God is not just an hour a week, but it is an all-day, all the time commitment worth our devotion, our focus and our shrewdness.  When we understand that, we are free to turn our hearts and minds, and our wealth and resources, to the service of God and one another. 

I’m not praising ruthless businesspeople.  I’m not praising the Godfather, especially not for family movie night or as an example for living. 

I’m also not praising Enron,

WorldCom,

Bernie Madoff,

Lehman Brothers,

Bear Stearns,

and countless others that have exposed the culture greed in our nation. 

Their greed and criminal behavior turn our stomachs and anger us.

What I am saying is, just imagine if all their efforts, their smarts, their passion, their desire and especially their shrewdness used to make money by any means necessary could instead be focused in the building up of the Kingdom of God. 

Just imagine that instead of profits and money being the goal of life…imagine if all that energy was instead used to build up of the Kingdom of God. 

Just imagine if all of us used our energies following God, trying to make the world a better place. Churches all over the world would be overflowing and there would be waiting lists to get a seat for worship.  Just imagine if the energy that the Dishonest Manager used to scheme and defraud to ensure he saved his own skin when he was fired was instead used in his faith to build up the Kingdom of God.

One of my mentors said that he has never understood why people who are so smart and savvy in the business world, so good at their jobs, so impressive in their everyday lives walk into the church and turn off their brains and leave their passion outside.

God gave us the brains, the drive, the gifts, the talents and the passion to succeed in business and in life.  God gave them to us to use – not only for building up our own empire, our own wealth, our own security, and our own happiness but more importantly to build up the Kingdom of God and following Christ. 

Ah, so what kind of work will we do if we use our passion, our desire, our skills to build up God’s Kingdom.  When we use our gifts to follow Christ, we will be called to go to some strange places, and we will be called to do odd things, such as; 

Eating with outcasts and sinners,

Healing the sick,

Welcoming strangers,

Visiting prisoners,

And challenging the mighty and the powerful.

Just imagine what the world might look like if the passion we put into pursuing the American dream was used for following Jesus’ call to serve the least, the last and the lost among us.  Just imagine.

You see after all it’s not just business with God, it is in fact very personal!

Let us pray: