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Worship and Sermons
October 20, 2019

“Money as Means” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, October 20, 2019, Year C / Pentecost 19  –  Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Psalm 79:1-9  •  Amos 8:4-7 and Psalm 113  •  1 Timothy 2:1-7  •  Luke 16:1-13


THEME:  Use the money God gives us to help the lowest and the least.




Have any of you ever studied anthropology? 

Somewhere around my junior year at the University of Delaware, I found myself in need of some humanities credits to fill out the distribution requirements for my degree.  I decided to register for a course called Anthropology 101.

I had always been curious about Anthropology, without knowing what it really was.  The course catalog described it as the quest to understand human culture and society in the past and the present.  I found this intriguing.  I thought to myself, now’s my chance to learn more about it.

It was a mistake.  I was confused from day one.  The lectures were obtuse and deadly dull.  The readings were even worse.  Within 2 weeks, I dropped the class, vowing never again to venture into this inscrutable, hodge-podge of social science, natural science and humanities.

As I’ve since learned, anthropologists themselves don’t even agree on what areas of study belong within their field.  And among the most controversial of these sub-disciplines is the field of primatology.

Primatologists study apes, orangutans and chimpanzees in order to shed light on human behavior.  Among the most well-known of all primatologists is Jane Goodall.  She’s famous for her pioneering work with chimpanzees, our closest relatives in the animal world.  

In October of 1960, Jane was studying chimps in Tanzania.  One day as she was walking through the forest, she stopped to observe a chimp she called David Greybeard. 

David was sitting on top of a termite mound.  He seemed to be poking pieces of grass into the mound, then raising them to his mouth.

When David left, Jane went over to the mound.  She picked up one of the long grass stems he’d left behind and she poked it into a hole in the mound the same way she saw him do. 

When she pulled it out, much to her surprise, she found that termites had latched on to it.  She realized he had been using the grass stem as a tool to feed himself.

That alone was exciting, but there was even more to come.

Soon afterward, she watched David and other chimps as they picked up leafy twigs, and then stripped the leaves to create an even better tool to fish for termites.  

Suddenly, it dawned on her she was witnessing something never before observed in the animal kingdom.  The chimps were making their own tools by seeing something in their natural environment in a new and different way and then adapting it to a higher purpose. 

That’s exactly what Jesus is teaching his disciples to do in the parable of the dishonest manager.  He’s asking them to take something in their immediate environment and transform it into a tool that will accomplish a higher good.

Unlike other parables, this one is not an allegory.  We are not meant to identify with any of the characters in it.  The sole purpose of this parable is to illustrate how shrewd the secular world is in dealing with matters of money. 

This manager is probably a former slave.  In fact, he may even have sold himself into slavery in order to get the position he now holds.  It’s a good one, with a lot of responsibility. 

He works for a very wealthy farmer who has equally wealthy customers.  We know that because the amounts they owe him are massively large.

But something has gone wrong.  An accusation of mismanagement has been brought against this manager.  Whether it’s true or not doesn’t really matter.  He’s a slave and his word will count for nothing, should he even to try to defend himself.

Without his position, which will shortly be taken away from him, he’ll be homeless and forced to beg or dig ditches just to survive.  So, he uses the only resources he has at his disposal to secure his future.  He chops down the amounts that his master’s wealthy customers owe.

By doing that, he’s placing them in his debt.  By the strict social customs of the Greco-Roman world, they will be obligated to him.  In a few days, when he comes knocking on their door, they will have to admit him into their homes.

When he discovers what his former manager has done, even his master applauds him for being so shrewd. 

What Jesus wants is for his disciples to be equally shrewd, by using the wealth they’ve gotten through their work in the world for a higher purpose.  He wants them to share it with those who have less than they do.

But in order to do that, they have to change the way they relate to money. 

The world views money as an end in itself, suitable only for self-indulgence and self-gratification.  Jesus wants his disciples to see money differently.  He wants them to view money as the means to building heavenly wealth.  The way they do that is by sharing it with the lowest and the least, who can’t afford to pay them back.

And, friends, he wants you and me to do the same thing.  One of the marks of spiritual maturity is the understanding that the wealth we hold is not our own.  It’s ours only by the grace of God.  God has loaned it to us, and we repay him by treating money as a means, not an end. 

In God’s eyes, money is a tool.  The purpose of this tool is to build his Kingdom by sharing it with those in need, with no expectation of repayment.

As it turns out, this willingness to share our resources with others, especially those we don’t know, is what differentiates us from other creatures, according to anthropologists.

When Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees turning twigs into termite fishing rods, it was a watershed moment in anthropology. 

Until that day, scientists thought human beings were the only creatures who made their own tools.  They believed that, more than any other characteristic, this is what separates us from animals. 

So, when word of her observation spread, anthropologists began to scramble.  They searched high and low for the answer to the question “If it’s not tool-making, then just what does separate us from our closest cousins?”

What they’ve discovered is startling.  Recent studies comparing the behavior of human beings and chimps have found that both will cooperate, but humans will always help more. 

For example, both humans and chimps work together and both share food, but chimpanzees will only cooperate with one another if there’s something in it for them.

That’s why they only share with close relatives or potential mates, whereas humans, even children, will share with complete strangers.

Furthermore, chimps require a fair bit of nudging before they’ll share their food.  Human children, on the other hand, share far more readily.  We seem to have an innate ability to sense the needs of others and a willingness to respond.

That’s the characteristic that most distinguishes us from animals.  It’s also what distinguishes Jesus’ disciples from those who see wealth the way the world does.

As a congregation, we nurture in one another this willingness to share our resources.  We help one another change the way we see wealth, and we collaborate with one another in sharing it.

That’s what this Season of Commitment is all about.  We encourage and inspire each other to become more faithful disciples, just as Jim did for us earlier.  Together, we help one another get on the road to tithing.

The best way to do that is to increase our annual pledge commitment by 1% of our total income.  Not everyone is in a position to do that, but if we’re able to manage it, each year we get closer to the goal of tithing.  And tithing is one of the very best ways to strengthen our relationship with God.  Certainly, that’s been my experience.

In order to get there, we first need to examine our relationship to wealth.  We can choose to serve money as an end in itself, or we can choose to serve God by using our money for his purposes.  But we can’t do both. 

There are many in our world who try, but they end up serving money.   500 years ago, Martin Luther, the father of our Reformed faith, described that same situation in his day. 

He wrote, “Many a person thinks he has God and everything he needs when he has money and property.  In them he trusts and of them he boasts so stubbornly and securely that he cares for no one.  Surely such a man also has a god -- mammon by name, that is, money and possessions -- on which he fixes his whole heart.  It is the most common idol on earth.”

Friends, you and I were not made to worship that false god.  We were made to worship the one true God.  

This week, as we all discern what God is calling us to pledge in support of the Kingdom work we do here at Silver Spring, let’s make sure we’re seeing our material wealth the way God sees it:  as a tool to build his Kingdom.

Then let’s be faithful in sharing the resources we’ve been given.

Afterall, we wouldn’t want to be mistaken for chimpanzees would we?

May it be so.

Last Published: October 21, 2019 12:36 PM
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