Saturday, September 25, 2010

C, Pentecost 18 Proper 21 - 1 Timothy 6:6-19 "Shrewd Contentment"

Hot on the heels of last week’s Gospel reading we hear from Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy, calling us to godliness with contentment, and the love of money is the root of all evil causing some to wander from God into many pangs. A pang is a stomach pain or debilitating cramp, and as we all know one is never content when twisted up from stomach pain.

However, first we need to be reminded of the content of last week’s Gospel reading where we heard about the dishonest manager and his shrewd, or prudent, or wise reaction at his boss’s call for his removal as manager.

Let’s hear again what the manager did …summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:5-8 ESV)

Shrewd here shouldn’t be connected with the dishonesty of the manager. To be shrewd, although it can be seen negatively as sneaky and deceptive, can also be understood as prudent or wise! A person who is shrewd is cautious and careful. Looking at the bigger picture they wisely move forward towards a goal of greater benefit.

And so the manager was shrewd, he sat back and took a look at the bigger picture and wisely made decisions which would benefit him after the boss had cast him out.

But then in the passage Jesus goes on to say …I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9 ESV) And in conclusion …No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Luke 16:13 ESV)

Now it’s clear the manager was dishonest with his employer through his self service to dishonesty with money. But he was very honest and righteous toward himself and his income. And so when Jesus says you will hate money or God and love the other, he puts it to you and me, “What is it that you serve out of love? Him and Our Heavenly Father, or money and your own self-interest?”

You see, as much as we might be confused hearing in this parable the dishonest manager getting commended for his shrewdness, or his prudence, or careful observation of his situation and reaction to it. Jesus knows we are shrewd for ourselves too. Perhaps this is why we are immediately perplexed by the self interest of the manager, and Jesus’ commendation of his actions.

And so we allow Jesus to delve deeper into our being with “the love of money or God the Father” question. Make no mistake; the love of money is actually a love of self, and money is just the means or power sought to foster this idolatry of the great “I” or “me” god.

With his Word Jesus divides and discerns you and me and the intentions of our hearts. He asks you “Are you wisely acting, being shrewd or prudent with the things of this world out of love for God, to glorify him alone?” Or, “Are you being shrewd with the things of God out of love for you, to glorify yourself, to have power in profit?”

Or to put it another way, “Do you sit back and consider the bigger picture of God seeking to use all the resources given to your disposal, to further your eternal relationship with God?” Or, “Do you sit back and consider yourself ‘as the big picture’ and use God’s resources and spiritual gifts given to further your position in this world?”

We might well be commended by Jesus for our shrewdness in the things of this world but be condemned at the same time for our immaturity and the foolish way we act with the only One who can save us, and the gifts he seeks to give which will give us salvation.

So we come back to the pangs! To feelings of hollowness only to be filled with internal spasms; gut-wrenching pain! More precisely your gut-wrenching spirituality that sees the hope we should have, as a doubtful response nervously said, “I hope I’m saved!”

Perhaps it’s time to turn your shrewdness towards the things that will truly save you! Jesus is right in saying we deal more diligently with the things of this world, and this generation, living as people of this darkened world, rather than as children of light.

Saint Paul tells Timothy, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” (1 Timothy 6:6-7 ESV)

While we have our focus on this world there will never be contentment, or a godliness or piety which glorifies God.

For us who sit in church week after week and struggle with contentment, constantly feeling the uneasiness of self within, God calls you to repentance! To return to trusting the gifts where God faithfully promises salvation! He calls you to godliness with contentment.

And there is a word of warning here too. The dishonest manager, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, and the rich man who looked down on Lazarus, were all godly men.

The dishonest manager was godly towards himself, which is why he was so unrighteous before his employer.

But the Jews, the Pharisees, and the rich man knew the ways of the law. They seemed to be very godly or pious, and they were. In fact, it was hard to fault them. Yet Jesus did! He exposed their godliness as only a means to self gain. Perhaps, power, prestige or standing in the community, was there motivation.

But this type of godliness gave the Jews, the Pharisees, and the dishonest manager no satisfaction leading to salvation. They were shrewd and clever in their immediate situation, but in eternal righteousness before God they were very unwise and imprudent. In fact they were plain foolish and how they reacted to Jesus Christ is laughable.

God’s will for you is peace and contentment. To be content with the all-powerful providence of the Father! To be content with the work Christ has done for your salvation! And to be content with the Holy Spirit’s leadership in your life; to manage you in the way of contentment and peace! God’s will for you is that you shrewdly and wisely use the things of this world for contentment and hope in him, and an eternal life with him.

Therefore… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12 ESV)

God has given us many earthly riches – blessings upon blessings. Don’t lament over these earthly riches, but use them to glorify God before others. Turn away from using them to glorify yourself before others. Your eternal life and the eternal lives of others is a fight worth fighting.

In fact, this contentment comes in the knowledge that Christ has already shrewdly fought and won the fight for us. He just needs us to believe in the fight and therefore retain the faith he won in the fight at Calvary.

In all your wealth both earthly and spiritually, don’t be haughty, puffed-up as if what you have is a result of your own doing. You will leave this earth with nothing, and the perishables you have accumulated account for nothing before God.

But be rich in works of sharing both earthly gifts and the spiritual gift of salvation in Christ Jesus, fully convinced of the treasures Christ has won for you in heaven. It is the only foundation for the future, so take hold of that which is truly life.

Be shrewd in salvation, clever in the cross, and prudent in the possession of the life Christ has won for you, a life of contentment and eternal peace. Amen.