Posted 23 days ago ago by Scott Huie
“If You Were God for a Day…”
Emmanuel Presbyterian Church
September 22, 2019
I love the movie, “Bruce Almighty.” It tells the story of a TV reporter, Bruce Nolan, played by Jim Carrey, who sees himself as the center of everyone’s universe. Bruce becomes obsessed with becoming the news anchor for the local station. Believing that he has done his best to secure this new position, he does a live broadcast from the bottom of Niagara Falls. Seconds before he goes on live TV, he hears the announcement that his competitor for the job has been given the position. Bruce doesn’t take the news well, and the result is a very funny monologue which essentially seals the end of his career and begins his rant on the Almighty for not doing more to make his life better.
Finally, after enduring Bruce’s tirades, the Almighty, played by Morgan Freeman, responds by appearing before Bruce and offering him the job of God for awhile, while God goes on vacation. At first, Bruce thinks it’s a prank, but then he begins to test his powers. Let’s see what happens.
(Show Clip—Bruce entering diner thru his turning on fire hydrant)
If you were God for a day, or a week, or a year, what would you do? If, by chance, you “got the power,” as we just saw in this clip, how would you handle it? It’s a good question, and it brings us to our Scripture reading this morning: Luke 16:1-13. This is frankly one of the most difficult texts I have ever studied, but together we’re going to work through it, and together we’re going to find some worthy application.
The Jesus we meet in the Gospel of Luke has so much to say about money and its use. In fact, he talks more about money and possessions than he does about heaven and hell and even sex, which we today seemingly obsess over. Why do you suppose Jesus emphasizes so much what we have in our wallets? I am convinced it is because there is a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about our money and how we use our money: how we earn it, spend it, save it, and give it away. Often, I think, we believe we can divorce our faith from our finances, but Jesus no doubt sees the two as inseparable.
Here in the 16th chapter of Luke we find two parables about how one deals with money, both beginning with the words, “There was a rich man.” Next week, Rik Rouquie will lead you in a discussion of the second story, about the negative use of wealth in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Today’s story, commonly known as the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, however, speaks of a more constructive use of money.
It is a baffling story in many ways, not so cut and dry and warm and fuzzy like some of Luke’s other stories, like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. The Bible experts are all over the map in their interpretation on this one. What is clear in the story is this: a rich man hires a manager, probably a slave, to take care of all his properties. The manager does a poor job. The rich man gets ticked off and gives the manager the heave-ho. “You’re fired” he shouts in a way that would make Donald Trump proud, but at least he gives the manager his two weeks notice. During that time the manager makes deals with the rich man’s debtors reducing their debt and making some new friends in the process. Jesus then concludes the story with some lessons about money. We’ll get to those shortly.
But what is unclear in this story is what the manager is up to: When he squanders the master’s property, is he embezzling from the rich man’s estate or is he simply mismanaging it? In other words, is he unethical or simply incompetent? Is he a criminal or just a bad manager? What is also unclear in this story is how Jesus could have the master—the rich man—actually commend the dishonesty of the manager? Is that what he’s doing? In this era of corporate shenanigans and politicking run amuck, surely Jesus here could not be praising dishonesty, could he?
There is no question that the manager in this parable is acting out of self-preservation. He is spending his last days on the job networking and doing favors and lessening debts and making new friends. He doesn’t want to be a ditch digger or a beggar to survive. He likes his life in middle management and doesn’t want to give it up. He’s shrewd, creative, entrepreneurial, occasionally backstabbing, and doing what it takes to climb the corporate ladder and survive among the corporate sharks of the world. He’s a little shady, and this character, this rascal, receive a commendation from the master for his shrewd investing!
There is also no question that Bruce Almighty is also acting out of self-preservation. He begins his service as God’s manager by doing things only for himself. He parts tomato soup at a local diner reminiscent of the Red Sea as we just saw. He drags the moon in closer for a romantic evening. He causes news stories to occur all around him, including the discovery of Jimmy Hoffa’s body.
Meanwhile, Bruce completely neglects the job God has given him. The unanswered prayers keep piling up. He begins to organize them into a computer, and to make his job easier, he just answers them all with a “yes.” Stocks rise, people get taller, a little leaguer pitches a no-hitter, and countless folks win the lottery. All this causes chaos in his home city of Buffalo and does nothing for Bruce’s deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend.
Eventually Bruce realizes that he has not done God’s job well—hasn’t been a good manager—and calls out for help. He finds himself back at the office building where it all started in time for his appointment with God to mop the floor. God takes back the powers but leaves Bruce with these thoughts: “Parting your soup isn’t a miracle; it’s a magic trick. A single mom, working two jobs, who still finds time to take a kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to an education, that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them. What they don’t realize is that I have already given them the power. Want to see a miracle? Be a miracle.”
Jesus says something similar in our Scripture reading, but with a different spin. I love how Eugene Peterson in the Message translates this passage: “The master praised the crooked manager because he knew how to look after himself…I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
The dishonest manager is not commended for being dishonest, but rather for not giving up on his power to make the world a better place. His tactics may have been a bit questionable, but nonetheless, we applaud him the end result, as Jesus does, for helping the needy in their plight.
Jesus is telling us one more time that how we live right now—how we use our money and our resources—has important consequences for God’s kingdom. As the manager in this story used all his resources to secure his future, our call is be no less resourceful. At our disposal, we have hope in God’s justice, faith in God’s peace, and trust in God’s grace, indeed the best resources anywhere.
As we turn to those resources, as Jesus concludes the parable, two main lessons emerge. First, the chief duty of the manager is not to be shrewd or frugal or successful. The chief duty of the manager is to be faithful—even in small things. Most of us will never write a book, win a Nobel Peace prize, dine with the queen, or negotiate an end to war. More likely this month will present us with opportunities to call a friend in need, feed our neighbor’s dog, go to a committee meeting, coach a few kids in football, share a meal with another, visit a sick relative, cast our vote, volunteer in the nursery, and read a bedtime story to a child. It’s a fundamental principle that the little things that we do reflect our authentic character: “Whoever is faithful in a very little,” Jesus says, “is faithful also in much.”
And finally, Jesus closes the story with a second lesson: “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and wealth.” A person can have two jobs. For instance, one can be a waiter by day and a musician by night—or maybe a minister or certain days and a booking agent on others. But a slave, a steward, a manager has little spare time, especially in Jesus’ day. Every moment of a slave’s day and every ounce of his energy belonged to the master. He had no time which was his own. So serving God can never be a part-time pursuit. Once one chooses to serve God, every moment of his time and every atom of his energy belong to God. God is an exclusive master. We either belong to him totally or not at all.
What if you were God for a day? The better question is, what if you were God’s manager for a day? That’s what we are really. As Christians, we’re stewards of God’s creation. How do you use your resources? Not just what you give to the church or to charity, but all of it. You have but one life to live, my friends, so go forth and be a miracle. What if you were God for a day? Well, you are God’s manager…at least for this day.