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Doing The Right Thing

You Are Gifted…You Are Called
Spiritual Gifts Series: Teaching

September 17-18, 2016
Luke 16:1-13
“Doing the Right Thing”

We are in the second week of our sermon series on Spiritual Gifts. Last week, we looked at the gift of Mercy. This weekend, we are focusing on Teaching and over the next couple of weeks we will look at the spiritual gifts of Hospitality and Evangelism and reflect on how we have seen these gifts lived out in our own lives, in the lives of others, and in the life of the church.

I do believe that as God’s created people, we all have these spiritual gifts and it comes down to how prominent they are in our lives or how we intentionally put them into action.

We will use another one of the stories of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke to think about the spiritual gift of teaching.

16 Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’

3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.

5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’[a] The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’[b] He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11 If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13 No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

This is the time of year that many, including many of you, are sending children, who are now young adults, off to college for the first time. And you may wonder if they will remember enough of what you have taught them. Or have they learned enough in their primary education and their Christian education to be prepared for college.

Each year around this time, Beloit College comes out with what is called the Mindset List for those entering college as 18-year-olds. This is the class of 2020, who were born in 1998. This list provides a look at the realities of the culture that has shaped their lives since they were born. The list reminded me that we have a real challenge as the church when it comes to teaching the old, old stories of our faith given these cultural realities.

This group of young adults born 18 years ago are referred to as the RIGHT NOW Generation because they cannot remember a time when they had to wait for anything.

There are 60 items on the Mindset List. Here are just a few of the highlights:

This group of young people can’t recall a time when the United States was not at war; or when someone named Bush or Clinton was not running for public office. In their lifetimes the Sopranos and SpongeBob SquarePants have always been part of popular culture; Wayne Gretzky and John Elway have always been retired; and Vladimir Putin has always been in charge in the Russian Kremlin. If you want to reach this age group, you’d better send a text because emails are often ignored. And they disagree with their parents as to which was the “first” Star Wars episode.

So, what do these realities have to do with teaching, especially the spiritual gift of teaching?

The Greek word for “teach” means “to instruct.” We see examples all through the Bible of teaching. Jesus Himself was the Great Teacher and Jesus commanded his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20) The spiritual gift of teaching is one that carries a heavy responsibility.

In the Letter to James, Scriptures says, “Not many of you should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Those with the gift of teaching have been entrusted with the task of effectively and honestly communicating. And when that comes to the teachings of our faith, I believe the trust is even greater. We trust that our spiritual teachers are able to teach the stories of our faith in such a way that we can apply those stories to our everyday lives.

In my first appointment as pastor in River Falls, I remember standing up to preach on my first Sunday and looking out at the congregation and locking eyes with my second grade school teacher, Mrs. Green.

A dozen questions seemed to race through my mind…What was Mrs. Green doing in River Falls? What was she doing in this church? Is she United Methodist? How did she find me? And why is she smiling?

Mrs. Green never smiled; in fact, I lived in fear of her through all of second grade. It had been 33 years since second grade, but I would recognize her anywhere. Come to find out, Mrs. Green’s mother lived in River Falls and when Mrs. Green retired, she had moved to River Falls and was a member of the church.

While my teacher seemed serious and stern when I was in second grade, I do remember many life lessons I learned from her. Then at River Falls UMC, she taught Disciple Bible Study and any other Bible studies that needed teaching to our children, youth and adults. I even sat in on one of her Old Testament Bible studies and learned more than I did in my OT seminary class.

Mrs. Green had the spiritual gift of teaching. She bubbled over with joy when she taught about God, shared about her faith and connected the stories of our faith to everyday life.

This weekend we find ourselves in the 16th chapter of Luke’s Gospel with a perhaps less known and often confusing parable of the dishonest manager.

This is a tough Scripture passage. Even seasoned scholars can’t agree on what it means. Not only is it difficult to understand, but when I think I understand it, I don’t think I like it very much.

Can Jesus, the great teacher, be praising dishonesty in this parable?

We have enough problems sorting out the moral implications of the daily world and political news; when we come to church, we want things to be neatly in place; we want things to be straight forward with some clear-cut teaching for living our lives.

Centuries ago, Augustine even said, “I can’t believe that this story came from the lips of our Lord.”

In these days of corporate mismanagement, banking schemes, fraud, downsizing, financial greed, government stimulus packages, manufacture outsourcing, and political mudslinging, we are weary of dishonesty and know better than to teach it or defend it.

We teach our children to be honest and thoughtful and, now we turn in our Bible and it seems that Jesus is offering us a parable applauding cheating and dishonesty.

In an effort to give us some focus to the spiritual gift of teaching, I’m going to summarize the parable itself and then see if we can link in the saying of Jesus that ends our passage.

To recap the story…The central character is the rich man’s manager, who is not doing a good job managing the rich man’s money, and so he gets a pink slip. Then, in a panic, he begins to drastically cut what is owed by clients so that when his job ends those clients might be indebted to him and be good to him.

As we listen to the parable we keep thinking that at the end, the dishonest scoundrel will get what is coming to him. But at the end, instead of being defeated, this guy triumphs and is praised for being clever, and resourceful.

It’s like Jesus is pointing to the man and saying, “Here is someone who knows how to give his entire heart, mind and soul to the thing he values most.” And in this case it was about self-preservation.

This story can teach us about using the same determination, ingenuity, enthusiasm, cleverness and vision, and apply it to the ways we serve God and love our neighbor. Or, perhaps Jesus is saying that we can learn in all situations. After being confronted by his boss, the servant had to confront himself. The conflict turned into a teachable moment.
He assessed his skills and said to himself, “I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg.” The master in our parable is a good teacher and spiritual leader. By confronting his servant, he inspired his servant.

Having the spiritual gift of teaching is having the skill of inspiring and influencing people to live and share their faith. The spiritual gift of teaching is tied closely to being a servant leader. And servant leadership is the core teaching of Jesus. A servant leader with the spiritual gift of teaching creates confidence; helps correct mistakes; asks the right questions; is interested in the person; and finds joy in teaching.

Coach Vince Lombardi was a servant leader with the spiritual gift of teaching and he coached, taught and led with love. He is known to have said to players on his Green Bay Packers football team, “As your coach, I don’t have to like you, but I must love you and my love will be relentless.” That is the sign of a good teacher and servant leader…love that is relentless.

When we have the spiritual gift of teaching, our relentless love will find ways to use what is current or ‘trending’ in the culture to teach something that is timeless…which, are the stories of our faith. So, when we are using our spiritual gift of teaching, we are using the realities of our current culture to tie in and teach the old, old stories of our faith.

One of the clear teachings in our Gospel story comes as almost an add-on when at the end of the passage Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much.”

If we were called to give an accounting of how we have cared for God’s estate, would we be found faithful…faithful in doing the honest and right thing in our daily lives and faithful to teaching the love and grace of God through the stories of our faith.

All the parable or stories of Jesus are meant to give us a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is like. In this parable, God leaves the door open for our faithfulness. God confronts us about our faithfulness and our honesty. This parable seems to be saying that there is always something we can learn about God, teach about God, and always new ways we can serve God.

Think about this…What the manager is in our Gospel story ends up doing is giving away the rich man’s wealth. The manager gives away the kingdom of God, even to people who do not deserve it…and isn’t that what Jesus does with God’s kingdom and with his own life…gives it away and wants us to do and teach the same.

May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.
Amen