The Administration of Grace

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning. The lectionary gospel was Luke 16:1-13. The “Spiritual Gift of the Week” was Administration.

The Spiritual Gift for the day is “Administration.” Administration is the gift of being able to deal well with the minutia of daily life, whether it’s at your workplace, or at home, or at your church, or somewhere else. It’s about details. Communication. Scheduling. It involves dealing with things that come up, surprises and crises, unexpected things.

Today’s gospel story is about an administrator, the manager of a rich man’s funds. But before we get to him, I want you to imagine two other groups of administrators, two other groups responsible for other people’s money.

First, I want you to imagine a big Wall Street firm called Sleazeball Financial. Sleazeball Financial is doing really well, making lots of money for the shareholders. But the executives of this company can see the writing on the wall, and the writing on the wall says, “The bottom is about to fall out.” Very soon this whole company will be out of money. So the executives say to one another, “We don’t have much time. We’d better do something to make sure that we’re okay once this is over.” So they quickly sell their company stock and approve huge bonuses for themselves. They say, “Everything will be okay. Because when this is over, we will have money. And we can rely on that money to take care of us.” That’s easy to imagine, isn’t it?

Now imagine another huge financial firm, we’ll call it Righteous Financial. It’s in the same position; the executives see the same writing on the wall. And they say to one another, “We don’t have much time. We’d better do something to make sure that we’re okay once this is over.” But here’s what they do. They take the money they still have, and they send a $200 check to every shareholder. Then they offer generous severance packages to all the employees they’re about to lay off. And they make huge donations to the Red Cross, to the United Way, to the American Cancer Society. They say, “Everything will be okay. Because when this is over, people will respect and like us, and we will have friends. And we can rely on those friends to take care of us.” That’s harder to imagine, isn’t it?

Let me ask you? Which executives were right? In your experience, which can you rely on more? Money or friends? (Everyone will say “friends.”) It’s obvious. And yet it’s so hard for us to imagine Righteous Financial.

But it’s a lot like the story Jesus told us. Kind of like the executives at Righteous Financial, this manager realizes he doesn’t have much time, and he quickly makes use of what’s still available to him, in an attempt to make people like him, so that he will have friends to rely on.

It’s a bit surprising that Jesus should tell this story, because even if it’s better than Sleazeball Financial, what this manager did still sounds unethical. He’s abusing his authority. Buying people off with someone else’s money. Yet Jesus applauds the dishonest manager for exactly this.

And maybe we can learn from him. Perhaps he shows us how God calls us to act in the midst of a crisis. He was in a crisis…he was about to lose his livelihood and his reputation, and he didn’t have much time.

Let’s look at what he did.

First, the manager quickly recognized that things had changed, and that he had to quickly decide what he was going to rely on, what he was going to put his trust in. He chose to rely on making friends.

Second, the manager used all the resources at his disposal in the service of that which he trusted. He did everything he could to ensure that he would have these friends.

And third, he did it all with a spirit of forgiveness. What was the manager actually doing? Forgiving debts. He shared forgiveness.

Perhaps we can do these three things when something unexpected happens in our lives.

Perhaps we can quickly decide what to rely on in a crisis, because we know that nothing and no one are more reliable than God. Throughout scripture, nothing is more constant than God’s faithfulness and steadfast love for God’s people. Perhaps we can switch gears quickly when things change, because we don’t have to rely on the status quo. We can rely on God, whatever the circumstances.

And perhaps we can use everything we’ve been given in service of the one we trust, in service of God. If we can believe that God will provide, just as God has promised, then we can use the resources at our disposal to serve God, even in a crisis. We don’t have to cling to wealth, the way that the folks at Sleazeball Financial did. They saw money as their rock, their salvation, their god. And so they served wealth. And there was no room for the true God.

And perhaps we can do this with a spirit of forgiveness. Because we know what it is to be forgiven. We know that we are sinners through and through, that we have messed up so many times, that we are deserving of nothing good, but that God nonetheless faithfully provides good things for us, because through Christ, God has given us forgiveness for all our sin. We are forgiven, and because we are forgiven, we can be forgiving people.

This is countercultural. This isn’t the way the world tells us to act in a crisis. But Jesus says it’s good. And perhaps it’s also encouragement whenever you find yourself in an administrative role, whenever you have to make decisions, even routine decisions, for yourself and others. Perhaps you are always invited to put all of your trust not in wealth, but in God. And to use what God has given you to share in a spirit of forgiveness and love.

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