September 18, 2022

"Between God and the Bank”

Rev. Scott Landis

Luke 16:1-13

“Oh love that will not let me go.” Thank you for joining in one of my childhood memories in singing that song. It was one of my grandmother’s favorites and one of the many we would sing on Saturday afternoons when I would spend the weekend at her house.

Grammy was in the church choir and, while she did not have the best singing voice as I recall, she loved to sing. I suppose that’s where I got it from. Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain, We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Amazing Grace, and many, many others. But this one I remember more than the rest for some reason.

I would sit next to her on the piano bench – my feet dangling since they could not yet reach the floor – and she would play for what seemed like hours as we both sang our hearts out. It’s such a fond memory of my childhood. Sitting close to her I felt her love in both her smile and her song. “Oh Scotty,” she would say, “you sing so nice.”

We would always go to church on Sunday – St. Luke’s Reformed United Church of Christ in Dublin, PA. We had to get there early so Grammy could get into her choir robe and Grandpop could make sure the offering plates were all ready. You see, he was the financial secretary of St. Luke’s and was responsible for set up AND counting the money after the service. We had to wait – for what also seemed like for hours as he counted, and then he put all the money into a green canvas bag with a lock on the zipper. I’ll never forget that. I would hold the bag as we made our way to the bank on the way home from church. I remember feeling SO rich with all that money! Grandpop taught me how to deposit the bag in the “Night Depository” which, I thought was the coolest thing. You needed a key to unlock the bin, and then insert the bag, rolling the bin as the bag tumbled into the bank. We always double-checked the bin when it rolled back to make sure the bag was deposited and not left in the bin for someone to steal. [Pause]

When I read Luke’s gospel lesson for this week, I thought a lot about those visits to Grammy and Grandpop’s house – and to their church – and to that juxtaposition of spiritual side of church and the financial side that I witnessed at a very early age. My earliest recollections of church brought me to this intersection Between God and the Bank – an intersection to which Jesus draws our attention today in one of his more challenging parables to understand. [Pause]

There are so many entry points into this parable and so many lessons one can glean. But at bottom line, this is a parable that speaks very directly to our lives – because not one of us can divest ourselves from this tension – this balance – between the secular and the sacred as we live our lives fully engaged. The two are almost impossible to separate. And, as I thought about it, neither were these issues easily separated in my grandparent’s lives.

You see, Grammy sang in the choir, she attended bible study, and her adult Sunday school class. She was the one who taught me the church hymns – but she was also a shrewd businesswoman. Grammy ran a fairly lucrative quilting business. She even co-opted my help when I visited.

After we were finished singing, Grammy would get out these cardboard squares which she called her “patterns,” and we would carefully cut hundreds of pieces of cloth – being guided by the pattern – which would eventually result in patchwork quilts that she and three other women pieced together on large wooden frames. I didn’t see it at the time as child labor, but I guess it was come to think of it.

While she had a well-developed spiritual life, she was quite comfortable in the world of business. Hers was a balanced life.

And, as I thought about it, so also was Grandpop’s. In addition to his financial prowess, being VERY proud of the fact that he was the financial secretary of St. Luke’s Church for years, he was the one I remember reading his devotional material each day. He prayed aloud at meals. And he was the one who looked me in the eyes on the day I confirmed my baptism and told me how proud this made him. He, too, lived a balanced life.

I think this is what Jesus was going for in this parable. Notice he does not condemn the seemingly scheming practices of the “shrewd manager.” On the contrary, he actually praises him for his ingenious way of currying favor with the debtors while getting at least partial payment for his master.

Jesus said, “Streetwise people are much smarter at this than church-folk. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way – but for that which is RIGHT – and just – and true.” Okay, I may have added a few more words to Jesus’ teaching, but I’m following his logic here.

Jesus was calling for us to be wise, I think. To be honest in small things so that we can do the same in the big things. But to be VERY careful. This so-called shrewdness has a dark side and can become a slippery slope in the wrong direction. Before you know it, we can lose sight of that which is honorable, just, and true. All too soon we can shift gears toward doing what is good for us and not necessarily good for the whole – thus being selfish and not pono or righteous. That’s when we can get ourselves into a lot of trouble.

This is where Jesus’ warning or dichotomy comes into play. His focus is on where we place our trust – our loyalty. Is it in God or the Bank? We are always somewhere in between with an eye toward both. Too much of one and too little of the other can get us into trouble and quickly. Jesus was calling for a kind of balance as we learn to live IN the world while not becoming fully a part OF it. This balance affects us in so many ways.

For example, how we approach our personal giving to the church. We ought to do so prayerfully seeking God’s guidance when we think about what — we THINK — belongs to me – and what belongs to God. You may have heard that old joke about how the three church members at stewardship time trying to figure this out. [Describe line/circle/gravity].

So, who gets what? It’s always a dilemma.

We must keep this idea in mind also when we get to working on our church budgets. Whose money is it, anyway?

And we have to think about it when we determine how much we give to others in need – whether through our church’s outreach program or just other needs in the community. It’s all about balance. [Pause]

When I rode home from church with that green canvas bag on my lap – you remember the one with the lock on the zipper. I felt like the richest kid in the world – all that money! But when we got to the bank, and I put the bag into the Night Depository it all went away. Gone! Money has a strange way of doing that, doesn’t it? If your invested in the stock market you know this all too well. [Pause]

Ultimately, where is our loyalty? In what or in whom do we trust? Funny – even our currency – ironically – has emblazoned upon it “IN GOD WE TRUST.”

Humm? Do we?

Parables often provide tremendous guidance on how we ought to live our lives. But sometimes they leave us with more questions than answers forcing us to think carefully about our response. This is one of those. I hope it will do that for you. Because your answer may be slightly different than anyone else. That’s between you and God.

May God bless your pondering.


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