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Duration:23 mins 29 secs

Summer Tune Up Sermon Series

“Check Your Tires:  Faithfulness”

Luke 16: 1-13

July 4, 2021

 

            I know you’ve all seen it.  The tire commercial features an adorably chubby baby, riding suspended in a big ol’ tire, while all around him are rain, wind, ice, and lightening.  But the baby is laughing and clapping happily, safe and dry in his tire.  At the end is the tag line:  “Michelin:  Because so much is riding on your tires.”  

            Today is the next to last sermon in our “Summer Tune Up” series, as we’ve given our lives a spiritual tune up using Paul’s list of the fruit of the spirit.  We’ve seen that love is the engine of our lives, we’ve recharged the battery of joy, we’ve learned how to maintain our cooling system of peace and patience, and we’ve seen that goodness and kindness are the headlights that let others see God.  Today, we’re going to check our tires, as we examine our faithfulness.

            Faithfulness is defined as being reliable, dependable, steady, trustworthy, steadfast, constant and true.1

            That’s what we want in tires, isn’t it?  Dependability, reliability.  We want to know that if we are driving down the road, we can count on our tires to hold firm.  That’s why so many tire commercials depict cute babies and families—spouses and children we want to keep safe from harm.

            We need to be able to depend on our tires.  Today we’re going to check the spiritual counterpart to our tires:  faithfulness. Faithfulness is the foundation of a life of discipleship, the steel-belted radial that keeps us on course.  Just like we don’t want tires that are thin or worn, that cause us to slip and slide, we don’t want slippery faithfulness!  We should not be wishy-washy Christians, skidding this way or that way, but we should have what it takes to stay the course, straight and true.

            We are called to be faithful Christians, because our God is a faithful God. Throughout the entirety of scripture, we read of the faithfulness of God.  Psalm 89, which we used for our Call to Worship this morning, is just one of many Psalms that praise God’s faithfulness.   The prophets promise that God is faithful, the historical books recount God’s faithfulness, and, in the New Testament, God’s faithfulness is affirmed in the life of Jesus Christ.  Because faithfulness is such a central part of God’s character, we who are God’s people should mirror this in our lives.          

            Our passage this morning from Luke’s gospel may at first seem to be a strange example of faithfulness.  If Jesus’ point is that we should be faithful, why does he tell this parable about a dishonest manager?  What can we learn from this passage about faithfulness?

            Bible scholars acknowledge that this passage can be confusing.  The dishonest manager is not a very likable person, is he?  If this passage were a movie, the manager would be the antagonist, the character everyone wants to get his comeuppance.  After he first squandered property, and then in his own self-interest reduced the debts owed to the master, we would expect the land-owner to send him packing!  But at the end, the land-owner commended the manager for his shrewdness. 

            Jesus’ comments after the parable are no easier to understand than the parable itself, and so commentators acknowledge that many pastors just skip over this passage and choose not to preach on it at all.  But it is in our Bible, part of our scripture.  So our responsibility is to take it seriously, to study it and try to discern Jesus’ message for us.

             What we have to understand about this passage is that it is an example of a hyperbolic parable.  A hyperbolic parable.  Hyperbole, according to the dictionary, is a statement that is exaggerated to make a point. Jesus used this technique several times where the parables do not turn out the way one would expect; for instance, “bad servants get rewards, good servants get punished.” I read a fascinating article in the Journal of Biblical Literature that said that these kinds of parables are “linguistic attempts to shatter the complacency of one’s world.”  In other words, Jesus’ intent is to get us to sit up and take notice.  “Exaggeration and hyperbole heighten the impact, raise the issue set in mundane terms to ultimate seriousness,” the article said.2

            Our parable in Luke 16 uses a negative example, like the parable of the unjust judge a few chapters later in Luke 18.  If the unjust judge granted justice, Jesus said, “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones?” Similarly, in both Luke and Matthew’s gospels, Jesus asked, “If your child asks for a fish, will you give him a snake instead?....If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”  Jesus’ point in all of these parables, including our passage from Luke 16, is this:  if even an un-godly person does this, then God does more, and you who are a Christian should do more!  According to the article, this “reasoning from the lesser to the greater was a favorite rabbinic device which Jesus employed more than once.”3 

            So think of how that applies to our passage.  Jesus is saying, if this earthly master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness, how much more will God commend you for your faithfulness.  The dishonest manager is a negative example.  We should not be like him!  He was entrusted with the master’s business, but he was not faithful. He squandered the master’s resources, and then when he was discovered, he took more away from the master.

            Instead we who are entrusted with our master’s business should be faithful. We should do all that we can to serve the master, to be about his business, to further the work of his kingdom.  God has given each one of us gifts: spiritual gifts as well as opportunities and material resources. What will we do with them?  Will we use them only for our own gain, our own comfort? Or will we develop them and utilize them for the kingdom, faithfully using what God has given us for gospel purposes, sharing the good news, making disciples, fulfilling the Great Commission?  Jesus is clear: we cannot serve two masters.  We must choose whether or not to be faithful.

            In our summer tune up, we are checking our faithfulness to see if we are doing all that we can to further our master’s business.  Are we serving our master or are we serving ourselves?

            Here are four points to take with you, and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are four pictures of faithfulness

            First, we should be faithful even when we can’t see results.  An elderly preacher was preparing for worship one Sunday morning, when one of the deacons confronted him.  “’Pastor,” the man said, “’something must be wrong with your preaching.  There’s been only one person added to the church in a whole year, and he’s just a boy.’”

            With sadness, the minister responded, “I feel it all, but God knows I’ve tried to do my duty.”

            The minister’s heart was heavy as he preached that day, and at the end of the service, he thought that maybe he should resign.  As he stood in the empty sanctuary, that one boy who had joined the church came up the aisle and asked to speak to him.  “Pastor,” he asked, “’Do you think if I worked hard . .  I could become a preacher, perhaps a missionary?’” 

            Tears welled up in the minister’s eyes. “’Robert,’ he said, ‘I see the Divine hand now.  May God bless you, my boy.  Yes, I think you will become a preacher.’”

            That preacher could not see the results, but he was faithful, nonetheless, and the outcome was greater than anyone could have imagined. That young boy was Robert Moffat, and although the minister had no way of knowing it, Robert grew up to become a Bible translator and one of the greatest missionaries of the 19th century, spending more than five decades in Africa.4           

            We may never know what God is doing through us.  That minister is an example of faithfulness, even when we can’t see the results.

            Here’s a second picture.  Faithfulness even when we get no recognition or reward.  In Calcutta, India, where one-third of the 14 million people lived in dire poverty, there were no resources to care for people at the end of life, especially the poor and the stigmatized.  There, in 1952, a young nun named Teresa was so moved by the plight of these people that she found an abandoned building and began to use it to care for the dying.  There was no funding from the government, no support from non-profit organizations, just one faithful woman and her group of twelve missionaries, working tirelessly and faithfully, with no recognition for themselves.  That young nun, of course, eventually became known as Mother Teresa, and her work changed the lives of thousands and thousands of people.  But Mother Teresa never wanted honor and glory for herself.  She lived in poverty, like those she served, and in her Home for the Dying in Calcutta, she said, the poorest of the poor had the opportunity to die with dignity and with care.  “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who had lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”5 

            Faithfulness without reward.

            Third, here is a picture of Faithfulness despite obstacles. 

When I was in seminary, as part of a theology class, I visited a place called Koinonia Farm, in Americus, Georgia.  The author of the Cotton Patch Gospels, Clarence Jordan, founded the farm in the 1940’s as a place where poor blacks and whites could live and work together to raise crops.  Jordan was a Christian with two Ph.D.’s who chose to use his skills to help the rural poor rather than to earn wealth or position for himself.  Folks around Americus didn’t like Jordan’s farm very much.  They tried again and again over the years to shut down the farm and run Jordan out of town, but had no luck.  Finally, one night the Klan took decisive action.  They set fire to every building on the farm but Jordan’s home, which they riddled with bullets.  They chased off every family but one African-American family who refused to leave.  It looked like Koinonia Farm had come to an end.

The next day a local reporter came out to do a story on what he thought would be the farm’s closing.  The rubble was smoldering and the land was scorched, but he found Jordan out in the field, hoeing and planting.  Jordan recognized the reporter as one of the Klansmen who had been present the night before.  The reporter kept taunting and prodding Jordan, but he couldn’t get a rise out of him.  Finally he said, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two Ph.D.’s and you’ve put fourteen years into this farm and there’s nothing left at all.  Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”

Jordan stopped hoeing and turned to the reporter and said “quietly but firmly, ‘About as successful as the cross.  Sir, I don’t think you understand us.  What we are about is not success but faithfulness.’” Jordan and the others rebuilt Koinonia, and the farm is still going today.6

Faithfulness despite obstacles.

            Finally, a picture of Faithfulness even at cost to ourselves. 

            On this July 4th weekend, as we celebrate the freedoms we have in this great nation, we give thanks for all of those who served our country, many of those at great cost to themselves. 

            In December 2019,  General P.X. Kelley passed away at the age of 91, at a retirement community in McLean.  Throughout a long and distinguished career, General Kelley was an example of faithfulness without regard to the cost for himself.  After the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that was the deadliest attack on the U.S. Military since WWII, General Kelley, who was only four months into his work as Marine Corp Commandant, sprang into action.   The New York Times reported, “In the aftermath of the bombing,” Gen. Kelley “was the symbol of the Corps. He hastened to the scene, comforted the wounded, mourned the dead, all in the style that has closely identified him with the marine in the trench, an emotional link to the fighting man.”7

            But General Kelley was quick to point attention away from himself and toward those service members who made great sacrifices, the best-known example of which was Lance Corporal Jeffrey Nashton, a story made famous when President Reagan shared it in his address to the nation.  A Washington Post article honoring General Kelley after his death recounted the story of Lance Corporal Nashton.8 

            General Kelley was visiting Marines at the U.S. military hospital in West Germany; he went to the bedside of a man who had sustained significant injuries in the Beirut bombing: a fractured skull, collapsed lungs, a broken leg, and he was temporarily blinded because of concrete splinters and debris in his eyes.  Jeffrey Nashton could not speak and had “’more tubes going in and out of his body than I had ever seen,’” General Kelley said.9 

             “’When he heard me say who I was, he grabbed my camouflage coat, went up to the collar and counted the stars,”’ as if to confirm his rank, General Kelley recalled.

             “’He squeezed my hand,’” then he motioned for a piece of paper to write a message to the General.  When General Kelley took the note from Nashton’s hand, he was moved to see the words Nashton had written:  “Semper Fi,” Marine shorthand for “always faithful.”10 

            Later, after Nashton was released from the hospital and was stateside at Bethesda Naval Hospital, General Kelley honored Nashton in a ceremony where he presented him with the four stars General Kelley had worn on that day, saying, “’They belong to him more than to me.”11

            Pictures of faithfulness.  Images we can imitate, can apply to our lives as we seek to be faithful disciples.  To be faithful, even when we can’t see the results, like the old preacher.  To be faithful even when we receive no recognition or reward, like Mother Teresa.  To be faithful despite obstacles that stand against us, like Clarence Jordan.  To be faithful, even at great cost to ourselves, like Jeffrey Nashton, General Kelley, and all those others who have served our country.

            In Jesus’ parable, we learn that we have been entrusted with our master’s business. God has given us resources to accomplish the work God has for us to do, and the question for us is, will we be faithful?

            Today, let’s check the tires on our spiritual lives, to make sure we are undergirded with an unswerving faithfulness, in matters large or small, as we serve and honor the Lord our God.  Amen and amen.

Notes

  1. “Faithfulness,” American Heritage Dictionary online.
  2. Norman A. Huffman, “Atypical Features in the Parables of Jesus,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Jun., 1978, Vol. 97, No. 2 (Jun., 1978), pp. 207- 220 Published by: The Society of Biblical Literature Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3265619.
  3. Huffman, ibid.
  4. “Robert Moffat,” Bible.org. “Robert Moffat,” Encyclopedia Brittanica.
    “Robert Moffat,” Dictionary of African Christian Biography.
  5. Wikepedia articles: “Mother Teresa,” “Kalighat Home for the Dying,” “Missionaries of Charity,” “Kolkata.”
  6. Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, pp. 188-189.
  7. John Cushman, Jr., “General Paul X. Kelley Dead,” The New York Times, December 31, 2019.
  8. Emily Langer, “Paul X. Kelley, Marine Corps commandant during Beirut bombing, dies at 91,” The Washington Post, January 2, 2020.
  9. Eve Zibart, “Semper Fi Marine Gets a General’s Stars, The Washington Post, November 16, 1983.
  10. Langer, ibid.
  11. Langer and Zibart, ibid.

Rev. Dawn M. Mayes

Manassas Presbyterian Church

Manassas, Virginia

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