I almost didn’t write this reflection as I’m away on a youth training conference all week, and have heard 6 more sermons since Sunday! But I’m not quite ready to give up on my plan to write a reflection on the sermon each week. Although it didn’t help I was looking after children during both morning and evening church last week - hats off to those of you trying to look after kids every week and focus on the sermon at the same time!
Anyway, enough excuses. Despite all that I was really struck in Philip’s talk on Luke 16: 1-15 by the account of Charles Wesley (or was it his brother??) and his 'personal awakening’. After starting a job that finally gave him some disposable income, he had been spending it on things that gave him pleasure and comfort - as we all tend to do. Then came a moment where he saw a poor woman, shivering in clothing far too thin for the weather. He went to get some money to give her to buy better clothing only to discover that he didn’t have enough - he had spent it all on himself, on things he didn’t really need. From that day began a mindset of seeking to save more of his income, not to store it up for himself, but so that he could give it to those really in need. And what really struck me from this story was what he managed to do in the years following. As his income doubled and tripled, instead of his personal spending doubling or tripling, he essentially lived off the same amount and had more and more to give away.
This is so alien to our own thinking and practice isn’t it? We look forward to a new job, or a pay rise, because of what we hope to spend it on. As our income increases, so does our expectations of the size of our house, the kind of car we drive, the kind of holidays we go on. Who of us would dream of disconnecting our income from our own living standards? But of course, that’s at the heart of Luke 16:1-15. Don’t think of what we have in this world as ‘ours’. No, the money flowing into our bank accounts, the buildings we rent, buy and renovate, the stuff we accumulate… it’s not ours. It’s God’s. It’s put into our hands so that we might be good stewards of it, to use it for good - particularly the eternal good of those around us.
Now as I pondered the inspirational example of Wesley, I could see that there is certainly a legitimate aspect of increasing our personal spending as our income increases. We go through stages of life not quite earning enough to provide for ourselves, or a family, or what our family might become. We live in a time and place where housing prices are simply ridiculous. Some of us may well feel like there is basically no limit to how much our income needs to go to paying off a crippling mortgage, no matter how many promotions we might get. It’s important to appreciate the reality of our situation.
But as we appreciate the reality of our situation, we will almost certainly see that we go way beyond responsible spending on our basic needs. We view our wealth as ours, for our security, comfort and happiness. We save it and spend it for our security, comfort and happiness. I know I need to (re)consider our budget. I need to reconsider the nature of this money and what it’s for, as well as the detail of where it’s going.
As Philip pointed out, the parable of the unrighteous manager is confusing. It’s hard to see how such a dishonest man can be held up as a good example. But it’s not his ethics that are held up, it’s his clarity of vision - his perspective. He knows what’s important, and he takes necessary action. And Jesus makes it clear that the real pinch for us is whether we will ultimately set our eyes, our hearts, on money and our material possessions, or on God himself. We cannot serve both God and money. Will we see ourselves as faithful stewards of the resources God has placed in our care? Will we appreciate their limited value here and now, using them to bless others as we set our hearts and minds on heaven? Or will we make the sad mistake of thinking that life consists of this stuff? Will we make the mistake of thinking it is ours, meant for our pleasure, comfort and security?