I remember a parishioner from a while back, coming to me and telling me that he was going out to his cabin for the weekend: thus he would not be in Church Sunday night. He wanted to let me know this because he and the family would not be back in enough time to be ready for Church Sunday evening. “That’s fine,” I said, “But know that you will be missed!” The man was shocked judging the look on his face. To my comment he replied, “And PLEASE sir don’t go preaching about cabins on Sunday... that it’s wrong not to be in Church because you are out in the cabin... sir, I loves me cabin!” I thought about this for a moment and realised something important. My parishioner wasn’t asking for permission to be absent from church, he was feeling guilty about not being there when everyone else was going to be. He didn’t want me to make an example of him and his choice not to be there. So I response, I reminded him, “You will be missed because you are not with us but will still love you. And if your conscience is bothering you, we’ll be there at Church and we hope you will there too.”
This story seems to be linked to the experience of the villainous manager (Luke 16:1-13) who was charged with squandering his master’s resources. The Master must have believed the charges that were brought to him by people from outside the household, because when the manager arrived to attend his master, his master fired him. The manager was using what was not his in a very poor and scandalous manner – similar to that of the prodigal son who devoured his portion of his Father’s wealth by living lost and near death (Luke 15).
If the manager had been a household slave, the matter would probably have been life or death. But this man was a free man. He served the master as a free man and he was not a member of household. He had to make his way in the world. He evaluated his situation and realized that he could not do for another house as he had done, his career as a manager was done and his reputation was in tatters. He was not built to dig ditches, He was too proud to accept charity through debasing himself to beg the generosity of strangers but he needed to be able to look after himself. So he devised a scheme.
He called in all of his master’s debtor’s and had them remove the interest and his portion of the dealings (to which he was entitled) so that when he was penniless, he would have friends to whom he could go and stay because he was kind to them and reduced their financial burdens. The more mercy he showed the mater’s debtors, the more places he would have to stay. It would be a better existence than being on the street begging from them and others.
What is interesting is that the manager didn’t try to deny what he had done. He didn’t plead for leniency or seek the mercy of the master in the face of judgment. All he could consider was how to save himself in the moment. The manager wanted to spare himself the pain and anguish of having been caught and now fired for his indiscretions. The shocking thing about this story is that the master complimented the unsavoury manager for his ability to look after himself. He wanted to secure his immediate future and did a good job doing it. The master did not compliment the manager for how he had acted in office but for looking out for himself in light of his new circumstances.
Security, peace and plenty are what most people seek. Riches and fame might provide them for a while but such things are fleeting. They are actually a false sense of security and wellness precisely because they are temporary things. How we deal with such things shows how we will act and treat eternal things, which have the ability to give life. We have to decide who or what we will serve. Service leads to sacrifice and sacrifice becomes worship. Whom shall we serve?
If we found ourselves before God tonight and we are each asked, “Why should God let us into his heaven?” how would you respond to such a query? Consider carefully that from that moment and that place, what one is going to need is not a clever plan or a series of willing hosts but the very things I have already mentioned: grace, mercy and clemency. There is a need in this moment to ask for those things, knowing that God is waiting and ready to offer you and all who ask. We need to ask God not to be good to us but rather for God to be God; our God. We need to be willing to ask the Master to forgive and to lead us in “into green pastures, beside still waters, into right pathways and even through the valley of the shadow of death... even for his own name’s sake.” (Psalm 23) Be prepared not only for eternity, be prepared for the moment and be ready to honour and serve God, wherever he may call and send you.