True Master

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 18, 2022
Luke 16:1-13

November 1944. World War II. The Allied armies are slogging their way through Europe. V-2 rockets are terrorizing London. The U.S. Navy is engaged in the Philippines in the largest single naval battle of all time. I can scarcely imagine what that was all like. 

But even as the world fought and died, some things went on as normal, even here at Trinity Church. Even in November 1944, even in the midst of all that, the Church asked its members to make their financial pledges to the Church; just as we are doing today. In good times and in bad, in peace and in war, the people of Trinity have given their money.

We know this, because in Trinity’s archives we have a letter, a letter that one of our volunteers came across a few weeks ago. It’s a letter from a member of Trinity Church serving in the Navy in World War II. That parishioner and naval officer writes in November 1944:

“Am writing to enclose my October pledge. It so happens that on the 1st of October, I was promoted to Lieutenant, with a resulting increase in my base pay. Therefore I am increasing my contribution correspondingly.” He says that he is increasing his contribution from eight dollars and thirty-three cents a month to ten dollars a month. Think of this – here’s a naval officer stationed somewhere in the world that is not Galveston. This parishioner has the presence of mind to A) make a pledge to the church during the middle of a world war, B) honor that pledge monthly, C) increase that pledge when he gets a promotion, and D) write to the church and send his money along, even in November 1944.

So what else can I say this morning? This church is built upon a firm foundation; a firm foundation of generations past that worked, and served, and gave. We, today, are the beneficiaries of such people that precede us; we are here today, worshiping the Living God because of their faithful gifts. Yes, we know about the big gifts that have been given to Trinity Church. And we are profoundly grateful for them. But this, this story, this letter, this newly promoted Lieutenant who has increased his monthly pledge correspondingly in the middle of the world’s darkest hour – that is the true testament to faithfulness. The amounts may seem meager, but surely they weren’t to that sailor, that parishioner. And it’s never really about the money, the number of zeros, the number of commas, is it? It’s about the faithfulness, it’s about what the money means. 

This, I think, is what Jesus is getting at in this strange parable. The dishonest manager is willing to knock down his own commission, he’s willing to bargain and negotiate in order to solidify his relationship with his master’s debtors. That’s what is going on here. The dishonest manager knows that money is not about finances, it’s about relationships. Like Jesus says, we either serve God or wealth. Money has value, it’s the value of relationship. 

This is what I ask all of us to keep in mind as we consider our own charitable giving in the next year. It’s not about rounding out the parish budget, it’s not about paying the staff, it’s not about the money that goes to our life-giving ministries. It’s about our relationship – our relationship with the church and with God. When we fill out that pledge card, when we write that check, or nowadays when we swipe that credit card or fill out those numbers on a computer screen, we are serving our one true master. That’s my takeaway from this gospel lesson. What we do with our money is a symbol of what we want for our souls. The man in the parable wants to have a place when he’s fired, so he uses money to make that happen. We value this place, this church, and what it does, so we give our money to make this happen.

And when we give it has to mean something. It can’t just be a bit off the top. If we don’t notice the amount we’re giving, then is it a gift or an afterthought? Think about that naval officer, I’m sure he noticed it in his bottom line. The dishonest manager in the parable surely noticed the gap in his profits. And if Jesus really did give everything for us, the least we can do is give to where we notice it.

So today I’m not asking you to give a certain percentage, I’m not asking for you to give to some specific need in the church budget; all I’m asking is that you give your money in faithfulness. As so many have been faithful before. Your money has value, and the value is in the relationship.

This is the reason my family makes a pledge every year. We give because giving is part of our spiritual discipline. It is our way of being part of this church and responding in gratitude for all that God has done in our lives. And when I look at that pledge every year, when I see all those numbers, I feel the pull. I see what else I could buy with that money. I see that monthly check go out, and I know what else it could do for my family. But the lesson I’ve learned is that we do not serve our bank account, we serve the Lord. That’s the relationship that we value most. And the money we give, it really does impact our bottom line. But that seems of little concern compared to all that God has done for us. And if a newly promoted Lieutenant can continue to give in the middle of a war, well, my gift doesn’t seem like much after all.

And of course, I also do know that the money given to the church is used wisely. I give because I am a Christian, I’m mindful of what the church spends it on because I’m your rector. And over the course of this pledge campaign we’ll be highlighting many of the things that the money you give makes possible here. I ask that you give money to the church for our ministry; and you expect the church to spend that money well. This seems like a fair deal. 

And I know, I know that there are lots of others out there asking for your money. Both businesses and non-profits. And granted, most of them do a better job of marketing than the church does. But we don’t have commercials and slick campaigns because the best advertisement is what we do. And what only the church can do. When St. Vincent’s House wants to send kids to Camp Allen who can’t afford, who do they call? They call us. When people and families of all types need a place to grow in Jesus, where they do come. They come here. When Ball High wants to stuff their teachers and students with brownies and cookies this week, who do they call? They call us. When families are grieving, hurting, feeling abandoned in all the horror of this past month, where have they come? They’ve come here. In the past year everybody from Ukrainian refugees to the lonely man on the streets trying to feed his kids has turned to us, to Trinity Church. This is why our church exists. And that is why we continue give. This is our best advertisement – that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom of generosity, and grace, and compassion, and love. Even when things are tough, as they are now, as they were in November 1944. We give because this place gives even more. The money isn’t about the money, it’s about the relationship. 

But enough about the past and the present. In closing, I ask you to remember the future. As you prayerfully consider your gifts to this church, think ahead to the next generation that will serve here at Trinity. Those acolytes and kids in Sunday school and the little babies in the nursery now will one day be leaders here. One day, they will be the ones filling out the pledge cards and making the contributions. What do we want them to say about us? Do we want them to wander why we squandered all that we had? Do we want them to say that we served money as our master? Or do we want some future rector standing in this pulpit, talking about you? About your faithfulness, about how you stepped up even during that weird and hard year that was 2022. I know that one day someone can stand in this pulpit and say how we made a choice and committed to this church. They will say that we used our money well to serve our one true master, the Living God.

Granted, during these trying times, there are many others out there, clamoring for your allegiance, your obedience, your discipleship. There are voices that would have us entrench ourselves and hunker down to worship the gods of our own choosing. There are voices saying that you must do that, or you must do this in order to be a Christian. But today is about an opportunity, an opportunity to be generous and gracious to the same God is generous and gracious to you.

Though I know that our church is making the world a better place, in times such as this, with grief, anger, resentment on the rise, we can be tempted to think that the world is falling apart. With news of more tragedy this week. Giving money to the church may seem out of touch. And so we turn back to that naval officer, in the middle of a world war. Our gifts to the church do push back against the darkness because the church, at its best, is a beacon of light. Just as it was in November 1944. Just as it is now.

The money you give to this church makes life better for impoverished families, you support our own kids getting to know God in their lives, we’ll talk about how the three institutions on this campus positively impact thousands of lives every year.

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