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Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 & Luke 16:1-13

Pre-Approved.  God’s salvation always was and always is assured.  God’s providence, God’s gift of abundance is ever present.  However, it requires human initiative to bare fruit -- a relationship with God and intentional behavior.  We must act.  Worship, prayer, fellowship and pastoral care—all are good.  But to truly experience the harvest of God’s grace, we need to engage with the world.  We need to interact with the world even learn from and employ some of the world’s truths.  We need to use the imagination and cunning that work in the world to truly participate in the building of the Kingdom.  That’s our lesson from today’s Bible texts.  The message is: We have been pre-approved.  We only need to accept our pre-approval and act to reap the benefits. Pre-approved.

Home ownership is a goal that most of us have had or perhaps still have in our society.  To own your own place, your own piece of land, a property with a house and yard, a garage, a family room, room for the kids to play.  With your own bathrooms, as needed.  Those were once realizable dreams in our culture.  Many of us have lived out this dream.  To many others who have come to our city the dream is no longer attainable.  Real estate, housing, a home of quality is a dream out of reach for them financially.  Their income is not big enough to meet the threshold that a mortgage requires.  They go to the bank to see if they can borrow the money to pay for the million-dollar home of their dreams.  The banker says, “Sorry, we can’t do it.  We cannot risk lending you money which we cannot be assured you will be able to pay back.  They are not “pre-approved.”

But in God’s world, in God’s kingdom, in God’s home market, that is not so.  In God’s kingdom, in God’s house, we have been pre-approved.  God’s grace is assured. We are “pre- approved.”

If we are pre-approved, then why in our OT reading so bleak?  Jeremiah, the prophet, weeps in an OT lesson because he knows God’s people had been “pre-approved.” 

He knows what they once were, and what they could be, but they have failed to act on their pre-approval.  They have squandered the resource.

Rather than placing their confidence in God, rather than engaging with the world in a manner that was pleasing to God, they have engaged with the world that is pleasing only to themselves.  They have wasted their blessings. Jeremiah sees this and he weeps for the people.  And he weeps for God, the God who looks down and laments the plight of the people that he loves.  The words of the prophet speak to this despair:             

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart aches,” says Jeremiah.  “For the hurt of my people I am hurt, I mourn and dismay has taken hold of me,” says God, the God of Israel.  

Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no remedy— no ointment to relieve the pain.  Is there no way to restore the people to health?  Is there no way to re-engage?  To enact God’s pre-approval?                               Pre-approved.  But squandered. 

Our NT reading provides us with a very confusing response to this idea of God’s pre-approval.  It is perhaps the most confusing of all of Jesus’ parables.  It seems to suggest—no, not just suggest, in this parable, Jesus instructs his disciples to learn and use the cunning and, perhaps, unscrupulous practises of the dishonest steward.  And yet, at the end, in the moral, he condemns the pursuit of wealth.  Very confusing!

“Pre-approval”, the concept of God’s pre-approval through relationship and action, will help us to understand this parable.  It should also provide instruction on how we, Christians in the 21st Century, can best relate to and serve our Master—our God, our provider of all our resources—We are pre-approved.

Let’s work together to unpack this confusing story.

Firstly, if we look back to the previous chapter in Luke, we read the story of “The Prodigal son and his Brother.”

Here the Father’s crazy unlimited generosity is contrasted with the transactional and limited understanding of wealth distribution of the elder son.  Remember that the father is joyful that his “bad” son has returned.  The elder son, the “good” son, on the other hand, is resentful. 

The father reminds his eldest, “I have always given you everything. It’s all yours.”—pre-approved.  The father is interested more in the relationship with his children than the wealth.

Today’s parable is also about relationships. It focusses on a dishonest steward who has failed in his relationship with his master. He has failed to properly manage the affairs of the master and as a result , the master is angry with him. We are not told what he has been doing. The word used is “squandered”- wasted , mis-used , failed – he has not sustained the Master-steward relationship.   His job is to collect the “rents” in kind, oil and grain, from the tenant famers.  Some of the tenant farmers are reluctant or unwilling to pay, And, rather that doing his duty as steward, which is to pursue these deadbeats and collect the debt, he has wasted away opportunities. He has probably enriched himself with the resources entrusted to him. We don’t know the reasons behind his wastefulness—negligence, easy living, perhaps he has started other enterprises, using the master’s resources.  What we know is the master has not experienced an honest and enterprising relationship with the steward and he has run out of patience with him.  For whatever reason he has failed the Master.

The master calls him in.  The steward knows what is about to happen.  The master is taking his job, his reason for being in the master’s household, his “livelihood”, his life, away from him.  He will be fired.  He will be stripped of his position.  He will lose his place in society, in relationship, no home, no income, no future.  “Perhaps if I make deals with these deadbeats, offer them discounts, they will help me in my hour of need.  In fact, I can call on them if worst comes to worst.”

He makes the deals; they pay up.  He, then, reports his transactions to the master as his final act, prior to being fired.  Surprisingly, rather than firing him, rather than castigating him or disciplining him for the losses, the master acknowledges his cunning.  He commends the steward for his dishonesty because he acted shrewdly.  He found a way to get a portion of a debt that was otherwise unpaid. 

Jesus advises his disciples to follow the steward’s example.  He states that the key to this whole story is “faithfulness.” 

Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much.  If you have not been faithful with dishonest wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches?”  And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

That “true riches”, “what belongs top another”- that is what we are all pre-approved to receive.  We have all been pre-approved. It is ours. It is God’s pleasure to give it. All we need to do is sustain our relationship and trust.

We here at KPC have been blessed with an amazing resource.  Our predecessors, the founders of this church in this neighbourhood, had the foresight to acquire an asset that is quite remarkable.  It is an asset that was developed in God’s name.  It is a huge asset.  It is yours.  It is yours to manage.  It is yours to employ for the purpose to which it was dedicate—the building of God’s Kingdom—God’s desire for his people, God’s providence and abundance.  As they, the founders of the Faith Home, recognized that they had been “pre-approved “they acted , they built , they managed , the kept up the relationship with their God , their Savior  through the work of the Holy Spirit. They were honest, good stewards of God’s resources.

How will we, today’s people of this community, today’s stewards, move forward in the management of this asset? How will we engage in this Master-steward relationship?

This is not just about property.  In fact, it is less about property and more about engaging in a true relationship with “the rich man” – the Master. 

We are the manager, the “rich man”, the Master, is our God.  Our God, who through Jesus has called us to be the stewards of his assets, this world, his people, the community in which we live.

This asset—the pre-approved asset- can be, “squandered”, wasted. 

We have seen, in Jeremiah, what happens when we, God’s people, squander the pre-approved asset.  The prophet weeps.  God weeps. The relationships fail. Everyone loses.

We can also see, today, how we need to put our priorities in order.  Jesus points out that it is not about the wealth.  It’s not about the money.  The “rich man” is pleased that the steward acted shrewdly.  But the “rich man”, the Master, has unlimited resources. 

The debt that was collected was not significant in terms of adding to the wealth of the “rich man.”  What the “rich man” admired was the steward’s shrewdness.  He used his position, he used his “pre-approval”, his authority to act to do something positive, forward looking , a harvest, he engaged  with the asset in the community and restored his place .  What the rich man really wanted was a relationship with his steward.  The steward, re-engaged, acting in his own self-interest, he reaped the reward of a return in kind as well as a return to the service of the rich man, the Master. The steward did not lose his position, his livelihood. The relationship was restored.

God, the Master, wants us in relationship. God has offered us salvation. We have been pre-approved.  Go out and act on that pre-approval-- use the assets with which you have been provided.  In the case of our church, our greatest asset is not the building, it is the welcome, the message that we offer—"the reconciling ministry of Jesus Christ by sharing the Good News that God is love.” It is our sharing relationships, with God, with one another, with our neighbours. It’s there, the words, written right at the top of your bulletin. We have the all the assets, the best message, the best house—all given, all pre- approved. We have been blessed, blessed with this love.  How will we, we who have been pre-approved, move forward and share our bounty with our neighbours?  Pre-approved.   Amen