This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, September 22, 2013.
16 Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’
3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.
5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11 If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13 No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Luke 16:1-13, Common English Bible
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
Jesus was notorious for hanging out with shady characters. He was known for hanging out with people good religious folk didn’t want anything to do with. Prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, liars, the poor and sick all found a friend in Jesus. But, in our lesson for today, Jesus says the unthinkable: be a cheater.
You caught that in the reading right?
Jesus uses this dishonest manager—someone who cheats his boss out of his profits—as a positive example. Jesus lifts up this swindler as the paragon of Kingdom ethics. Do what this deceiver has done. Be a cheater.
And, if that isn’t confusing enough, Jesus says, “the people who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people of the light” (Luke 16:8b, Common English Bible). What?!? Jesus. First, you lift up a cheat and tell us to be like him. Then, you tell us that people who don’t know your love are better at offering your love than those of us who supposedly know your love?
What is going on?
What is Jesus asking us to be and do?
Is Jesus asking us to cheat in order to get a head? No. So, let me be clear. Jesus is not asking us to be dishonest. Jesus is asking us to help build the Kingdom by loving others and increasing their joy and love (for God and others). The dishonest manager unwittingly did this:
Though on no apparent actual authority, he announced to every debtor to his master a significant debt reduction. They’re thrilled by the news, false though it is. And now the master, if he wants to capitalize on these good feelings, can’t rescind the “special offer” without looking like an ogre, and turning good feeling and increased loyalty, even perhaps love, to resentment and or enmity. Meanwhile, the manager, as “bearer of the good news,” has ensured a place for himself wherever he needs one.
It was a brilliant plan.
Disciples of Jesus are called to be just as brilliant in the ways we use money and handle debts as this dishonest manager. It [is] not just about morality. It’s about finding ways to use money to reduce debt in every form and increase joy and love. It means developing great savvy with both finances and cultural norms. Do this, Jesus says, and you’ll be welcomed into the eternal homes of all you release.
In other words, don’t serve mammon. Serve God and master mammon, putting it [to] use to reduce debts and increase joy and love. 
Use all that you have—your time, talent, gifts, and service—to increase the Kingdom of God by increasing the joy and love of others.
Marion E. Wade, opened his moth-proofing business in 1929 based on these principles. This Chicago based business quickly grew to become a multi-million dollar company. Its first three objectives: honor God in all we do, help people, and pursue excellence.
In his autobiography entitled The Lord Is My Counsel: A Business Man’s Personal Experiences with the Bible—Wade explains what it means to be Christian. He writes:
We must become servants, servants first of all of the Lord and then, in His Name, servants unto all. We must serve. We must give service. Serving the Lord, we must give Him the only things He wants of us: our love and obedience. And we bear witness to this love and obedience by the type of service we give others… It must be a full-throttle effort or the deal is off, for once we begin fudging on our service to others we ineluctably fudging on our service to God—and God we cannot deceive. So if we want to be [real] Christians…we must decide here and now that we are going to be good and faithful servants, and, like Paul, ask Him: “Master, what would you have me do?” The answer will come in terms of what we must do for others.
I think Marion E. Wade knew well what Jesus was trying to get at in our Gospel lesson for today. Faithfulness to God is not based upon the number of Bible verses you can recite, the number of hours you spend praying each day, or the number of times you attend worship or Bible Study each month. Those things are important, but the true measure of our faith comes, instead, from the number of people we serve: the mouths we feed, the bare bodies that we clothe, the tears we wipe away, the illnesses we cure, the divisions that we heal.
We talked about this last week, but it bears repeating. We are called to search for those whose world is darkened by fear, grief, confusion, and pain. We are called, as our lesson for today reminds us to be harbingers of hope as we serve others by increasing their joy and love.
We are called to be what Marion E. Wade would eventually name his business: ServiceMASTER.
We are called to be in service to the world: to serve all our neighbors near and far by mastering the gifts and graces God has given us so that joy and love might increase and God’s Kingdom might truly come on earth as it is in heaven.
 Quoted from resources published by The General Board of Discipleship for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost <http://www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/lectionary-planning-helps/eighteenth-sunday-after-pentecost2>. Accessed September 18, 2013.
 Marion E. Wade, The Lord is My Counsel: A Business Man’s Experience with the Bible (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966), 45. A free e-copy of this book can be found at: http://www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter/Welcome/History/Biographies/~/media/002AD033604E4AA6813C3C68186B8C1B.pdf.