9/20/98, P16C

“Too Weak to Dig and Too Proud to Beg”
Luke 16: 1-13

he tales about Henry Ford are legendary on the campus of Berry College. One of the world’s richest men in his day, but frugal in his personal life to the point of appearing cheap. Many of Miss Martha Berry’s dear friend’s personal effects are still on permanent display in the campus museum. His pen, his knife, his comb--- all cheap, even in his day, this stuff was the least expensive. For example, his ten cent pocket knife, was the bargain basement special, even in the 1930’s. Why would the man that could have everything be so frugal? His answer was twofold: First, that’s exactly how he was able to create such a vast automobile empire in the beginning. He saw himself as a merchant and not as a consumer. Secondly, Mr. Ford wanted to live as inexpensively as he could so that he could give more money away. His philanthropy is legendary: the classic Ford Campus at Berry is still used for movie sets.

Miss Berry’s successor, Dr. John Bertrand told me the story of how Henry Ford was once taken advantage of by a hospital trustee in Ireland. Mr. Ford had donated five thousand dollars, but when the newspaper story was printed it said that Henry Ford had given fifty thousand. The trustee apologized to Mr. Ford and said that they would demand a retraction that stated that Henry Ford, the world’s wealthiest man, had not donated fifty thousand, but just five thousand dollars to the charity hospital. Mr. Ford immediately wrote a check for forty five thousand dollars and presented it with the one stipulation that the trustees erect a marble arch with the quotation, “I came among you, and you took me in.”

In our text we find that the rich absentee landlord has been taken in by his shrewd business manager, who had been “squandering his property.” (v. 1, NRSV). Perhaps the items had been small, but the landlord knew that if he would steal a penny he would try to steal it all. In light of these pending charges the crafty steward decided he had better prepare for his job search by getting in good with the landlord’s debtors. The predicament was that he knew he was too weak and lazy to ever do any manual labor, and he was too proud and ashamed to beg. So, he conducted a manager’s sale and gave deep discounts to his potential next employers. Today business management authors might call that practice “Networking.” Surprisingly, the landlord commended the steward for his craftiness, but in a worldly sort of manner, by pointing out that those who are slaves to mammon are always more crafty than those who do not make money an idol. “If then you have not been faithful with dishonest wealth, who will entrust you with true riches?” (v.11).

Then in the last verse of Jesus’ story we find the main point. “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (v.13).

Dr. Tom Stanley became a Methodist during my stay at a metro church some years ago. He is reputed to be the world’s expert on attaining wealth. His series of best selling books entitled, Marketing to the Affluent , Selling to the Affluent, and the most recent, The Millionaire Next Door, have revealed much of his research into who the truly wealthy are. For example the truly wealthy are generally folks who are not pretentious: They do not drive the ultra expensive car or live in the mansion on the hill. Typically, they drive an older Buick, or pick up truck, and live in a more modest neighborhood. The very wealthy, with a few exceptions, do not see themselves as spenders, but savers. Their money is in their business, and in the stock market, and not in flashy jewelry and ostentatious superfluous show stuff. However, as I recently commented to Tom at lunch, misers can be enslaved by the love of money just as much as a spendthrift. The story of Scrooge is a most memorable example. Dr. Stanley agreed that the spiritual test of mammon’s place was motivation to live well, but to also enable others to live well too. Thus, the Christian tycoon would be very involved in the welfare of his/her employees working conditions, pension plan, and health care.

I worked one long hot summer college break in “Mr. Charlie” Cannon’s cotton mill, his his company owned town of Kannapolis, N.C. As a young sophomore, and one newly called to preach, I was interested in the welfare of my fellow workers on the loading docks. They were, in the main, a wonderful group of guys. Most had families and many dreams about providing for a better life. However, they had no health care, no pension plan, and were doomed to a life on a minimum wage. One of the observations that came up over and over in conversations was that “Mr. Charlie” was a a big leader in his church.

However, you don’t have to be a millionaire to be sold out to money. At many of Atlanta’s intersections you can see shabbily dressed men holding signs, “Will Work For Food.” Of course we all know that this is a competitive industry of illegitimate beggars who are really “Working For Hand Outs.” We also know that we are only enabling their scam by supporting their work at avoiding honest work. In a full economy, with abundant jobs available, we would be amiss by becoming codependent in helping them support their alcoholic aimless lifestyle. Anything that promotes a permanent “homeless” lifestyle does not truly address the underlying need,

Every now and then one of these fellows will decide to pick himself up by his own bootstraps. Many end up in our church’s “Midtown Assistance Center,” which has as its stated mission to assist folks who are able to get into the job force. Last month our consortium on local churches assisted persons and families with over $ 20,000.00 in aid and many hundreds of hours of counseling. All of this comes out of a true understanding of Christian charity: To give a “hand up” and not just a temporary “hand out.”

You see, our problem is not so much the many “Mr. Charlie’s” in the world, or the many who choose to live a hobo life, but our own hearts. Where are we on this core issue of life’s priorities? What worldly lucre do we burn after? What controls our personal spending? What enslaves and motivates us? What shameful gain do we secretly plot? Jesus point is that we can’t be controlled by two masters--- we can never successfully combine both a life surrendered to God and at the same time worship the almighty dollar.

But we can surrender our lives, our ambitions and our pocketbooks, to Him, Now!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/20/98, P16C