"One Master, One Mission" – Luke 16:10-13
[Jesus said,] “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. And whoever is dishonest in a little is dishonest also in much. If you are not faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you are not faithful with what does not belong to you, who will give to you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters. He will either love one and hate the other, or despise one and be devoted to the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.”
I’d like to thank Kaitlyn Ferry and Lisa Smith for the inspiration for today’s message. When we talked this week, Kaitlyn pointed out the connection between the Pet Blessing service and the notion of what it may mean to “serve two masters,” like we just heard from Jesus. And Lisa posted the perfect video illustration of it all on Facebook the very next day.
(Rather than read my description of it, you can watch the video here. Since we worshiped outdoors, for our annual Pet Blessing service, I couldn't just show the video to the congregation this time around.)
In this short, sweet little video, a runway that looks to be about 15 feet long, is lined with cones and toys and treats other canine temptations. A dog is perched at one end of the runway, with his/her human standing at the opposite end. On the human’s signal, the hounds are supposed to walk/run/trot their way to their master without being distracted or stepping off the path. A guy in a black-and-white-striped referee shirt, a whistle around his neck, is timing their progress.
A German Shepherd goes first – very serious and all business – she runs straight to her master without missing a beat. Next goes a little Australian Shepherd – very anxious, but quick – who pauses halfway down the runway to sniff something, but doesn’t let the temptation get the best of him and continues on to the master who was calling his name. And finally, the video cuts to the happiest looking Golden Retriever you’ve ever seen, sitting like he should be at his end of the runway.
When he gets the command, though, the Golden Retriever takes a couple of steps and mouths the very first tennis ball along the path, takes a few more steps and gobbles a couple bites of food in the bowl he finds, jumps to the opposite side of the path to sample some food from another bowl, trots a few steps forward to toss a stuffed animal in the air, then he goes backward, to the start of the runway, and cleans two plates of some other tasty treats – all while the referee and timers smile and laugh, and while his poor, embarrassed master charges backward down the runway calling and pleading and begging for him to follow; which he does, sort of, while stopping at every other distraction and temptation along the way to lick plates, gobble kibble, and scarf down some hot dogs until his master has to grab him by the collar and drag him to the end of the course, to finally stop the clock“No one can serve two masters.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth.”
The truth is, when it comes to money and things and stuff, we are all more like the Golden Retriever on the obstacle course of life in this world, than we’d like to admit, right?
Here we are, here we sit, with God calling to us in ways we have been trained and instructed to go – to be faithful; to be generous; to give more than we take; to use only our fair share; to sacrifice, even, for the sake of others – with the example of Jesus shining like a beacon at the end of the runway.
And since Jesus does, we have to consider that it’s wealth and money and everything they represent – that tempt us and distract us and steal our attention from following our master as faithfully as we could. Like the tennis balls and stuffed animals and bowls of kibble that golden retriever couldn’t resist, we do our thing in this world tempted by too many things and by so much stuff – taking what we can get, whenever we can get it; gobbling up more than we need; ignoring the call and command of our master, too much of the time.
And all God wants for us is to keep our eyes on our master. With our attention focused there… With our eyes trained on Jesus’ example… And with our ears listening for his call and instruction, we will put God first – God’s ways, God’s wishes, and God’s will, I mean.
Because God knows it’s exhausting to have and to manage so many things and so much stuff, when we don’t do it well. It’s tiresome that so many of us in this culture live to work, rather than work so that we might live more fully. It’s debilitating and dishonest to keep up with the Jones’s at every turn. It’s a drain on our psyche and our spirit to serve the master of debt the way too many of us do or have done.
(The average household credit card debt in the U.S. is $5,700.00. For households that carry a credit card balance from one month to the next, that average debt climbs to over $16,000. And for households with the lowest net worth – for people with the least amount of money – the average credit card debt is something like $10,300.)
When we’re forced to service that kind of debt – or any desire, really, that feeds our greed (this isn’t just about credit cards) – we can’t possibly pretend to also serve God as fully as God calls us to, or as fully as we would like. We can’t give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, or water to the thirsty. We can’t give as much to the church or to charities that do God’s bidding. We can’t be a blessing for the world around us the way God has blessed us to be in the very first place
There’s hope here, of course. And an example of it shows up in that video with the dogs, too. That sweet, selfish, squirrely Golden Retriever gets pulled across the finish line, not to be beaten or punished or shamed in any way. He’s made to sit, still smiling when it’s all said and done. He’s patted and stroked and loved by his master, anyway, embarrassed though she may be. And I imagine he has some more lessons and training and second-chances in his future.
And so will we, by the grace of the God who loves us no matter what, until we learn to love and to serve and to give in response to that kind of provision; when we recognize that God’s grace is more valuable than anything our money can buy; and that our wealth is only worth a thing when we learn to share it in the name of the master who gives it all in the first place.