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Working in God’s Economy Luke 19:11-27

When the Euro was introduced as the standard currency in several European states stories

emerged of businesses accepting fake money from games such as Monopoly. We still

often find our money being scanned by cashiers for counterfeits. These stories point to

one tremendously important reality. There is virtually no inherent value to the money we

carry around with us. We carry around in our pockets nothing more than pieces of paper

and plastic. Our bodies can’t be nourished by these objects and no money won’t keep us

warm at night. These objects are given value through the health of our national and

global economy. If Canada would face some sort of crisis then investors may not trust

the stability of our money and pull out their investments. This happened to Mexico in

1994 when in the space of one week their money lost almost half of its value. This is also

why the U.S. is so concerned about Home Land Security. If their nation and government

are perceived as strong then so will the value of their money.

Of course it does not take an economic disaster for our money to lose its value. Think of

the workaholic who finds him or herself alone on an expensive cushy deathbed. Think of

the blackout we experienced here. There would have come a time when access to certain

resources would have been worth far more than the money in your wallet. We do not

have control over the value of our money. It is determined for us by outside factors.

Now think more broadly about the idea of economy. Think beyond the relationship

between money and economy. Think of what an economy stands for. Economy in its

modern use is essentially a relational word. An economy is the management of people of

resources.

As humans we are caught up in a particular economy whenever what we do

or who we are is ascribed a certain value or role.

Put in this light our lives reflect a certain currency. It is easy to tell when you operating

in a particular economy when certain people or views carry more weight than others.

Now in many instances the differences may be understandable.

In a family economy the decisions of parents will tend to carry more weight than the

decisions of children.

What is the economy that is operating at school? Are there kids who have more value

because of the way they look, the things they own or the sports they play? I remember in

grade school that if people knew you were a Mexican Mennonite your value in the school

economy dropped drastically. We placed a lower value on them simply because of where

they came from.

What is the internal economy at your workplace? Do women share in the same dignity as

men? Do people with more education carry more authority than someone without

education? Are people of different race or sexual orientation given the same respect?

What is the economy of our community and culture? Do you feel as though the work you

do whether it is paid or not is valued by our culture?

I shared in Sunday School a few weeks ago that when I was working in the inner-city I

learned quickly not to start conversations with questions like, “So what do you do?”

More often than not that question opened up feelings of shame or inferiority as many

people were not or could not work and others worked at jobs that would be looked down

on. Our culture has a economy that determines the value of what we spend our days

doing.

Is this also the case at church? What does Hillcrest’s economy look like? What is your

currency worth here? How do you acquire more value? Does it depend on long you have

been in the church, how many committees you sit on or which family you are a part of?

Are there certain beliefs or actions affect the value of your currency?

This morning we have the opportunity to reflect on the economies or value systems that

we live in. How do we determine our cultural values? Are these values stable or, like the

money in our pockets, do our values actually have no inherent worth? Can our values be

emptied as quickly as a school popularity contest? Does our value in the community

drop when we leave our jobs to work at raising a family?

Why would we bother to place value on people for what they do or who they are? It

doesn’t really make sense to do that and yet we involved with these sorts of economies at

nearly every level of our lives. Why would we support such economies by the way we

place value on some people or some types of work as opposed to others?

Most of our relationships or economies get defined by our desire for control or perhaps

more accurately by our fear of losing our control or status. We make fun of a kid on the

playground (or in the workplace for that matter) because we don’t want to be the one

made fun of. We let others produce some of our goods for poverty level wages because

we don’t want to give up our standard of living. We let other types of work or vocations

be belittled because it allows us to maintain a sense of pride or accomplishment in our

own. We have a lingering fear that our currency is actually worthless and so we try to

protect it all costs.

It is not easy to admit to my role in such an economy but it would be a lie if I denied it.

The issue of control was addressed in Jesus’ ministry. We find throughout the Gospels

that in the time between John the Baptist and Jesus crucifixion people formed distinct

ideas about how the Kingdom (or I guess we could say economy) that Jesus’ preached

should be established. Political and military plans began to grow among the followers.

In Matthew 11 Jesus says that violent men try to take control of the Kingdom (economy)

by force. I have no doubt that many of these so-called violent men had noble hopes of

establishing justice with the coming of Jesus’ proclaimed Kingdom. When our goals are

noble and perhaps especially when our goals are noble we may feel the right to justify our

actions in the process of achieving those goals.

The creation of a democratic society in the Middle-East is a good goal. In Venezuela,

president Hugo Chavez is implementing a massive economic reform taking land away

from the wealthiest 5 percent of the population and redistributing it among the country’s

poor. This is a wonderful goal for equality. In both cases, however, the reordering of the

economy or Kingdom is by control and force.

How can we possibly loosen our need for control and our fear of losing it when it

pervades all levels of societies? Reality shows such as Survivor encapsulate our culture’s

fascination with control and status. The entire premise of the show is that there can be

only one person to achieve the desired goal and in order to do that you must be able to

control and manipulate the people and circumstances around you. From kids on the

playground to the president of the United States we attempt to make sure that our

currency always maintains the highest value in our economy.

So how do we exchange the currency of the world’s economy for the currency in God’s

economy? Well, we have taken the first step by coming here this morning. Let’s listen

to a few stories about God’s economy. Let the stories reflect your own life back to you.

Allow them to enter those spaces where your decisions are made, those places in your

mind and heart that influence how you view people and how you view yourself and the

work that you do.

Let’s take a moment to hear about God’s economy.

Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

The economy of God, may it be on earth as it is heaven.

Luke 12:13-34

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

14 Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."

16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an

abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones,

and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of

grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from

you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

21 "This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich

toward God."

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life [b] ? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 "Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not

even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on

what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the

kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near

and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The economy of God, may it be on earth as it is heaven.

Luke 21:1-4

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

The economy of God, may it be on earth as it is heaven.

Matt 20:1-16

1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3

"About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace

doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you

whatever is right.' 5 So they went.

"He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'

7 " 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his supervisor, 'Call the

workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'

9 "The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a

denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But

each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you

agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

The economy of God, may it be on earth as it is heaven.

Now let’s turn to our passage in Luke 19. The parable is told right before Jesus enters

Jerusalem at the Passover. As Jesus draws close to Jerusalem expectations about the

kingdom are high. If some were to want to take control of the Kingdom this would be the

time and place to do it. In fact Luke says that Jesus told the parable because “the people

thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” The people thought that

the establishment of God’s Kingdom and the new economy that it would bring would be

decisive and swift. In American rhetoric they may have believed it would be a Shock and

Awe campaign. And so the parable is as follows.

An influential man goes off to a distant land to be appointed king. Before he leaves he

calls ten servants and gives them each the same amount of money and tells them to do

business with it until he gets back. His citizens, however, did not like him and sent a

delegation after him saying that they didn’t want him to rule over them. The man,

however, did become king and returned home. When he got home he called his servants

to find out what they had done with the money. The first servant made ten times more

money. “Good work!” the king said “I will put you in charge of 10 of my cities.” The

second servant came and said that he made five times as much money. “Good work!” the

king said again “I will put you in charge of five of my cities.”

Then another servant came up and said, “Look here is the exact money that you gave me.

See count it, it’s all there. I wrapped it in a cloth and kept it safe for you.” The man

pauses for a moment feeling the need to explain himself, “I did this because I was afraid

of you. I know that you are strict and exacting man who takes what you did not give.” In

response the king said, “Fine if that is the way you see it! I will be the type of judge you

say that I am. But why didn’t you at least gain some interest with the money while I was

gone? Anyway, it doesn’t matter now.” The king looks over to one of his officials and

says, “Take the money from this man and give it to the one who made ten times his

money.” The people are shocked and can’t help but protest saying, “He already has ten

times that amount!” The king looks around at everyone and says, “A little much isn’t it?

But you’re not quite getting it. Because the one’s who get it, they keep getting more.

But the one’s who don’t get it, well then they don’t really have anything do they?”

Taking a deep sigh he gives the final word, “Now to all those who would not have me as

their king bring them here their time is over. Set up the gallows, I will put an end to

them.”

How is this God’s economy? Some of the earlier passages had a little bite to them, but

what about this one? What did you hear in this story? Did you encounter a strict and

ruthless boss? Did you think that the king acted unfairly? Why didn’t the king find some

value in how the servant saved his money? How can God’s economy include the

execution of his enemies? This is a hard parable.

I am indebted to work of Robert Capon for helping me walk through this parable.

First, we need to get it out of our head that this parable is about finances. Perhaps we can

learn something about finances from it, but it is not about finances. There is nothing

here about being a shrewd business person. It seems as though the king would have been

satisfied if the money had at least been collecting interest.

The king in the story is of course a reference to Jesus. Capon believes that the distant

land that Jesus goes to is death and that his return from death, his resurrection is his claim

to kingship. Jesus’ followers (the citizens in the parable) are not interested in a messiah

who dies and so they reject this type of authority. The servants are given an equal share

of money and are told not to make the most money possible, but to do business with the

money. When the king returns and calls the servants we find that both the servant who

made 10 times as much and the one who made 5 are both affirmed. The king does not

appear to be concerned about who made more but that the money was used (not unlike

the parable of the workers in the vineyard read above). It is the servant who did nothing

with his money who receives that wrath of the king. Crucial to understanding this

parable is reflecting on what the money represents. Some believe that the money is

God’s Word or the Gospel, which would make sense. It is like the seed in the Parable of

the Sower that lands on good soil producing various sized crops. Capon thinks more

broadly and talks about the money as being the person’s life. Each person is given the

same amount of money representing an equally valued life or opportunity.

It was the one who tried to control and protect the life that was given to him that came

under judgment. And why did the servant protect the coin? The servant admits that he

did it because he was afraid of the king. And so here in this parable we are confronted

again with the motivation of what drives the various economies in our life which is the

fear of losing control of our life. This fear paralyzed him leaving him unable to take any

chances with his life, to put his money into play as it were. Reading the parable in this

light takes us a long way from thinking that productive or successful business practices

are being referred to. I imagine it is actually the fear of losing control that drives many

into financial success. Many that build up wealth around them use it as the cloth that the

servant used to protect his money. No, in this parable the currency of the servants is their

life.

What is being addressed is the heart of God’s economy. The currency and value of

God’s economy is our lives. This is the only stable currency or value because it flows

directly from God’s economy. This helps us to better understand the harshness of the

judgment at the end. Those who protected their lives from the economy of the king were

executed. Interestingly enough the word for cloth that was used to describe what the

servant placed the coin in is often used to refer to burial cloth that people are placed in

after they die. The idea is that those who attempt to preserve and control their lives never

really live and the king simply finishes the job that they already started.

The two economies do not mix. If our life’s currency comes from status, money,

education, appearance, or even righteousness we do not even risk losing our value we are

promised that we will lose our value, our life.

In closing I will ask again, “What are the economies that are a part of your life or your

family’s history?” Growing up I knew of two economies in my dad’s side of the family.

There was the Wiebe family and the Driedger family. In a genealogy book that I have

where the briefest of the descriptions are offered for the numerous families included I

found a description of both the Driedger and the Wiebe family on the same page. First is

Abram Wiebe my great-grandfather.

Abram was never a robust man, and early in his married life he spent time in the

tuberculosis sanatorium. He had to live life at a slow pace.

Then this is said of my grandfather David Driedger who married Abram Wiebe’s

daughter.

Dave was a hard worker. He acquired quite a bit of land, also hogs and cattle.

What is not told is how David’s father, my great-grandfather became rich during the

Depression when farmer’s were going bankrupt and sold their land and then how the

children fought and separated over the money. As a result no one has tried to record the

history of the Driedger family as the children of the Wiebe family have. The life of my

great-grandfather will likely be lost.

Though I am not sure whether either of us really believe it, my dad has always said that

the Wiebe way is better.

And Jesus said of the economy of God.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Amen.