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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.'

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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. 6

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. 7

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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