Little Things Matter

September 19, 2010

Luke 16:1-13

Little stuff matters.

I noticed Rodney King was in the news again recently. I’m not sure what it was for but I remember well in the aftermath of some huge, widespread and terrible violence that seemed unfairly associated with him, when he made the heartfelt plea: “Can we all get along?” Never perhaps has so little, so simple a request by so tragic a figure seemed so complicated, elusive, or impossible. Can’t we all just get along? A little request with huge implications. Think of a wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Palestinian aspirations and Israeli security, ground zero and terrorism and questions about where a Muslim mosque should or should not be built – can’t we all just get along? Little stuff matters – Jesus seems to be saying in these parables.

I heard a counselor once give a lighthearted talk to clergy dealing with stress and worry and anxiety and he said I have two simple rules for you when dealing with stress and anxiety. Rule one: only worry about the big stuff. Rule two: its all little stuff. You know, I think when we are dealing with worry and anxiety those are pretty good rules. But I want to suggest that that the Jesus Luke presents would give us two other similar but slightly different rules when it comes to relationships and responsibilities, when it comes to dealing with people and possessions. The rules are these: There are no little people. But little things matter a lot. Notice how he sums up this parable which by the way is sometimes called the parable of the unjust steward or unrighteous manager. I’m renaming it this morning for purposes of this message: the wisely pragmatic, win-win in a Jesus kind of way manager. But Jesus sums up the point of the parable in verse 10 the one who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and the one who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Little things matter. You see, the story has to do with the interplay of resources and relationships, people and possessions. Two rules really, there are no little people. Little things matter a lot.

There is a show on cable called little people big world. Of course it is about people who are less than average sized in their physical stature and sometimes called little people and that is fine. Yet what Jesus is talking about here is a reality that God is creating, a kingdom that is coming, and is arriving with him and his community of followers – in which when it comes to people’s sacred worth and inestimable value, there are no little people. Everybody’s big in that. And when it comes to people’s need, everyone is in need of God’s grace and one another – the same amount. And so in terms of status and superiority there are no little people in the coming kingdom – only people of immense spiritual worth who need each other and God’s grace the same amount. No little people, but little things sometimes do matter.

So how do we live into such a reality? How do we align ourselves with such a coming Kingdom? That is what Jesus is answering in this parable. How do we live out those two rules: no little people, yet, thus, and so, little stuff, little things often matter a lot?

Well I want to further suggest that this parable of the wisely pragmatic win win in a Jesus kind of way steward would lead us to give up two things and concentrate on another in our daily relationships with the stuff and the people in our lives.

First give up daily any notion of status and superiority relative to anybody in your life. There are no little people. This is actually the third of four parables Jesus tells in a row where ironically somebody finds help from somebody else who would be lower on the status and superiority scale than themselves. It is the supposedly little despised Samaritan who helps the high status Jew. It is the disgraced bad boy younger brother who helps lead the older brother into a full experience of his fathers love. In the rich man and Lazarus which Carol will speak on next week the rich man finds himself in utter dependence upon the very poor people he’d been neglecting all his life. And here today it is the supposedly little people, the poor tenant farmers who come to the rescue of the wasteful land manager. There are no little status people at the foot of the cross, there are no little status people in the resurrection community. Every day give up any notion of superiority or status in your relationships with people.

I remember some years ago going to a trailer back in some woods to see a woman church members had asked me to visit who was suffering from what they called a rose cancer, an unfortunately putrid and grotesque tumor growing outside of her face. The conditions in that trailer were as bad if not worse than any I’ve ever seen in poverty stricken pockets of India or Appalachia and it wasn’t more than 50 miles from where I stand today. And I’ll never forget the odor, and I’ll never forget the gracious way she received my prayer. A few years later I was privileged to serve a church in which some of the members were above average in their wealth, and I remember going to visit a woman in her home, one of the finest, tastefully appointed homes I’ve ever been in, and when I went to her bedside I remembered the same odor, no amount of money could wash it from the air, yet also the same gracious manner in which she received my prayer. When it is all said and done folks, there are no little people in this world, there are only people of the same inestimable worth and people who utterly need God’s grace and each other the same.

So first, let go daily of all notions of status and superiority. Second let go daily of all notions of vindictive payback. I wish I could say more about this, but let me just ask you to notice that nobody ends up sticking it to anybody else in the parable, not even to teach them a lesson. Nobody ends up sticking it to anybody else for spite, even though, as we’ll see in a moment they could’ve been motivated to do so.

So what am I saying so far? This parable teaches us two rules for dealing with people and possessions and how that all works together. Rule 1 there are no little people, Rule 2 little things do matter. How do we carry that out? 1st in Jesus daily give up all notions of status and superiority, 2nd give up all notions of vindictive payback. And finally what do we concentrate on? Seek God daily for little win wins. Seek God for little acts of good in which everybody wins. That’s what the manager does here. The background of this story is this. It’s is a common often unjust social system. One guy owns the land, and he hires a middle guy to rent out the land to tenant farmers and he collects rent from them and takes his own cut and pays the owner. They usually ended up borrowing against their future harvest and often got charged rates of interest that made it impossible for them to survive and make it. Ironically, in ancient Israel there was legislation that outlawed charging any interest and every 49 years there was supposed to be a jubilee year where all debts were forgiven no matter what and everybody started clean but in actuality they never actually did the jubilee year because they were afraid people would take advantage of it and the standard rate of interest on oil was 50% and on wheat was 20%. What the manager did was basically to renegotiate the deal with the tenants to a zero interest affordable situation. Everybody won. The owner got paid a fair income from the proceeds of his land, the tenants got charged a fair and sustainable amount on their earnings and the middle guy ended up having a good relationship with both which was absolutely necessary for him to survive. Folks, don’t try to make this too complicated, everybody won. Don’t be afraid to step out in faith and be like this wisely pragmatic Jesus style win win manager.

I heard last week of a church in Columbia Maryland who last spring held a forum at their site. They invited local bankers and real estate people and government officials who dealt with housing and lending programs. The governor even came. They were responding to complaints that people had been trying for months to get refinancing on their home mortgages but it seemed like nobody was listening. So they brought all these people to the church and guess what happened. Hundreds of people were able to refinance their mortgages, including a church staff member whose monthly payment went from $1200 to $500/mo. Everybody worked together. When the pastor announced it he said anybody here could use and extra $700/ month, to live a stronger healthier more generous life. Some might argue the church shouldn’t be involved in such things. Sounds to me like it was a Luke 16 Jesus style win-win situation.

What would our win-win uses of money and possessions in this church and in our daily lives look like? I don’t know exactly but I’m inviting you to seek God for such win-wins every day between now and Christmas. No little people – but little things do matter.

There is a beautiful and oft told rabbinic story that involves two brothers, one unmarried with no family, the other married with several children who lived and worked farms divided by a creek and a bridge. One day the unmarried brother began to think about his brother and his family and said to himself. He has all those mouths to feed and I just have myself, so he hatched a plan and carried it out for many years. Each night he got a basket of grain from his storehouse and after dark right after everyone went to sleep he went over and emptied the basket into his brother’s barn. He figured, one basket a night, I won’t miss it, and over time he will accumulate the extra he needs to care for his family. About the same time the brother who had a family thought to himself, I have a family and the promise of sons and daughters to care for me when I am older an unable to work, but my brother has no family to help him in his old age so here is what I will do. And that night and for years every night after that just before dawn while still dark he took a basket of grain from his storehouse, carried it over and emptied it in his brothers barn. He figured just one basket a night he’d never miss it, but over time, his brother would accumulate enough to sustain him in his old age. Well one night for some reason the one brother was later than usual crossing the bridge, the other was earlier and there they met, each saw what the other was doing and they embraced one another with tears of joy. You see. There are no little people in this world or the next. The only kind of people there are are people of inestimable sacred worth, people who need utterly the grace of God and one another. No little people, but little things do matter. How do we carry that out? Give up daily all notions of status and superiority and vindictive payback. Instead seek God for daily Luke 16 Jesus style win wins. What will such Luke 16 Jesus style win-wins look like in your life? I can’t say exactly. All I know is Jesus is inviting you and me today. He is calling us. Meet me on the bridges of your life with a little basket of grain. Who knows who you’ll see there? Could be the people you least expect, could be Rodney King, most likely will be people you meet every day. Meet me every day on that bridge with your little basket of grain. And we will, Jesus says, we will, we will, all get along.

No little people. But little things do matter.

Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna, DE

September 19, 2010

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