The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 17, 2017
Life affords us few chances to do anything momentous. Rarely do we have an opportunity to facilitate someone’s striking up a friendship with Jesus, to change the City Council’s opinion on some matter of justice, or to share an insight that enables others to make wiser decisions. Even if we take advantage of every chance to serve God, most often we are doing no more than, say, putting in a decent day’s work, keeping our home clean and safe, writing a thank-you note, visiting a lonely soul in a nursing home, telling a child a story, going to choir rehearsal, or feeding a neighbor’s dog – and our doings feel far from the center of action for achieving God’s great agenda. We can’t imagine how our actions are of much consequence.
According to the Bible, however, God makes a big deal of our doing His will whatever the extent of our impact thereby. What counts with Him is not the size of our influence, but the size of our commitment. Besides, no one can ever do anything greater than just fulfill the role God has given them for their part in advancing His plans. Shelley Hellen’s teaching a handful of elementary school students the good news is as precious in God’s sight as Greg Laurie’s moving thousands to get up from their seats at Angel Stadium and come forward to commit their lives to Christ; and a son’s cleaning up a mess from his mother’s incontinence is as precious as Shelley’s opening those young eye’s to God’s grace.
While it is always good to seek to maximize the impact of our efforts, the value of our contribution is measured, not by the numbers or even the depth of our impact, but by our faithfulness in fulfilling God’s expectations of us.
Luke in his Gospel shares a parable of Jesus that no other Gospel includes. It is a parable about a dishonest property manager who is shamefully unfaithful to his job, and yet who is a model for applying one’s best efforts to insuring oneself a good future (as disciples are supposed to do). That parable immediately precedes the scripture lesson we just heard, wherein Luke assembles an amalgam of Jesus’ sayings from different settings about faithfulness. Luke passes on a number of such sayings. Today we reflect on but two of them.
The first one is that faithfulness is crucial even in those concerns that aren’t that crucial in themselves. After all, what the unfaithful manager in His parable was meant to take good care of was something which Jesus twice derides as “dishonest wealth” and contrasts with “true riches”! The manager’s fault is grievous, not because he failed to take good care of something that amounts to much, but because he failed to keep faith with the one he served or to live true to his calling.
So, when what we have responsibility for is of small consequence, what is at stake in our being faithful? Our character and thus our qualifications for being given responsibility for what is of greater consequence! How steadfastly, attentively and thoughtfully we carry out any responsibility not only indicates the qualities of our character but inculcates the qualities of our character. The person who takes good care of a rich man’s goldfish develops the constancy and competency to take good care of his collection of expensive, exotic tropical fish; and the person who takes good care of her church’s sanctuary, picking up its trash and tidying it up, develops the spiritual fitness to take good care of the souls who seek God in it. Thus, Jesus says here, “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
Those who throw themselves heart and soul into the little tasks God assigns them are trained thereby to handle tasks that require greater delicacy and dedication. That’s why the size of the job is nothing compared to the size of one’s heart in doing it; and the effect of one’s efforts is nothing compared to the effect of those efforts on oneself. For that reason, Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord.”
The first lesson then is that faithfulness is crucial even in concerns that are not in themselves crucial. The second lesson is that faithfulness requires undivided dedication to the One who sets our tasks.
Jesus observes, “No slave can serve two masters” – words that only make sense when we bear in mind a context of slavery and not modern-day employment. Nowadays anybody can have two jobs and two bosses. I know a UPS driver who in daytime hours works for the delivery company and in evening hours works for a nightclub owner in whose jazz band he plays the saxophone. Slaves, on the other hand, cannot have more than one “boss” because their slave-master possesses them entirely, and thus possesses them with exclusivity. They can have no other boss, because they have no time to call all their own. Every moment of every day, and every ounce of their energy, belongs to their master. Thus, they are always on call; and, whatever else they might be doing at a given moment they have to drop, if their master calls for their services.
Do you see why the Bible will sometimes speak of believers as “slaves” of God? God is the most exclusive of masters! Every moment of my time and every ounce of my energy is His. When — as, I have to admit, is my wont – I resent interrupting demands that take me away from what I had in mind to do, I am rebelling against the terms of my relationship with God. If I belong to Him totally, I have to be on call to serve Him, every second, and for any task (no matter how small and insignificant I deem it).
Holding on to that understanding and following up on it in faithful action is big for the development of my Christian character – and sometimes big in benefit for others in ways I cannot see at first.
Not long ago, a nicely dressed man came to the church in order to tell me something. I didn’t remember his face, and it was a long while before I could recall our previous interaction.
It turned out that several years before he had approached me for a little assistance.
He’d been sleeping on the streets, but had just been offered a factory job that was his if he could show up at work with steel-toed work shoes. He was twenty dollars short to buy them.
I normally refrain from giving people cash, but that day I felt compelled to hand him the twenty – though I wondered whether he’d use it to buy some Thunderbird.
My little gesture of faithfulness apparently meant something to him. It got him to thinking about how Christ inspired people to do kind things they don’t have to do So he started to attend again the Compton church he’d abandoned as a teenager. There some warm, generous-hearted saints embraced him and led him to recommit his life to Christ. That day in this church’s office lobby he just wanted me to know that none of it would have happened had I not talked with him and given him money.
How big are our little doings! They are always big for us – and sometimes big for others! Let us pray.