Have You Seen a Buck Flying Past? / Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 16:1-13

3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do,

A young man named Andrew was working at his first job, and he had made a few mistakes. One day, his boss called him into the office and demanded an explanation for his poor work. Andrew began making excuses, claiming that his mistakes were the fault of his co-workers.

His boss suddenly pointed out the window and exclaimed with alarm, there it goes! As Andrew turned to look, his boss announced, it’s a buck flying past!

Have you ever seen a buck flying past? When we’re called to account for our mistakes, it’s so tempting to “pass the buck,” isn’t it? To blame others for our misdoing.

Pass the buck, is a phrase with an interesting story. It used to be the practice of card players to place a marker in front of the person whose turn it was to deal the cards. That marker was referred to as a buck. For each new game, the buck was passed to the next player, indicating his or her responsibility to deal the cards. The phrase came to refer to passing on a responsibility to others instead of owning that responsibility.

The question at the heart of today’s scripture lesson is one that I hope you’ll take seriously. Jesus is talking to His disciples. He knows He’s not going to be with them much longer. And He wants them to seriously think about the direction of their lives. Even though His ministry is popular now, He knows it won’t last.

After His death, His disciples will be persecuted for spreading His message. They’ll be forced to make a choice: commit their lives to the work of the kingdom of God or go back to their safe and comfortable life. In other words, take on the responsibilities of discipleship or spend the rest of their lives passing the buck.

And so, He tells them a very strange parable, a story about a rich man who accuses his household manager, you could call him a butler, of mismanaging his resources. The rich man calls him into his office and asks, what is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management because you can’t be my manager anymore.

Why should we take this question seriously? Because Jesus wants all His disciples including us, to consider this question in light of their own responsibility to God. What if this were the last day of your life? What if tonight God came to you and asked, what is this I hear about you? Give an account of how you have managed this life I’ve given you. How would you answer? Have you been a wise manager of this life God gifted you?

An application for coaching services came from a 40-year-old teacher who wrote on his application, I feel like I got on the wrong boat, and now my life is half over. Can you relate to that feeling? Here’s someone who has lost sight of his purpose in life. The coaching application included a question similar to the one I just asked: if the doctor told you today you had 6 months to live, what would you do in those remaining months? The teacher had written, I would apologize to God every day that I couldn’t find what it was I was sent here to do.

Let that sink in. I would apologize to God every day that I couldn’t find what it was I was sent here to do. Now do you see why this is a serious question?

Jesus is saying that God is the Master of our life, and He created us for His own purposes. Our life is not our own. We belong to God.

On Sundays, the plantation owner allowed the slaves to attend a local church. The preacher almost always turned his message towards the story of Jesus at Calvary. Calvary, of course, is the hill in Jerusalem where Jesus was hung on a cross and left to die. The preacher knew that he was preaching to people who understood suffering and injustice. And he wanted to give them a message of hope. After detailing Jesus’ agony on the cross, the preacher would yell, but God raised Him again! And He is seated at the right hand of God in heaven.

And then he would lean over the pulpit and stare right at his congregation and announce, but slaves, you are not any man’s property. You are children of God Almighty! Never forget it! You are not any man’s property. You are children of God Almighty! Never forget it!”

This is the vision Jesus is trying to give to His disciples, and to us. We’re children of God Almighty. We were created for God’s own purposes. But God gives us the choice of letting Him be the Master of our lives or choosing a lesser master to shape us.

Imagine you have an architect who is highly skilled at designing the finest homes. A true visionary and expert. Then imagine, clients line up to hire this architect. But instead of letting the visionary, highly skilled architect actually design the home, the clients hand her their own amateur house designs and ask the architect simply to approve them.

We can compare this to our tendency to live our life any way we want to and then ask God to simply approve of what makes us happy. We ask (God) for wisdom and guidance, but we have already planned how we will build our fortunes and shape our course; and it’s not His way we’re seeking, but His approval of what we want. It’s not His way we’re seeking, but His approval of our way. Are you and I guilty of this? What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management. Jesus is saying, that God is the Master of our life and He created us for His own purposes.

Jesus is also trying to teach His disciples in this story is that what you desire most becomes your master. Got that? It’s so important. What you desire most becomes your master. Jesus showed us what this looked like in His own life. His greatest desire was to do the will of God. He had plenty of people around Him questioning His ministry, questioning His character, questioning His priorities. But He never lost His focus on doing God’s will. He could say with both enthusiasm and conviction that no one can serve two Masters. If we build our life around our own desires for happiness or security or respect, we will fail to fulfill the purpose God made us for.

The highest dream we could ever dream, the wish that if granted would make us happier than any other blessing, is to know God, to actually experience Him. The problem is that we don’t really believe this idea is true. We agree to it in our heads. But we don’t feel it in our hearts.”

Which is why every Christian community around the world since the beginning of the Church has emphasized prayer, repentance and self-examination. Which is why Jesus told us to die to ourselves so that His Spirit could live in us. That’s the only way to find out the lesser desires that take the place of knowing and serving God.

One of my pastor friends became annoyed at a member of his congregation. This man was loud and overbearing. And whenever he saw his pastor out in public, he would shout, attention, everybody! Here comes the man of God! Look, everybody, the man of God is here! Naturally, everyone within earshot turned to stare at the pastor. This unrequested attention got old really fast.

But one day, the pastor turned the tables on his church member. When they were out in public and the man began shouting, Here comes the man of God! How is the man of God today? The pastor responded, just fine, thank you. Then the pastor added, by the way, whose man, are you? The loud and boisterous man didn’t say a thing. The question stopped him in his tracks.

What you desire most becomes your master. So, let me ask you the same question Jesus is asking in this passage: whose man or woman, are you? Are you a man or woman of God? Or is your life committed to lesser desires? No one can serve two masters.

Jesus is trying to teach His disciples in this passage is this: The master you serve will shape the legacy you leave. If God is our Master, then our life will have an eternal impact. We will follow the example of Jesus as his Spirit grows in us.

On March 30, 1858, a young pastor organized a rally in downtown Philadelphia to bring more men to Jesus. He preached a message from Exodus 10:11, Ye that are men, go and serve the Lord. He concluded his message with the words, I would rather this right arm be amputated at the trunk than that I should come short of my duty to you in delivering God’s message. Ironically three days later, he lost his arm in a freak accident. His last words as he lay dying were, stand up for Jesus, father, and tell my brethren of the ministry to stand up for Jesus! He was just 33 years old.

His ministry was so influential that his friend, Rev. George Duffield, wrote a hymn in his honor and presented it at his memorial service the next week. The hymn begins like this,

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!

Ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high his royal banner,

It must not suffer loss: From victory unto victory

His army shall he lead, Till every foe is vanquished

And Christ is Lord indeed.

What does your life stand for? What’s your legacy? Would the people around you say that your greatest desire was to reflect the character and commitment of Jesus Christ? Jesus doesn’t want you to waste your life. He wants you to understand that God is your Master, and God created you for His own purposes. He wants you to understand that whatever you desire most becomes your master. And that the master you serve will shape the legacy you leave. What if tonight God came to you and asked, what is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management.