"The Value of Honor"
By Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon September 20, 1998
Luke 16:1-13 I Timothy 2:1-7
Is there anyone here today who might this week be charged with the responsibility of commanding a ship at sea, publishing a book, winning a Nobel prize, investing a million dollars, making foreign policy, appearing on Television, discovering a cure for cancer, or gaining recognition in the Guinness Book of Records? It is much more likely that this week might present no greater challenge than providing donuts at work, writing a thank you note, visiting a nursing home, teaching a Sunday school class, sharing a meal with a friend, telling a child a story, or feeding the neighbors dog. Jesus says that "whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much." (Luke 16:10). The parable of the steward is a lesson in honor. The value of honor is that we can continue to maintain our relationship with others with dignity and trust. Honor iprotects our relationships.
This morning the text from I Timothy is Paul's instruction to his disciples to pray for all peoples, and those in positions of power that we might live in dignity and honor. This prayer is unlike most of Paul's prayers in that he directs this prayer for all humanity. By the way, the correct translation here is humanity, Paul was gender conscious in this prayer and used the word that translates all people (men and women). Normally, Paul's prayer requests are for the Christian community or a group of believers in a particular place. He broadens his prayer to be inclusive of the entire human community, with a special emphasis on kings and others in high positions. The prayer is for a peaceable life, godly and respectable in every way. I believe there is an assumption made in this prayer. We are to pray for all people to live honorable lives, especially those who are entrusted with much responsibility. If people in power, abuse their power, those who have little will be victimized in some kind of way. Those in authority who live with honor, pass the blessings of their authority down to those of lesser prestige. Honor in high places bring a peaceful and godly life.
Does anyone want to make a connection between these two texts and the controversy surrounding the President of the United States regarding lies, sexual misconduct, obstruction of justice and other dishonorable behavior that has been reported in the news?
We might do well to consider the appeal of Paul's prayer in Timothy to pray all people to live the godly life, especially those who rule our country. And we might do well to consider the words of Jesus that whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
I think this controversy made lead us to reclaim the value of honor in our lives. I heard Zig Zigler on TV recently and he remarked how people who are rooted in strong Judeo-Christian values have the greatest education among all educated people. It isn't math, or English, computer science or politics that prepares us for our life work.It is the values that come from religion. There is no greater course in life than the course of Christian faith. The greatest textbook is the Bible. This year the confirmation class is going to look seriously at what messages we giving to others by our beliefs, our conduct, our personality, our values, our words.
The value of honor is shaped by how we live and act as stewards. The parable of the rich man and the steward is quiet interesting and has some interesting lessons to be learned. A steward is one who is entrusted with the care and responsibility of someone else's possessions. In the religious sense, we are stewards in the household of God. We are entrusted to take care of God's creation. Remember that Jesus instructed us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? As stewards we take care of God's creation when we act out of love in all the things that we do. Good stewards cherish the value of honor in their lives.
Here are a few lessons we might learn from the parable of the rich man and the steward:
Good stewardship is choosing right from wrong. Left alone to his own devices, the steward in our parable made wrong choices and squandered the possessions of the rich man. He was being fired for his conduct. He was no longer honorable in the eyes of his master.
Each of us has to practice ethical discernment in our lives on a daily basis. Ethical discernment has three qualities: choice, consequence, and value. Every action has a choice, a consequence, and embodies a value. We have to discern what choices we make, the consequences not only we, but others will face from our choices, and the lasting impression, or value, our actions have.
A parent came up to me, when I was the pastor at Westminster Presbyterian church in Toledo and asked if I was going to teach the confirmation class right from wrong. The question came more as a plea, this parent felt that children were not learning right from wrong at school in the classroom. YES, confirmation class is one place we can learn the right things God wants us to do in our life. We certainly don't want to learn right from wrong on a trial by error basis. We don't need to be punished into doing the right thing, but that is often the case as it was in the case of the steward in our parable.
The parable of the rich man and the steward teaches us another lesson. After the steward is fired for misconduct he begins to worry about what he will do next. We have these classic verses that delve into the personal thoughts of the steward. "What shall I do now?" We can not always right a wrong, but we can make new choices that show others we have learned from out mistakes. Remember the words of Jesus to the prostitute? "Go and sin no more." To undo wrong choices, we have to act wisely, using ethical discernment. In the case of the steward in our story, he realized he must face his friends. He wanted to be welcomed in their homes. So before he left his work, he did one last honorable action. Good stewardship is serving others with honesty and faithfulness. We can make an assumption from the stewards next choices in our parable. He learns what each debtor owes the master and is able to reduce each one's debt. We have to read between the lines in this parable to know what Jesus expected his listeners to know. How does he have the authority to reduce the debt of others? It appears that he is still squandering his master's wealth by reducing what others have to pay. Not so. In order to reduce the debt owed by others, we have to assume that he is covering their debt with the wealth that he obtained by his improper conduct. It is the only way he can justify this choice. He restores honor to his life and saves face among his friends.
I remember when I was given the privilege of attending a Boy Scout leadership training camp. We had classes everyday and were expected to take notes and fill in a work book with what we had learned. Instead of doing that, I goofed off and did other things. Sometimes, I fell asleep in the classes. After three days we had to turn in our work book and be evaluated. I didn't think it would be a big deal, but it turned out to be more than I bargained for. I was called in to our leader's tent and told that I had 24 hours to get my training manual filled in properly or I was going home. I needed extra flash light batteries that night as I worked into the wee hours of the morning. At the end of the week the executive director of the camp awarded all the scouts who had done the best in completing the work in their manuals. I was surprised when they called out my name and I was honored for my work. I had squandered half the week fooling around, but because my reprimand had allowed me to right the wrong, given a second chance, I was able to achieve a lot in a short amount of time. I kept that manual as a testimony of what I learned at that leadership camp. I learned a lesson like the foolish steward.
Good stewards choose right from wrong and serve others in their conduct with honesty and faithfulness.
Returning to Paul's prayer request, we understand how vital it is for us to live together in relationships where we live honorable lives. We have much to pray for in our country today. We have to pray for our leaders to be honest and faithful, to choose right from wrong, to live a godly lives so that we can live in peace with one another.
Jesus put it in a way that we have heard many times. We cannot serve two masters. We can only serve one. The master we serve is God alone. There's an old testament verse that is very helpful here. It comes from Deuteronomy 30:19 NRSV: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live."
There is a thought in Paul's letter to Timothy that I would like to highlight in closing. It is found in verse 3. God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. In the beginning of this sermon, I invited you to make a connection between these two texts and the controversy surrounding our President. We are now in the midst of a national discernment of truth. In order to get at the truth we will have to first expose the dishonesty. The steward in our story had to accept the consequences of his dishonesty and make a personal moral decision to come to the knowledge of the truth. It is obvious what we all can all learn from this.
We have to remember, the payment made for good stewardship is salvation. So, what will you do this week, will you command a ship, or write a novel? Will you tend to a friend in need, be faithful to your spouse, honor your parents, tell the truth, finish your homework, do the dishes? The road to salvation is the road of the good steward, choosing right from wrong and serving others in our conduct with honesty and faithfulness. Amen!
Reference: Marie M. Fortune. Love Does No Harm. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1995.