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Love is Life

Sermons

Faithful in a Very Little

May 09, 2004

Bible Reading

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.'

"Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

"So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

"He answered, 'A hundred jars of olive oil.'

"He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.'

"Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?'

"He replied, 'A hundred bushels of wheat.'

"He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.'

"And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into eternal homes.

"Whoever is faithful in a 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? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

"No servant can serve two masters, but will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

(Luke 16:1-13)

Reading from Swedenborg

Love for oneself is intending well to oneself alone, not to others except for the sake of oneself--not the church, the country, or any human community. It is helping them solely for the sake of one's own reputation and rank and glory. Unless these can be seen in the services we offer, we are saying at heart, "What difference does it make? Why should I? What's in it for me?" So we forget it. We can see from this that people who are absorbed in a love for themselves do not love their church or country or community or any constructive activity. They love only themselves. Their only pleasure lies in self-gratification; and since the pleasure that stems from love constitutes human life, their life is a life of self. A life of self is a life that depends on what we claim as our own--and in its own right what we claim as our own is nothing but evil. . . .

We can gather what love for oneself is like by comparing it to heavenly love. Heavenly love is loving constructive activity for its own sake, or loving for their own sake the worthwhile things we do for our church, our country, the human community, and our fellow citizens. This is really loving God and loving our neighbor, since all constructive activities and all worthwhile actions come from God, and are the neighbor whom we are to love. In contrast, people who love these activities for the sake of self love them only as slaves who wait on them. It follows that people devoted to a love for themselves want their church, their country, the human community, and their fellow citizens to be their servants rather than wanting to serve them. They station themselves above these neighbors and put them down. So to the extent that people are devoted to a love for themselves, they move themselves away from heaven because they move themselves away from heavenly love. (Heaven and Hell #556-57)

Sermon

Ever since the Gospel of Luke was written, readers of the first part of chapter 16 have been perplexed about its moral implications. To my knowledge, there is no explanation that would truly reconcile its apparent contradiction of the well-known moral standards of the rest of the Gospels. Not even in the teachings of our church is this problem solved. So from the early days of Christianity to the present time the Lord's parable of the dishonest steward has been a perpetual scandal to many.

The most prominent among those who took offense was the Roman Emperor Julian, called "the apostate" because he revoked all the privileges given to the Christians by his predecessors, and reinstalled the old pagan cults. If we mistake the morals in this story for the morals of Jesus, Julian's mockery of the divinity of Jesus would be quite understandable.

But I think that we have no reason to believe that the Lord really commended the unfaithful steward's rotten morals. If we look at verse 8, we see that the steward's conduct serves the Lord only as an example of the rotten morals of this world: "For the children of this age are wiser in their own generation than the children of light." We are reminded here of the Lord's well-known words to his disciples, whom he sent forth "as sheep in the midst of wolves": "Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

The only reasonable interpretation of the parable is that the Lord wants to shake up his followers. "Look, how cleverly they act, these children of this world! You can learn from them, not in copying their rotten morals, but in applying the same amount of cleverness to your higher purposes!" Literally, the Lord says: "Make for yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal homes."

The "mammon of unrighteousness"; what does it mean? Certainly not only money, but everything pertaining to the maintenance of this life, all of which is unrighteous as long as it is used by the "children of this world"--that is, by those who deny that the world has been created as a seminary for the greater world to come. The children of the world strive for nothing more than safety, sensual pleasures, power, freedom from want, and the like; and how often we fall back to their way of life! The children of the light, however, have to learn to use all worldly means for the purposes they were originally meant for. These means are basically neutral; it is their application that makes them unrighteous or righteous. So far, I think, the general meaning of the Lord's strangest parable is clear.

I would like to turn now to the immediately following verses, which lead to the concluding words, well-known also from the Sermon on the Mount: "No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Verse 10 reads: "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much." This reminds us of another famous parable of the Lord: the Parable of the Talents. In it, the Lord says to both of the faithful servants who had put their master's money to use during his absence: "Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a few things; I will set you over many things; enter into the joy of your Lord!" (Matthew 25:21, 23). In today's reading, the insignificance of the things the Lord expects us to perform faithfully is even more accentuated: "Whoever is faithful in a very little," he says, "is faithful also in much."

There are several ways of getting to the true meaning and application of these words. Let us try just two, and see how far we get with it.

We are quite accustomed to think that the Lord expects us to do important things--things that call for a great deal of wisdom, and that tend to reinforce our flattering feeling that he has made us his stewards, or even "co-creators." In our times, Eastern religions, invading our impoverished Christianity, attract many people by promising that they can become godlike, can develop divine or quasi-divine faculties such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and so forth, but can do so only by following their methods--and, of course, entrusting the organization with part or all of their money. Some of their leaders even use the Bible to "prove" that these promises are in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. It is true, indeed that there are such passages. For example: "I tell you the truth, all who have faith in me will do what I have been doing. They will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).

In our text, however, we are told to pay attention to the "very little" things as a prerequisite to the greater things to come. What are these very little things? Are they not the fragments of our time, money, and other worldly possessions? There are many passages in the Bible that stress the importance of the right use of the time given us. Think of Paul's famous words: "Therefore look carefully how you walk--not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil!" (Ephesians 5:15).

How often do we hear ourselves saying, "I just had no time to do it!" Or similarly, "I had no money to do that." We may feel that we are being perfectly honest and sincere. Those statements may also be objectively true, because none of us has the time and the money to do everything we'd like to. But in many, perhaps the majority of cases, the statements, "I had no time" or "I couldn't afford it," are not correct. If we could only look at our time and money differently! In the writings of our church, we learn that wherever the Bible speaks of time, the angels understand it as states of mind; and that wherever it speaks of money, the angels understand it as the knowledge of good and truth. So time and money are closely interrelated.

The saying, "Time is money" is not altogether wrong, though it reflects the wisdom of the children of this world more than that of the children of light. It is, rather, the other way round. We need spiritual money--knowledge of good and truth--in order to use our spiritual time rightly--that is, to experience pleasant and good states of mind instead of unpleasant and negative ones.

To come back now to those "very little" things, how often are we short of time or money simply because we have not learned to value the small fragments of them--the minutes and the cents? We let minutes pass by without filling them with worthwhile thoughts and feelings; and we let the cents and dollars slip through our fingers. As we all know, the wasted minutes run into hours each day, and the carelessly spent cents and dollars. If we could only get them back, how well-off we would be!

Sometimes, if we look back, we may be overwhelmed by the sudden feeling, "What did I actually do the last couple of days? I can scarcely recall anything!" I wonder if you know the article written many years ago by Helen Keller, in which she told what she would do if she could regain her eyesight and hearing for just three days. It is impossible to repeat the article here, but those who know that article will share my admiration for this wonderful woman. It is inspiring to see what one person could do in such a short span of time. Not that Helen Keller would work then, as the word "work" is usually understood. She would rather labor for a deeper understanding of the Lord's creation by using her eyes and ears as much as possible before their use was taken away from her again. She would expand her awareness of the all-embracing purpose of life. Thus she would live up to Paul's challenge to "redeem" her time most fully, and not allow a single moment to pass in vain, or be used for merely worldly purposes.

We all know the deeper meaning of the Lord's Parable of the Good Samaritan, who fell among robbers when he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10:30-37). The "world" that robs us of our most precious knowledge and our most heavenly states of mind is not only outside us, but inside also--though we easily tend to forget this. The enemy of true life, the "prince of this world," as the Lord calls him, metaphorically speaking, has a hidden ally within each of us: our indolence, our unwillingness to live under the eyes of the Eternal all the time.

We try to reserve the "very little" moments of our time and means for ourselves. We tend to convince ourselves that we have done enough if we consecrate our most holy feelings and our highest ideals to the Lord. And so we make kind of "ghetto" out of the church within ourselves. But it is only as we learn to dedicate to the Lord our "very little" moments of time and means that we are faithful stewards. Our faithfulness has to show itself in every detail of life: the way we feel towards our fellow human beings; the way we speak with them, think of them, treat them.

It is a well-known fact that every whole is composed of details. So whoever neglects the details neglects the whole. Therefore, "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much." The Lord alludes here to the fact that we are his stewards here in this world. But if we prove to be faithful and trustworthy in the very little things, then in the world to come we shall receive from him what is truly ours. We shall then proceed to the state of "children" of the Most High.

If we succeed in expanding our consciousness of the glorious goal for which we have been created so as to include the very little things of our daily life and integrate them into our worship of the Lord, then as "children of God," our life will become so immensely wider and richer that no human words suffice to describe it. What is now hidden away in our so-called "subconscious"--or "internal," as our teachings call this region within us--will become more and more conscious.

Modern depth psychology has discovered the truly unbelievable depth and reach of human mind that can be opened up by what they call the process of individuation. This process is nothing else than regeneration: an opening up of the incredible wealth of the inner resources continuously flowing into us from the Divine. As faithful stewards of our Lord in this world, we thus can become his children, and cooperators in his heavenly kingdom. Isn't it a worthwhile challenge to learn to pay attention to the "very little" things of our daily life? To expand our consciousness more and more, from the lofty ideals and holy feelings down to the smallest details of our lives? "For if you have been faithful with what belongs to another, you will be given what is your own."

Prayer

Dear heavenly Father, who commit to us the swift and solemn trust of life, since we know not what a day may bring forth, but only that the hour for serving you is always the present one, may we awake to the immediate claims of your holy will, not waiting for tomorrow but yielding today.

Lay to rest, by the persuasion of your Holy Spirit, the resistance of our lower selves: our pride, our conceit, our smugness, our self-righteousness, and our foolish striving to live from ourselves alone. Consecrate with your presence the way our feet shall go, and then the humblest work will shine, and the roughest places be made plain.

Lift us heavenward and to yourself. Lift us up into our higher and better selves, and make these our permanent abodes. Draw us unto yourself, and complete in us the work of your creation, that your lost image may be traced again on our souls and our lives; that we may know the presence and joy of you, our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Friedemann Horn