Change for Good: Commit to the Little Things in Relationships

Change for Good: Commit to the Little Things in Relationships
Luke 16:1-13
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
September 18, 2016

Luke 16:1-13 Then Jesus said to the 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 account 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 jugs 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 containers 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 the 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 slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

What was the oddest job you’ve ever held? In my life, particularly in my student days, I worked as a JC Penny bicycle assembler, a lifeguard, a North American Van Lines mover, a horticultural spray service hose hauler, a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, and maybe most memorably as a Kelly Girl assigned to drive around and grade the condition of brandy billboards! Turn to a neighbor and share with each other the oddest job you ever held. 

Likely none of our jobs we’ve held could compare with the position the shrewd manager in our story found himself in – almost a lose/lose situation. You see, in Jesus’ times, such managers were always suspected by the rich of cheating them and the poor were certain of it! By his own admission, the manager in our story couldn’t do manual labor and was too proud to beg. So, when the workers accused him of mis-managing the estate and the rich owner believed them and called for an accounting, he had to come up with something. What he decided to do was described as “shrewd” by the landowner, a trait considered admirable in the ancient Greco-Roman world. He called in all the people who owed something (and here’s the shrewd thing since they were probably the same people who tattled on him) and he had them do the dirty deed of changing the records! “Take your bill and change it!” he said. He created a paper trail back to them so they couldn’t tell the rich man, and he won their favor for the slack they were cut! If the landowner ever said anything the manager could say, “I didn’t do it! It’s not even my handwriting.”

And then comes the typical ambiguity of the parables: he’s praised as “shrewd” by the landowner and then someone, is it Jesus or the landowner, makes a statement about making friends with wealth. Most scholars think it was the landowner who said this. Then comes comments we’re pretty sure are those of Jesus, “‘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?” Jesus, it would seem, calls for us to be true and have integrity in all of life, including the “little things.” If we do so, he promises the “true riches,” presumably the reward of life abundant and eternal. 

If we’re honest with ourselves, this is a troubling saying, isn’t it? It would imply being sticklers for integrity in well, everything from keeping the speed limit to returning excess change at the grocery! But more, what might it say regarding that which is so, so important to most of us–our relationships?

Today is the third in our series entitled, “Change for Good. Our theme encourages letting the Spirit improve us, make us better and “for good” permanently. Next week, we’ll look at a “change for good” in terms of our attitudes, but today we consider a change for good in our relationships. 

As usual, a “change for good” for the Christian is something more than simple human will-powered change. For Christians, a “change for good” is brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives; in Wesley’s language, “sanctifying grace.” Whether the change for good is regarding our excess possessions, learning to say “no” to calendar clutter or for our relationships, practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, searching the scriptures, meditation, worship, fasting and generosity are the means God has given us toward the end of a “change for good.”

And Jesus’ teaching about being faithful, honest and true, even the little matters in our relationships, is some of the best relational instruction we can ever receive. Conversely, even a little dishonesty in our relationships can bring about harm in one of the most important arenas of our life. Let’s think about this together in terms of relationships. 

First, not only honesty, but also faithfully doing positive little things in our relationships brings huge dividends. 

Recently, I read an article from Health magazine that supports how much the “little things” add up to great relationships. Included in the article were simple, caring acts such as being polite (saying thank you, paying attention to people instead of electronic devices), little acts of kindness repeated often (bringing a cup of coffee to your love), trying new things together, keeping a sense of adventure in life, and hand holding and hugging. 

These are so simple aren’t they? I remember an acronym given, I think by a Presbyterian minister for our relationships: TACT. The dictionary defines tact as: adroitness and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues. The preacher took it further: T stands for “think before you speak.” How often so many of us “pop off” with our loved ones, maybe because it makes us feel better but can harm our loved ones. A stands for “actions, good or bad, speak louder than words.” C stands for “care for all who are hurting.” T stands for “being thankful to God.” My experience is when we are deeply thankful for our loved ones it leads us to value them even more! They are a blessing in our lives!

Jesus’ words though, also warn us that the little negative things we do, like little dishonesties, can harm our relationships. I think I read the article in the USA Today but it’s also been carried in the Wall Street Journal and numerous other places – it was an article reporting the work of the Gottman Institute. Dr. Gottman and his colleagues conduct studies in a rather sad field, “divorce prediction indicators.” Some of the results are stunning but show how little things hurt.    

The article began, “Ever catch yourself rolling your eyes at your partner or getting a little too sarcastic during a conversation? Those seemingly small behaviors are not that innocent after all. According to renowned researcher John Gottman, contemptuous behavior like eye rolling, sarcasm and name-calling is the number one predictor of divorce. For 40 years, the University of Washington psychology professor and his team at the Gottman Institute have studied couples’ interactions to determine the key predictors of divorce — or as Gottman calls them, “the four horseman of the apocalypse.”

Contempt is the number one sign, followed by criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling that is, emotionally withdrawing from your partner. 

Those seem like such small things but see how they add up! So what can help? The same article offered seven quick tips: 

1. Realize that delivery is everything. 

“Remember, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes all the difference.”

2. Ban the word “whatever” from your vocabulary. 

“When you say ‘whatever’ to your partner, you’re basically saying you’re not going to listen to them.” 

3. Stay clear of sarcasm and mean-spirited jokes. 

“Avoid sarcasm and comments like, ‘I’ll bet you do!’ or ‘Oh, that was super funny” in a rude tone of voice. While you’re at it, don’t make jokes at the expense of your partner or make universal comments about his or her gender.” 

4. Don’t live in the past. 

“Most couples start showing contempt because they have let a lot of little things build up.” 

5. Watch your body language. 

6. Don’t ever tell your spouse, “you’re overreacting.” 

“When you say your S.O. is overreacting, what you’re really saying is that their feelings are unimportant to you. Instead of telling your partner that they’re overreacting, listen to their point of view. 

7. If you find yourself being contemptuous, stop and take a deep breath.

A guideline from the Bible helps. Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like an apple of gold in a bowl of silver.” Think of how our relationships would be if we spoke beautiful words to one another. 

Blessedly though, with the Holy Spirit’s sanctification of our lives, with tending faithfully to the little positive things in our relationships, including honesty, we’re promised the “true riches”. The true riches are not just “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by”. The true riches are for us, in Christ, for today. With Christ our relationships can become like a little church; a group gathered around Jesus, praying and serving together. Now being in Christ is no “good luck charm”. Contrary to the prosperity preachers, there is no guarantee of healthy, wealthy perfect lives. But there is the promise of love, support and encouragement from Christ and His body, the church, in the times of joy and sorrow, of his presence on the mountaintops and the valleys of life, even in our relationships. May you be open and available to the Spirit to move toward a change for good, even in your relationships. So, what commitment will you make? Will you practice the spiritual disciplines? We you faithfully engage in little, loving acts of kindness? Will you seek to rid your relationship of sarcasm and replace such with “apples of gold in bowls of silver?” Let’s pray and make our own commitments silently before God. 

Discussion Guide for September 18:

Commit to the Little Things in Relationships

1. Share with your group what “surprises” you about the parable.

2. Share with your group about a time when a little honesty or dishonesty had great impact.

3. Share with your group what you believe are the ingredients of a successful relationship.

4. Share with your group some specific commitments you will take to improve your