Monday, September 20, 2010

Proper 20 of Series C (Luke 16:1-15)

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, we are managers. Everything that we have belongs to God, and we simply manage it. Our Creator has given us all that we need for this body and life, as Luther describes in the Small Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Now, a manager is someone who has been entrusted with the care of someone else’s property. God has given us all those gifts that Dr. Luther listed out, and He entrusts those gifts to us for our management. We are to watch over those gifts and use them wisely, for Jesus says in our text for today: “And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?”

This whole approach is in drastic contrast with how the world teaches us to use our possessions. In the eyes of our world, our possessions are our own, to be used to benefit ourselves. We worked hard to earn them, right? They belong to us, and no one else. We don’t want to be stewards, simply managing someone else’s property, but instead we want to be in charge, taking care of what is our own. Our possessions and money are only for ourselves, not for anyone else. And that is where God takes issue with us. His prophet Amos cried out against those in his day: “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end.” These people cheated the poor and needy, they concerned themselves only with how to make more money. They kept all that they had for themselves, and built a great idol out of their possessions. This is the very definition of being dishonest with what God has given us. For this reason, in our text, Jesus actually calls money ‘unrighteous wealth.’ We are used to money being described in the Bible as neutral, neither good nor bad. But Jesus teaches us that money corrupts, and therefore its default setting is unrighteousness. We see this every day, even in our own lives.

But Jesus also teaches us in our text that ‘unrighteous wealth’ does have a use. Even if its default setting is corruption and idolatry, it can be used for the good. To illustrate this, Jesus tells the most difficult parable we have recorded for us in the Gospels, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. People have puzzled over this story for centuries, and there is no surprise why. Jesus here seems to praise a guy who ‘cooks the books,’ who cheats his master in order to secure a more comfortable living when he is fired! What is going on here? I think that if we literally applied this parable to our daily lives, we probably would come back here next week either fired or with the IRS after us, or both. There has to be something more here, and I think that the solution is found in Jesus’ conclusion to the parable in verse nine: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus’ point is not for us to imitate the manager’s dishonesty, but his use of money to gain friends. Those friends are there for him when he has nothing else left. Listen to what Jesus says in verse eight: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus is saying to us, “Look at how those around you in this world wisely use their money for friends; Christians should be just as wise, but for a much better cause.”

For Jesus calls on us to manage that which the Father has given us for the good of our neighbor. We are to gain friends with our gifts, but not the kind of friends the world expects. When a person in our world gains friends because of money, it is because he has impressed them with his wealth and importance. Jesus has something to say about that to the Pharisees at the end of our text: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Christians are instead to gain friends by using our blessings to support the spread of the Gospel. These friends will then be ‘friends in Christ,’ those who became Christians at least in some small part through our faithful management of what God has given us. Whether it is through the support of a missionary, the sending of a Bible, or volunteering our time here at church, we are using the gifts that God has provided us to gain friends, fellow believers in Christ. Listen again to what Jesus says: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Our earthly possessions and money will pass away with our mortal bodies, but the friends we gain in Christ, many of whom we will not meet on this earth, will greet us in heaven. That is the essence of being faithful in what God has given us, and as Jesus says, “If you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?”

This faithful stewardship is impossible on our own, for our sinful human nature does not want to admit that we are only managers of what God has given us. Jesus gives us a drastically different perspective toward money and possessions in our text. We can only have this perspective and viewpoint toward our material possessions through God-given wisdom. Only He can create in us the eyes of faith that sees the gifts that God has given us as means for supporting the spread of the Gospel. Only those made the children of the light through baptism can have the wisdom to understand that any wealth on this earth fades away. Only heavenly wisdom realizes that money and possessions are in and of themselves ‘unrighteous wealth,’ and therefore can easily corrupt us. As Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

God-given wisdom only flows from the greater gift that has been given to you, the heavenly treasure that Jesus hints at in our text for today. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?” Jesus calls the things of this world the ‘very little,’ and the heavenly treasure the ‘much.’ God has given us great gifts in this world, all those wonderful and necessary things that Martin Luther listed in the Small Catechism, but His greatest gift was that of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. God could and does provide all of those other gifts, but without Jesus, all of them would be ultimately useless. Jesus came to give us the greater gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He came to deliver the true riches, the heavenly riches, the eternal inheritance that we needed, but did not deserve.

We did not earn this treasure through anything of our own; even using our wealth to gain friends for Christ does not earn it. Instead, Christ earned it for us through His suffering and death in our place. There He took all of our sins, including our sins of misusing our possessions and money, and nailed them to the cross, wiping them out and bringing forgiveness to all of us. That is His greatest gift, the gift of the forgiveness of sins, which restored you to your heavenly Father, the One who gives all good gifts. His blood, shed upon the cross, secured for you a treasure that will never fade. All else on this earth will pass away, but because Jesus died for you, you will never die eternally. Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus, and His victory over death three days later is your victory, it is the guarantee that you will live forever in heaven, that your enemies have been defeated by the work of Jesus Christ.

God gave His greatest gift to you, and through Him you now have something that you truly do own, your heavenly inheritance. Listen again to verse twelve of our text: “And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?” Because of Christ’s great love for us, He suffered and died to forgive us for every time that we have not been faithful in managing what belongs to God. And in forgiving our sin, Jesus gives to us something that truly is our own. Everything we have in this life is not ours, but belongs to God. On the other hand, our eternal inheritance is our own, it belongs to us and will be ours into all eternity. Jesus gives it to us as a gift, as something we possess forever. We are only managers of earthly things, but we are owners of salvation through Jesus Christ. You possess it through faith, you have the seal and guarantee that it is yours through your Baptism, where Jesus gave that gift to you. God proclaims to you each and every day that you are a possessor of a heavenly inheritance, one that is more than anything in this life, one that will never fade away, one that is yours through the blood of Christ.

Therefore, when our Lord takes you home to Himself one day, you will be welcomed into the eternal dwellings by all your friends, your fellow believers in Christ throughout the centuries. Most of them you will not know, but not to worry, because we will all have something in common- we have all been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Some will even say to you, “The Lord worked through the gifts He gave you to bring me to faith.” We look forward to that great day when we will see all of our friends in Christ gathered before the throne of God, as we receive the inheritance that we possess now and into all eternity. In the Name of the One who died to give us that great inheritance, Amen.

1 comment:

Pastor Davis said...

Nice sermon! I preached on 1 Timothy 2. Dr. Scaer wouldn't have been happy that I didn't preach on the Gospel, but oh well. Nothing like having two difficult texts to choose from. :)