Friday, August 21, 2015

Trinity 11 (Genesis 4:1-15)

“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fourth chapter of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ: God warned him. He told Cain exactly what would happen. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” With the Law’s warnings, God tried to drive the elder brother from his hatred, from his jealousy; He tried to impress upon Cain the seriousness of the situation he found himself in. Sin was at his very door, waiting to come in; God called on Cain to refuse it passage, to deny it a foothold, to do battle with the demons crowding around him.

But Cain gave in; he let sin enter into his house and make its home there. “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” Jealous thoughts overcame him, anger and hatred were allowed to fester within his heart; Cain didn’t do battle with sin’s temptations, he indulged them, and the devil who tempted his mother tempted him to do away with the source of his frustration. His response to God’s displeasure was not to repent, to bring his firstfruits in faith, but instead to murder the one who had received God’s favor. The obedient, innocent son died as a victim of Cain’s jealousy, as the seeming solution to his anguish. But Satan has deceived him. His brother is gone, but now, as God warned, his problems have only begun. Abel has been eliminated; what will he do with God?

The Creator of all things, the righteous One who had warned Cain from the path of unrighteousness, is not so easily done away with. “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” The blood of Abel was shed onto the ground, the ground that God gave as a gift, the ground already cursed in Adam’s fall. Abel is sacrificed to Cain’s hatred, his anger and jealousy; his blood is shed for no other reason than that he was righteous and his brother was not. But his blood has a voice, a voice heard only by God. It cries out for justice, for punishment, for the judgment that murder deserves, and God listens, He responds. “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” The farmer is made a wanderer, detached from family, from civilization itself. The ground, cursed already in Adam’s fall, will openly rebel against him, and he will be left without a home, aimlessly roaming this earth.

For Cain, this punishment is greater than he can handle; he begs God, the God who spoke to warn him from sin, and then spoke to condemn that sin, for mercy. “Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Even though he deserves no such thing; even though his betrayal demands not just wandering, but death, God acts in mercy toward Cain the murderer. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” None who meet this murderer will slay him; the guilty one, though he faces his punishment, is protected by the very mark of God Himself. He who killed his own brother will be spared his family’s vengeance; this mark will protect him for the rest of his life. It will be an ever-present reminder of his sin and the just consequences of that sin, but it will also be a continual reminder of His God who acted in mercy.

God warned us. He told you and me exactly what would happen. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” With the warnings of the Law, He tried to drive us from our hatred, from our jealousy, He tried to impress upon us the seriousness of the situation we found ourselves in. God knows how sin works within us, how our old evil foe relentlessly works against us. He knows that our jealousy, our envy, lead to frustration and anger, they lead to hatred. These emotions fester and boil within us, and when we indulge them, they soon lead to words and actions. Sin was at our very door, waiting to come in; God called on us to refuse it passage, to deny it a foothold, to do battle with the demons crowding around us.

But we gave in; we let sin enter into our house and make its home there. It was much more satisfying to give expression to our jealousy and anger, to speak words of hatred or even to strike our neighbor than to seek reconciliation. We didn’t do battle with sin’s temptations, we indulged them, and the devil who tempted Eve tempted us to do something about the source of our frustration Our response to God’s warning of the Law was not to repent, but instead to murder, in thought, word, and deed the one who had offended us. We allowed our sinful desires to control us, and our neighbors paid the price; not just the neighbor we raged against, but another neighbor who walked this earth two thousand years ago. It was for those sins, and others, that the obedient Son was put to death; the murderous rage of the Good Friday crowd toward Him was only the result of your murderous rage toward others. It was your sin, your jealous hatred of your neighbor, that nailed the obedient, righteous Son to the cross. His blood was shed on your account.

The blood of Jesus was shed onto the ground, the ground that God gave as a gift, the ground cursed in Adam’s fall. He is slaughtered as a sacrifice to our hatred, our anger and jealousy; His blood is shed for no other reason than that He is righteous and we are not. But his blood has a voice, a voice heard only by God. It cries out not for justice, for punishment, for the judgment that murder deserves, but for pardon, for forgiveness, for redemption. “You have come,” the author to the Hebrews says, “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies, but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries. The blood which soaks the stony ground of Golgotha cries out not for vengeance, but for forgiveness. He sheds His blood to redeem murderers, to save us, to give to us a home in the very kingdom of God. We are not driven out to wander, but in a stunning reversal we are given a permanent home, a place with Jesus in the new heavens and the new earth, the mansions He has gone before us to prepare.

Christ’s blood cries out on our behalf, and God hears its voice in grace. But for us, this gift is greater than we can handle; it is unbelievable that the God who warned us from sin would then condemn His Son in our place, it is unbelievable that the blood shed because of our sin would then cover that stain. It is impossible for us to believe this mercy and grace on our own as we wander in the wilderness of this world. God knows this, and so He acts in love. He places His mark upon us as He delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation to us, sealing us in Baptism, putting His name upon us, as a sign, a seal, a guarantee that all of His promises are true in Christ. None who meet us will be able to destroy us, even death cannot conquer us; we who were guilty are protected by the very mark of God Himself. We who have sinned in thought, word and deed will be spared the vengeance of Almighty God; this mark will protect us for the rest of our lives. Pondering it will remind us of our sin, but it more importantly will be a continual proclamation of our God who acts in mercy. Whenever we face trouble, whenever we fall into sin, in repentance and faith we return to the mark placed upon us at the font, the mark sealed in Christ’s own shed blood. There we cling in every trouble, for the mark of Baptism is the mark of God’s promise, the guarantee that as Jesus lives, risen from the dead, we too will live, even though we die, because everything He says is true. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Proper 15 of Series B (Ephesians 5:6-21)

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church of God in Ephesus. Dear friends in Christ: you were dead in your trespasses and sins, sleeping the self-satisfied sleep of the damned, dwelling in the midst of darkness. A corpse you were, as you were carried to the font by your parents; or maybe you sleep-walked, an animated corpse, the walking dead. But then a man of God, the pastor sent by God to do this very task, thrust your head into the font; he poured, he sprinkled, he dunked—the method didn’t matter, the result was the same: you are baptized. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” The voice of Christ calls the sleeping to awake, the dead to rise, the one who dwells in darkness to bask in the light. He has brought you over the border, He has taken you from one state to another, from one place to another. The slave has become free, the ignorant has been made wise, the alien has been given citizenship. Drowning has made you alive. The voice of Jesus, who said to Jairus’ daughter, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” and to His dear friend, “Lazarus come out!” says to you, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Awake, arise, stand in the Light of Christ. Come out of the darkness, for darkness has no fellowship with Light. Darkness and Light cannot coexist, for the darkness cannot tolerate the Light. It is constantly striving to overwhelm the Light, to drive it away, to extinguish it. Twilight is not a mixture of light and darkness, but the battle of light and darkness joined once more. Every day in this fallen world ends with the darkness overcoming the light, and in the night, under the cover of this darkness, the fallen world pursues its evil ends. It has always been this way; sinful man foolishly thinks that if his evil deeds are covered by the cloak of night, of darkness, then God cannot see them.

You lived in darkness from the moment of your conception; you too, with all the rest of the world, were cloaked in night. The deeds of darkness were the only deeds you knew; you could do nothing but sin, selfishly serving as the slave of your own desires. The deeds of darkness are fruitless; they do not serve the good of the neighbor, but only the pleasure of the self. They simply beget more darkness, more night; the thick choking, belching darkness of sin that covers our world like a suffocating cloud. Drunkenness, drug use, sexual immorality, rebellion against authority, filthy language, gossiping, covetousness, these are the deeds of darkness, whether they happen in broad daylight, or, more often, under the cover of night, hidden from sight, because these deeds are evil, and we know it. Darkness wants nothing to do with the Light, because the Light exposes, the Light reveals, the Light shines its harsh rays and the evil of man is laid bare for all to see. Darkness hides from the Light, darkness flees to the shadows, darkness makes excuses, and finally darkness goes to war against the Light, seeking to smother it forever.

But the darkness cannot overcome the Light, it cannot extinguish its powerful rays. If every evening is a reminder of the overwhelming darkness of this sinful world, every morning is a reminder that darkness doesn’t have free reign, it doesn’t have the victory, it will be driven away. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” The Light of Christ shone in the darkness of this world, and it was not overcome. It revealed the sin and hypocrisy of the inhabitants of this earth; it shone on every nook and cranny of depraved humanity, every place where we had thought we could safely hide our sin. Christ exposed it all, and for that, the darkness went to war against the Light. It tried to extinguish the Light, and in the smothering gloom of Good Friday, it seemed that the darkness had succeeded. But the rays of Easter morning drove away the darkness, revealing an empty tomb, with the Light of Christ still shining, in victory over the darkness. He rose, and the darkness was conquered; the night will end, the eternal Day is coming.

That Light then shone in the darkness of your heart, driving away the night which dwelt within you. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” He exposed your sin, and the sin of the world, so that He could overcome it, doing battle against the darkness by taking it into Himself and putting it to death upon the tree. In killing Him, the darkness found itself defeated, and Christ brought that victory home to you in the waters of the font. The powerful words of the One who has overcome death and the grave call you forth to a new life; His Word, joined with water, makes your heart, the dwelling of darkness, into a domain of Light.

And Light has no fellowship with darkness. You have been brought through the sea from slavery to freedom, from death to life, from darkness to Light; why go back? Darkness and Light cannot coexist, the Light cannot tolerate the darkness, but must drive it away. You have been awakened; do not go back to sleep. You have risen; do not return to the life of the walking dead. You are in the Light, you are Light in the Lord, do not return to the darkness. “Do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” You are the Body of Christ; do not drag that Body with you into sin and depravity. Your lips have touched the Body and Blood of your Lord; do not use them to speak ill of your neighbor, to gossip or lie. You bear the Name of Christ; do not take that Name into the haunts of darkness, where “it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”

You are in fellowship with Christ, you take Christ with you, when you surf the internet, or go to the bar, or take someone out on a date; in everything you do, wherever you are. Live, then, as children of light; do not have fellowship with the darkness. You have been delivered from that fellowship, you have been placed into a new fellowship, the fellowship of the baptized, the fellowship of Light. The deeds of darkness are selfish, they focus only on pleasure and desire, they are controlled by the passions. The deeds of the Light, on the other hand, are oriented toward the other, toward your neighbors and their good. “The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” The children of Light seek the good of their neighbor; they are not controlled by their passions. They seek what is good and right and true; what God says is good and right and true.

The Word of God is their guide, as the children of Light “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” They have an unchangeable, objective standard, God’s eternal Word, and they shine this Light on their darkened world. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” You are of the Light, enlightened by your Baptism; do not return to the darkness in which you once dwelt, but expose those deeds, shine the Light on them. Shine the Light of the Law that exposes sin, and then shine the Light of the Gospel that forgives it. Call your neighbor away from the deeds of darkness into the Light; love him enough to tell him of his sin. It is not love to leave a man in darkness, trapped in slavery, walking in death. The love that Christ showed you is the love you show to others; the Light that shone in your heart to expose your sin and drive it away, that same Light you shine into the lives of others.

But you do not shine the Light on others without first shining it on yourself. The Light of God’s Word exposes the dark recesses of your own heart, revealing the sin that dwells therein. The standard you apply to this world of darkness, God’s Word, you apply also to your heart, where darkness is ever trying to encroach again and again. The Light exposes the dangers of the old life, the temptations of darkness that entice us again and again. The Light reveals where we have fallen back into the old ways, where we, who have fellowship with Christ in the waters of our baptism, have had fellowship with the deeds of darkness. The Light shows us where we have been unfruitful, selfishly pursuing the desires of the flesh instead of fruitfully serving our neighbors. “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”

Our sin is laid bare, to our shame; it stands exposed in the harsh Light of the Law. The Light reveals where we have tried to go back to slavery, to death, to darkness. But the Light does not leave us in despair. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” You heard these words long ago, on the day when you were awakened at the font, called forth from the dead, and this day you hear them again, the words that have the power to wake the sleeping and raise the dead. He who has baptized you into His name, who raised you from the death of your sins at the font, now raises you up again in repentance and faith. You hear His voice in the Absolution, you hear His voice in His Word, you hear His voice when you receive His Body and Blood, and that voice, that powerful voice, says to you, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” He brings you over the border, through the sea; He carries you into the Promised Land alive and renewed by the life that He gives, the Light that He shines. He who has baptized you into His Name forgives every sin; He continually, each and every day, shines the Light in your heart to drive the darkness away. His Light doesn’t just expose sin, it does away with it, forever.

There is a day that is coming, when the darkness will be no more, when your struggle with the temptations of this darkened world will end, where there will be only light, even if the sun and the moon shall pass away. On that Day, the voice of Jesus will ring out again, as it did on the day of your Baptism, and His Word will do what it says, raising you up from your grave as He rose you up out of the font. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” No more night; only the Light, no more death, only life; no more sleep, only the Sabbath rest, forever. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Trinity 10 (Luke 19:41-48)

A bride stands upon a hill, radiant and beautiful. She is adorned with gold, with costly jewelry, with clothing white as the driven snow. She is the picture of youthful exuberance, of joyful expectation, of long years of waiting. She has been patiently prepared for this moment, for this time, the hour that is now upon her. Ever since she was a girl, her Father has been protecting her, keeping her safe, training her for the time when her Bridegroom would come for her. There were times when it seemed that she would not survive, that her Bridegroom would find clothes of mourning instead of wedding garments, but at each turn, her Father delivered her. She fell into bondage, and He saved her, with His mighty outstretched hand. She was threatened by enemies again and again, and He delivered her from their clutches. At times she rebelled against her Father, as many daughters do; she spurned Him, and then felt the penalty, dwelling in exile far from home. But He still loved her, and He brought her back again, taking her from the land of exile as He had taken her from the land of slavery. In His love He restored her to her home, and gave her glory and beauty once again. At every moment, every time of trial and of joy, He repeated the promise to her, the promise He uttered to her when she was still young: your Bridegroom is coming, He is coming soon. Be patient, wait for Him, and He will give you joy that you have never known. Look for Him, keep watch, for He will come when you do not expect, but He will come, that is my promise to you.

Now the time has come, the promise of her Father has been fulfilled; the moment long prepared has arrived, the event that every second of patient waiting was pointing toward. Her Bridegroom has arrived. His visitation has come. He visits to claim His bride as His own, to take her to Himself in love. The Father’s plan has come to fruition, the time prepared by everything that happened to her, every word of promise that was spoken, has come to pass. The Bridegroom visits His bride to fulfill all the promises, the Bridegroom visits His bride to give her joy, the Bridegroom visits His bride to give her a wedding feast that will never end. Every other wedding in all of history has simply been pointing to this one, the big one, the union of this bride with her long-awaited Bridegroom.

He visits to bring an end to her strife, to speak words of comfort, to give peace to a bride who only knows of tragedy and conflict. He comes speaking words of peace, telling her, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” He will defeat all of her enemies, once and for all, He will deliver her from the clutches of those who have tried to destroy her from her birth. Her Father protected her all these many years so that the Bridegroom could one day come and put an end to her enemies. “Take heart,” He tells her, “I have overcome the world.” He comes to tell her that her warfare is over, her iniquity is pardoned, that He will give her peace, true peace, peace that will endure though all else pass away. She has waited for Him so long, and now it is with joy that He tells her He is here, He has come, as her Father always promised. What greater gift could be given to the radiant bride than her long-awaited bridegroom?

But at this moment, the moment she has long been waiting for, with her Bridegroom standing before her in joy, she scoffs and turns her head. Who is this man, claiming to be her Bridegroom? He stands before her in the clothing of a peasant, a sharp contrast to the radiant robes that she wears. His words of peace, His claims to be what she has been looking for these many years, fail to move her. For the truth is, she has found her own peace in this world. Her Father and His promises have become little different than the air she breathes. His protection is essential to her life, and deep down she knows it, but she rarely thinks of Him. Most days she doesn’t think of Him at all. She goes through the motions, honoring Him with empty words, while her heart is far away. 

She thinks she has it made; that she can have peace with her Father and peace with the world. As long as she does what is required, as long as she gives her Father the honor He is due on the day it is due, she can live however she wants the rest of the week. She has found many other lovers to occupy her attention, and when she does what they ask, she has peace, peace and comfort to go with the pleasures they offer. Her clothing is radiant, she has all the jewelry she could want, and while her lips say that she awaits her Bridegroom, in her heart, she is happy with the status quo. She is comfortable with her sin because she assumes her Father’s favor, she takes it for granted. She can do what she wants because she is His daughter, because she honors Him with her lips. Now this man, claiming to be her Bridegroom, has come to disturb that peace, to disrupt her carefully constructed alliance with the world. She rejects Him almost out of hand, almost casually; she has strayed so far from the Father’s promises that she cannot even imagine them coming true.

The Bridegroom came to her with joy, but that joy quickly turns to weeping. He, who wished to speak words of comfort and love, who visited her to bring her salvation, now instead utters words of woe. “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” He came to give her peace, but she did not recognize the One she had waited so long to welcome, and rejected Him instead. She chose the fleeting peace that her lovers offered over the eternal peace brought by her Bridegroom. And her Bridegroom is sorrowful beyond measure; He weeps over His callous, rebellious bride, prophesying her destruction. Only He can save her, but she has rejected Him. “They will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

He goes into her Father’s house, not welcomed as the expected Bridegroom but condemned as an invader, and He cries out against her, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Too long has she dwelt in self-confidence within its walls; too long has she arrogantly pursued her lovers while paying lip service to her Father. In desperation He tries to call her to her senses. “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before [your Father] in this house, which is called by [His] name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ —only to go on doing all these abominations?” But these words of condemnation do not move her to repentance; if anything they incite her. The bride has her Bridegroom arrested and condemned to death by her lovers; rejection of her Bridegroom is only the start—she will not stop until everything He predicted against her happens to Him. His words become a prophecy of His own death. “The days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children with you.” The Bridegroom was surround on every side by His enemies, with His bride looking on and giving approval, even calling for His death; the Bridegroom who came in joy to greet His bride on Sunday was torn down to the ground by being lifted high upon a tree on Friday.

The Bridegroom wept when He encountered the rejection of His bride; He wept because she would one day weep. For she continued in her sin, eating and drinking, buying and selling, until she arrogantly rebelled against her lovers and found her Bridegroom’s words proved true. Barricades were set up, she was hemmed in on every side. There would be no deliverance this time; what she did to her Bridegroom was visited upon her own head, with one difference; her house, the temple she called her home, was razed to the ground, never to rise again. But her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who called Himself the temple, was rebuilt, in only three short days. Her Bridegroom rose to replace the bride who had rejected Him with a new bride, a faithful bride. This bride recognizes her Bridegroom, she receives Him in faith; where Jerusalem rejected her Bridegroom in stubborn unrepentance, the Church recognizes Him with humility, confessing her sin and clinging to His mercy and peace. “No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” Jerusalem revealed that she did not have the Spirit when she cursed her Bridegroom, condemning Him to death; the Church reveals that she has the Spirit when she confesses her Bridegroom as her Lord.

She does this with great joy, for she knows what her Bridegroom has done for her. His death at the hands of the Romans, incited by Jerusalem’s jealousy, was not simply a miscarriage of justice, but the very means by which the Bridegroom would win all that He had promised. True peace comes from the violence that was inflicted upon Him. On the tree, He ended her warfare, on the tree, He pardoned her iniquity, on the tree He gave to His bride as a dowry double grace for all her sins. Forgiveness, life, and salvation are the wedding gifts to His bride, won by His shed blood, and when He rose on the third day, He invited her to a wedding banquet that will have no end. By His stripes His bride is healed, and she is given the gift of peace. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that made for peace!” The difference between Jerusalem and the Church is not that one bride is sinless and the other sinful, but that one repents while the other refuses to do so. The Church, His bride, you and I, know what makes for peace: our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. His death, His resurrection, make for peace, for His shed blood covers every sin, reconciling a rebellious people to His Father and presenting us as a radiant bride, more radiant than the earthly Jerusalem ever was. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Blessed indeed is the bride, cleansed by Christ, who will celebrate with Him on the day of His final visitation. In His Name, Amen.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Trinity 9 (Luke 16:1-9)

“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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, there are several principles that I teach the children of our congregation to consider when dealing with parables. You are to find out who the audience is, and what prompted the telling of the parable in the first place. It is of first importance to locate Jesus in the parable, then to look for yourself or Jesus’ opponents. But the most important key to understanding a parable is finding the ‘that’s crazy!’ moment. You know, the point in the parable where everyone who first heard it would be shaking their heads, saying, ‘Things don’t work that way in the real world, Jesus! Come on—that’s crazy!’ Like a shepherd leaving all his other sheep to find one that was lost, or a woman who finds a misplaced coin, then spends it in celebration, or a father who receives back his wasteful, rebellious son in joy. When you find the ‘that’s crazy!’ moment, you have probably found what Jesus wants to teach you about the Kingdom of God. Now, most people agree that the parable before us tonight is one of the most difficult in all of Scripture, but the key to understanding it comes from finding the ‘that’s crazy!’ moment. Have you found it yet? Let me give you a clue: What would you do with a wasteful servant?

Imagine if you were an employer (and some of you are, or have been) and you discovered that one of your employees had been wasting your money, cheating you out of your company’s profit, making you look bad through malice or incompetence. What would you do? What do wasteful managers deserve? A just master would see that such a servant received exactly what he deserved. At the very least, he deserves to lose his job, and depending on the extent of his transgressions, he may deserve jail. You don’t send him to get his books, you send someone else to get them, and when you see his sins in black and white, you prepare to give justice. If you are first-century landowner, you will ready your whip for a good flogging, sending him out the door with a painful reminder of his crimes. Wasteful managers should feel the whip, wasteful managers should be cast down from their high position, wasteful managers should dig and beg. That is all that they deserve, and that is what justice gives them. A just master sees that justice is done, and justice demands that the one who does the crime does the time.

It’s the same way that a just master deals with his renters. Imagine that you own rental property (and some of you do, or have in the past), and your renters owe you the agreed-upon price. What does justice demand? What do such renters deserve? They deserve no reductions, no grace periods; justice calls on them to pay what they owe, to uphold their obligations. Rent is due? It must be paid. The master is owed his portion of the crop? Bring it forth. Debtors must pay their debt—that is what justice demands. If people owe you money or goods, they should pay up. If managers are wasteful, they should be digging ditches or standing on street corners in rags. That is simply the way this world works, and if it didn’t, the consequences would be disastrous. Imagine if a master ran a business where debtors didn’t pay what they owe, where wasteful managers escaped punishment. The man who did that would soon find himself destitute. He would be called ridiculous—even crazy!—by those around him.
But that is exactly how this master operates. He hears of his manager’s sin and thunders forth the law, uttering a sentence of condemnation: “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The manager stands condemned, and he knows it. He squirms under the law, seeing no way out on his own ability; he has been caught, he knows it, and he stands under the master’s justice. The day of reckoning has come; his last day, Judgment Day. “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.” He may not be strong enough to dig and he may be ashamed to beg, but that is the least he deserves. Then he realizes something about his master, another quality that is perhaps even more important than his master’s identity as a man of justice. He realizes that his master is also a man of mercy. The only solution for this manager, the only means of salvation, is to bank on that mercy, and indeed to show forth that mercy to others. “‘I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”

In the eyes of the world, the manager has cheated his master again. Not only did he waste his property in the first place, now he has given the renters an unauthorized discount, robbing his master of even more money. A rich man who allows wasteful managers to give debtors discounts won’t remain a rich man for much longer. We expect justice, as the master looks at the books; this time swift and terrible. ‘String him up!’ we cry. But the response of the master catches us completely off guard. “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” He doesn’t cancel the discounts, he doesn’t give the manager a beating he will never forget. No, he commends the manager because he wisely acted in mercy. The manager had showed forth his master as a man of mercy in forgiving debt, and that is exactly how this master wants to be seen. He is a man of mercy, mercy that even overcomes his justice. So he will forgive the debts owed him, he will even forgive his unrighteous steward, no matter what it costs him. It is at this point that we protest, as Jesus’ disciples surely did: ‘That’s crazy, Jesus—ridiculous! No master would act this way!’
We’re right; no earthly master in his right mind would tolerate such a thing. But there is one Master who would, and does. What does God do with wasteful managers and delinquent debtors? The answer to this question is quite important to you and me, because we fit in both categories. Since when have you managed your material resources for the good of your neighbor and the Kingdom of God? Jesus Himself says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The sons of this world are very shrewd in managing their money and other resources to turn a profit, to enrich their own bank account and investment portfolio, to buy bigger houses and faster cars. Christians should be just as shrewd, but for the good of the kingdom, using this corrosive and corruptive substance—money—for the good of our neighbor, to make friends with the poor and infirm, so that when this wealth fails, and it will, “they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” But are we as shrewd? No, we are wasteful managers, prodigal managers, who cook the books for our own advantage. And so we are debtors of our master, God Himself. We owe Him the penalty for our sin, all our sin.

And what does justice demand of us? It demands that we pay up. The wages of sin is death, eternal death, and it is only right, only just, that we pay what we owe. And God demands that justice be done; His justice must be satisfied, or He is not a holy and just God. But our God is also a God of mercy, and in His wisdom He appointed the speaker of this parable, Jesus Christ, to satisfy the demands of His justice by giving Himself into death upon the cross. There Jesus paid the debt we owed, there justice was done upon Him for us, there the innocent suffered and died under God’s wrath in place of the guilty. And to demonstrate that the debt was paid, that justice was satisfied, God raised Him up in victory over the grave, gaining for us eternal dwellings. Like the wasteful manager, we have no recourse to our own efforts to pay the debt we owe; we must depend, solely and completely, upon God’s rich mercy shown in the death and resurrection of Christ. And He shows forth His mercy in forgiving us, in not giving us what justice demands. He is a God of mercy, mercy shown to us for the sake of His crucified and risen Son.

And God delights in being shown to the world as a God of mercy; that is what we are doing when we make friends by using our material resources for the good of our neighbor. When we feed the homeless, provide for victims of disaster, or even pay for a roof over the heads of our children, we are showing to the world God’s mercy. And He delights to be praised as a God of mercy, for that is what He gives to this sinful world for the sake of Christ: mercy in place of justice, for justice was done upon His Son. Jesus received what we deserved, so that we would join all those who have been shown His mercy in the eternal dwellings. There we will have no need of unrighteous wealth, for we will have a treasure that will never end: perfect righteousness and eternal life in the very mansions of heaven. Thanks be to God that He does not give us what we deserve but what we need: mercy—mercy for the sake of His Son. In His Name, Amen.