Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 16:1-9



Lk 16:1-9



            The one year lectionary is the selection of Scripture readings that has been used in the Lutheran church for five hundred years – since the days of the Reformation.  With some small modifications, it is same basic lectionary that had been used in northern Europe during the medieval period. It is a classic example of the Lutheran approach to the Reformation.  Where teaching or practice contradicted Scripture, it had to be changed. Where teaching was true, and practice taught the faith and provided unity in the life of the Church, it was retained.

            This is all great.  But once in a while you look at a Scripture text that is assigned and want to ask: “What were they thinking?”  Covering fifty two Sundays and all of the feasts and festivals of the Church, no lectionary can include all texts of the Bible. It is, by definition, selective. But out of all the parables that Jesus told that we have in Scripture, one struggles to understand why the parable of the unjust steward was chosen.  I say this because it is one of more challenging parables that Jesus told.

            Now from the outset we are going to rule out one interpretation.  Jesus is not teaching us that cheating and stealing in a clever way is good.  I think we can be very certain that this is not the point his is trying to convey.  But in the parable a manager lies and cheats in order to help himself. And the person defrauded by this praises the manager for acting in this way. It’s very strange stuff.

            In the parable, Jesus says that there was a rich man who had a manager who was responsible for overseeing his business operations.  We are not provided many details about the exact nature of the arrangement. This may have involved land that was rented to others to farm. But there is no way of knowing for sure.

            What we do know is that the manager had been doing a very poor job.  We learn in our text that charges were brought to the rich man that the manager was wasting his possessions. So the rich man summoned the manager and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The rich man fired the manager and told him to turn in the account records that would have been written on papyrus.  Paperwork and financial records are nothing new, and we have many examples from Egypt that demonstrate the care and sophistication with which this was done.

            The manager suddenly found himself in a moment of crisis. He said to himself, “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.” Suddenly about to find himself unemployed, the manager’s prospects were bad and worse.

            We are not told why the manager’s oversight had resulted in a wasting of the master’s possessions. Perhaps it was laziness.  But whatever the cause, it apparently wasn’t a lack of intelligence and cleverness. For immediately a plan formed in his mind and he said, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.”

            The manager still had the financial records – he had not yet turned them in to the owner. So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked “How much do you owe my master?”  He then proceeded to reduce the amount owed. And we are not talking about a small amount of money.  Each of the reductions mentioned in our text equaled about five hundred denarii of value, where a denarii was a day’s wage. This was a huge benefit that he was giving to these people.  Obviously he presented himself as the source of the reduction.  No wonder the manager was confident that when he was removed from management, people would receive me into their houses.

            At some point the master learned about what the manager was doing.  We would expect him to be angry.  Surely he would try take action against the manger to harm or punish him.  But as Jesus concluded the parable he said, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 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 says that the master praised the manger for his shrewdness.  In the moment of crisis, he had recognized the way he could use the resources available in order to benefit himself. And then Jesus added, “For the sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” 

Our Lord makes a distinction between the “son of this age” and the “sons of light.” The good news is that as a Christian, you are in the latter group. The bad news is that that sons of this age – those who do not know God and live in the ways of this sinful world – are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation.  And after making this evaluation, Jesus adds: “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 Lord’s words this morning lead us to recognize the time in which we live and the status we have received.  Early in Jesus’ ministry, after he had been healing people and casting out demons a crowd of people wanted him to stay, but he said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”  Jesus had come to preach the arrival of the kingdom of God – the reign of God in the world.  But Jesus wasn’t preaching about something.  He was preaching about himself.  When Jesus was accused of casting out demons because he was in league with the devil he replied, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

            Jesus Christ had come into the world to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God – that overcomes sin, death and the devil. He knew exactly how this was to be done, even if much of it didn’t sound like God reigning.  As they prepared to enter Jerusalem for the last time, he told the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 

            Jesus, the Son of God, came to be numbered with the transgressors.  He came to take our place and receive the judgment of God against our sin.  He came to suffer and die as the sacrifice for our sin.  But then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. God vindicated his Servant and showed that the suffering of the cross had been the means by which Gods’ reign was present to defeat sin.  And in the resurrection of Jesus Christ God has begun the resurrection that will be ours on the Last Day.

            You have heard this good news – this Gospel.  You have been baptized and had your sins washed away.  You have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, and therefore you are sons and daughters of light.  You belong to God.  You no longer belong to this sinful age that will end when Christ returns in glory.

            These facts are not in doubt and we thank and praise God for this!  But today’s text raises the question of whether our lives show this to be case as we deal with a very important part of life: money.  This whole chapter deals with the subject of wealth and money.  In the last verse of our text 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.”

            Why does Jesus describe it as “unrighteous wealth”?  It is because of the way wealth takes on the role in our life that God should.  Just a few verses later 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.”

            Why are the sons of this age more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light?  It is because they act in way that is perfectly in alignment with their god.  When your god is money and wealth, there is a clarity about how you make decisions and how you treat people.

            But on the other hand when the God who has redeemed and saved you through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, is your God, then you are going to view and use money differently.  At least, you should.  And it is here that the inconsistency comes in – the lack of focus in us that makes the sons of this world more shrewd.  They are and do what they are supposed to be. 

            We are sons of light. But the temptation to allow money and wealth to function as a god is always present.  In the parable of the sower Jesus describes the seed that fell among the thorns as “those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” In an earlier chapter our Lord told the parable of the rich fool who built bigger barns to store up crops so that he could have a life of leisure, but then died before he could enjoy them. Jesus introduced that parable by saying, Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

            If we as the sons of light are to be shrewd – shrewd in the way that is true to our status - then we will recognize that we are to love and serve God, and not money.  Jesus says that we are to be rich toward God with our possessions.

            Fundamental to this is the recognition that God has promised to provide us with what we need to live – he has promised us daily bread.  But he has promised no more than that. And anything that goes beyond that becomes part of the cares and riches and pleasures of life that can choke faith.  It can become the reason for covetousness.  It can become the god of unrighteous wealth.

            Earlier in this Gospel as Jesus was speaking about how God provides us with food and clothing, our Lord said, “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

            If we are to be shrewd in the way that sons of light are to be shrewd, then we will seek God’s kingdom.  This means that our focus will be not upon what we can get, but upon what Christ gives to us.  We will see in the Means of Grace the treasure that surpasses all earthly wealth.  For through them Christ gives us forgiveness and eternal life.   

             In that earlier discussion, Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

            When the sons of light use their money shrewdly – when they use is in the way made possible by the reign of God that we have received – we will use our money in ways that help others. We will use it in ways that help to spread the kingdom of God – the reign of God in our community and world. We will use our money to support administration of the Means of Grace in our congregation.  We will use our money to support the mission of the Church in the many different ways that this goes on throughout the world.  We will use our money to help those in need in our community.

            Because we are sons and daughters of light, we recognize the urgency of the moment in which we live. The reign of God has come into the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are living in the end times as we look for the exalted Lord Jesus to return in glory on the Last Day. We know that through word of the Gospel and baptism we have received the status of being the sons of light. So be shrewd with your money by using it like a person who has received the kingdom of God.





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