Archive for the ‘Luke 16:1-15’ Category

Either—Or!

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 19, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

This morning’s gospel reading is really a continuation of Jesus teaching from last week.  If you recall, last week Jesus responded to the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes because He received open sinners.  Jesus shared with them and us His wonderful teaching about the extravagant measures that God takes to find and return any and all of His children who are lost in sin!  That parable was told especially for the benefit of the self-righteous and judgmental people who looked down their collective noses at sinners.  He forced them to see that they too were also lost in sin!

Well now, Jesus turns His attention away from the open sinners and self-righteous Pharisees and He is addressing His disciples; those who followed Him as their Lord and Savior, but as always, the Pharisees were right there eavesdropping and looking for a way to trap and attack Jesus.  So Jesus tells another parable… a story that communicates an eternal truth in a way that will make sense in a temporary and sinful world; He tells us a story about an unrighteous manager or steward.  This story is first a teaching about God’s mercy and second it’s a story that forces us to look at our own response to God’s Mercy.  Like Jesus’ audience of that day, we too can hear this teaching in one of two ways: First, we can hear it as His true disciples; people who know that their God is merciful and forgiving.  Or we can listen in on Jesus teaching as an eavesdropper—a person who is self-righteous and worldly and dismiss this parable as a silly story.

At the very heart of this parable then is a teaching on stewardship.  This story forces us to ask ourselves a very simple question: How do I view material goods and money?  Do I see them as mine in order to make life easier for me here or do I see these things as God’s which are simply on loan to me so that I can help build and advance His kingdom of grace here within a sinful world?

By the time Jesus is done teaching us, we will be forced to pick a side; either we will feel blessed to be called his disciple and we will see our money and possessions as tools which God uses to expand His kingdom or we will leave here feeling unchanged  and put-off; as if we are being pressured to do something we don’t believe in.

Now at first, Jesus parable about the unfaithful manager might seem strange; it might seem as if Jesus is saying that the manager who is also a thief is to be admired!  Well that would be the case if you made the manager the focus of the story.  But, if you change the focus of attention to the rich land owner, suddenly the story is not centered on the criminal activity of the manager at all, but instead it is focused on the mercy of the rich land owner.

What should have happened to the manager?  Well, what happens today when people cook the books, embezzle money, or at best misappropriate funds that belong to someone else?  They go to jail or they get sued!  And yet, the rich land owner in Jesus story not only didn’t throw that rascal in jail he let him leave and go and get the ledger book; why he even gave him time to cook the books!  Outrageous!!  And that is the point that Jesus is making… God’s mercy, His forgiving love for sinners such as you and me is outrageous!  Think about that for a moment; think of all the things we could have done to further God’s kingdom and we refused; think also about all we have done that has actually hurt His kingdom, yet  He still loves and forgives us.  He IS a God of forgiveness and grace!  Outrageous but true… God still loves me and you and He still loves you!

Well, now that we have properly adjusted our focus and placed it onto the mercy of the rich land owner and compared that mercy with the mercy of God we can safely and correctly evaluate the conduct of the manager or steward and look for some personal comparisons.  Remember now, Jesus is talking to the disciples.  Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?  If you answered yes, then this morning Jesus is talking to you too!  He’s asking you to look at the conduct of the manager and see if you don’t find yourself there as well.   

In Jesus parable we are shown what a great amount of wealth the manager misused and stole.  Now as a disciple of Jesus Christ, ask yourselves “What greater wealth could there be than the Word of God and His Holy Sacraments?”  How have we treated these things?  Have we taken them for granted and neglected their use?  Have you treated God’s heavenly treasure in a lower fashion than you treat worldly wealth?  Have you hoarded this wealth instead of using it to create more heavenly wealth by sharing it with others?  These are some important questions that Jesus’ parable forces us to ask ourselves.  Do you fall short of God’s demand?  Of course you do, and so do I.  But what now… what should our response be to this now apparent sinful condition of our heart?  We must confess this sin to Him.  You see, we really are like the crooked manager and God has confronted us with our thievery.  So like the manager in the parable, we must confess that God is right and then rest in His mercy and forgiveness.

But there is still one more issue in this parable that we need to address, and it is this: What did Jesus mean when He said that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness”? (vs. 8a)  Well again, if we take the focus off of the crooked manager and put it back on the land owner it becomes clear.  In other words if we take the focus off of our own sinfulness and put the focus on God’s mercy and grace it all makes sense!

The manager was shrewd because he quickly began building a future for himself so that he wouldn’t be homeless.  He couldn’t do manual labor and he knew he couldn’t beg.  So what was he to do?  Well the very thing he always did… he would count on the merciful nature of the rich land owner to carry him through.  You see, he knew that by chopping considerable amounts of money off of each of the debtors bills they would be obliged to him for using his masters’ mercy as a way to save them money.  And he also knew that because it was his master’s nature to be merciful he would be merciful to him as well.  And He was right!  When the master found out, he was commended him for his shrewdness; he was commending him for understanding his master’s true nature… his merciful nature.  

Now to make sure that our focus is still on the mercy of God and not on the actions of the unfaithful servant, Jesus sums up the parable with this application:  “for the sons of this world (meaning those who find their identity in the treasures of this world instead of God’s treasures) are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation (which means our present sinful generation) than the sons of light (which means those of us who are saved by grace and who by faith know that we have a God of love who mercifully forgives us).”  And to make it clear to us what we are to do now that we know we have a God of mercy, Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth (that is through the wealth of this world), so that when it fails (as it did with the dishonest manager, your heavenly friends) may receive you (not into earthly homes) but into the eternal dwelling.” (vs. 8b)  What is the eternal dwelling?  Friends it is your mansion in heaven; your personal and real home that is greater than any possession you could ever have here on earth.  After all, every one of the good things that you possess here in this world have been given to you by God.  He is the creator and owner of all.  What you have is simply a trust from Him.  But your eternal possession, your salvation is truly yours.  He has freely given that to you through Jesus Christ, and it is really is yours!  No one can take it away from you.  It is your birth-right that was given to you in your baptism and it is a gift that is always growing as you continue in the Word of God and make friends in heaven.  And who are those friends?  They are God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! 

So Jesus is saying that because of all of this we should be faithful with the little wealth we have been given here on earth.  What is that little wealth?  Certainly it is not God’s grace and mercy which are showered upon us in His Word and Sacrament!  Then what is it?  Friends it is the wealth of this world.  How are we faithful in this little wealth?  By using it to build the kingdom of Heaven; by using it to spread the gospel.  We don’t use it to feather our nest here in this sinful world, but instead we use it to spread God’s wealth and build His kingdom.  Does our money, time, and talent that we use to further His kingdom then buy our mansion in heaven?  No, and again I say no!  If it did, then that would mean we could buy our salvation.  Then what does our money accomplish?  It helps to spread the message that our God, their God is loving and merciful and He desires that none should perish but that each one would turn to Jesus Christ, the Son of God so that they too might eternally know God’s love and mercy, and then join with you the church in continuing to build the Kingdom of God, one heart at a time.

What must we do to ensure that we never become an unrighteous manager or steward?  We must keep our focus on the mercy and love of God; mercy and love which come to us only through Jesus Christ and the cross He chose to die upon for the sins of the world, even your sins!  When we turn to Jesus and His cross we are also turning away from our sin, even our sinful love of this world and its treasures.  Jesus said, “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.”  (vs. 19)  It is an either or proposition friends.  You can’t love and serve both!

So it comes down to this: Who is your Savior and God?  For some, money and the things of this world are their god’s; and they will leave here this morning like many of the Pharisees, unchanged and feeling put-off.  They will look at this message as just another attempt by the church and one of her preachers to get more time, talent, and treasure out of them.  But because you know that through Jesus Christ your Creator God is merciful, loving and kind, you see your time, talent, and yes your money as well, as a tool that God uses to build His kingdom by pointing others to a merciful God who forgives and saves only through Jesus and His heavenly treasures, which are His blessed Word and Sacraments, the very things that saved you!  May God continue to give us this same mercy and grace through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!