Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 20)
September 19, 2010
Text: Luke 16:1-15

God, our heavenly Father, has made us His stewards in the world. Just as He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to work and tend His creation, so He has placed us in the world and given us a stewardship, a management, over His creation. So all that we have is a trust from Him, to be used for His glory, and in service to the neighbor. The plain truth is, we own nothing. All that we have belongs to God and has been entrusted to us for a time, namely, the time span of our earthly lives. It is to be used for God’s purposes, and not for selfish ends.

On Judgment Day, when our Lord Jesus returns visibly to judge the living and the dead, the books will be opened and our accounts examined. How have we used that over which the Lord has made us stewards? This is a frightful question, beloved. This question ought to strike terror in every heart. For how have we used our Master’s possessions? How have we used our money, our possessions, our vocations, our influence, our bodies, our families, our friends? How have we used that over which God has placed us in this life? Judgment Day is the Day on which an accounting must be made. And here is the dreadful reality: We have been unfaithful. We have neither used our Master’s possessions for His glory, nor out of love for our neighbor. We have kept back for ourselves that which does not belong to us in the first place. How can I give to my neighbor when I’m saving for retirement, for vacation, for a new toy? How can I give toward the mission of the Church when the economy is so sour and I could lose my job at any moment? How can I volunteer my time in service to my elderly next-door neighbor when there are so few hours in the day? How can I spend an extra hour in the house of God, when I’ve hardly have any time to relax? “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him 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’” (Luke 16:1-2; ESV; emphasis added). It is a frightful indictment. For God is the Master, and you are the unfaithful manager who has mismanaged and wasted God’s possessions.

What are you to do? The manager in the parable says 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” (v. 3). You see, you have no ability to work your way out of this predicament. You have no ability to save your own life from poverty and death. You have no ability to work your own salvation. Nor can you beg it from others. When the Master pronounces judgment, you are helpless. Jesus tells this parable beforehand, before Judgment Day, so that you will know now what the verdict will be on that great and terrible Day if you are left in your sins. Just as there is a time in the parable for the dishonest manager to examine his accounts and ponder the coming judgment and the bleak future, so there is a time for you, from now until your death or the Day that Christ comes again. This time, a time of grace, an undeserved gift of God, is given to you so that you may come to a knowledge of your sins, of your mismanagement, and realize your utter helplessness before God’s righteous judgment. This time is given to you so that you may despair of your own abilities to work you way out of this predicament, that you may despair of all earthly help, that you repent. And that you cast yourself on the mercy of the Master, who is good and true; that finally you plead nothing but the blood and righteousness of Christ alone.

The dishonest manager, having despaired of himself and all earthly help, casts himself on the mercy of the master. He banks on that mercy. Knowing the master’s character, that he is an honorable man, the dishonest manager hatches a shrewd business plan that will bring favor to himself and favor to his master on the part of the master’s debtors. He calls his master’s debtors to himself and slashes their debts. The result will be an even greater devotion on the part of the debtors toward the master and toward the manager. The manager banks on the master’s mercy. For of course, the master can respond to this shrewd business deal in one of two ways: He can reverse the manager’s deal, demand the full debt be repaid, and throw the manager into prison. But if he does that, the debtors will despise him and remain devoted to the manager. Or he can honor the manager’s deal, have mercy on both the manager on the debtors, and be the object of the people’s love and devotion. The manager’s wager proves wise. The master is merciful. He is honorable. He honors the manager’s business deal and even commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

Now understand, Jesus is not commending dishonesty. He is commending shrewdness. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (v. 8). The dishonest manager, knowing the impending judgment, takes the master’s time of grace and plans for the future. Christians could learn from this, Jesus says. Be shrewd. This is your time of grace. Bank on the Master’s mercy. For your Master’s mercy is even more sure than that of the master in the parable. For your Master is not just some businessman. Your Master is God, and it is of His very essence to be merciful! It’s a sure bet. Jesus tells you to follow the example of the dishonest manager: “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (v. 9). For that is a right and proper use of God’s gifts, of that over which He has made you stewards. Use what God gives you in service to your neighbor. Be generous. Be reckless. Give it away. Do you really think God will leave you in a lurch? Do you really think God will withdraw His hand of blessing? Do you really think God will run out of gifts to give you?

The question is really, are you living for this life, and the stuff of this life, unrighteous wealth, what Jesus calls “mammon”? Or are you living for the life to come? Because you can’t serve two M(m)asters. You can’t have two G(g)ods. Either you’ll hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. “You cannot serve God and money” (v. 13). If money is your God, if possessions are your gods, if things and people are your gods, if you’re living for this life and storing up treasure for this life, you’re wasting the Master’s possessions. Repent. You cannot work your way out of this predicament. You cannot make up for your unfaithfulness. Your only hope is in the Master’s mercy.

And beloved in the Lord, merciful He is! This is what He does for you. He sends His Son to forgive your debt. Not just 20% or 50%, but 100%! In His mercy, the Master sends His Son to pay your debt in full. He sends His Son to die, to be betrayed and suffer and be crucified, to endure the punishment for your unfaithfulness in things great and small, for your wasting of God’s possessions, for your living for self. Jesus Christ, in His grace, though He was rich, almighty God and ruler of all things, for your sake became poor, that you by His poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). He gave His all for you, all that He has and all that He is, to redeem you. And having thus submitted Himself willingly into this humiliation for your sake, He has been exalted by God His heavenly Father, who raised Him from the dead and seated Him above all power and authority to rule all things at God’s right hand. All of this, beloved, is for you!

Can you really live for mammon after all of this? That is the old life, the life that you must crucify, the life that you must daily drown in the waters of your Baptism into Christ. That is the old sinful flesh. That would be like the dishonest manager, after having been commended by the master and restored to a position of honor, immediately reverting back to his old ways and once again facing the judgment and righteous wrath of the master. You’ve been freed from this, beloved. Do not enslave yourself once again to unrighteous wealth. Instead, use what God has entrusted to you for His glory, which means fulfilling the needs of your neighbor. Give alms. Help the poor. Be charitable. Tithe for the mission of the Church. Give your money. Give your time. Give your talents. Because your treasure is not in the stuff of this life, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Earthly wealth will fail you, if not in this life, then in death when you have to leave it all behind. Nor will any of this stuff help you in the Day of Judgment. Jesus is your priceless treasure. He is your only help. He is your only salvation: Christ, and Him crucified. And you are His treasure, for which He paid the price of His precious blood.

God has made you a steward over all that He has made. Everything good thing you have comes from God to be used for His purposes, for the Gospel, for your neighbor. Most importantly, God has given you mercy, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because without Him you cannot but fall, He preserves you from all things hurtful, and leads you to all things profitable for your salvation. You can bank on His mercy. For even when you are faithless, He is faithful. He cannot deny Himself. He must have mercy. He must forgive. He has forgiven you, and called you His child. In Christ, He has given you all things. And in the Day of Judgment, the only verdict pronounced upon you will be “Righteous,” on account of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in your place. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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