Monday, September 20, 2010

The Absurdity of the Unjust Steward

Pentecost 17 – September 19th, 2010

Text: Luke 16:1-15

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

The Gospel is absurd. Think about it. What Shepherd leaves 99 sheep out in the desert to go rescue 1? What woman calls her neighbors to throw a party when she finds one lost coin? What kind of Father runs out to his wayward, prodigal son and publicly restores him to the inheritance he had rejected?

And maybe, there are some of you thinking today, "Well, it seems absurd to build a church in this economy." And perhaps there are others who say, "It seems absurd not to build a church." O Lord, teach us to pray: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Then there's today's reading from Luke 16 – the so called parable of the unjust steward. Talk about absurd: "the master commended the unjust steward for his shrewdness." And that's where we get hung up. Who does this guy think he is? He'd make Michael Scott or Bernie Madoff blush. And why does it seem like Jesus is commending an unjust steward for behaving quite unjustly?

Jesus confronts the Pharisees over their own self-righteousness so that they will repent. Their self-righteous, outward piety is closely tied in with their view of mammon – worldly possessions and earthly stuff –he hits them right in their wallet – where their god is. Jesus preaches the Law to make comfortable sinners uncomfortable in their sin.

"There was a rich man who had a steward and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his possessions. So, the rich man called him and said to him, "What is this I hear about you? Surrender your accounting books, you're no longer the steward." "I know what I'll do," the steward says, "so that when I'm fired, people will receive me into their homes." Then, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first,

" How much do you owe my master?"

"100 measures of oil"

"Take your bill and write down 50."

Then another, "How much do you owe?"

"100 measures of wheat"

"Take your bill and write 80"

And then the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness…wait for it. Yes, grammar matters. The rich man commends the unjust steward…because…the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their generation than are the sons of light. If the steward is shrewd, the rich man is even more so. He deals with his own generation – the steward - most shrewdly by commending him and his cleverness; he knew how things work in this world.

One who is faithful in a little will also be faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in little will also be dishonest in much – that's the unjust steward, dishonest in his managing and even more dishonest upon getting caught. That's the Pharisees, dishonest in their handling of God's Word and even more dishonest in their handling of God's Word made flesh. They would rather kill the Master than listen to His Word.

Then, Jesus draws us into the parable. For we – like the Pharisees – are constantly seeking to justify ourselves by any means necessary, except the ones God ordains for our own justification. "If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, 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' words condemn everyone of us. Pledge card or no pledge card. Faithful in tithing or not so faithful in tithing. Blue collar. White collar. Clerical collar. We're all guilty of squandering that which is not our own. God doesn't want 1st place in your top 10. He wants you to fear love and trust in Him above all things. It's tempting to think that commitment Sunday is our part and God will do His part – but it's all His. There's nothing we have to commit that isn't already given. Yes, God will use His means – pledges and time and treasures and architects and all of your God-given vocations. And above all, He will use the very means where He causes His name to be placed: Baptism. Absolution. The Word. The Lord's Supper. He is the Lord of the Church.

We are but stewards, and if we're honest, poor ones at that. Our old Adam is a hoarder…taking what we think is ours and feeding our own navel-gazing, sinful flesh. Even the most pious Christian among us, who has given faithfully, been abundantly merciful, acted in the kindest manner, is confronted by the fact that they have never done enough. You cannot serve two masters. You will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.

"Ah, now you're talkin," our old flesh chimes in, "then, I'll serve God, not mammon." But this is not Gospel. Twisting service to God into a list of rules is no different only another designer made deity – another way to justify ourselves. The problem is you cannot serve two masters. You cannot fear, love and trust in God above all things.

But there is One who does. Lucky for us we don't have to deal with a just steward. A just steward does not forgive. He demands all debts to paid in full. Immediately. No exceptions. No grace. Pay up or suffer the consequences. No, God's justice does not work this way. Instead He sends Unjust Steward Jesus – yes, you heard that right.

Unjust Steward Jesus replaces your heart of rebellion and creates repentance. Unjust Steward Jesus up and gives everything away, for free – He gives salvation away, gives faith away, gives the Gospel away, gives the Father's kingdom away. The Gospel is absurd! God loves a cheerful – no – a hilarious, squanderous, prodigal, unjust giver. He loves His Son. And His Son is your hilarious, absurd, unjust steward.

So, you owe your entire life to God and cannot pay that debt? – don't worry, Jesus paid it. Your life is forgiven.

So, you've been poor, wasteful stewards of God's gifts and worshiped mammon as an idol? – You are forgiven.

So, you've been so self absorbed in your sin that you've forgotten to bear witness and show mercy; so, you've been the god of your own praise? Take your bill for all of it, don't write down 50, or 80, but forgiven. Debt paid. The record of sin – cancelled. Your money is no good here. The Father only deals in particular currency - His Son's holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death – for you.

In Christ Crucified, you are absurdly, ridiculously, unjustly forgiven. For you who only seek to serve yourself, Christ is the faithful Son, perfectly obedient to God for you. Christ serves God's justice so that the unjust are justified in His cross. He is unjust towards the unjust. Jesus is baptized into repentance for sins He never committed so that He baptizes you into forgiveness you never deserve. And the Father couldn't be more pleased. "This is my beloved Son." For your sins He suffers. For your debt He dies. He creates repentance, faith and life. For your sinful flesh He provides His own – take eat. Take drink. He who is faithful in a little is also faithful in much.

This how we deal with mammon. We use it. "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings." Notice, Jesus says, it's not if mammon fails, but when. Mammon will fail. Look no further than the current economic crisis for a reminder. And that's a theological statement, not a political one.

We use mammon – the stuff and possessions of this world, the pledge cards, the meetings, the planning and the labor - not for self-righteous gain – like the Pharisees or the unjust steward - but for the sake of the Church; for the work of the Gospel in this congregation and our community; for witness, mercy and life together. And to know that you are a steward is to know that you - and all you have - belong to the faithful, the prodigal, the absurdly gracious, Unjust Steward Jesus.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

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