Monday, September 23, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 18: "Mercy for Unjust Stewards"

+ Pentecost 18 – September 22, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 20: Amos 8:4-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 Right behind religion and politics – talking about money is sure to make most of us squirm, stress, or scream. No wonder the parable of the unjust steward is arguably one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables.
And maybe we secretly wish that Jesus never said it. The problem with that is, according to Luke – a reliable historian – he did.

Or maybe we’d rather just skip over or ignore Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward. After all, it’s difficult, makes us uncomfortable or it’s confusing. That may all be true, but those aren’t very good ways of handling God’s Word.
So, let’s begin by listening to Jesus’ words again. And it’s worth noting that Jesus is teaching his disciples, but the Pharisees are in ear shot too.

There was a rich man who had a steward in charge of his accounts. The rich man finds out that this steward has been wasting his money, Luke uses the word squandering in fact, just like the prodigal son and his father’s inheritance. The rich man calls the steward into his office, demands the books, and fires him. On the way out the door, the steward realizes he’s in trouble. When word gets out that he was fired for being a bad money manager, no one will hire him. What’s he going to do? He’s too weak for manual labor. He’s too proud to beg. But he happens to be very good at being a very bad steward.   

So he devises a clever plan. Before anyone hears about his being fired, the steward goes to some of the rich man’s tenants to discounts their bills. One owes a hundred measures of oil. He says, “Quick, take your bill and write fifty.” Another owes a hundred measures of wheat, and he says, “Write eighty.”
No matter how you look at it, that steward was a terrible steward – unjust or unrighteous is the word Luke uses. His unrighteous squandering of money got him into trouble. And his unrighteous behavior also bailed him out of trouble. That’s why the rich man commended his former employee for his shrewdness, cleverness, his worldly wisdom.
Then Jesus follows up the parable by saying, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

In other words, the unrighteous sons of this world are better at living according to unrighteousness than the people of God are at living Godly lives.
Notice, Jesus isn’t commending the sons of this world for what they love. He commended them for how zealously they love and the lengths they will go to in utter devotion for their gods.

Jesus is teaching his disciples to mimic this zeal, but not to follow the ways of the sons of this world. The pleasures of this world are appealing to the eyes and the desires. But the god of Mammon is a demanding pantheon, promising an ever increasing happiness with an ever diminishing return. The cry for “more” always ends in, “never enough.” Fads and trends (earthly and spiritual) will never satisfy because the gods of Mammon never deliver their promises.
Jesus’ words weren’t lost on the Pharisees. They were lovers of money, Luke tells us. They were unfaithful in the little bit of earthly wealth and even more unfaithful in handling God’s Word, which was their greatest treasure. As Jesus points out, they were simply out to justify themselves.

And Jesus’ words reveal the same thing in us.  We’ve all been unjust stewards.  We’re guilty of squandering our Lord’s gifts.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus also said. If you want to see where your heart is, follow the money. You may be surprised at the outcome as you see all the idols to whom you sacrifice. Don’t believe me? Look at your checkbook register or your credit card. Where is your heart and treasure? Whom do you serve – God or Mammon? Do you use your wealth or are you used by it? Does money serve you or do you serve it?

Faithfulness in things temporal reflects faithfulness in things eternal. If we haven’t been faithful stewards of something as fleeting as money, why should God entrust us with eternal treasures? The obvious answer is: He shouldn’t. But he does anyway.

Remember, being a steward means tending and caring for something that isn’t yours. Your money, your talents, your time – they’re all gifts to share, not gods to worship. This is what Christian stewardship is all about. To be sure, the temporal side of life is important: church budgets, expenses, needs, assets and liabilities. But we probably spend more time faithlessly worrying than we should. Jesus reminds us: you can’t serve God and money. Don’t place your fear, love and trust in your temporal stuff because it’s fading away. Economies collapse, currency weakens, but the word of the Lord endures forever. No, we’re not faithful stewards.
But there is there is One Faithful, One Righteous Steward. There is One who served God and never bowed before Mammon, even when the devil gave him a chance. Christ did not serve himself shrewdly. Christ was faithful in everything for you. Faithful in honoring father and mother. Faithful in his treatment of earthly possessions. Faithful in loving and serving God. And he did all of this for you.

Thank God Jesus doesn’t deal with us like the sons of this world. In Christ there is mercy for unjust stewards like us.

Where we love wealth, Jesus loved God. Where we pursue comfort, Jesus went to the cross. Where we look for profit and gain, Jesus took loss. Where we gladly bow down to the devil for little more than a sampling of this world’s riches, Jesus renounced this world’s riches and worshipped God. Where we are faithless in little, He is faithful in much. Where we exalt power and wealth and fame, He exalts righteousness and faithfulness and love.
Jesus is the most zealous and shrewd one of all when it comes to saving you. He squanders the possessions of His heavenly father with joyful, gracious abandon – not in wastefulness – but for your benefit.
So, you owe your entire life to God and cannot pay that debt? Don’t worry. Jesus paid it.  Your sins are forgiven.
So, you’ve been poor, wasteful stewards of God’s gifts and worshiped mammon as an idol? Christ has tossed out your record of wrongs and written your name in his book of life.

So, you’ve been so self absorbed in your sin that you’ve forgotten to bear witness and show mercy to others; 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.  Your record of sin – cancelled.  Your money is no good here.  Christ takes all that belongs to the Father and gives it to you. And the Father only deals in one kind of currency - His Son’s holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death – for you.
And he who is faithful in a little is also faithful in much.  That’s how Jesus wants us to treat mammon and the stuff of this world. Hold them with the loose, dead hand of faith and they won’t hold you. As sons of light, baptized and clothed in Jesus’ death and resurrection – the true and only lasting treasure there is – we see possessions for what they are: gifts to be used and shared and squandered for the sake of others, for the sake of Redeemer Preschool and music outreach, for homeless care and tending to the sick and needy, for the work of the gospel here at Redeemer and in our community.

You are sons of light. You are Christ’s great treasure. And you are forgiven much…Therefore love much.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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