from Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora CO, Podcast
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Luke 16:1-9 | “Stewardship Sunday”
The Ninth Sunday after the Feast of Trinity | 24 July 2016
This parable of Jesus, when you first hear it, sounds troubling. It sounds like Jesus is giving the okay to deception and theft and all sorts of wrong doing. But a look at some of the words Jesus uses shows us that this is not the case; in fact, it is the opposite of what Jesus is doing.
There is a steward, and he is caught by his master wasting his goods, so the master comes to him and asks for the books, and then he’s fired. He says to himself, “I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m too proud to beg.” He’s doesn’t know how he will work to provide for himself when he’s out of a job, so he comes up with a plan. He calls in all the people who were in debt to his master. In the text we only hear about two of them, but I think we can take these as examples, and there would have been more. He pulls out the receipts and has the debtors reduce the debt, some by this much, others by another amount. All to win the good favor of the debtors, so when they see him out of work they will, as friends, take care of him, and give him a place to sleep and something to eat.
The parable ends, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness,” (Luke 16:8). The word “dishonest” is stronger in the Greek, I think “unrighteous” would be better, and this is important, because this steward is not being put before us as a moral example, someone to emulate. The opposite is true. What he does is wrong; his motivation is wrong and his actions are wrong.
So why is he commended? And why is Jesus telling us this parable? Jesus explains it.
For the sons of this world 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. (Luke 16:8-9)
This guy was shrewd, and, says Jesus, we are not. He could see the trouble coming, he had a plain assessment of the situation, including his own limitations, and he knew that there was value in money (even if it wasn’t his), and he used it to make friends. And he worked, probably harder than he had worked in years, to make sure that his future had some hope in it.
Jesus looks at this little scoundrel, running around, cheating his master, pulling out all this paper work, staying up all night, thinking about what to do next, plotting, sneaking around, and all this, and he says, “Look at this thief, see how hard he’s working at his thieving? See how he’s plotting, planning, thinking, all for what? To have a few friends that will toss him some bread? And what are the Christians doing? Sitting around with all sorts of treasures, and they give no thought to them.”
The example of this unrighteous steward is a rebuke to us, to the Christians, what Jesus calls the “sons of light.” “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”
This all has to do with the 7th Commandment, You shall not steal. The twin vices against the 7th Commandment are greed and laziness. (The virtue of the 7th Commandment, by the way, is generosity, and that is what the Holy Spirit wants to stir up in us, generosity.) But to the vices of laziness and greed, this unrighteous steward was greedy, that’s what got him into trouble in the first place, he was stealing from his master. And he was lazy. He said, “I’m too weak to dig.” But when it was time to be fired, everything changed. He had a little motivation, even if it was self-preservation, and now he was the hardest working guy around, calling people in to meet with him, scrambling, writing, working, planning and so-forth, and he is also, all of a sudden, the most generous guy in town, giving all sorts of things away. Do you see it?
It is a strange truism that the sinners work harder at their sin than the Christians work at their love for their neighbor. Proverbs describes the evil doer, “For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” Imagine if the opposite was true for the Christians, “They cannot sleep unless they have done something right and good. They eat the bread of righteousness and drink the wine of kindness.”
I don’t think it even has to be in service to sin, there is an energy to worldliness. (“Worldliness” is probably a word we’ve forgotten. Do you remember the old preachers talking about the “worldlings”?) We give lots of thought and effort to the things of this world. I drive to church pretty early, and I can see the people setting up for soccer tournaments, pulling out with their campers. People are serious about their recreation; they work hard at relaxing. But 9:15 seems too early for church to start.
You get the contrast, and this is what Jesus is after. The children of the world pour their mind and body into making the future a little better for themselves, while we, the Christians, who in fact have a glorious future, the promise of eternal life with Christ, the hope of the resurrection of the righteous, we hardly think of it. So Jesus rebukes us. He says, “Think of the future. And use the resources you have at your disposal for these purposes.”
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. (Luke 16:9)
You’ve got a mind, meditate on good things, ways to love and serve your neighbor. You’ve got a body, use it to serve and bless your neighbor. You’ve got various resources, use them to care for the people around you, to be friendly, to make friends who will be your neighbors in the resurrection.
And Jesus instruction here is specifically about money. “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,” Jesus says. Spend your money to make eternal friends.
This is why this Sunday, the 9th Sunday after Trinity Sunday, is the best Sunday to talk about stewardship. Jesus would have us ask the question, “Are we spending our money to make eternal friends? Are we spending our money for the preaching of the Gospel and for the love of our neighbor?”
My thinking about stewardship is very simple, maybe simplistic. We spend money on the things we need and the things we love. And the Christian knows they need the Gospel. And the Christian loves the Gospel. So the Christian spends their money to support the preaching the Gospel. That’s all. Fairly simple.
And it’s not that spiritual. Sometimes you hear stewardship sermons says, “You give to church because it is good for you.” I suppose there is a grain of truth in there. We are always tempted to the idolatry of greed, so when we give our money away we are fighting against that idol and putting it to death. But I think it is better to understand our giving as a good work of service, and it’s not a service to God. He doesn’t need our money. It’s mostly a service to your pastors. Most of the offering goes to support the pastors’ families, the building, and then all the other stuff that’s going on around here.
Now, we have to remember that the Gospel is free. If the devil came along tomorrow and took all the church’s money and all your money and the building collapsed, we would still have the preaching of the Gospel, we would still have the preaching and the Lord’s Supper and the liturgy. We understand all of these other things as ways of making eternal friends, we have a place to invite our friends and neighbors to hear the Gospel. Pastor Flamme and I can spend our time studying and visiting and praying along with you so that the resurrection will be crowded with our friends and family.
“Now pastor, you’ve been talking about the preaching of the Gospel, but this sermon has been all law.” Good point! It’s probably an all law passage. But we remember that Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees and to us because He loves us. He sees the great danger of greed and laziness. He knows our weakness and our sins, and He warns us, rebukes us, calls us to repentance. And we repent. We repent of our laziness and greed, of the thoughtlessness with which we live our lives, the lack of concern for our neighbor and the resurrection. We repent of our foolishness and of our idolatry. And we hear the good news, the promise of the Lord’s mercy and grace, the generosity of His forgiveness.
When St. Paul was writing to the Corinthians to remind them to send money to Jerusalem, he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich,” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus came down from heaven for you, was born in a manger, wandered around the earth, suffered as a criminal, was hung in shame on a cross, all this is His poverty which is your treasure, your hope and life and confidence. Your riches.
You are rich in Christ. You have eternal life. You have the blood of Jesus which forgives all your sins. You have the Word of God, more precious than gold and silver. You have the name of God, blessed above everything in heaven and earth. You have God’s kingdom, the kingdom of life and righteousness. You have Jesus, and Jesus has you, and He has promised never to leave you or forsake you. In life and in death, in joy and in sorrow, you have the confidence that you are a child of God. You are, as Jesus called you in the parable, “a son of light.” And you are free to use your mind and your body and your money to make friends, eternal friends, even as Jesus has been pleased with His blood to call you His friend, and to make for you an eternal dwelling with Him.
Be shrewd, Jesus says, because by my death you have a life that will never end. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO