Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sermon - Pentecost 18 - Luke 16:1-15

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Lexington, MI
September 22nd, 2013
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 16:1-15

Grace mercy and peace....

Today we come to a difficult Gospel reading.  I have to tell you that I have talked with at least 6 other pastors about this reading from Luke 16, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, and it was unanimous that no one was looking forward to it.

And it’s not just because this is a passage about money.  Which is bad enough, by the way, for most faithful pastors.  Of course, it’s easy to go wrong when we touch on the topic of Christian stewardship.  But even worse, it’s not something most church people like to hear about either.  And why is that?

It could be, quite frankly, because the truth hurts.  It could be that we are more materialistic than we’d like to admit.  It could be that when Jesus tells the pharisees that no one can serve two masters - you cannot serve God and money - it could be that he’s hitting a little too close to home.

Just as it was in Jesus day, so it is with us today.  And so it is, by the way with many people where I am going, to Singapore.  There, the love of money is expressed in an handy little way - that every Singaporean is intent of acquiring the “5 C’s”.  Cash, Credit, Condo, Car and Country Club.  Of course, that’s a softball if a preacher ever heard one - there’s one more “C” that everyone needs, one that is our true need - Christ.

But to the extent that Jesus’ hard words about money apply to each of us this morning, and I suggest that is to a great extent - let us repent.  Repent of our idolatry of the dollar.  Repent of our putting things before God and our neighbor.  Repent of our unrighteous use of wealth, our poor stewardship of his riches, and of exalting in our lives what is an abomination to God.
And find in Christ our true riches.  There’s plenty of that in this parable, too, though it’s harder to see.

I think the other reason this text is so difficult a passage (aside from the fact that it talks about money), is that it may seem on its surface that Jesus is commending dishonesty.  Of course, he isn’t.  We don’t read scripture in a vacuum, and we know from other places that thou shalt not steal.  His point about the use of money is to use it shrewdly, yes, but is there something more here?

Take a close look at the master in the story - the rich man.  There are some clues here that something just isn’t right with this master.  Sure, he’s about to fire the dishonest steward for his wasteful management.  But even in doing so, he is merciful.  He asks for an account, but he gives the man time - time the steward uses to set himself up for the future.  The master asks for an account, but he never ends up demanding repayment (even from those who the steward gave a discount on their bill).  And strangest of all, the master commends the dishonest steward at the end of the story - even though he’s been dishonest and wasted and given away the wealth of the master!

Who would act like such a master?  Who would show such mercy, and forgive such malfeasance?  Who would show such patience, and commend even the dishonest, the wicked, the one who had stolen from him?  Our God and Father, that’s who.  On account of his Son, Jesus Christ.

For in Jesus Christ, God does things even more outrageous and surprising and nonsensical - at least to the judgment of this world.  The Father sends the Son, not to demand an accounting from us, who idolize things and money and fail to worship the true God as we should.  The Father sends the Son, not to collect on our debt of sin which we surely owe, a debt deeper than we could hope to repay.  The Father sends the Son, not to threaten us to shape up or else.  No.  He sends his own son that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.

And Jesus, for his part, is just as surprising.  He does the work that we don’t do, and can’t do - the fulfilling of the law. The righteousness of Christ is accounted to you.  All the good he did and does - you get the credit.

 And he dies the death we deserve, in our place, for our sake. He accomplishes his mission by paying the debts we owe - not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. He takes what you have - only debt - and writes you far more than a 10% discount.  He gives you freely of his grace, all the riches of heaven.  And a promise of eternity in his presence, in the bejeweled heavenly Jerusalem, with gates of pearl and streets of gold.

Does that sound like a lot to promise?  Of course it is, but he who is faithful with little is faithful with much.  And he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

So maybe this parable isn’t so bad after all.  Maybe a periodic reminder to repent of our love of money is in order.  And certainly we can give thanks for the mercy of the master, shown to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory forever, amen.

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