Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon -- 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 27, 2015)

LUKE 16:1-13
In the name + of Jesus. 

     This is probably the most confusing parable Jesus ever told, because it gives the impression that Jesus commends shady business dealings.  But we do well to pay attention to the words so that we are not misled.  Jesus declared, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8, emphasis added)  The dishonest manager was rightly going to be fired because of his mismanagement.  Nevertheless, while he still had his master's goods at his disposal, he was focused on doing whatever he could so that he would land on his feet when he was out of a job.  He was dedicated to one goal—to survive when he was in need.
     We see people show that kind of resolve and dedication when it comes to worldly concerns.  Entire industries have been established to get people a college fund, a retirement plan, supplemental insurance in case of a disability, and so on.  When it comes to worldly endeavors, we will dedicate much effort to make sure that we are taken care of in our need.  Sadly, we don't often see that kind of zeal when it comes to the kingdom of God.  We are slow to rid our lives of temptations because we do not see them as a threat.  We don't renounce sinful behaviors because we do not fear the consequences.  It is certainly not shrewd to play with sins or to let temptations linger.  If our goal is to dwell with God as his people, then we should live as God's people already.
     As clear as that is, Jesus' parable is still shocking to us.  “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8, emphasis added)  The dishonest manager had squandered his master's gifts.  We regard that as criminal, not worthy of commendation.  But the parable is not about business practices.  Jesus' parables are about the Kingdom of God.  And in the Kingdom of God, God's gifts are squandered and given to people who have neither worked for them nor deserved them.
     Before the manager was called to account for his management, he summoned “his master's debtors one by one.  He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’  He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’  He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’  He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”  (Luke 16:5-7)  This exchange tells us a great deal about the master.  First, we recognize that the master is generous.  One hundred baths of oil would have been worth three years' wages.  Who would loan that much?  One hundred cors of wheat was about 30 tons of wheat.  Again, what fool would lend out that much?  And yet, the master did.
     Now comes the dishonest manager who urged his master's debtors to slash their debts.  We don't hear the debtors saying, “No way!  The master would never let me get away with that!”  They knew the master was merciful.  They were pleased that he would slash their debts.  And the manager knew that his master would not come back to his debtors and say, “No way!  There are no discounts here!  Your debt stands against you!”  The dishonest manager squandered his master's goods, and in the process, he made his master look good.  The master appeared to be even more generous, kind, and merciful to his debtors than before.
     Once again, in this business world, this is all foolishness.  This is a recipe for bankruptcy and personal ruin.  But this parable is not in Business Week; it is in the Bible.  This is what the Kingdom of God is like.  God the Father is the gracious master of all.  Every thing we have is from God.  We falsely think in terms of my money, my house, my possessions, my time, and my life.  It is only yours because God has given it to you.  Since God is the author of life, he has every right to demand that your life conform to his will.  We owe God obedience; instead, we are indebted to him for our sins.  We have sinned against God with our self-centered lives.  We do not love God, and we do not love our neighbor.  They stand in the way of our selfish interests.  We would rather horde our wealth and possessions, as if these are what make us special.  Repent.
     God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to pay the price for our sins.  Jesus squandered all of God's goodness and mercy in order to save us.  He squandered God's gifts to make him look even better.  Only, Jesus did not cover the cost for some, or even most, of our sins.  Jesus paid the price for all of our sins.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2)—even though many in the world will never believe in him and benefit from his payment.  With his holy, precious blood and his innocent sufferings and death, Jesus selflessly offered himself up as the payment for all our sinful selfishness.  He fully and freely pardons all of your sin and cancels all of your debt.
     Jesus squanders God's gifts and makes him look good.  God the Father does not come back to us and say, “Oh, no way!  You still owe me, for you still sin against me.”  Instead, God the Father is shown to be most merciful and honors his Son who continues to squander God's gifts, his mercy, and his salvation.  Though we still sin against him, our Lord's mercy never runs out.  He fully and daily forgives all sins to me and all believers in Christ.  God is no stingy miser who only dispenses his gifts to the worthy.  Rather, he is the gracious Lord who forgives sinners, who pardons offenses, and who cancels our debt against him for the sake of Jesus Christ.
     Now that you are redeemed, your focus is heavenward.  You know that whatever God is pleased to give you in this world is only for this world.  Jesus said that the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8)  That is because the sons of this world are focused on draining out of this world every drop they can get.  You and I, however, recognize that God gives his gifts to be used for his glory and for the good of our fellow man.  When we squander God's gifts in this way, we make God look good and kind and merciful.
     That is why Jesus said, “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)  The truth is that your money will fail you.  You will find it utterly useless when you die.  In fact, many will be damned because of their money and their love for it.  But you recognize that God gives you your wealth to serve him with it.  One of the ways you do that is by your offerings.  With your offerings, you support the preaching of the Gospel—not just so that you will hear it and be saved, but so that others will hear it and be saved.  In a worldly sense, this is purely squandering our wealth.  No doubt, we all could do nice things for ourselves if we dedicated our money for our own good.  The world calls it foolish.  In the Kingdom of God, it is a worthy investment.  Squander God's gifts to make him look good.
     With our offerings, we support the schools where pastors train who will preach to our children and grandchildren.  We fund missionaries to strange lands where the lost are found by Christ and brought into his Church.  You will likely never meet the future generations or far off Christians who will benefit from your squandering of God's gifts.  But when your money fails you, they (will) receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9) and rejoice that your generosity contributed to their salvation.  Squander God's gifts to make him look good.  For he is good, and it is he who saves you by his abundant goodness.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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