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Sermon for Trinity 9

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ July 16th, 2008

Sermon on St. Luke 16:1-13

The Dishonest but Shrewd Steward

Trinity 9

+ Jesu Juva +

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.

–  St. Luke 12:37

Today’s Gospel Lesson is one of those lessons where you hardly feel like saying, “This is the Gospel (good news) of the Lord.” One is tempted, rather, to ask, “Is this really the Gospel of the Lord?” But underneath this curious story about a shrewd dude is the Gospel of the Lord. For it will teach us what it means to be God’s faithful stewards in Christ and to be awake when He comes.

“There was a rich man who had a manager.” The rich man is the owner of the estate, the one who founded the business, nourished it from his spare room to Wall Street, and then incorporated his business and hired a manager as it grew. The rich man is the CEO and President, the sovereign who rewards good and punishes evil. His manager is a high-ranking employee who is responsible to be a faithful steward of the rich man’s estate. He has the second-nicest office, the power of attorney, and full authority in the business, second only to the rich man himself. But then comes the initial incident, ripped from the headlines of today’s financial world: the manager has been unfaithful to the rich man, cooking the books and wasting his possessions. The unfaithful manager must be defrocked. “Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager!”

And then what happens? The manager contemplates within himself what he will do. He could get a job digging; maybe help build the latest aqueduct or seaport, but he is too weak. All those years in the high back office chair have taken their toll and he is out of shape. He could beg; maybe those employees he helped with their pension funds will be generous to him; but he is too proud to beg. All those years with the six-digit salary and five-digit expense account have spoiled him a bit. But then, one last great idea comes to his mind; one final, strategic move for this dishonest but shrewd manager to help him secure, a “pauper’s parachute,” so to speak. As the turning point of the story, he calls in his master’s debtors and reduces their debts–from a hundred measures of oil to fifty, from a hundred measure of wheat to eighty, and so forth. Now he has friends in this lifetime who will help him in his need. He’s still fired, of course, but he won’t have to beg or dig, because his friends will return his generosity.

And then what happens? The surprising climax of the story. What would you do if you were the rich man, you fired your manager for bad accounting, and he finished his last day at work with more bad accounting? One might expect the rich man not just to fire the manager, but to impose a lean on all his goods, foreclose on his home, and even throw the manager into debtors’ prison. But what does the rich man do? “[He] commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” What can we say? At least the dishonest manager was thinking on his feet. And so Jesus says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteousness wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The contrast is against the Pharisees, whom Jesus describes as “lovers of money” (16:14). If they cannot manage a little money, then they cannot be faithful managers of true riches. But the disciples will be faithful to their Lord and Master in all things, managing their money well and faithfully managing the true riches of God’s kingdom. And so it goes in the parable of the dishonest but shrewd manager.

What does this mean? This parable teaches us a lesson about our place as stewards in God’s kingdom under all three articles of the Creed: creation, Christ, and His church

As the rich man entrusted the management of his wealth to his manager, so God has entrusted everything you own, yes, this entire creation, to you. God’s initial command to our first parents was, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the the earth and subdue it and have dominion . . .” Take responsibility for all that you are and all that you have–your body and soul, your reason and all your senses; your land, animals, and all your goods. How often we are tempted to think that God is in charge of my soul, but I’ll take are of my body and everything else. But this is precisely the sort of false teaching that Jesus counters shortly after today’s gospel lesson in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich Man should have used his earthly wealth to help the poor beggar laid at his gate, but he kept it all to himself. In eternity, their fortunes were reversed. You yourselves have been given an abundance of creation in our affluent society. Even the poorest person today has access to more and better types of food than kings and queens did just a few centuries ago. Use your wealth for the benefit of your neighbor. Give 10% of your income directly to the church. God doesn’t need it, but your neighbor does. Give generously to your neighbor and help him in his need. The opportunities for acts of mercy for your neighbor are right in front of you every single day. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes,” for in using your wealth for your neighbor, you will fill the earth with God’s mercy and subdue it with His lovingkindness.

As it goes for creation, so it goes for Christ. In good Lutheran fashion, we must ask where Christ is in this parable. He is woven throughout this parable as mercy incarnate. He is the mercy of the rich man, who could’ve acted much more harshly against his manager. Christ is the mercy that reduces the debts of the employees, absorbing the debt into the rich man’s estate with no questions asked; that commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness instead of demanding a second reckoning; that promises an eternal dwelling for those who trust in His mercy here and now. This all foreshadows the ultimate acts of mercy on the cross. He cries out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do” (Lk. 23:34). He promises an eternal dwelling to the penitent thief: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). And it’s all for you and for your salvation. Left to ourselves, we are forever indebted to God and deserve the ultimate debtors’ prison, viz. Hell. But in the crucified Christ, our debt of sin is canceled, our bill is paid in full, and we stand before God redeemed, restored, and forgiven. As our hymn of the day puts it, “Grant thro’ thy death an sacrifice, To me a full remission.” “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes,” for they stand before God in the final judgment clothed in the baptismal robe of Christ’s own righteousness.

As it goes for Christ, so it goes for the church. As the rich man entrusted the stewardship of his estate to his manager, so Christ has entrusted the stewardship of the riches of the church to his pastors. In I Cor. 4, St. Paul describes himself and all preachers of the cross and resurrection as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1). The word “steward,” the same word translated as “manager” in our gospel lesson, means those who take care of something that belongs to another and give an account for their stewardship in the end. But while our parable is talking about earthly wealth or, to use St. Luke’s catch-phrase, “unrighteous mammon,” St. Paul is talking about the mysteries of God, i.e., every article of the Christian faith: the Trinity, the two natures in Christ, the Word of God, the sacraments, etc. To place ourselves directly into the Biblical narrative, the church is God’s house. The Lord Himself is the Rich Man. The pastors are the stewards, those responsible for the right doctrine and practice in the church. And you, the baptized, are the householders of God, i.e., the members of His churchly family who share some of the responsibility for the stewardship of His mysteries. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” – awake with good law-gospel preaching; full baptismal regeneration; a high view of absolution; and the real presence of Jesus’ true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” This beatitude describes those who are baptized into Christ and who live every day in complete dependence on His mercy. Blessed are those servants who use the gifts of creation in thanks toward God and in love toward their neighbor. Blessed are those servants who hear the “unjust” word from the cross, “I forgive you all your sins.” And blessed are those servants who would rather face death than sacrifice their stewardship of the gospel and sacraments. Yes, blessed are you, Dearly Beloved, for your Lord and Master will receive you into His eternal dwelling. “This is the Gospel of the Lord! Praise be to Thee, O Christ!” INJ. Amen.

Rev. Brian J. Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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