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Sermon Trinity 9 St. Luke 16:1-13

by steeh ~ August 4th, 2009

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

It takes a lot of nerve to receive taxpayer money from the government to keep your business afloat, and then turn around and give that money to yourselves as executive bonuses.  Most Americans were outraged by these Wall Street bonuses and cried “foul”! It’s so easy to be generous with someone else’s money.

The steward described by Jesus in the parable or story you just heard was equally nervy.  He had gotten caught red-handed cheating the owner for whom he worked, and was told, “Bring in the books and make an accounting of your stewardship. You’re done.”  But motivated by self-preservation, this man used the little bit of time available to him to his advantage.

He went to a number of his boss’s customers and reduced the amount that they owed.  He had no authority to do such a thing, but they didn’t know that.  They assumed that he had been directed to do this by the owner.  Apparently this owner must already have had a reputation as a good, generous man, or those customers would have smelled a rat.  But they gladly accepted the discounts, so that both the steward and the owner made good friends of these customers.  This was vital for this steward, who would soon need a friend he could go to for a favor, after the owner threw him out on his ear. 

This really was an act of thievery; the steward was using money owed to his boss to make friends for himself.  It’s easy to be generous with someone else’s money. 

What happened to that rotten steward?  Anyone listening as Jesus tells this story would assume that when the owner found out, he would be even angrier than he was already, and really lower the boom on that steward.

After all, Jesus, the storyteller is God. God hates sin.  God has commanded us, “You shall not steal”. Naturally then, you would expect Jesus to tell the story in such a way that this thieving steward gets what he deserves.  Doesn’t happen.  Instead, the owner of the company actually compliments the steward for being shrewd and using the owner’s money to take care of himself.  Then, as the hearer’s mouths drop open in surprise, Jesus delivers the punch line or the moral of the story: 

“And I say to you, make friends for yourself by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”

“I say to you” – that’s Jesus speaking as God.  “I say to you, Christian, imitate what that steward did.”  What? You’ve got to be kidding!  No, Jesus is not kidding.  Not that Jesus would ever instruct us to lie or cheat.   Jesus said, “I have not come to set aside the Law, but to fulfill it.”  What then is the connection?  In what way are we, God’s children, to imitate this thief and liar?

Realize, first of all, that we all have one crucial thing in common with that steward:  You have been entrusted with assets that do not belong to you.  A steward is a manager who takes care of someone else’s goods.

In your case and mine, everything single thing that we have belongs to God.  Everything that you have comes from Him and returns to Him. The early fathers of the Church speak about this.  Gaudentius writes:

“In this world nothing is really ours. … we have been entrusted with the stewardship of the goods of our Lord, either to use them, with giving of thanks, according to our needs, or to distribute them to our fellow servants according as they need. … it is not lawful to misuse indiscriminately the means that have been committed to us, or to claim the right to extravagant expense and display; for we must render an account of our stewardship to the Lord when He comes.”

Likewise, Chrysostom writes:

“We are not placed in this life as lords in our own houses, but as guests and strangers … He who is now rich in a moment is a beggar.  Therefore, whoever you may be, know that you are but an administrator of things that belong to Another. You have been given the right of brief and passing use of them.  Therefore cast out of your soul the pride of dominion, and put on instead the modesty and humility of a steward.”

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to imagine that you’ve worked hard for what you have and it belongs to you, and therefore, to hold on to it with an iron grip.  God says, think again.  “I’m glad to let you use these things for a while, but don’t get attached, and don’t get proud.  Use them wisely.  Especially, use them in such a way that you make friends for yourself and for Me, as did that steward.”

How do you make friends with money, and other goods?  You know the answer to that!  Give it away!  It’s easy to be generous with someone else’s money, as Martin Luther wrote:

Whoever wants to be a Christian must gladly, willingly and benevolently help the one who is in need and give wherever he can.  This is serving God, and He will ultimately reward you.  On the other hand, the skinflints and profiteers who can do nothing but pinch pennies and give nothing to anyone, or very sparingly, served the accursed devil, who will also reward them in kind.”

Don’t misunderstand Luther when he says that God will reward you for this.  Luther, of all people knows that you can’t buy your way into heaven by giving money away, whether it’s to a beggar or the Church.  But when you give it away, two things happen.  First, being a Christian, you make friends for God – people come to see the God you serve as generous, loving and good through your generosity, love and goodness.

Second, when you give it away you are fighting the good fight of faith.  Faith believes God when He says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Faith trusts and thanks God for all that you need to support this body and life, but ultimately believes that this world is not your home; that you are but a stranger here, heaven is your home.

Such faith is given to you by God, is exercised by fighting the good fight of faith, and ultimately is rewarded when you receive the goal of your faith, the salvation of your soul.  That salvation is the one thing that God wants you to have and hold forever. 

Our God, Jesus the Christ, was willing to give it all away for you.  He laid down His entire life at the cross that you might His life up as your own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

No one can serve two masters.  You cannot serve God and mammon.  As for you and your house, may you serve the Lord who gives eternal life!

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

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