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Trinity 9 – Luke 16:1-9

by pastorjuhl ~ August 28th, 2012

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

            There are weekends when the lectionary readings make me wish I could pick a nice text to preach that would not offend anyone, even me. This weekend is one of those occasions. Since our blessed Lord talks about money, let us consider money. The center point in Jesus’ parable about the shrewd steward is in verse nine: make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Jesus continues in Luke chapter 16: One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money….For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

There’s a lot to soak up here about unrighteous wealth and money. Consider the shrewd steward. What makes him shrewd is that he rightly assessed the urgency of the situation and he acted on it. He cashed in on his master’s name and reputation while there was still time, so that when he was unemployed he wouldn’t wind up sleeping in the streets since now he had some new friends.

This is not to say that you can enter eternal life by giving away your money. However, your money as idolatrous mammon, the excess of abundance, can certainly put you into eternal separation from God. Our Lord’s parable means that you are masters of your money and servants of the Lord. Remember, Remember, you cannot serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money. One has to give.

Have you wondered why there is a sort-of commercial break during Divine Service to take up the offering? Where exactly do the pieces of paper in the yellow envelope go? We try to make it practical by looking at budgets, expenses, needs, assets, liabilities, and so forth. That’s not really the point. That’s temporal matters that are important, but only in a temporal way. The chief purpose of offering is to loosen our grip on our money lest it become mammon, an idol, in our hands. In other words, the way to prevent wealth from becoming an idol is to give it away, to show it who is the boss, to order it around. Tell those pieces of paper in the yellow envelope to help that poor man, or feed that hungry man. It means that we use wealth that we have not in view of this life but in view of the eternal life that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Wealth fails, just as our health will fail and our life will fail. Wealth will fail. This is most certainly true! Look at how our country’s economy, even the world economy, continues to sputter along in low gear. Trust not in brokers, they are but mortal. Earth-born they are and soon decay. Only the Word of the Lord endures forever. The treasure that endures is the treasure of eternity, not of this world. We handle the wealth of this world as citizens of heaven who deal in eternal currency whose value is determined by the Son of God who loved us and shed His blood to save us.

You can tell much about the faith condition of a person by how he handles his wealth. Jesus says on another occasion, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If you want to see where yourheart is, follow the money. You may be surprised at the outcome as you see all the idols to whom you sacrifice. Look at your checkbook register or your last credit card statement. It will tell you where your heart is and what your servant has been up to lately.

If you haven’t been a faithful steward of something as fleeting as money, why should God entrust you with eternal treasures? The answer is that He shouldn’t. Our hearts are divided. We try to serve two masters hoping they don’t recognize each other. We put in our God-time and then it’s back to business as usual.

Jesus nailed the Pharisees that day in their love of money. He tells them a few verses later in Luke chapter 16: You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. He knows exactly what’s going on with us. He knows our fears, loves, and trusts. What we exalt so high He considers abominable, putting us in roughly the same position as that steward in the parable who was asked to give an account of his stewardship. Imagine a heavenly audit of the books of your life, a close examination of how you handled your money and what you did with it. Whom do you serve: God or mammon? Do you use your wealth or are you used by it? Does money serve you or do you serve it?

Jesus was tempted by mammon. The devil dangled all the riches and glories of this world in front of Jesus for one moment of faithlessness, one bit of worship. All these are yours if you bow down and worship me. Jesus resisted. You will worship the Lord your God, and Him alone will you serve, He said. Jesus was faithful. He served His Father alone with a single-minded service. He did it in our humanity, as one of us, on our behalf.

Where we love wealth, Jesus loved God. Where we pursue comfort, Jesus went to the cross. Where we look for profit and gain, Jesus took loss. Where we gladly bow down to the devil for little more than a sampling of this world’s riches, Jesus renounced this world’s riches and worshipped God. Where we are faithless in little, He is faithful in much. Where we exalt power, wealth, and fame, Jesus exalts righteousness, faithfulness, and love.

What is exalted among men is despised by God. It goes both ways, too. What is exalted by God is despised by men. Jesus crucified, raised, and reigning at the Father’s right hand is highly exalted in the sight of God, yet despised and ridiculed in the sight of men. A sinner is justified before God not by who he is or by what he does but solely by trust in who Jesus is and what He has done. This is despised by men and esteemed by God.

When the wealth of this world fails, and it will fail because there is a coming end, when the global economy collapses under the weight of its own greed, when the idol of mammon is finally exposed as the worthless fraud that it is, when you have lost everything including your own life, there at that end is Jesus alone. Jesus who will not fail for you. Jesus who welcomes you into an eternal dwelling that He won for you by trading our His life for your life.

You are baptized into Him. His life is yours. His faithfulness is yours. His kingdom is yours. You literally have nothing to lose, even if you die like Lazarus the beggar does later in chapter 16. Having nothing to lose, being dead to this world and dead to self, turns out to be the freest position there is. Consider the parable of the shrewd steward again. Note that only when the steward lost his job and had nothing to lose did he actually do his job. Had he been that aggressive with his master’s money all along, he wouldn’t have been fired in the first place.

It’s like the parable of the man in the ditch and the Good Samaritan that we will consider, God willing, four weeks from now. Only one who is free from the Law can actually do the Law. Only as you are free from your wealth and hold it freely in a dead hand of faith can you actually master is as you serve God.

You are that free, dear baptized child of God. In Christ, you have the riches of heaven laid up in trust for you. In Christ, you have an eternal dwelling that awaits you. In Christ, you hold citizenship in a country that will never fall. In Christ, you are a servant of God and master of your money. This calls for shrewdness, the shrewdness of faith that cashes in on the good name of Jesus and lives as though you have nothing to lose.

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

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