Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trinity 9 Sermon

Trinity 9 – July 20th, 2008 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
What a strange story we hear from Christ Jesus our Lord. The hero, if you will, of the story is a dishonest manager. He is cheating his boss, gets caught, and decides to cheat him even more. What a strange tale, what a strange parable. Let’s look at it, ponder what our Lord is trying to teach us.

So, there is a dishonest manager, and this manager is charged with the accusation of wasting his master’s possessions. He’s been lousy, shady in his dealings. And so the rich man who is his boss says to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” Guy gets fired. He is supposed to go home, gather up the books, turn them in, and get his walking papers. And hearing this judgment against him, he doesn’t pout, he doesn’t get indignant, he doesn’t shake a fist. Rather, he pauses and reflects. “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” This man pauses, takes stock of the situation, without anger, without mindless panic. This man is honest about himself – I’m up the creek without a paddle. And then, he hatches his plan. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” So he goes to the people who owe his master debts, and while he still has the books, while he still can legally change what they owe – he does. Of note – 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.” Now, the measure that they are referring to here is equal to a bit over 1000 bushels of wheat. Here – save 20,000 bushels of wheat, that’s my discount to you. It’s a hefty chunk. And the man does this because he figures he can play the great game of I’ve scratched your back, now how about you scratch mine.

And then we get the verse that seems bizarre. The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. Commended, how can one commend a dishonest steward – how can Jesus even try to take anything from this? It focuses on one word. Shrewd.

So, what does it mean to be shrewd? It’s not a word that we use commonly. In fact, I’d be surprised if any of you ended up using the word this past week. To be shrewd generally refers to making solid and intelligent business deals because you see and understand what is going on. T. Boone Pickens is a shrewd businessman – 3 or 4 years ago he was talking about how oil prices were going to explode, and he was right, and he’s made even more money hand over foot because of it. Shrewd. He saw what was coming, and he acted in a way to benefit from what was coming.

The dishonest manager in our Lord’s story was shrewd. He saw what was coming. He knew he was going to get fired. He didn’t pretend, he didn’t live in la-la land, denying the cold, hard truth. He understood what being fired would mean, and understood that he was not prepared as of yet for the consequences. I won’t be able to find another job – I had best do something. He was shrewd – he did something that was a benefit to him. He still had the books – he had legal authority to give discounts. If you are a salesman, you have some authority to slash prices to close a deal. When I worked in customer service at a bank, I had the ability to cancel overdraft charges, if it would help encourage a customer to keep his accounts with us. This ability to cut prices, to cancel debts, is something that this manager would have – and so he uses it while he still has it. What he does is legal, is binding, would stand up in court – and ends up being for his benefit. And even the rich man must say, “Yes, that was shrewd.” This dishonest manager doesn’t operate under delusions – he sees clearly and acts accordingly.

And our Lord ends up lamenting that the sons of this world, the people who aren’t Christian, end up being more shrewd, end up seeing and acting more clearly than the sons of light do. So let’s ponder the question that our Lord presents. Are you shrewd? And we aren’t going to talk about your shrewd or unshrewd business dealings – but rather this. As regards your faith, are you shrewd?

The sons of this world, they are shrewd in dealing with their own generation, dealing with the things of this life. But you, oh child of light, are you shrewd in dealing with the things of your eternal life? That is what Christ is asking. Are shrewd, do you see clearly on matters of faith, on your spiritual health, or are your eyes blinded or focused elsewhere? Are you acting in accordance with who you are in Christ, are you doing what you ought to be doing as a Christian – or are you letting things slide? As regards your faith, are you being shrewd?

Now, Christ will contrast this by saying, “You cannot serve God and money.” So here is the contrast. Is your focus, O Christian, on the things of God, or on money, mammon, the things of this life that the sons of this world are so concerned about? So let’s examine. Do you see your own situation rightly? Guy in the story knew he was in trouble. When you look at your own spirituality, do you see any troubles? Do you look at yourself honestly and see places where you are weak, where you need to improve, where you need to struggle and do better? Or are you smug and content, do you say, eh, I’m a pretty good person? Or, even worse, do you not look at all – are you so concerned with the things of this life that you don’t even pause to examine your spiritual life – are you too busy for God? Do you have to wring your hands over whether or not there is enough time in your busy schedule to let God have even one morning a week on Sunday? Do you conveniently forget all that God has taught when it comes to your dealings with your neighbor during the week?

This is one of the major problems that Christians have, one of the major traps that we can fall into. We stop examining ourselves, and so we don’t recognize what is going on in our lives. We lose our vigilance, we just assume that we’re okay and sin creeps in, and our focus slowly shifts away from the things of God, and matters of faith take more and more of a back seat. Are you as diligent for God as you once were? Do you study as hard as you once did? Or have things just sort of slacked off? That’s not shrewd at all – and that can lead to your faith being shaken. Take time, study yourself, examine the Word – see and understand your need.

And indeed, there is the greater part of a Christian’s shrewdness – recognizing what it is that you need in order to be prepared for the future. The dishonest manager understands his lack, but is prepared to spend the future living off of the generosity of others. You, O Christian, when you understand your lack, when you see how you constantly need to work, to improve, to repent – you will be prepared to live off of the forgiveness of sins generously given to you by Christ. There is no wheddling or tomfoolery that you must pull off to get this – but rather Christ simply calls you to His House to receive His blessings. He calls you here for forgiveness, so that you are prepared for all eventualities, so that you are sure and confident in your future for all eternity, so that you don’t drift away and be lost because of senseless wandering, but are rather kept firmly in the faith all of your days.

Ponder with me, just for a moment, this Supper which our Lord will give to us in just a few moments. Think on what a fantastic gift it is. Christ presents us with His own Body and Blood – says here, share in My life, participate fully in Me and I in you. Receive full forgiveness of sins – and even receive this often, over and over again, so that you always have it, so that you know and see and taste that I am always with you. Do you see how diligent, do you see how shrewd our Lord is? He is constantly making provision for the continued strengthening of your faith! He has laid it all out for you, He has done all the work, He simply gives freely – behold, you have salvation – take and eat, behold you have forgiveness, take and drink. It’s all done. This is God’s wisdom, this is God’s mercy, this is His bounty of love towards you. His generosity and love banish all thoughts of fear – there will not come a time when this Supper is no longer served, at least not until we reach the heavenly feast. Rather this, always, over and over, be forgiven, be forgiven, be united to Christ. Its wondrous – and the sad part is we can get so caught up in things of this life that we can blow by it – or we can even shrug Church and the Lord’s Supper off – when if we actually thought and recognized and understood what happens here, if we were shrewd, we would know that this Supper is the most awesome thing any of get to experience in any given week.

And so our Lord calls out to you today, and He encourages you to be shrewd. Take stock of your own life – see to it that you are not neglecting the study of God’s Word, see to it that you are not overlooking creeping sin which threatens to destroy you. Rather, be shrewd and wise, come gladly to God’s House not only to hear and learn His Word, but to receive Christ’s forgiveness, to partake of His Holy Supper given for you – to have and know that all things are eternally prepared for you. Amen.

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