Sunday, August 21, 2011

Trinity 9 Sermon

Trinity 9 – Luke 16:1-9 – August 21st, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Why in the world would we get a Gospel lesson where our Lord praises a lazy steward who ends up being a cheat and a thief? Why would Jesus say, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their generation than the sons of light”? Jesus is basically saying that the wretched unbelievers are often smarter, wiser than us Christians. Why would He say such things? Because, often, when it comes to seeing and understanding reality, when it comes to being “shrewd” and knowing what is really going on in the world, in our lives… too many Christians abandon the Word of God for pretend play-land and false dreams, and fall into arrogance and folly.

Let us for a few moments consider our parable. “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.” If you are rich and powerful, you often have a manager, someone who handles your assets and oversees things so you can enjoy life. This is an agent, like for auto insurance, or even investments. But what does this rich man hear, but that this manager, this servant, has been wasting money. The guy at Edward Jones has been investing in paper airplane factories – he’s wasting your money. So, what do you do at this time? You go talk to the manager. “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” The rich man summons the manager – we’re going to have a meeting tomorrow to discuss things, and I want answers. Again, a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

But here is where things get interesting. “And the manager said to himself, ‘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.’” What does this manager do? Does he cook the books, falsify records to make it look like things are hunky-dory? Nope. Does he try to pass the buck – pin the blame on someone else? Nope. Does he make a bunch of excuses, say that it’s not his fault? Nope. He’s been caught doing a lousy job, and instead of trying to come up with some fancy excuse, he simply admits to himself that he is guilty as charged and will be fired. He knows he won’t be able to talk his way out of it. But not only that, this man knows himself, his limitations. He is not strong enough to dig. He knows he can’t handle the rough and tumble world of the physical work force, so there are no blustery plans to just go do something else. He is ashamed to beg – he knows his own heart and pride, he knows his lack and limitations. This is the key thing to note about this manager – he knows that he is wrong, and he knows that he is weak.

So, he sets himself upon a course of action. “’I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning 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, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and write eighty.’” So, what is this manager’s plan? He makes himself a golden parachute. To the person who owed the master 100 measures of Olive oil – basically 800 barrels of oil – here you go, you, you only owe him 400. Or to the guy who owed basically 100,000 bushels of wheat – here you go, that’s 20,000 bushels of wheat I’ve saved you. So what will happen down the road? When this manager needs some cash, what will he be able to do – he’ll be able to go to these people and receive relief. And the best thing – it’s all perfectly legal. He’s the manager, he can give discounts – you go to a restaurant – the manager can take things off of your bill. The same thing here. Totally legal.

And then we get the strange part of the text – “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Well, why would the master commend this manager for basically stealing from him? Because the master recognizes that it was a shrewd, a crafty thing to do. This is where the phrase, “I’ve got to hand it to you” comes in – it’s the idea that while someone’s actions might have hurt you, they were pretty quick on the uptake. Even the rich man who fires this manager is impressed at how the manager handles the situation.

So then, what does this mean for us? Our Lord says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Are we supposed to learn how to better lie, cheat, and steal – are we supposed to learn how to run the rat race better? No, that’s not the point. This is. We are to be “shrewd” – we are to be wise and to recognize the realities of our lives. This manager was shrewd – he saw the writing on the wall, and he acted. Listen again. “And the manager said to himself, ‘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.’” Do you hear how the manager views himself? First thing – he makes no excuses. He doesn’t try to give his master some song and dance, he doesn’t whine that it’s not his fault, he doesn’t cry out, “Give me a second chance, I promise I’ll do better.” Rather, he simply admits that he has messed up big time, even knowing that his master will punish him.

So, what of you, O Christian? You too are a manager – the other word for manager that we sometimes see in English translations is “Steward”. You are a steward, given things by God, time, talents, treasure. How has your stewardship been? When you look and consider the things and stuff you’ve wasted, the wrong and wretchedness that you have done, the things you have left undone, what do you do? Often, we foolish Christians will try to excuse ourselves. “Oh, it wasn’t that bad.” Wrong answer. If you ever try to minimize your sin, if you ever try to downplay it, you are wrong. The wages of sin is death – how do you downplay something that gives death? This manager knew he was going to get fired and he didn’t pretend otherwise. Do you, O Christian, not realize that as a sinner you deserve death? Too often, we don’t act this way – we try to brush off our sin – we just call them “faults”, we down play them. We will act as those we are just such nice people that surely, because of how nice we are God will ignore our sin. God doesn’t ignore sin – sin must be punished.

“I am not strong enough to dig.” Moreover, the manager knows his limitations. He knows he isn’t going to be able to work his way out of his problems. Likewise, O Christian, do you recognize that you will not be able to work your way out of your debt, to work your way out of your own sins? You can’t make your sin up to God. It doesn’t work that way, you don’t have the strength. Yet, what so often comes out of the lips of Christians – “Oh Lord, if you just overlook this, I promise that I’ll never do ______ again.” Arrogant foolishness and vain promises, that what that is.

Do you see the problem? We face the same issue that was so common in Christ’s day – we are tempted to become people who claim to believe in God, yet who downplay their own sin and rely upon their own works. And this is found among us today. Oh, I’m not that bad. Oh, I’m a pretty good person. Oh, I do so much for God. All of it, hogwash and folly. There is a reason in our confession we confess that we have sinned, that we are worthy of both present and eternal punishment – because we are, and if we are to be wise, if we are to approach our faith and life rightly, we must always confess our sins, confess that they are vile and large and nasty.

Why? Because it is only when we realize our guilt and see and understand that we do not have strength on our own to save ourselves that we rely upon Christ Jesus and His forgiveness. The dishonest manager in the text – he basically realizes his weakness and is determined to live off the master – he knows he will only live if the master’s wealth provides for him. Likewise, O Christian, when you have confessed your sin, when you realize your own lack, you understand that you live, that you have life only in Christ Jesus your Lord.

Do we realize how utterly foolish it is to try to talk about how good we are, how much we do for God? Why would we look to ourselves and what we have done, when our life, our salvation is won by Christ Jesus and what He has done? It is His faithfulness to His Father that covers our disobedience. It is His death upon the Cross that undoes our death. It is His resurrection that gives us life. It is there, in the waters of Holy Baptism that God Himself has washed us clean, made us to be born again – why would we run around pointing to the few good works we manage to eek out when we have this gift? Christ Jesus gives us His own Body and Blood in the Supper for the forgiveness of our sins – why then would we cling to our works when we could instead pause in wonder at what He has done? Why would we look to ourselves for life and salvation instead of Christ Jesus?

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their generation than the sons of light.” The worldly folk, the smart guys who understand that it is a dog eat dog world – they know how to treat each other, they know how the game is played. But here is the sad thing. As Christians, we can forget our own sin and weakness and lack – but even more sadly, we forget that God is merciful to us on account of Christ. We forget that God desires to show mercy, we forget that God wants to forgive us. So instead of looking to Christ and receiving comfort, indeed, being strengthened by Him so that we have strength to live, so often we are tempted to rely upon ourselves. And this, dear friends, is folly. Look to Christ Jesus. He has died for you. He has washed you in the waters of Baptism. He feeds you His Supper. Yes, you are a poor miserable sinner, a lost and condemned creature – be not afraid to admit this and confess this. For you know the truth – that the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost, that He has come to forgive the sinners, He has come to forgiven you. Abandon your pride, forsake your own works, cry out with Paul that you are the chief of sinners, but all the more believe that Christ Jesus is your Lord, that He is your Strength, your Tower, and that you have life and salvation in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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