SERMON FOR THE 9TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 7-29-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
A CEO of a major bank was forced to let a financial manager go. The financial manager was ineffective, irresponsible, and had squandered valuable resources.
So the man found himself in a real crisis. But before he had to pack up his office, his framed pictures, and books and go – he did something rather shrewd. The guy said to himself: “I have decided what to do so that when I am removed from management (i.e. when I’m fired!), people may receive me into their homes (i.e. I’ll have a new job, a roof over my head, and provisions. This way, I won’t be out on the street!)” So he went through all his accounts and cut the debts and loans in half or nearly altogether. Was this fraud? Dishonesty? Oh sure, but he gained some friends. By his shrewdness he advanced his career considerably.
The CEO, surprisingly, commends the manager for his shrewdness, and then adds these words. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Well, what’s that mean? The meaning is this: Sinful man is a genius when it comes to self-preservation – and pursuing our own interests. We do it with absolute devotion and singlemindedness. We spare no pain. We spare no expense to get what we want. To further our careers, to send out kids to the best schools, to eat only organic – to retire with a flush amount of cash to live comfortably. The scheming, the obsession of it all, the planning, and plotting, - the careful use of time and resources is staggering in these things.
Consider the content of most of your thoughts. When it comes to worldly success, advancing our personal interests we are virtuosos – masters – dedicated to nothingness but success. All the while, we Christians, who say we belong to the Lord are unthinking, negligent, and lazy in divine things, even though we know that God delights these efforts and that we will enjoy his pleasure in eternity.
Our Lord is rebuking us Christians, rather harshly in today’s parable, challenging us, exposing our deep sinfulness here. He says the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. He is saying that unbelievers running full speed to hell are more industrious, more shrewd, more zealous working in the kingdom of the devil, than us Christians, us children of light, working in the kingdom of God! The devil gets a thousand services rendered by his followers, while Christ hardly gets a nod.
So consider it all: What if you applied that same energy you have for advancing self-interest, your legacy, your comfort, your reputation, your ease of life – and devoted the same passion into alleviating the suffering of others?
What if the time God has allotted you, the resources God has given you, whether it be gifts or talents, or financial, or otherwise were utilized for spiritual advancement, extending the kingdom of God, being a friend to the lonely, assisting the poor, or covering the shame of others. What if the time you spent scheming about your worldly future was all spent in prayer, commending yourself, your loved ones, even your enemies to the love of God.
What if our obsession for advancing in worldly ways was equaled or outmatched, by an obsession to advance into the heavenly places, and our assistance in helping others to do the same? How much more glorious our churches and our communities would be!
Dear Christians, we are not CEO’s, we’re not masters, or bosses. We’re not Lords. We are only servants, low level managers, only stewards of God’s gifts. Nothing really belongs to us, not a single cent is ours, if we want to be precise about it. If you’ve been given much it’s just more responsibility – it’s greater stewardship. “Everyone to whom much is given,” says the Lord, “of him much will be required.” Now I know we’re Lutherans. Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. Only the death of Christ can merit the forgiveness of sins. Only Christ, can give to us entrance into the heavenly places. Does this doctrine contradict the Gospel, which teaches that a person is NOT admitted into eternal mansions by works but by faith, in Christ, alone? By no means! Christ alone has earned admission into heaven for us. But no person will be admitted but he who has witnessed that he actually believes in Christ.
And these witnesses are our brothers and sisters whom we serve here on earth. Recall the parable of the sheep and goats. “Lord, when did we do these things. When did we feed you? When did we welcome you? When did we clothe you? When did we visit you and do all these things, these good works? Truly I say to you, whatever you did unto the least of these you did unto me.” And they enter into eternal life.
In other words, we seize hold of Christ and his promises. We grow in faith and in love toward each other. We persist in godliness, discipline, patience, meekness, gentleness, compassion and other Christian virtues. Fall short? Oh yes, miserably! Every day, every hour! But the Lord, in his compassion, will cover you with the mantle of His grace and forgiveness – all so that you might stand up tall - at the gates of eternity and not be ashamed.
And all those whom we have served here will rejoicing come to meet us, tell loudly before all the inhabitants of heaven what we have done with our property, and the Lord Himself will say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master!”
Above all this parable is message of comfort. We too have miserably squandered our Lord’s resources and possessions. We’ve been lazy in the kingdom of God. We should be the ones to be fired, canned, and let go, separated from God for all eternity! But no, just look, what’s he’s done. Our Lord has stepped in. He shrewdly dealt with our sins, by tricking the devil, and dying our death. He himself, in our place, was forsaken by God. He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. And he triumphed over it all in His resurrection – announcing peace with God – forgiveness – full and free.
Like that shrewd manager, your Jesus, he banked everything upon the mercy of God. Knowing that everything forgiven in his name, and by the blood of his holy cross, would be honored by His father in heaven. A mercy has been extended to you – that is not fair. You Christians, baptized and called by this Holy Gospel, walk away with riches that you have not earned, and barely even thought to ask for.
So dearly beloved, you are not in the red. Every debt has been paid. Every sin has been atoned for. Your account is full. You’ve been credited with the very righteousness of Christ. And this same mercy, this same word of forgiveness that frees, you have the privilege of speaking to one another in love. Of cutting debts, looking past one another’s faults, and being industrious in acts of mercy, loving one another, as you have been loved by God.
It’s no coincidence that those debtors in today’s parable walk off scot free with copious amounts of oil and wheat. After all, these earthly elements aid us when pressed into heavenly use in holy baptism and the wheat of the Lord’s Supper.
This parable like so many others Gospel texts, which we hear on Sunday morning, is yet but another wonderful and comforting picture of life in the church. The absolute joy of it all. The utter surprise and delight. Poor sinners, who have squandered our heavenly father’s possessions in selfishness and sin, find help in Jesus. He cancels our debts, forgives our sins, and sends us packing with the cleansing oil of baptism, and the heavenly bread of his supper, which nourishes and sustains us. All so that when this life of labor ends, our money, our possessions, and own bodies decay and return to the ground, when all else fails, we would be raised up in the resurrection, restored, and welcomed into eternal dwellings. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
GENERAL PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
Almighty and most merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks for all your goodness and tender mercies, especially for the gift of Your dear Son and for the revelations of Your will and grace. Implant Your Word in us that, with good and honest hearts, we may keep it and bring forth the fruits of faith.
We humbly implore You to rule and govern Your Church throughout the world. Bless all those who proclaim your truth that we may be preserved in the pure doctrine of your saving Word and that faith in You may be strengthened, love toward others increased, and Your kingdom extended. Send forth laborers into Your harvest, and sustain those whom You have sent that the Word of reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and the Gospel preached in all the world.
Grant health and prosperity to all who are in authority, especially to the president and congress of the United States, the governor and legislature of this state, and to all those who make, administer, and judge our laws. Gant them grace to rule according to your good pleasure for the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.
According to Your good pleasure, turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries that they may cease their hostilities and walk with us in meekness and in peace.
Comfort, O God, with Your Holy Spirit all who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or any other adversity. Especially we remember Your servant Lou as he undergoes surgery. Bless him with faith in Your loving kindness and protection. Endow the surgeon and medical team with ability and skill that according to Your will, his strength and health may be restored. Hear us also for Tom and Karen in medical testing and for all in illness and treatment.
Grant courage and steadfastness especially to those who suffer for Your name’s sake that they may receive and accept their afflictions in the confidence that You will acknowledge them as Your own. In regions torn by terrorism and threatened by tyrants protect the faithful and give outward peace according to Your merciful will.
Although we have deserved Your righteous wrath and punishment, yet, we ask You, O most merciful Father, not to remember the sins of our youth nor our many transgressions. Out of Your unspeakable goodness and mercy defend us from all harm and danger to body and soul. Preserve us from false doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and from famine, from anguish of heart and despair of Your mercy, and from an evil death. In every time of trouble, show Yourself a very present help, the Savior of all, especially to those who believe.
Cause all needed fruits of the earth to prosper that we may enjoy them in due season. Give success to the Christian training of the young, to all lawful occupations on land, sea, and air, and to all pure arts and useful knowledge, crowning them with Your blessing.
Receive, O God, our bodies and souls and all our talents, together with the offerings we bring You, for by His blood Your Son has purchased us to be your own that we may live under Him in His kingdom.
These and whatsoever other things You would have us ask of You, O God, grant us for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your only Son, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.