SERMON FOR THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 8-18-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Introit: Psalm 54
Old Testament: 2 Samuel 22:26-34
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:6-13
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
What’s going on in today’s Gospel? Well, there’s a rich man. And he’s got a manager in charge of his accounts. But this manager was found being wasteful, squandering the rich man’s resources. So he was to be let go.
So the man found himself in a real crisis. But before he was forced to hit the road, and turn in his account, he did something rather shrewd. He 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, I’ll have 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.
By his shrewdness he advanced his career considerably. He banked on the rich man’s generosity. He made the rich man look good. And he gained plenty of friends by his shrewdness.
The rich man, the landowner, 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 our kids to the best schools, to have the picture-perfect vacation – 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.
So consider the content of most of your thoughts. When it comes to worldly success, advancing our personal interests, we are masters – dedicated to nothing 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 in these efforts and that we will enjoy His pleasure in eternity.
Our Lord is rebuking us Christians rather harshly in today’s parable. Jesus is challenging us. He’s 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. What’s He teaching us? 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! In other words, we strive more diligently for earthly gain than heavenly riches. Martin Luther, the blessed Reformer, observed the following: “In our time, 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 zeal 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 instead 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!
This morning we remember that we are but lowly servants. Only stewards of God’s gifts. Nothing really belongs to us. Not a single cent is ultimately ours. If you’ve been given much, it’s just more responsibility. “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.
So pastor, doesn’t this parable contradict the Gospel, which teaches that a person is saved by faith alone? Not at all! Now, it’s true. Christ alone has brought us into His kingdom through His atoning and sacrificial death. He alone lifts up into heavenly places. But it’s also true that no person will be admitted but the one 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? Jesus answers: “Truly I say to you, whatever you did unto the least of these you did unto me.” And it is they who enter into eternal life.
In other words, we Christians seize hold of Christ and His promises. The love of Christ compels us. For it is no longer you who live at all, but Christ who lives in you. 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 covers 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 that we have witnessed to the love of Christ, with our lives, our property, and the testimony of our lips. 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. Now, enter into the joy of your master!”
Above all this parable is a message of comfort. The truth is, 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 your sins by tricking the devil and dying your death. He Himself, in your place, was forsaken by God. He cancelled the record of debt that stood against you 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 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 this morning that you have not earned, and barely even thought to ask for.
So dearly beloved, you are not in the red, unless we’re talking about the blood of Jesus. For 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. You too have the privilege 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.
What else can we learn from today’s parable? Well, it is 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 advance us, they help us when pressed into heavenly use in holy baptism and the wheat of the Lord’s Supper.
This parable, like so many other Gospel texts that we hear on Sunday morning, is yet another wonderful and comforting picture of life in the church. The absolute joy of it all. The utter surprise and delight. We poor sinners, who have squandered our heavenly father’s possessions in selfishness and sin, find help in Jesus. He cancels our debts. He forgives our sins, and He 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 by all the saints of God into our eternal dwelling. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: What Is The World To Me LSB #730
Author: Georg Michael Pfefferkorn, 1645-1732
1 What is the world to me
With all its vaunted pleasure
When You, and You alone,
Lord Jesus, are my Treasure!
You only, dearest Lord,
My soul's delight shalt be;
You are my peace, my rest.
What is the world to me!
2 The world seeks to be praised
And honored by the mighty
Yet never once reflects
That they are frail and flighty.
But what I truly prize
Above all things is He,
My Jesus, He alone.
What is the world to me!
3 The world seeks after wealth
And all that mammon offers
Yet never is content
Though gold should fill its coffers.
I have a higher good,
Content with it I'll be:
My Jesus is my wealth.
What is the world to me!
4 What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!