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LSB Proper 20C Sermon – Luke 16:1-15

September 29, 2016

September 18, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

What to do with your wealth? That is the question that Jesus answers in today’s Gospel Reading. But He doesn’t give the answer straight away. No, like He often does, Jesus provides an answer after telling a story to illustrate a point. That story is the Parable of the Dishonest Manager that you heard.

Jesus’ parable is one of His most intriguing stories. He describes a failing employee, one who is about to be fired for his malfeasance. The owner of the business has been told about his manager: “Charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.” And the owner does what is expected; he fires the manager: “Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” Faced with a dire future, the manager figures out one last way to provide a safety net for himself: “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” He does so by adjusting the accounts the owner’s debtors. By doing so, he now has people who owe him a token of appreciation, including offering him a place to live.

The manager in Jesus’ story reveals himself to be a schemer. But interestingly, how does the owner react? “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” The owner doesn’t approve of the man’s actions. But he does approve of how the man was thinking. He credits the dishonest manager for coming up with a solution, for his ingenuity in figuring out a way to preserve his life.

Jesus explains why the owner in the story commends the dishonest manager: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” That sentence is a commentary on society. Jesus knows how the unbelievers in this world operate. He is aware of what they do to serve themselves and preserve their own standing. And He says that they’re good at it. In fact, they’re better at thriving and surviving in this fallen, sinful world than the believers are.

We should think on Jesus’ comment. And we should agree. It is true that many unbelievers will do better in this life where the rules of the game are not the same as the LORD’s commandments. The world’s standard of righteousness is not the same as the LORD’s. Jesus says as much: “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” The worldly virtues of greed and shrewdness are not divine virtues. But those who cling to them will do well in this life. After all, even those whom the LORD condemned through the prophet Amos—those “who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end”—had plenty of wealth and power. They got there by “making the ephah small and the shekel great and dealing deceitfully with false balances.” They could advance in their lives by “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and selling the chaff of the wheat.” The “sons of this world” know how to survive the cutthroat game.

But the LORD’s people, “the sons of light,” know the divine standard of righteousness. They know that this world is not the end, but just the beginning. They are aware of what the LORD says about those who run roughshod over His Law, who reject His virtues for what the world honors: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” That promise of how the LORD will act against the utterly unrighteous is no secret.

Yet, Jesus must exhort His disciples, so that they will act on that knowledge. Jesus desires His followers to be smart about how they live. Not that He would have them adopt the way of life that the world honors. No, Jesus doesn’t want them to devote themselves to what are actually vices. But He does want them to be just as shrewd as the sons of this world are when they deal with their own generation. That is why Jesus says to His disciples then and now: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

Jesus undergirds His point with further statements: “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?” It may seem a little confusing what Jesus is saying. But it is actually quite simple: how Jesus’ followers use the goods of this world and how they interact with others reveals their faith and character. And what is done now in this life has great effects in eternity.

You are people who know about the salvation that Jesus has procured by His dying and rising to life again, so that your ledgers are wiped clean. You know that the resurrection of the body and life everlasting await those who follow Jesus. Your know that your identity is to be the LORD’s holy people who are living according to His standard of righteousness. That great truth has been revealed to you, even as others may not know or understand it.

But how should knowing that great truth affect your conduct? That is the question that Jesus’ exhortation answers. Part of it boils down to the question: What to do with your wealth? The knowledge that you have should impact how you use the goods of this world. That’s what Jesus is getting at when He says: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” 

Worldly possessions will fail. They are bound to do so. They can be lost in this life. And ultimately, they will be of no concern in the life of the world to come. On the Last Day, there will be no use for gold, silver, cash, property, etc. But they can be used now to ensure that there will be others with you in eternity. This doesn’t meant that you are buying people’s places in heaven. And you’re not buying your own seat, either. But it does mean that the way you consider wealth and use it on earth will have eternal effects.

If you become devoted to money in the way that the world is, then you will not have a place in the eternal dwellings. That’s what Jesus emphasizes: “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.” The description of those people condemned by the LORD though the prophet Amos illustrates that. You heard how their devotion to money and wealth that led to gross unrighteousness became their downfall. They hear the LORD’s judgment: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

But your devotion is not to Mammon. No, you are the LORD’s holy people. You have Him as your Master. You serve Him. You are dedicated to Him and His way of life. Jesus gives you instructions about how to use your wealth. They are found in the call to be charitable, to be like Him in how He used His power and possessions to benefit others. And His instructions were carried out by the first generation of disciples, so that you have their examples from the Acts of the Apostles. You also have the further instruction found in the letters written to the various churches. What they have in common is that they implement Jesus’ command: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

Making friends by means of unrighteous wealth isn’t done by being a big spender who acquires a flock of hangers-on. Jesus isn’t calling you to spend your money on banquets and parties to attract a crowd. And certainly, making friends by means of unrighteous wealth cannot be done by using it for unrighteous activities. That would run counter to the devotion that you are to show to the LORD and His way of life. But it can mean using possessions to help meet the physical needs of those who are around you. Even more so, it can mean spending your riches on efforts to bring Jesus’ gospel to others. And historically, both of those efforts have been tied together by the Church.

That’s how you “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” For when those activities are done, people are brought to the same belief that you share in the work that Jesus has done to bring salvation to the world. And those who share in that same belief will welcome you when you enter into the dwelling place that Jesus has prepared for you in His Father’s house.

You have many of those opportunities placed in front of you, either as people who use your wealth to make friends for eternity or as people who have been brought into Jesus’ fellowship through those means. Jesus’ teaching stands behind what we do, when we operate our congregational human care ministries or partner with other faith-based organizations to carry them out. Jesus’ teaching also stands behind what we do, when we support local and domestic evangelism efforts or missionaries around the world.

It’s true that some will scoff at what you do. They may say: “Why do you spend your hard-earned money on that? Use it to do something that benefits you now.” In the world’s mind, that would be the wise thing to do. But you have that other knowledge. You know that the day is coming when all your worldly possessions will fail. But you can wisely use them, so that they have an effect that lasts beyond this world and carries into the life of the world to come. Your acts will reveal the faith and character that the LORD has given to you. And that’s how you can meet the exhortation that Jesus gives, so that you show yourselves to be just as shrewd as the sons of this world when dealing with the generation that the sons of light will have for eternity.

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

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From → Sunday Sermon

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