Pentecost 18, 2016

Pentecost 1816 –“Unrighteous Wealth in the Hands of Believers.” – Luke 16:1-15

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The text for our sermon meditation is from the Gospel account of St Luke, the 16th Chapter.

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

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

William Watkins wrote these words.

Forgive us Lord for feast that knows no fast,

For joy in things that meanwhile starve the soul,

For walls and wars that hide your mercies vast

And blur our vision of the Kingdom’s goal.

Open our eyes to see Your love’s intent,

To know with minds and hearts its depth and height;

May thankfulness be days in service spent,

Reflection of Christ’s life and love and light.

When we sing these words we are expressing a very profound truth about our relationship to God and His will for us.  Even though we are made children of God and heirs of eternal life, there still clings to us the blindness of sin which clouds our thinking and stunts our growth in things eternal.  The goal of God’s Kingdom is blurred and we fail to reflect Christ’s life, love and light.  We starve our souls and feast on the fleeting treasures of this world, serving ourselves and neglecting to serve the God who calls us to be His own.

The blurred vision and clouded thinking also prevents us from hearing the encouragement which Jesus gives in the words of this parable about the dishonest manager who squandered his master’s property and encouraged his business partners to cheat his master so that he had a place to go when he lost his job.

This parable is somewhat difficult to understand.  I talked with a fellow pastors this week at our circuit meeting regarding this parable.  We had a lively discussion.  Some of the discussion was on point.  Some of the discussion was off the point of the parable.  The wisdom of professors did not seem to help us in understanding as we wrestled with various points of the parable, especially the words regarding the commendation given to the dishonest manager and the encouragement for the use of unrighteous wealth.

I must confess that I was puzzled when I first read this parable and had to prepare my sermon on this text.  I even restudied it when I taught it in Bible class a couple years ago.  I restudied it again and again this week in preparation for this morning’s worship.  God reconciled the issues in my mind that I could see the point and give the proper encouragement so that His Kingdom goal was given clear line of sight.

My grandchildren, Lily and Alexander, once attended elementary school in Owensboro, Kentucky.  The school has list of seven habits they want the children to develop and practice for being good citizens at school and in the community.  The seven habits are:

Be Proactive

Begin with the end in mind

Put first things first

Think win-win

Seek first to understand then to be understood

Synergize

Sharpen the saw.

What is embodied in these seven habits is also taught by our Lord in this parable.  We are to be looking forward to what is ahead.  We are to recognize that life in this world is not the only life about which we are concerned.  There is more to life than accumulating wealth to spend on ourselves and toys with which we occupy our free time, which is not truly free time for the believer in Christ.

When we look forward we see the end goal.  We see that God has a place prepared for everyone who is born in this world.  The believer in Jesus Christ is blessed by God to discern this truth and prepare for that place which God has prepared for them.  While the unbeliever continues unaware of their end and the place God prepares for them.  The end for the believer is the presence of God where in eternity there will be unspeakable joy and rest.  For the unbeliever there is prepared a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth away from the presence of God in the outer darkness.

When we see the end goal we begin to see what must be done first in the order of preparation for taking the journey of faith.  We are aware that all who are in Jesus Christ will receive the same eternal blessing and that blessing is more important than the failing treasure of this world.  This leads us to understand the will of God, who sometimes shades His will in language which seems hard to understand and even at times senseless and contradictory.

What then are we to do with this parable?  There is an apparent encouragement to commit a sin.  This apparent encouragement is coming from the mouth of God.  The dishonest manager is apparently receiving praise from Jesus for his acts of thievery and encouragement to steal another’s property.  Then Jesus apparently encourages the use of stolen property to gain entry into heaven.

Do red flags suddenly appear in your mind’s eye?  Are you stopping for a moment and saying to yourself, “Did God just tell me what I think He is telling me?  It’s now okay to break a commandment if your goal is to get into heaven?”  What do you think?  How many think Jesus is encouraging the breaking of God’s commandments?

Jesus will never encourage such action.  Jesus remains the faithful Son of God and Incarnate Word that can never be broken.  Jesus desires us to truthfully consider what we are hearing and discern the truth which He places before us in this parable.  Read carefully His words and see where we have failed to look at the end goal of this parable and its teaching.  Does Jesus really commend a sin?  No, Jesus is not commending a sin.  Jesus is commending an attitude, sinful though may be, but also appropriate for all people.

What is the attitude Jesus commends?  It is shrewdness.  This shrewdness is neutral by nature.  It is neither evil nor good.  It is neither righteous nor unrighteous.  It is neither sinful nor holy.  It is neither unjust nor just.  Shrewdness may be used by the evil and the good.  It may be used by the unrighteous or the righteous.  It may be used by the unjust or the just.  It may be used by the sinful or the holy.  What makes shrewdness sinful is the intent and goal of the one who uses shrewdness.  This is what our Lord wants us first to understand.

Secondly, how do we understand shrewdness?  What is it?  Shrewdness is planning and calculating to achieve a purpose or goal.  It means that in your thinking you look ahead to what is required to get to where you want to be or accomplish what needs to be done.  Do you remember hearing this little pip of wisdom when you complained to your parents about a chore taking so long to do?  “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  Behind that little adage, word of wisdom, snappy come back, is a mountain of planning and preparation.

Previous to this parable concerning the shrewdness of the dishonest manager, Jesus spoke of counting the cost in building a tower, or counting the cost of leading an army to meet an enemy more powerful.  This parable is cloaking the same thinking when it comes to planning for the future.   It is hidden behind the word shrewdness.

God is shrewd.  What did he plan even before He created this world?  What was His purpose? And, how did God achieve His purpose?  God planned for the salvation of sinners.  He had created man to live with Him eternally.  He foresaw that man would fall into sin and be lost to Him in that sin.  God achieved the eternal life of forgiven sinners in the life death and resurrection of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  Scripture calls this Son of God the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.  What God planned before time, He completed in time for eternity.

Where is the shrewdness?  God knew His creation would fall.  Before its very existence God thwarted the fall with the means for creation’s salvation.  You are part of that salvation.  You have a place before the presence of God in eternity.  God has used His means of grace to make you His child and heir of eternal life.  Baptism sets you apart and marks you as Jesus eternal possession.  In that holy washing you receive the vision of eternal life and the faith to look past earthly treasures to what is stored up for you in God’s presence – salvation, eternal life, relief from sin, suffering, pain and death.

These are the true riches mentioned by Jesus in this parable.  They are your possession.   They last for eternity.  They will not be destroyed on the Day of Days when Jesus returns in Judgment.  These you seek to the exclusion of holding on to things that will pass away – the unrighteous wealth Jesus mentions in this parable.

Wait you say, because it is the love of money that is the root of all evil.  Money is not evil it is the love of money that is evil.  Again Jesus apparently contradicts himself.  We must view this unrighteous wealth with respect to the words “when it fails.”  The things that are unrighteous and whatever is associated with that unrighteousness will never continue to eternity.  In other places God warns this world will be destroyed and the works of this world will be consumed in the fire of God’s judgment.    Therefore the wealth of this world is only temporary and not to be treasured more highly than God’s eternal blessing.

That does not mean the wealth of this world is useless or sinful.  If it was not approved by God it would not be brought into his house to be used for His eternal purpose.  This Jesus teaches when He encourages, even commands, his disciples to use in making friends who will welcome them into the eternal dwellings.  What is this other than to proclaim salvation and eternal life to a world blind in sight and dull in mind regarding things eternal?  Use your God given wealth of this world to serve the higher purpose of salvation rather than your own selfishness.

Our Lord commands us to look at what we have received and examine how we use it for His kingdom.  This month you are asked to do this very thing.  Examine your support for the ministry of the Gospel.  What time do you set aside for the Word and worship of God?  What effort will you give to joining the family of faith in the administration of God’s gifts of salvation?  What tithe will you give to help the Church of God continue proclaiming Christ and him crucified in this world lost in sin?  What is preventing you from giving your tithe, your effort, your time?

I can tell it is mostly attitude which keeps you from willingness to serve.  The attitude is of blindness and failure to regard the true riches of God.  The attitude is to satisfy creaturely wants over meeting the spiritual needs of your soul.  You do not always live with a view to the end.

Such was the warning given to the disciples and to the Pharisees who listen in to Jesus conversation.  This is a warning of mercy to those in unbelief and warning or encouragement to those who seek the Kingdom yet to come.  For the one it is an opportunity to repent and seek the path of true righteous and faith.  For the other it is the word of praise to continue walking as you are walking in true righteousness and faith.

How is it with you?  The voice of your Savior bids you to take account of your stewardship of the material blessings given by His hand.  They are but poor shadows of true riches that await His children in the kingdom yet to come.  We are to use such material blessings for His purpose – to enlarge His kingdom and support the nurturing of faith among His people.

May this same Lord enable you to sing by faith and show by action these words.

Lord of all good; our gifts we bring You now;

Use them Your holy purpose to fulfill.

Tokens of love and pledges they shall be

That our whole life is offered to Your will.

God grant you will be found faithful on the Day of Jesus Christ.  Amen