Be wise with your Father’s wealth

Sermon for Trinity 9

1 Chronicles 29:10-13  +  1 Corinthians 10:6-13  +  Luke 16:1-9

Before we talk about today’s Gospel from Luke 16 and Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward, it’s important that we keep it in context with Luke 15. Luke 15 is the “lost” chapter where Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, and the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to seek lost sinners. He gave everything, even His own precious blood, so that sinners could be reconciled with God in His blood. He pictures Himself as this shepherd who cares deeply for each lost sheep and rejoices greatly when sinners repent, and again as a woman who drops everything and frantically searches until she finds her lost coin. He pictures His Father as a man whose son took off and squandered his father’s wealth, but whose only desire was for that unjust son to return to his house, where the father was waiting to run out to him, to embrace him, to forgive him, and to hold a banquet in his honor. That’s the picture Jesus paints of His Father, and of Himself. And it’s His Holy Spirit who works in sinners’ hearts through Jesus’ words so that you repent of your sinfulness and trust in this good God who gave everything so that you could be adopted into His family, so that you come home to your Father through faith and Holy baptism, feed on the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion, and take comfort in your Father’s faithful love, here in time, and there in eternity.

This is what life is all about: lost sinners hearing the Gospel, being brought into Christ’s holy Church, and persevering in the Church until Christ comes again. Life isn’t about our brief stay here on this earth. It’s not about accumulating things and enjoying the things that money can buy—even though you may very well accumulate things and enjoy them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But above all, you have to remember that you, as children of God, as sons of light, are strangers and pilgrims here. Your citizenship is in heaven, so you are to live with an eye toward heaven, and with a zeal to serve your neighbor for his good.

But even the children of light are sorely tempted still by earthly things. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh do not want you to hallow God’s name or to live as children of light or to sacrifice anything in order to serve your neighbor. You and I live in real danger of these enemies, and one of their most successful methods is to attack Christians in the wallet.

Israel is a perfect example children of light who fall into temptation. You heard the apostle Paul’s earnest warning in today’s Epistle, how the Israelites were severely punished by God and struck down for their many idolatries and forms of disobedience. Like you, they had seen God’s salvation. They had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, baptized into Moses, fed by God in the wilderness. And yet they still bowed down to an idol. They still complained that God hadn’t given them enough. Throughout their history they broke the Sabbath day out of greed, so that they could get more money by working on the Sabbath, and they became famous for not providing for the widow and the fatherless and for taking advantage of the poor. That’s the history of the Old Testament. And Paul says it was written as a warning for us, written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

The area that Christ addresses today where you could fall is the area of stewardship, specifically the management of the earthly goods and money that God has entrusted you with during this earthly life.

God is the owner of everything in heaven and on earth, which means He also owns your house, your bank accounts, your mutual funds, your clothes, your food. Even your own body is not your own; it belongs to God—twice, because He created it, and then He even bought it again at the price of Jesus’ blood. So both as your Creator and as your Redeemer, God has every right to expect that you, His reconciled children, will take care to manage what He has placed in your hands, not only to provide for your needs, but also to serve your neighbor.

So Jesus tells this parable of a rich landowner, a lender, who had many servants, including a steward, a financial manager who was accused of squandering the rich man’s wealth. He was called in by his master to give an account. But he had just a little time before that meeting. So he cooked the books a little bit, not to give himself more money, but to reduce the debts of some of the debtors. Why? So that they would appreciate his kindness and maybe repay it after he lost his job. It was shrewd. It was smart. He needed friends, so with the little time he had left in his office, he used the money at his disposal to buy some good favor for himself, not from his master, but from other people. Even so, he was actually commended by the rich man for acting shrewdly.

What’s the point? Jesus makes it clear: For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.

The sons of this world, the unbelieving, the wicked, the lost, often show themselves to be smart when it comes to using wealth. They know how to wine and dine their customers in order to gain their favor. They know how to give discounts that will ensure customer loyalty. They even know how to give to charities in order to get attention and look good, so that people like them.

But the sons of light, says Jesus, are not always so shrewd when it comes to how they treat their own fellow believers in Christ. Sometimes greed gets in the way, so that you don’t want to give generously to your fellow Christian in need. But it’s not always greed. Sometimes it’s just plain laziness. Never getting around to that budget, not quite sure where all the money goes each month, never stopping to think, how can I use my wealth—I mean, God’s wealth—to help my neighbor? Helping your neighbor with your (God’s) wealth may be a nice idea in theory, but sometimes it never goes beyond that. It doesn’t become a priority. Christians can easily fall into this kind of sinful laziness, because, “hey, you know, we’re saved by God’s grace, not by doing good works, so I don’t have to think too long and hard about doing those good works or going out of my way to serve my neighbor. I have God. I don’t really need friends.”

But that’s not what Jesus says, is it? And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.

Let’s understand this well. God is the one who decides who gets to enter that everlasting home. And He has told us the requirements: either enter by your own perfect record of good works (which is impossible), or enter without any of your works, by faith alone in Christ and His record of good works. No one is justified by his works. Faith alone justifies, and being justified means you get to live forever with God, in the presence of Christ, in the everlasting home that He is preparing for you.

But true faith in Christ says, “I am God’s steward. And God, my Father, loves my neighbor as much as He loves me. And He has charged me with managing His wealth for the good of my neighbor. So I must be a faithful steward. I have only a little time left on this earth. How will I use my wealth to help my neighbor?”

Then the Tempter comes along and tries to lull you to sleep, to apathy, to indifference toward your neighbor. “Here, enjoy your wealth. You’ve earned it. Eat, drink, and be merry. You’ll get around to making that budget. You’ll get around to helping your neighbor…sometime.” And the temptation is to hold onto the idea of faith, even as you fall away from it in your heart and become self-centered and callous toward your neighbor. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

But when you act shrewdly, lovingly, when you give to your neighbor, your works of love demonstrate your faith, and those who receive your generosity are the witnesses of your faith. You can’t go wrong helping your fellow Christian. On the contrary, you can be the reason why your fellow Christian praises God. You can be the hand of God who shows mercy and kindness to your neighbor.

I’m aware of the generosity our congregation as a whole has shown, to me as your pastor, and to your fellow members in their time of need. That’s good! Now, make sure that what’s true of the whole is true of each individual Christian as well, as each one has received a certain amount of God’s wealth to manage. Don’t grow weary in doing good. Don’t let today’s zeal become tomorrow’s indifference. There’s a reason why Jesus had St. Luke record the parable in today’s Gospel, and why the Church chose to have it read every year in the pericope. Sin and temptation are always creeping around, and the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. You are His dear children, after all, who once were lost, but now have been brought back to your Father’s house, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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