Sermon for Trinity 9
1 Chronicles 29:10-13 + 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 + Luke 16:1-9
Luke chapter 15—the entire chapter—is a series of three parables about the lost. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In each, Jesus goes out seeking the lost, calling sinners to repentance and faith in Him, freely forgiving them their sins, and bringing them safely home, like a sheep riding on the shoulders of a shepherd. Luke chapter 15 focuses on God’s grace in Christ Jesus, repentance and forgiveness.
Luke chapter 16, where our Gospel begins, is a chapter about mammon—money and the use of wealth. What a stark contrast! But it’s important to understand who Jesus is talking to here. His words about money are not about buying your way into the kingdom of God. His words are addressed to His disciples—to those who once were lost, but now are found; to those who once were children of disobedience, but now have been made children of light. So as we begin to look at this Gospel, don’t imagine that Jesus is telling unbelievers what they have to do in order to get into God’s kingdom. Those who are still lost in unbelief have much bigger problems than how they handle their wealth. They remain under God’s wrath, no matter what they do, no matter how wisely they use their money.
No, here Jesus is talking to sinners who have been brought to repentance and faith in Him—to those who are riding back on the Shepherd’s shoulders—and compares them to stewards or managers of someone else’s possessions. While we ride through this life to our heavenly home, our Father puts wealth into our hands, sometimes more, sometimes less. But no matter how many possessions he places into our hands, this truth remains constant: it’s all His. It all belongs to Him. As you heard David say in the Old Testament lesson today, Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all.
What are we, then? We are stewards or managers of God’s things, of God’s wealth, of God’s money. And so Jesus tells a parable about a steward of his master’s wealth—a dishonest, wasteful, unrighteous steward who doesn’t fear God or care at all for his neighbor. But for all that the dishonest steward does wrong, he finally does something that, at least, makes sense. He uses money to make friends for himself, and in this, Jesus says, he acts more wisely than God’s children themselves sometimes act.
Let’s take another look at the parable. A rich man hears a bad report about his steward. He calls him in and demands a reckoning, a report from the steward on his stewardship activities. He doesn’t fire him on the spot. He tells him that he will be fired, but first he insists on seeing a record of the steward’s management.
Now the steward demonstrates his shrewdness, his wisdom, his talent at calculating events. He knows his job is at and end. He has only a little while to figure out what to do. He still has access to the rich man’s possessions. He can’t steal them for himself. He can’t bargain his way out of losing his job. He has already fallen out of favor with the rich man. But there’s one thing he can do. He can buy himself some friends, some friends who will then take care of him when he loses his job. He can’t do the rich man any favors, but he can do some favors for other people, for the debtors of the rich man.
So he does it. He uses the rich man’s money that he has access to and basically gives away some of it to the debtors by reducing their debt, either by a lot or by a little. Why? So that they will like him and appreciate him and welcome him into their homes after he loses his job. The only thing left for him to do is to buy friends for himself using his master’s money.
Now, you would expect Jesus to say that the steward acted foolishly there. Money can’t buy you love, after all. But on the contrary, Jesus says that this steward was praised by his master for being so shrewd, so sensible or wise.
And then the stinging rebuke from Jesus. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. Yes, that stings doesn’t it? The sons of this world—unbelievers—are unrighteous and immoral and faithless and hopelessly lost. But even they know that they need friends to support them when they can no longer support themselves. Even they know that generosity will gain them friends. Practically every politician practices this. And even the worst politicians who do great damage to our society are supported and welcomed home with open arms by those whose pockets they have lined, aren’t they?
The point isn’t that bribery—political or otherwise—is a good thing or a right thing. The point is that, the people of this world, unbelievers, often make the connection better than believers do that it makes sense to use the money at your disposal to help your neighbor.
Christians can be very generous toward their neighbors. But there’s also a stingy, selfish person at the heart of every Christian—a stingy, selfish person who threatens to devour us. The warnings you heard the Apostle Paul issue to the Corinthians in the Epistle Lesson today were serious warnings, directed to Christians, warning us not to tempt God with willful sin, because those who do will perish. And among those willful sins can be the idolatry of money and the misuse of wealth.
Children tend to clasp their things tightly and refuse to share, don’t they? “That’s mine! Mine! No, you can’t have it!” They don’t realize how ugly it looks to those around them when they do that. They don’t realize how many more friends they would have, or how much more their own brothers and sisters would appreciate them and want to spend time with them if they were generous with their things. Adults know stinginess, too, that tight grasping of the checkbook or the wallet, the look of pain when someone asks for help. That is the reality of the sinful flesh that is stuck to us like glue. Even the sons of light are slow to part with their money.
“Their money?” Our money? No, God’s money. God’s possessions. The rich man is like God, the owner of all things everywhere. His are the mountain heights and the depths of the sea and the wealth of all the gold mines in the world. His are the heavens and the earth and all who dwell in it. A man thinks he owns things, and, in relation to other men, he does. But in relation to God, man owns nothing. He is but a manager and a steward of what God has placed into his hands for a little while.
And it’s placed there, not to do with as you please, but as God pleases. It’s placed there to be managed. That means, not just stuffing money in your wallet and pulling it out for this or that until it’s gone. But managing it. Taking account of it, budgeting it (whether strictly or loosely) to be used as God demands. And how do you know what God demands? You find it in His Word. There God has revealed that He wants His money to be used, first, to support His Church and the ministry of the Word, but not only for that; second, and just as importantly, to support the needs of the family God has placed you in; third, and just as importantly, to pay what you owe in taxes, to the government God has placed you under; and fourth, and just as importantly, spending it to help your neighbor in need, gladly and willingly and from the heart. And in so doing, you will not buy your way into heaven; God’s grace and favor are free, and freely given to those who don’t deserve it. But you will make friends for yourself. You will gain favor in the eyes of your neighbor, and that’s a good thing, and important thing, Jesus says.
In the parable, the steward used the rich man’s money to help his neighbor for purely selfish reasons. He had no love for his master, and no love for his master’s debtors. He was looking out for himself. And it made sense to use money to buy friends who would help him in this life.
But the children of light—we have better reasons than that, don’t we? We do love our Master, because He first loved us and gave His Son as a sacrifice to pay for all our sins. We do love our Lord, Jesus, who, though He was rich, yet He became poor, so that we, through His poverty, might become rich. He has forgiven us our sins and hands out forgiveness to us today again, and so He has created us again to love both Him and our neighbor. The New Man in you wants to be generous and do favors for your neighbor, not to help yourself as the steward in the parable, but to help your neighbor. Because that’s what love does.
And yet, it will help you, too, to gain the favor of your neighbor, especially the favor of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Trust in Christ to enter into heaven, as if there were no such thing as money or works. We are justified by faith, apart from works of the Law. But when it comes time to spend your money—God’s money!, spend it as if your entrance into heaven did depend on how many friends you will have waiting there to welcome you in, exclaiming, “This one was generous to me! This one helped me! Here is a steadfast helper and a dependable friend. Come in! Come in! You helped us on earth. Now come in, and stay with us, forever.” Amen.