Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pentecost 17 Sermon -- Luke 16:1-15 (LSB Proper 20C)

September 19, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said to His disciples. . . “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”

The master’s summons was different that day. Other times the master had called his manager to the office, discussing the way that business was going. But this time, the summons was cold. There was no interest in asking about the manager’s well-being or for advice concerning the business. No, there was anger behind the master’s voice: “What is this that I hear about you?” The manager had been found out. Others had reported to his master that he is a fraud, a cheat, a squanderer. And now he is going to pay for his misdeeds: “Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”

This was the end of the line for this man’s career. His livelihood was being taken away. No longer would he have a position of authority. No longer would he have access to his master’s assets. No longer would he have people fear and respect him and his decrees. All this was being taken away. The account books would have to be turned in. After his sacking, the manager would have servant and debtor alike dismiss him with nary a glance.

So what is the manager to do? He tries to figure a way out of his mess: “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.’” Physical labor isn’t an option. Pride eliminates the thought of begging for a living. But there is one thing that the manager is good at: he can come up with schemes. The way into the predicament will be the way out. So the manager says: “‘I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”

How can the manager escape the doom that he has earned? He will do what he does best: he will squander his master’s possessions in order to gain favor with his master’s debtors. He only has a bit of time to complete the scheme. But until the master obtains the account books, the manager can smooth things out for himself. And it works! “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.” The master notes how his manager’s scheme helped to secure his future. This doesn’t mean that the manager gets his job back, but he will have a source of support for his physical welfare.

So what is to be learned from this parable? What does Jesus want His people to know? The key to understanding the point is in the closing comment: “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” This is more than a statement of fact, though it is true. You see how well those who are not bound to the ethical and moral standards of the Lord’s way do in this world. You see such a description in the Old Testament Reading for this morning: “Make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat.” It is much easier to obtain and maintain wealth when you have no bounden duty to care for your neighbor’s welfare, to conduct business above board, to be willing to lose money on a sale through honest disclosure of what is faulty in your product. All that is true, but it is not really the point of the parable.

Instead, Jesus’ parable is meant to show how well the people of this generation do in looking out for their own interest and compare it to your actions. When faced with the loss of his livelihood, the manager figures out a way to ameliorate the situation. He may lose his job, but he won’t go starving. He may never find gainful employment as a manager again, but he will have people out there to watch his back. He’s left some markers out there that he can call in. And it didn’t cost him anything: the way to his welfare is accomplished through soaking his master again. Through bald exercise of shrewdness, the unrighteous manager uses his master’s wealth to secure his own welfare.

But how shrewd or wise are you? How will you react when your Master demands your dismissal because you squandered His possessions? What do you do when faced with the loss of your livelihood? These are the questions that Jesus wants you to ask yourselves. But these aren’t questions that concern temporal situations. No, these are questions that address your fate in the life of the world to come, a fate that you must wrestle with in the here and now.

The question asked of the manager in the parable will be asked of you: “What is this that I hear about you?” It is the cold, hard judgment that the Lord God directs against your sinful lives. The report comes to Him of your squandering His possessions. You are given stewardship over creation, but for what purpose do you use it—for ill or for good? At the same time, you are given access to all the grace and mercy of heaven, but are you consistent in receiving them or do you neglect to gather around these gifts? These are entrusted to you, but when they are not employed for their intended purposes—to bring salvation to you through faith in God and to benefit others through fervent love of neighbor—then you have squandered God’s possessions. And your Master will say: Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”

What Jesus says should be considered well: “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?” Consider the questions. Are you faithful in the earthly things that your Master has placed under your management? Are you faithful in the earthly relationships in which your Master has placed you? If not, then should He entrust you with the true riches?

When behavior is compared with the standards that your Master has laid out, there should not be a bragging about faithfulness. No, there should be admission of squandering the Lord’s possessions. And because of that He should demand the removal of your livelihood, both now and in the world to come. That is the truth of the matter. So what should you do when faced with that judgment? How can you get out of your predicament?

You saw how the unrighteous manager acted. He came up with a scheme. He figured out a way to secure his living, though it couldn’t be done through his own work or his own wealth. The same is true for you. If the Master removes your status as His manager, there is no way for you to work it out. You can’t dig your way into everlasting life. There is no one that you can beg who can give you enough to buy it. And you can’t obtain it by cutting people’s bills.

“The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” They can come up with scheme after scheme. They can invent ways out of bad situations. But you can’t do so in the matter of salvation. Yet, you can act shrewdly and wisely. You should be just as concerned about your welfare and your eternal livelihood as the manager in the parable was. The shrewd and wise move is to accept the charges leveled against you, admit your guilt, and then to turn to the promises that your Master has made. It is hardly enjoyable, but it is the only way that you can survive, the only way that you will not be dismissed from the Master’s household for eternity.

You cannot cut your own bills in half and make up the difference. But you do have access to Christ’s works that erase all ledgers and repays all debts. What the apostle told Timothy is true for you: “God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” There is the way out of your predicament—not your own scheme, but the fulfillment of the Master’s grand plan of salvation through Christ’s ransoming death and His life-giving resurrection.

Jesus’ parable exhorts you to be shrewd and wise, to act with desperation and swiftness. The unrighteous manager did so. He knew time was short, but that there was a way to secure his future. For his shrewdness, he received commendation. The same facts should be known by you and drive you to action. The time before your judgment is unknown. It may be short or it may be long. But at some time, the Master will summon you. Do not let that be a time when He says: “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” Instead, let it be a time when He welcomes you as He sees that your accounts are in good order because of the ransom offered by His Son, a ransom that you are faithful in receiving through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper. For these are the things that make you wise unto salvation, so that you can be truly shrewd concerning the things in the generation to come.

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

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