Sunday, August 26, 2012

Homily for The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 12)


Mark 7:31-37; 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Isaiah 29:17-24

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

Jesus teaches you that it is not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but it is what comes out of your mouth. For, what comes out of your mouth proceeds from your heart, and this is what defiles you. For, it is out of the abundance of your heart that your mouth speaks, and out of your heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander. These are what defile you.

As you were when you came into your life, and then, with what you have done with it since, it would have been better that you were born deaf and could not hear, that you were mute and could not speak. For then these evils in your heart would not be unleashed upon the world. But then, also, you would remain alone, isolated, and cut off from family and friends, cut off from life as it was meant to be, unto death and eternal isolation and solitude, which may be the worst hell imaginable.

But, thanks be to God, He did not leave you alone in that state, but having boundless mercy, love, and compassion for you, He visited you in your own flesh and blood and He spoke His creative and life-giving Word into the deadness of your ears. He opened them and He loosed your tongue to speak, not the wickedness of your sin-corrupted heart, but His praise rising from a heart cleansed by His holy blood shed for you, a new heart of flesh to replace your heart of stone.

Jesus’ touch is powerful and healing to be sure, but even the touch of His hands is empowered by His creative and life-giving Word. And so, you need not worry that Jesus hands are not present that He may place His fingers into your ears, that He does not spit and touch your tongue, for you have His creative and life-giving Word, you have His ephphatha spoken to you in and through His holy Word in the Holy Scriptures, and through the lips and mouths, hands and touch of pastors and priests in Law and Gospel preaching, in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in Holy Supper. Through these humble means He is present to serve you with greater gifts than hearing and speech, but with the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” The Church sings these words of King David at the beginning of the day in the Matins liturgy. They come from Psalm 51, the great penitential Psalm of David, which he composed after he was brought to repentance through the words of Jonathan. In Psalm 51, King David confessed that he was in need of a new heart, and he asked that the LORD would create a clean heart within him and renew a right spirit within him, words that the Church still sings at each Divine Service in the Offertory. For, along with David, each Christian must confess that he was conceived and born in sin, spiritually deaf to the Word of God and unable to speak His praise until the LORD opens our stopped ears and looses our mute tongues. It is nothing less than an act of creation and a resurrection each and every time a sinner repents. He who was deaf can hear. He who was mute can sing. He who was blind can see. He who was lame can leap like a deer. He who was dead lives, all because of the creative and life-giving Word of a Book spoken into death and nothingness.

You and I need to be cleansed and healed, resurrected, and created anew from the inside out. That good work has already been begun in you, and your LORD will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are God's children now, yet what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

What you are now is God’s new creation. God has spoken His ephphatha into you. He has opened your ears to His Word and He has filled you with His Holy Spirit so that you are His temple, free from the bondage of sin and death, free to live life in the Spirit of God, the life of Christ to the glory of God the Father. This is what St. Paul means when he says that “we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.” “Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God,” believing, trusting, and knowing that He has done all things well for us in Christ. No longer is the Law of God cause for fear or a cause for self-righteousness, for Christ has fulfilled it and satisfied it for you, but now you are free to do it without fear of punishment when you fail or misplaced faith in your own works unto death. You are free to serve and love God by serving and loving your neighbor knowing that you cannot lose what has been given to you by grace, and that all that you have is God’s, who gives to you in abundance that you may give from the abundance of your heart what He has given to you: love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness.

The creative and life-giving Word of God that first clove the darkness in the beginning, that brought forth life out of death and nothingness, that opened deaf ears and blind eyes, that loosed mute tongues still calls out to you, still fills you, still feeds you, still strengthens you, and still re-creates you that you may live and be fruitful in the fruit of the Spirit of God: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things as these there is no law. But, the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. […] Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” St. Paul warns you that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

What this means is that, your God, who would not leave you alone in isolation unto sin and death, but in mercy, love, and compassion visited you in your own flesh and blood and spoke His creative and life-giving Word into the deadness of your ears and loosed your tongue to speak His praise, your God also will not leave you or forsake you, he will not give up on you, but continually calls you, again and again, and cares for you to preserve you and keep you that you may remain His child and heir forever. He knows your flesh all too well. He knows your weakness and the temptations you face. Therefore He gives you His Word and His Spirit and He dwells in you and with you, He joins you into a family of faith, the Church, the very body of Christ for mutual support and fellowship to keep you from straying into harmful beliefs and behaviors.

Likewise, you are indeed your brother’s and your neighbor’s keeper. Just as the disciples brought the man who was deaf and mute to Jesus that He might heal him, so too should you share the goodness, love, and forgiveness you have received from Jesus with others. More than that, bring them to the creative and life-giving Word of God in the Holy Scriptures read and preached and the Holy Sacraments which are the very means through which God bestows His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are not like Cain, self-centered and a solitary wanderer upon this earth, but you are a member of the body of Christ and the family of faith in Him.

The ears that He has opened, the tongues that He has loosed, they cannot help but hear and speak and sing His Word and His praise. This is who you are – healed sick, raised dead, forgiven sinners, called out of death into life and sent out into the world as salt, leaven, and light that God may be glorified. It is His Word that has called you. It is His Word that has raised you. It is His Word that sustains, empowers, and enlightens you – that makes you a blessing unto others. His Word is your life and your salvation. Read it. Hear it. Eat it. Live it. It is your life, for the life of the world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Homily for The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 11)


Luke 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Genesis 4:1-15

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

Why did the LORD have regard for Abel and his offering, but not for Cain and his offering? Abel was a shepherd, and he offered to the LORD the firstborn of his flock. Cain was a farmer, and he offered to the LORD a portion of his harvest of the fruit of the ground. Both offerings were appropriate, and both were God-pleasing in content, but the LORD had regard for Abel’s offering alone. But, why? The preacher to the Hebrews explains that it was a matter of faith and trust; he writes, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” And so, we learn that it was not the offering that was the problem, but rather it was the heart of Cain. And, what was the problem of Cain’s heart? Perhaps Cain trusted in his offering. Perhaps he trusted in the fruits of his labor. Perhaps he trusted in his own righteousness. But, whatever it was that he placed his trust in, he did not place his trust in the LORD for his righteousness. Thus, he placed his trust in himself. And, thus, the LORD had no regard for Cain’s offering.

The rest of that Old Testament account truly deals with the poisonous fruit of Cain’s self-righteousness. Cain became jealous and angry of his brother Abel, and that the LORD had regard for Abel’s offering and not his own. Further, he became angry with God. Nevertheless, the LORD said to Cain that if he did well, he would be accepted. But, He also warned him that if he did not do well, sin was crouching at the door, and that its desire was for him, and therefore he must rule over it. Now, that is a key statement. Truly, there was no outward difference between Cain and Abel. They both experienced the same temptations to sin, temptations that are common to all men, the same temptations that you and I face every day. They are the temptations of fear, greed, selfishness, jealousy, anger, judgment, and hatred. They are the temptation to self-righteousness, which is nothing other than transgression of the First Commandment, to have a god before and above the LORD – namely, yourself. All such temptations serve to drive you into yourself, and to drive a wedge between you and others. Such are the tactics of Satan, who prowls around like a lion, seeking to divide the flock and to prey upon those who become separated and stray.

You know the story all too well. Cain rose up against his brother Abel while out in the field and he murdered him. Cain had already murdered his brother in his heart, now he had murdered him physically as well. When the LORD inquired about Abel, Cain infamously answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This too is the fruit of self-righteousness – judgment, condemnation, separation – as Cain forsook his stewardship and care for his own brother, flesh of his own flesh, and blood of his own blood. Fear, greed, selfishness, jealousy, anger, judgment, and hate – these are the fruits of self-righteousness. These are the temptations we face daily which Satan uses to cause us to judge, condemn, and hate our neighbor so that we will separate from them, avoid them, and fail to love and serve them. Self-righteousness is contradictory and antithetical to love, and it receives, not God’s blessing, but His curse. To hate your neighbor, let alone your brother, is to hate God, and it is to worship your self. The only relief from this curse is to do well and be accepted, which is to say, repent of your sin, be turned from your hateful self-righteousness and idolatry back to God, in humility and selflessness, and He will accept you, just as He regarded Abel’s offering in faith and trust. He will accept you, not because of your faith, but because of the object of your faith, Jesus. Abel’s faith, so many millennia before the advent of Christ, was faith in the goodness and faithfulness of the LORD, that He would keep His promise to send a savior from the seed of a woman. Your faith is in that seed who has come, and who has been planted in the soil in death, who now is risen to new and eternal life, bearing fruit a hundredfold.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus taught a parable to illustrate this point. Once again there were two men, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Both men did the appropriate and pious thing to do, they went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed, giving thanks to God for many good things in his life: being one of God’s chosen, not an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer, or a tax collector. He was a good and pious man, well thought of as an outstanding example of godliness and holiness. He wasn’t perfect, but he did recognize God as having set him apart. But, there was a problem in his attitude – a problem with his faith and trust, just as there was a problem with Cain’s faith and trust. The Pharisee thanked God for setting him apart from other men. He even thanked God for making him a holy and pious man. However, the Pharisee’s faith and trust was not in God, but in what God had made of himself – God had set the Pharisee apart from other men and provided him gifts that made him pious and holy, but, instead of trusting in God the giver of the gifts, he trusted in himself and the gifts he had received. Is this a subtle distinction? Perhaps, but it is a significant and important one.

Consider the Pharisee’s attitude towards the tax collector, who also had done the appropriate and pious thing to do, going to pray in the temple. In his prayer of thanks to God, the Pharisee actually used the pious tax collector as an example of the type of person he was thankful not to be. The Pharisee viewed the tax collector much in the way that Cain viewed his brother Abel – with contempt, judgment, anger, condemnation, and hatred. His attitude rather should have been that of St. Paul’s who said, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle… But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” In contemporary parlance we might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The Pharisee boasted of his tithing to the temple. He trusted in his works, not in God. And, the Pharisee viewed the tax collector as beneath him, standing in judgment and condemnation over him, not recognizing that the same grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that he enjoyed from the LORD was showered upon the tax collector as well.

In contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector stood far off and would not even lift up his eyes, but he beat his breast and confessed his sinfulness and unworthiness of God’s grace and mercy saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The tax collector did not boast of anything at all. He did not offer anything to God but his broken and contrite heart. He trusted in God to be merciful to him. He trusted in God’s good will towards him. And Jesus concludes his parable saying that “this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other [the Pharisee]. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Next to the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer of the tax collector, and many other sinners, lepers, blind persons, and people in need of help and healing, Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy, is the finest prayer in all of scripture. When we pray this prayer in worship, we are praying like the humble tax collector, offering nothing to the LORD, but trusting in Him and receiving from Him mercy and forgiveness. As Martin Luther said in his dying words, “We are all beggars, every one.” This prayer is a confession that all that we have, all that we are that is good, just, and godly is His gift to us, by grace, received in, and clung to, in faith in Jesus Christ. We may judge actions and deeds by the Law of the LORD – for example, tax collectors notoriously extorted the people they collected from, and this was wrong, it was stealing, and perhaps a host of other sins – however, when it comes to justification before God, no man may judge another, for we are all in the same sin-boat together. There is no difference between Pharisee and tax collector, Cain and Abel, leper, adulterer, pastor, or layman – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

One can look as this Sunday’s lessons as a study in contrasts: Cain and Abel; Pharisee and tax collector; the house of prayer that is the temple and the house of prayer that is the soul of a man. Last Sunday you heard Jesus’ words concerning the temple in Jerusalem, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers”. Today you have heard the spiritual meaning of those words. Your body is the temple of the LORD; what kind of spirit dwells in it? Is it filled with the Holy Spirit of God, the Lord and giver of life, who graciously gives to all things needful, or is it filled with your own self-righteousness? When you pray, when you give an offering, when you serve God, do you return to Him with acknowledgement and thanksgiving what you know belongs to Him and is His gift to you, or do you rob God and claim for yourself what is His, offering to Him your own works, your own gifts, your own righteousness? Is the temple of your body and soul the LORD’s house of prayer, or is it a den of robbers? As Jesus taught in His parable, there were two men who went to the temple to pray. Both men returned to their homes, but only the humble and repentant tax collector returned to his home justified. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

The tax collector wasn’t a bad man by human standards. Indeed, he was not an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer, or even a tax collector. And yet, in his heart, he had done all these evil things and more against God: robbing God of His glory and righteousness, betraying God’s holiness and faithfulness, stealing from God by claiming His gifts and His works as his own. Like Cain, the Pharisee trusted in himself that he was righteous. In so doing he exalted himself and now must take a lower place. In contrast, the humble tax collector boasted of nothing in himself except his sinfulness and unworthiness. The house and temple of his body and soul were full only of God’s Holy Spirit. As he prayed in the temple with his eyes and face cast down, already he was exalted higher than the self-righteous Pharisee. And when he died he was exalted to the host of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven around the throne of the Lamb.

You, dear Christian, too are the house and temple of the LORD. Daily purge your soul of self-righteousness and spiritual extortion and adultery, praying day and night Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy. And the Lord will exalt you and will make His home with you. He will settle you in a home and a family so that you are not alone. All this He has accomplished for you in the gracious visitation of His Son Jesus Christ. He is your righteousness, an alien righteousness, come from outside you, but credited to you when you receive, believe, and confess Him as Lord and God. And God is in His temple now, this House of Prayer, to fill you with all good things. Bring to Him nothing but your broken and contrite heart, and He will give you a new heart and all things beautiful and holy.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Homily for The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)



Luke 19:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12

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

Today’s Gospel theme is a reoccurring theme throughout the Church’s Year of Grace. The theme of our Lord Jesus’ visitation, or His parousia, is heard in Advent as John the Baptist prepares the way, it is heard at the beginning of Holy Week following Lent when Jesus enters the Holy City Jerusalem riding upon a donkey, and it is heard at the end of the Church Year as Christ’s Church reflects upon and prepares for Her Lord’s return on the Last Day in glory, power and great might. And, while these are three distinct modes or manners of coming and visitation, the Visitor is one and the same, our Lord Jesus Christ who has come, who is coming, and who comes amongst us even now to bring you peace with God.

All four of the Gospels include the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion on Good Friday. The three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, also include our Lord’s cleansing of the temple as He chased out the moneychangers and the peddlers of sacrificial animals saying, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem follows directly on the heels of His great and incontrovertible miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. But, it is only in Luke’s Gospel, which you heard a moment ago, that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem prior to His entry saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

What Jesus was prophesying about was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Within forty years of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, all that He prophesied came to pass. At first, the Roman Emperor Vespasian sent his son Titus to surround and lay siege to Jerusalem, prohibiting all persons and supplies from entering, and all persons, living or dead, from exiting. Within a short period of time, food and clean water became scarce, and soon disease began to spread and, as the dead could not be removed, epidemic and plague were unleashed. All of this was compounded by the fact that it was the Passover and Jews from all over the known world were in the Holy City for the Feast. History has left us a trustworthy and visually terrible account of the destruction in the writings of a first century Jewish-Roman historian named Josephus. Here is a brief summary of some of the horrors Josephus preserved for history:

The famine had grown so bad that elders and children were beaten for their bread, some were reduced to eating the leather from shoes and belts, and some even succumbed to cannibalism of their own infants. According to Josephus, this was the worst suffering since the beginning of the world. Those who were caught venturing outside the city to forage for food were crucified until there was no more room for crosses, nor anymore wood to build them. When a man was observed picking gold coins from his own excrement, they began butchering all who tried to escape in search of loot. One evening 2,000 Jews were disemboweled in this way.

At this same time, an innumerable multitude of people died of hunger. The best of friends would often come to blows over a small piece of bread; children would often rip food from their parents' mouths. Neither brother nor sister had mercy upon the other. A bushel of corn was more precious than gold. Driven by hunger, some ate manure; some, the cinches of their saddles; some, the leather stripped from their shields; some still had hay in their mouths when their bodies were found; some sought to escape starvation by means of their own filth. So many died of starvation that 115,000 corpses were found in the city and buried. Hegesippus reported that, at one gate alone, several thousand were carried out, and that 600,000 died because of the siege.

Finally, the entire city of Jerusalem was conquered, neither young nor old were spared. From the host of captives Titus sent seventeen thousand healthy, young and strong men to Alexandria as quarry slaves. Many Jews were sold as cheaply as animals. Two thousand were distributed across the entire Roman Empire to become players in the spectacles, and to be torn apart by wild beasts in the arenas. The total number of captives who remained alive came to ninety-seven thousand; however, at the beginning of the siege, ten times one hundred thousand were in the city, the majority of them strangers and not residents, although all were of Jewish descent and blood. Thus Jerusalem, the most celebrated city in all of the East, came to a miserable and lamentable end, as had been prophesied, in the seventieth year after the birth of Christ our Lord.

This was the LORD’s judgment upon Jerusalem. This was why Jesus wept and lamented over the Holy City nearly forty years before its fall. He had come to bring peace with God, not a sword. He had come to bring mercy and forgiveness, not judgment and death. But, the Holy City did not know the things that made for peace, and it did not know the time of its visitation. Men sought peace in their own righteousness, by their own works and deeds. But they were still under the curse of Eden and at enmity with God. In Jesus, God had visited His people to bring them knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, but He was rejected and killed by His own people, by the Romans, by Jews and Gentiles alike, and by you and me as well.

Like Jerusalem, you have a choice: You will receive Jesus in faith unto forgiveness and salvation and peace with God, or you will reject Him in unbelief, remain in your sins and in enmity with God. The Lord has visited His people in the Messiah Jesus, in humility, mercy, and compassion. The Lord is visiting you, His people, now in His faith-creating, forgiveness-giving, and life-bestowing Word, Baptism, Absolution, and Supper. And the Lord will visit His people once again in power and great glory, and then every eye will see Him, and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. Therefore, cleanse the temple of your soul from all self-righteousness, from trust in money and worldly possessions, from whatever idols you have created for yourself and submitted yourself to. For, today you stand in His forgiveness, at peace with God through Jesus Christ. He is unchanging, faithful, and true; He will never leave you or forsake you or break His covenant promise with you. Only you can reject Him, for He will not, and He cannot reject you.

And, His gracious visitation amongst you now is for the purpose that your faith would be renewed and strengthened and that you would be preserved in His parousia, His presence and His gracious visitation today, and every day, until He reveals Himself in glory for all to see and know. For, the peace that He brings to you, the peace that He is for you, is not a light peace, peace as the world gives, but it is true peace, peace with God who, in and through Jesus, is not your enemy and judge, but your loving Father who graciously gives you all things needful for your body, life, and soul. You are members of His body of which He is the head. You are blocks in the walls of His holy temple of which He is the cornerstone and foundation. Your Lord Jesus was torn down in your death so that not one stone was left standing upon another, and He was raised again on the third day to life that never ends. He is present for you now in this house of prayer. His gates are open and His feast is prepared. Come and eat at His banquet and know His peace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Church is Christ’s, and the Church is Christ

That which carries God’s Israel and makes it God’s people is therefore God’s own actions, over which none of us can rule, nor be entitled to. That a human being can be a member in God’s Israel is entirely a result of God’s merciful dealing with her, receiving her into that immense chain of events, which encompasses all time from the beginning of the world to the end of the world. The first Christians clearly understood that it was not they who had “become Christians” or “formed” a church. Everything had come to them, prepared from eternity, carried out by God according to a plan covering thousands of years. The Christians have been taken up by God into that huge drama of salvation, that began at the fall, was prepared through Abraham, Moses and the prophets, culminated on Calvary, and finally will be completed, when the kingdom of God comes in its power. They were chosen in Christ. And Christ existed before the creation of the world. Everything in heaven and on earth has been created through Him and to Him. He was present in everything which happened in the Old Testament. He accompanied Israel during its desert journey. He spoke through the prophets. He was prefigured by Melchizedek. He was sung of in the psalms. All the scriptures bore witness to Him. He was the goal and purpose of world history.

Bo Giertz, Christ’s Church – Her Biblical Roots, Her Dramatic History, Her Saving Presence, Her Glorious Future, Resource Publication, 2010

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Homily for The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)

H-63 Trinity 9 (Lu 16.1-9)


Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34

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

We are all managers and stewards of God’s possessions. All that we have is truly His, from His gracious providence. Whether it be physical possessions of money, food, shelter, and clothing, relational possessions of husband, wife, children, family, and friends, or spiritual possessions of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness – all is the LORD’s who graciously provides us all that we need for our bodies and our lives, with overflowing abundance to manage, to use, and to distribute for the benefit of ourselves and our families and for the benefit of our neighbor in need.

However, we, like the manager in Jesus’ parable, are guilty of wasting our Master’s possessions. Sometimes we are selfish and greedy, fearfully guarding, protecting, and hoarding for ourselves what we think we need and lusting after what we think we want. But, more often than not, we are simply lazy, careless, and foolish in our stewardship, thinking only of the present, our present needs, wants, and desires, and thinking only of ourselves because those are the needs, wants, and desires we know the best.

Your LORD and Master would have you receive and recognize all things as His good and gracious gifts to you and, therefore, trusting in Him, in His goodness and love for you, use them to His glory and praise, for yourself and your family, and in service of others in their need. But fear is the very opposite of love, and the fruits of fear are selfishness, greed, envy, and hatred. Love and fear have no fellowship together because perfect love casts our fear. Thus, in truly loving God, trusting in Him, in His goodness and loving providence, all those fruits of fear may be driven away. That is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A right relationship with your LORD will drive away the fruits of sinful fear and you will truly live in freedom without fear. You will be able to manage your Master’s possessions without fear of losing or going without, without fear of need or someone else having more, but you will find contentment, peace and joy in what you have, and you will be content and at peace and in joy in doling out your Master’s goods to others.

The manager in Jesus’ parable realized his predicament. He held no illusion that when he turned in his account of his management that he would not be out of a job and utterly on his own. The problem for us, however, is that we are too often not willing to confess the same about ourselves. We try to blame someone else for our failings and we try to rationalize and explain away our mismanagement. But the manager in Jesus’ parable doesn’t do that, but he knows that he is guilty as charged. He offers no excuses, and he blames no one but himself. However, the manager does something that is unexpected, something that his master will later call shrewd and will commend him for. Knowing that he has no excuse and has no one to blame but himself, he places all of his faith and all of his trust, he commends his entire livelihood and life, unto the goodness and mercy of his master.

Though he was already fired and out of work, the manager went to each of his master’s debtors and he slashed their debts by twenty and fifty percent. Needless to say, the debtors, who didn’t know that the manager had been fired, were very pleased with the master, whom they assumed had been so gracious and merciful with them. Likewise, they were pleased with the manager who delivered this good news to them. However, what would the master say when he discovered that his manager had let his debtors out of their debts? Would he not have his manager thrown in prison, or worse? And here, Jesus’ parable takes yet another unexpected turn, for not only does the manager do the unthinkable, but his master does the unthinkable as well – he commends his dishonest manager for acting so shrewdly.

Though this unexpected turn of events is surprising, it should not be confounding to you. Jesus is not praising the dishonest manager’s dishonesty, but rather He is painting for you a portrait of faith. The dishonest manager never dreamed that he might somehow get away with short-changing his master, but instead he was banking on something altogether different – his master’s goodness and mercy. When all was said and done, by slashing his master’s debtor’s debts he had won for himself favor with the debtors and also their praise and love for his master. When he turned in the account of his management, the master, recognizing that the manager had trusted in his goodness and mercy and that his debtor’s were now praising him, commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. And Jesus adds to the end of the parable the following summary: “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.” “You cannot serve God and money.”

What does this mean? Well, it goes back to what was stated at the beginning: We are all managers and stewards of God’s possessions. All that we have is truly His, from His gracious providence. Do you believe this? And, if so, what does this mean for your life? If all things truly belong to God, and they do, then the question is, what do you place your fear, love, and trust in – God, or money? If your fear, love, and trust is in money and material wealth and possessions, then that is what you serve – You serve the possession instead of the Possessor; you serve the gift instead of the Giver; you serve creation instead of the Creator. You may think that both are important, and that you can honestly serve both, but Jesus teaches you that you cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and money. For, either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

In effect, Jesus says to you, “Don’t use people to serve money, but use money to serve people;” “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwelling.” You are a manager, you are a steward, God is the owner and Master. He is good and gracious, merciful and loving. He gives to you so that you may live and enjoy life and praise Him, and He gives to you in abundance so that you may give to others without fear of losing, without fear of being shorted, without fear of being taken advantage of, without fear of being taken for granted, without fear…, but full of love, Christ’s love, for your brother, your sister, and your neighbor in need. To not be able to give it away is to serve money, mammon, and material wealth as a master. Don’t let money be your master. The LORD is your only Master, and He loves to give you all that you need for your body and life and more that you might make friends for yourself, and that He might make disciples for Himself through you, to the glory of His holy Name.

The dishonest manager had nothing to lose, but everything to gain by making friends for himself amongst men and by trusting in his good and gracious master. So too you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving, sharing, and blessing others with God’s gifts. For the day is coming when all unrighteous wealth will fail, when no amount of money, wealth, or possessions will be able to help you or bring you comfort. Therefore, live today as if it were that day. Be shrewd in your stewardship of your Master’s possessions now, and He will entrust you with true riches in His holy kingdom. Indeed, those riches are laid aside for you even now, sonship, righteousness, and eternal life, and no one can take them from you. For, Jesus Christ is the true Steward who has canceled all your debts. And, His Father, your Master, has commended Him and has given Him His kingdom and authority. And, even now, He transforms the unrighteous mammon of bread and wine and ordinary water into a lavish feast and anointing of grace to preserve and keep you until His return. You are His stewards and His faithful managers. He provides you all you need and more. He will never leave you or forsake you. When you face temptation, He will always provide you a way of escape. He is that Way, and the Truth, and the Life, and He is your Daily Bread.

In + the Name of Jesus. Amen.