Sunday, August 2, 2015
Homily for The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 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.
One of the over-arching stories of the Holy Scriptures goes something like this: Once you were free in the LORD, but you rebelled and sinned and, in so doing, sold yourself into slavery. However, in boundless mercy and grace, the LORD did what was necessary to set you free once again: He became a man, obediently fulfilling the demands of the Law, suffering and dying bearing the penalty for your transgression, setting you free through faith in Him. But, what will you do with your freedom? Will you fear, and love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, will you put your fear, your love, and your trust in other things, or in other people, or in your self? These are all creaturely, created by the LORD Himself, and yet you fear not having or losing them, you love and treasure them more than the LORD who created them, yourself, and all things, and you trust in them that, by possessing them, you will be independent and free. That is idolatry, for you have made of them to be gods, and you have made yourself a god, a god unto yourself.
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Now, what is mammon? Mammon is all manner of material and worldly wealth and possessions. Mammon is stuff – all the stuff that you think you have to have, all the stuff you’ve got that you don’t know what to do with anymore, all the stuff that has taken your money, wasted your time, and crowded you out of your house and home. And, mammon is a master that you serve, and a false god that you worship. To live in service and worship of mammon is to be a slave. Moreover, if mammon is master and a god, then you cannot serve and worship the true and only God who made you, your stuff, the world, and everything in it.
However, it is not that mammon is evil. Money isn’t evil, and neither are material things and worldly possessions. God created them, and He looked at all that He made and declared it to be very good. No, mammon isn’t the problem. You are. For, what do you do with mammon? Do you not crave and desire to have it, fear to lose it, covet what is not yours, and greedily hoard what is? Mammon didn’t make you do it. You do it because of your fallen, sinful nature. You continually make idols and false gods out of the stuff the True God has made and has given you to be a steward of.
You see, the so-called “unrighteous steward” of Jesus’ parable wasn’t really unrighteous, was he? I mean, there’s no indication that he was greedy for money and covetous of earthly goods and possessions. His chief concern was that he was soon going to be out of a job and that he wouldn’t be able to provide for himself. Likewise, when he hatched his great scheme to make friends for himself with his master’s money, he didn’t keep a cut for himself. All he was seeking to do was gain the favor of others for that inevitable day when he would be out on the streets without food, clothing, and shelter.
Now, we can speculate on what the steward was thinking as he hurriedly reduced the debts owed his master by fifty and twenty percent, but one thing is clear – the steward was not beholden to mammon, to money. On the contrary, the steward cared so little about money that spent it, not on himself, but on others in order to help them, and to bring them, relief and joy. True, the steward did have in mind his own welfare when he would be out of a job, but that all the more goes to show that he was not materialistic, or a slave to money. He did not serve mammon. Indeed, he made mammon to serve him!
I know this doesn’t sit well with you. It doesn’t sit well with me either. “That’s not fair,” we protest. “That’s illegal,” we shout. And, that’s why Jesus’ conclusion to this parable confounds us so very much. For, when the master finds out what his steward has done with his money, he is not angry with him, he does not punish him, he does not fire him, he does not have him thrown in jail, but, instead, he commends him for his shrewdness. How can Jesus hold up a dishonest crook as a commendable steward? What does he mean to teach us in this way?
Well, suffice it to say, the parable is much less about shrewdness in the ways and means of the world as it is about fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Jesus ends the parable with a proverb saying, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Here, Jesus is making a distinction between the unbelieving masses and His own believing children whom He calls “the sons of light.” To put it plainly, Jesus is saying that the unbelieving “sons of this world” know how to use money and possessions to get what they want and need. The problem is that they do not recognize that these things belong to, and are given them, by the LORD, and that they are stewards of His providence that they might use it to benefit themselves and others to the glory of His Name. Because they do not recognize God’s providence, they credit themselves for their wealth and possessions, and they are greedy and selfish and manipulative, because they are ruled by the fear of losing or not having enough. They are slaves to mammon, therefore they cannot serve God.
Not so, you sons of light. Your Lord Jesus teaches you to “make friends for yourselves by means off unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now, Jesus says a lot in a few words here. First of all, it is key that he calls wealth “unrighteous.” This does not mean that money is evil, but that it is not holy or sacred. It has no lasting value, and any value it has at all is only what men ascribe to it. In the eyes of the Lord, money and material possessions are nothing and are worthless. Moreover, they will not last. They will pass away. You know that the saying is true, “You can’t take it with you.” No, money and possessions are not evil, but men use them for evil purposes. Therefore, Jesus exhorts you to receive these gifts for what they are, temporal gifts to help you and others in this life. Don’t make them into masters! Don’t make them into gods! Instead, receive them in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD and use them in fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Use them for yourself and for your family, and use them for the benefit of others, not expecting anything in return, but because you know that all belongs to the LORD and the LORD loves and provides for all.
Jesus concludes His teaching saying, “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 you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to the true riches.” Here it becomes clear that how we manage (steward) the LORD’s possessions over which He has given us stewardship here on earth is connected to the spiritual gifts the LORD has given us both now, and in life eternal. Again, the message is actually quite simple, “Don’t enslave yourself to wealth and possessions. Do not put your fear, your love, and your trust in them.” As I said in the beginning, one of the over-arching stories of the Holy Scriptures goes something like this: Once you were free in the LORD, but you rebelled and sinned and, in so doing, sold yourself into slavery. However, in boundless mercy and grace, the LORD did what was necessary to set you free once again. But, what will you do with your freedom? Will you fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, will you put your fear, love, and trust in other things, other people, and in your self? “You cannot serve God and money.”
St. Paul writes in our Epistle today, “these things took place as examples for us that we might not desire evil as they did.” Thus, Paul exhorts you saying, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were.” Likewise, the prophet Samuel teaches that the service and worship of mammon produces pride, whereas the LORD values humility saying, “You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” How you view and understand unrighteous mammon – wealth and material possessions – is directly connected to what you believe about God. If God is your master, then you will receive these worldly and material things as the gifts they are. You will be good stewards of them, not fearfully and greedily amassing them and hoarding them, nor covetously desiring to have those things that belong to others, but using them, as the good gifts that they are, for your benefit and for the benefit of your family, but also for the benefit of your neighbors to the glory of God. These are the little things in which you must be faithful now so that you may be entrusted with the true riches of the kingdom of God.
For, you also have stewardship of spiritual things now, things like grace, mercy, love, charity, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. The LORD so lavishly pours them upon you, and into you, that you simply overflow with His goodness. Of the sheer abundance of these riches you are blessed to be a blessing to others, to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, come, now, and receive of these spiritual gifts that you may be strengthened and filled to overflowing. And, do not hesitate to share them with all you encounter, whoever the LORD causes to cross your path. For, in serving them, you serve Christ, your true master, and you demonstrate that mammon is a gift of the LORD, and not your god.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.