Sunday, August 13, 2017

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.
Jesus begins His Parable of the Unjust Steward saying, “There was a rich man who had a manager….” He begins with the relationship between these two characters: The one, a rich man having great wealth and possessions; the other his hired manager of his wealth and possessions. The relationship between the two men is the key to understanding Jesus’ meaning in the parable. The manager is a manager of another’s goods. The wealth and goods the manager manages are not his own, but they are his master’s. So, too, are you and I but managers and stewards of the goods and possessions of another, the LORD. The LORD is our Master, and all that we have, our bodies and souls, our eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and our senses, and also our clothing, shoes, food, drink, house and home, husband, wife, children, land, animals, and everything else that we have, are not ours, but they are our LORD and Master’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship. The relationship between the rich man and the manager is the key to understanding how the LORD would have us manage and be good stewards of His wealth and possessions, both material and spiritual.
I think that, for people like us, that is, generally affluent, independent, freedom-loving Americans, this is a particularly difficult teaching of Jesus’. It is difficult for us because it flies in the face of what we value most – independence, private ownership, a fair wage for our labor, etc. It wasn’t all that long ago that President Obama drew fire from conservatives for saying “You didn’t build that,” meaning that the roads and bridges, even our privately-owned businesses and our success in them, are not solely the work of our own hands, but of many different people who had a hand in building them and growing them along the way. While I didn’t much care for his statement myself, which was used to foster an economic policy of “wealth redistribution,” I have to admit that there is a sense in which he was correct. We in the West, and particularly in the United States, must resist the temptation to make our independence, private ownership, and freedom idols and false gods. If all we have, materially, physically, and spiritually is not ours, but the LORD’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship, then there is truly no place for selfishness and greed, and lack of charity and mercy towards others. Indeed, C.F.W. Walther expressed this well saying, “Though a person may have control over thousands and millions of dollars, he is still only God’s treasurer. Though a person may possess a most profitable business and control vast resources, he is still only God’s manager. Though a person may call many homes and palaces his own, though he may hold clear title to a great tract of land, he is till only God’s tenant.”
Being a manager and steward of someone else’s wealth and possessions calls, not for pride, self-righteousness, and selfishness, but for humility, charity, mercy, and grace. This is a theme of which Jesus taught regularly in His parables. In the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, the laborers hired early in the day expected to receive more than those hired later in the day. The master of the vineyard answered them saying, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” Do we not often think this of what does not belong to us? Similarly, in the Parable of the Talents, the master gave each of his managers a talent to manage and steward while he was away. When he returned, the master was angry that one of his managers returned to him the very same talent he gave him to manage, having buried it and not used it to make a profit. You see, the LORD does not want you horde His goods or lock them away and not use them, but He wants you, He expects you, He demands you to use them, for your own sake and for your family, but also for your neighbor that the Name of the LORD may be glorified.
It is for this reason that the master in today’s Parable of the Unjust Steward commends his manager for reducing the debts his debtors owed him. Now, when managing the wealth and possessions of another man or woman, this would be dishonest and illegal, but when managing the wealth and possessions, material, physical, and spiritual, of the LORD, not only is this faithful, good, and commendable, but this is the LORD’s will for you in managing His goods. The LORD wants you to use them, for yourself and for your family, but also for your neighbor. The LORD wants you to use them generously, liberally, even recklessly, for in so doing you show that you understand the relationship you have with your LORD and Master – that you are a manager and a steward of His varied graces, gifts, wealth and possessions.
For, what are the varied graces, gifts, wealth and possessions of the LORD but love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness? Of these, the LORD wills that you use them generously, liberally, even recklessly, showing your faith and trust in Him and in His goodness, and glorifying Him by loving others as He has loved you in Jesus Christ. The manager in the parable is said to be unjust because he did this with his human master’s possessions, but God, the LORD, our Master and Father wants us, wills us, demands us to use His wealth and possessions, to use His graces and gifts recklessly for others, even to use them to secure eternal life. Indeed, this is related to the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” you heard about last week; such righteousness, worked in you by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, bears forth the fruit of bold and confident faith and generous, liberal, and reckless love for both God and neighbor.
There are those who seek to turn Jesus’ teaching into an economic or political ideology so as to make the LORD either a capitalist on the one hand, or a socialist on the other. This is complete and utter nonsense and represents a gross misunderstanding of God, of man, of sin, of grace, of forgiveness, and of nearly every other doctrine in the Holy Scriptures. Those who seek to make God a capitalist point to the Parable of the Talents to claim that the LORD is pleased when we invest and make a profit. Those who seek to make God a socialist point to the practice of the early Christian Church in the Acts of the Apostles who sold all they had and put the funds in a community chest to serve the poor and widows. However, both attempts miss the point of Jesus’ teaching: Nothing belongs to us, but we are managers and stewards of the LORD’s wealth and possession, gifts and graces. The LORD wants you to confess this and to use them for your benefit, and also for the benefit of others. Thus, the LORD loves a cheerful giver.
Here at Christ the King we have effectively made it a policy to not speak of stewardship, particularly from the pulpit. While I sympathize with this to a point, I also believe that we have done ourselves a great disservice by not preaching and teaching and talking about Godly stewardship. And, so it is that we struggle, not only financially, but also spiritually, for when we give, we give grudgingly, as if we were being forced, compelled, guilted, or robbed. However, the blunt, biblical truth is that we possess and own nothing of our own, but all is the LORD’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship. The day will come when we will be called to give an account of our management, just as the man in Jesus’ parable today, and in the Parable of the Talents. The LORD will demand to see what you have done with His wealth and possession, His grace and gifts. Have you used them in humility and love for God and for your neighbor to His glory? Have you used them generously, liberally, and recklessly, confessing that they are not your own but the LORD’s? Have you gained a profit for the LORD by your management and stewardship of His wealth and possessions, grace and gifts? “Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth.” That is, share with, give to, love, and forgive others generously, liberally, and recklessly with God’s goods, “for one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”
Of course, none of us can do this perfectly, for we are sinners and we regularly succumb to temptations to greed and envy, to selfishness, and to the fear of losing or not having. However, there was one Manager and Steward who was once the Master Himself, who, in love for God His Father and in deep humility, made Himself nothing, taking up the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, and that One was, and is, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Jesus generously, liberally, and recklessly shared and gave of His Father’s wealth and possessions, grace and gifts, for you and for all the world, that His Father may be glorified. He who had all forsook it all in love for God and for you, His neighbor, and became a beggar. I believe that this is precisely what Martin Luther had in mind when he scribbled these words on a scrap of paper that was found in his pocket after his death: “We are all beggars. This is true.” We are beggars. We own nothing. We were brought into life with nothing, and we take nothing with us when we go. There are no U-Hauls behind our hearses. And yet, we who fear, love, and trust in the LORD are richest of men and lack no good and needful thing. I have been blessed, privileged, and honored to serve you as a steward of the mysteries of the LORD these past fifteen years, in which I only give to you what our Lord Jesus has given His Church on earth: His Word, His forgiveness, His baptism, His body, and His blood. Today He invites you to come and taste the goodness of the LORD once again. Come, you beggars, you have nothing of your own; come, eat and drink without price and live! And then, go, sharing and giving freely, generously, liberally, and recklessly as His managers and stewards of His varied graces and gifts to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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