Freed to Serve with Eternal Riches (Luke 16:1-15)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost + September 18, 2016
Text: Luke 16:1-9
Some parables which our Lord tells are easier to understand than others.  Take last Sunday’s about the Shepherd looking for His lost sheep.  It’s easy to identify as the sheep who Jesus takes up on His shoulders and carries home rejoicing.  Then there’s today’s story, which isn’t so much a parable about the Kingdom of God, but rather a lesson for those in the Kingdom.  At first blush, it seems like the Lord is advocating that we break the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.”  The manager cooks the books at the expense of his master and for his own benefit.  At the end, he’s commended by the master “for his shrewdness.”  Is our Lord encouraging a “goals justify the means” method for the Gospel?  It’s as if He said, “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it results in ‘winning people’ for the kingdom.”
However, that’s not the right lesson to take from this parable.  In verse 8, the manager is called more than “dishonest”; he’s called “unjust.”  That’s not an example for Christians to follow.  His master commends his shrewdness, not his actions.  In terms of mammon, this unrighteous manager is a pro: He cleverly used earthly goods to reach an earthly goal.  His brilliance is right up there with Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff, and corporations that shelter themselves from tax by locating in Ireland.
As I said, this is a parable for the sons of light.  This is a lesson for the unjust who have been declared just through faith in Jesus Christ.  Our hopes are for more than peace and security in this world.  In this life, people cheat and wrong each other left and right.  A person who succeeds at swindling is kept up at night worrying the same will happen to him.  But as for us, we have been redeemed from futile pursuits by the Creator who poured out the priceless blood of His Son for us.  What’s more, if he’s secured “eternal dwellings” for us, how much more will He provide for the needs of this present life![1]
Now, here’s the lesson from this unjust manager: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 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.”  Does that mean that we can buy our  way or someone else’s way into heaven?  Absolutely not.  It’s another way that Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[2]
Whether it’s for Christians or unbelievers, it’s true that money goes to what we love.  The sons of this world know how to spend their money on what matters most to them.  They stay up at night wondering how they can make just a few more dollars, make their lives just that much easier, and help the people they love most.
And Jesus says Christians should do the same thing!  Our money should go to what we love.  Our eyes have been opened to see that all we have, is provided by God: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”[3]  Our hearts have been renewed with love toward God and our neighbor, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[4]  So, our money goes to what we love: the spread of the Gospel and helping our neighbor.  That’s what stewardship is.
And we do love God, don’t we?  We love Him because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[5]  He willingly bled and died to take the wrath of God away from us.  We love that He rose from the dead so that that we can know for sure if we die later today or Jesus comes back tomorrow, we can stand before Him without fear.  We love that He has called us to believe this Gospel!  Here especially at Bethlehem, we love that He calls men to serve Him as pastors to preach this Gospel.  We love that He equips pastors, missionaries, deaconesses, and charities to spread His love all over the world.  And finally, we love that we’re here right now and have a beautiful place to gather and receive eternal gifts from our Lord each week.
And because we love all of this, the sons of light—you and me—give our money so that it continues.  It’s important to us—more so than groceries, mortgages, bills, hobbies, and vacations—so we give the first of what we have to support it.  “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper,”[6] St. Paul writes to the Corinthians.  And we do this gladly, because “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[7] We do it out of love for every one of them!
Now, the sermon could end there, if we were completely renewed and without sin, but we also need to hear the rest of the text:
10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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 money.”
Remember where we came from: we are the unjust who have been declared just through faith, but we come from unjust stock—we are by nature sinful and unclean.[8]  It’s always a short step for us to say, “Lord, Lord” to our bank account or the job that funds it.  So the Lord tests our hearts to know what’s in them and to make sure that our faith is in Him.[9]  Each of us ought to examine our own heart regularly to see whom we have been serving.
“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 money.”  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19), Jesus says this just after, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”  Don’t put your hope in earthly treasure, because it is passing away.  That’s like building a sand castle and calling it your “forever home.”  Put your hope in God and the heavenly home He has waiting for you in Christ.
It’s sound advice.  But when it comes to money, we are not always sound thinkers.  Even Job faltered on this.  Job was left destitute so he said, “God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. 20 I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me. 21 You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me.”[10]  Because he lost his earthly treasure, he was sure he had lost his God.
And who of us can’t relate?  But our Lord challenges our attachment to the things of this life.  He exposes our love of money and calls us to repent.  He puts our sinful self to death by saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”[11]
You are baptized into Christ; your sins are forgiven.  Your unfaithfulness and idolatry have been forgiven.   He renews your heart and mind so that you love and serve only Him.  He takes you from being a son of this world, “seeking all that mammon proffers”[12] and makes you a son of light.  You are freed from serving wealth and chasing it into destruction because you have an inheritance which will never fade or pass away.   So, we let the money He’s given us serve others.  We give our “unrighteous wealth” to spread the Lord’s righteousness, so that we and all who believe may share in the true riches which have no end.  Amen.
[1] Matthew 6:33
[2] Matthew 6:21
[3] Psalm 24:1
[4] Romans 5:5
[5] Romans 5:8
[6] 1 Corinthians 16:2
[7] Romans 10:13-17
[8] Lutheran Service Book, 151
[9] Deuteronomy 8:2
[10] Job 30:19-21
[11] Deuteronomy 6:13
[12] “What is the World to Me?” LSB 730:3