Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 9

5 August 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

It’s very likely that last week in North Carolina, several young people from our congregation heard this statement concerning our modern American way of life: “We worship our work, we work at our play, and we play at our worship.”

Not only is this a clever turn of phrase, it accurately describes the way we compartmentalize our lives and where our priorities lie.

I can’t help but think of a lady I met at a funeral home visitation whose cell phone went off. She answered it and began working right then and there. She explained that she had forwarded her business line to her cell phone so her job wouldn’t be interrupted by a funeral. “We worship our work…”

I’m also reminded of a relative who was so far in debt that she had to borrow from many relatives in order to pay her bills. But rather than pay everyone back, she took a nice vacation instead. “We work at our play…”

I also think about people whose churches (if we can call them that) have things like clown ministry, polka services, dancing girls, and rock music, where fun trumps doctrine and where making people feel welcome is more important than the proclamation of difficult truths. “We play at our worship…”

As topsy-turvy as our culture is today, it’s not a new phenomenon. In our gospel text, Jesus tells a story, a parable. We usually call it the Parable of the Unjust Steward. Basically, the business owner has a bad manager a guy who hasn’t been doing his job. The owner takes a look at the books, and decides to fire the manager. The manager is fearful of the consequences of losing his job (he is too old to work at a fast food restaurant and too proud to be seen trolling around the welfare office). So, in a desperate measure, he holds clandestine meetings and cuts deals and negotiates with the people who owe his boss money. This results in not only a large sudden influx of cash for the owner, but also wins influential friends for the incompetent manager. When the owner finds out, he is amazed at the shrewdness, one might say the “chutzpah”, of the employee. Now, Jesus doesn’t tell us whether the manager gets to keep his job or not – the point is that the unjust steward was willing to work the angles, take extraordinary measure, and think outside the box out of a sense of self-preservation.

Now, there are many lessons in this parable. One of the lessons is certainly not to be a lazy worker and then do something bold and probably illegal when you get caught. Jesus is teaching us several things about the relationship between the riches of this world and how they can be put to work in God’s kingdom. He is teaching us about faithfulness – a person who can’t be trusted with the petty cash probably shouldn’t be in charge of a billion dollar budget. But one who is faithful and attentive to small details typically can be trusted with bigger things.

But our blessed Lord is also addressing our sense of priority, our urgency when it comes to our jobs and the disproportionate lack of urgency when it comes to our church.

Look at how our work life dominates. We will accept almost any change in our lives if we can get more money. We’ll move, we’ll uproot our families, we’ll do work we utterly detest, we’ll sacrifice our limited time with our families to go to school or get specialized training, we’ll cozy up to the “right” people, we’ll rearrange every part of our schedule in order to advance our careers.

If you were offered a huge promotion, right now, say, to be a vice president in your company – with a huge income and all the perks – would you take it? But what if you had to work every Sunday and every Wednesday, and you could never come to church – would you still take it? If you had to essentially cut yourself off from the preaching of the gospel and participation in the Lord’s Supper – but you were looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, prestige, and security – would you take the job?

Would you refuse it outright and say: “No way!”? Or would you ponder it, roll it around your head a while, try to justify it by promising to give the church lots of money, or resolving to only do the job for a year or two – or three, or four…? What would you do?

Of course, we live for such promotions. We get advanced degrees and specialized training, we come to work early and leave late, we rack up sales figures, we get more things done than the next guy, and we keep our eyes peeled for the next rung on the ladder. In the affairs of the world, most people are pretty shrewd – always on the lookout for opportunity.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Education and training in order to have a better life can certainly be a benefit. Working hard in order to give one’s children a good education and home is, of course, something that a responsible parent will do. But it can also become a bad thing as well. Wealth is not evil in and of itself, but “mammon” is. “Mammon” is the name of wealth that becomes one’s god. Mammon is the fruit of the work that is worshiped. When our life of worship and prayer are secondary to our jobs, we are worshiping mammon instead of God.

Of course, one of the consequences of working hard is playing hard. In a hustle-bustle existence of week after week of labor, our precious few vacation days can become rather elaborate. Often the event itself becomes more important than the rest, relaxation, and time to enjoy with family and friends that should be the motivation to begin with. People often go deep into debt because the voice on the radio says we deserve vacations and luxuries we can’t afford.

Typically, when we do come into more money, or when we do finally get the promotion – what is the first order of business? A new car, a new home theater with surround sound, maybe even a new house? Usually, the top priority isn’t to call the chairman of the board of elders and tell him that the budget for missions (which this year has been cut to nothing) can be restored to five thousand dollars once more. Typically, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t a gift to one of our seminaries or colleges so that the child of a seminarian or future church worker will get a toy for Christmas this year.

As shrewd as we can be in worldly affairs, we’re not so creative and motivated when it comes to the kingdom of God. We don’t do such a great job of taking care of the Lord’s kingdom, but we sure can rack up the Best Buy Reward Zone points!

How often does it happen that we find ourselves at work daydreaming, plotting, and scheming as to how we’re going to be able to drive to church on our lunch break, have the pastor hear our confession, and get back to work before the one o’clock whistle sounds? How many times do we sit down as a family and plan our week around Salem’s worship schedule, since missing church and Bible class would be utterly unthinkable for any reason: be it for work or play? When do we ever devote time for brainstorming about how we can serve our church on a committee, teach a Sunday school class, or think of some way to make our shut-ins feel more a part of our congregation?

There cannot be two or three number-one priorities. We really do need to come to grips with what is number one in our lives: our jobs, our leisure, or the kingdom of God. For “no servant can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and mammon.” And thanks be to God that our Lord turned down mammon when it was offered to Him. For he didn’t put you on the back burner, or give you the leftovers after buying toys for Himself. The Lord Jesus gave us everything – our lives, our redemption, and eternal life. He did not spare His own life. He did not ease His own suffering. He did all of this for us – we who deserve nothing.

Dear friends, what goes on in this church, the miracle of forgiveness and faith, the unspeakable presence of God in the flesh, the free gift of eternal life for any and all who do not turn down the gift is the most important thing in our lives. The kingdom of God is a free gift, but it is not cheap. It was bought “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

Because Jesus was shrewd in His dealings with the devil, we have everlasting life – a life where the curse of work will be no more, a life of an eternity of play and leisure, and a life of everlasting worship of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

In the mean time, let our work and play be work and play to the glory of God. Let us serve God by making mammon serve God’s kingdom. And as forgiven sinners who often forget our priorities, let us worship Him who gives us not only work to do in the kingdom of God, but who also showers us with indescribable riches and leisure that will have no end! Amen.

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

1 comment:

Peter said...

Thanks for the great sermon. Wonderfully insightful.