Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 9

19 July 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has a painful observation for us today, dear friends. He says: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” In other words, the nonbelievers outperform us in getting things that are important to them done. And how true this criticism is!

Our Lord tells a story about a crook who gets his hand caught in the cookie jar. Rather than pile it in and take his lumps, the crook networks with other crooks to weasel his way out of the consequences of his actions. And this story is all-too familiar to us in Louisiana. How often have we been amazed, utterly amazed, at the audacity of politicians who shamelessly commit crimes and then carry on as if nothing happened – maybe even committing further crimes to stay in power? Their ability to find loopholes, friends in high places, and ways out of the consequences of their actions simply boggles the mind.

There is a lesson in there for us, dear brothers and sisters. Our Lord isn’t praising the crooked politician and the unjust steward for their dishonesty, but rather is using their examples of audacity as a lesson in how we should approach God’s kingdom. For the desire, the drive, the boldness for the sake of getting the job done is, by far, more exhibited by the unbeliever than by the believer.

Come hell or high water, an ambitious person will achieve his goals. He will go without food for days on end to invest money in his dream. He will forego pleasure in the present in order to study, to be an apprentice, to work two or three jobs while going to school – whatever it takes – all for the sake of achieving some personal goal. He will stomp on anyone, take advantage of anyone, destroy anyone, lie, cheat, beg, borrow or steal, to get from Point A to Point B.

We have all seen such people, such friends of Mammon, who know how to pull strings and make things happen. While it is true that men can, and indeed are, successful while being honest, while upholding their integrity, our Lord chooses to make an example of the unjust “sons of this world” over and against the “sons of light.”

Meanwhile, who is aggressively working in the fields of the Lord? Do we plot and plan and connive and cajole in order to squeeze out a few more minutes of labor for the sake of God’s kingdom? Are we shrewdly looking at every angle, every resource – be it money, people, or time – in order to make friends in high places for the sake of God’s kingdom?

If an ambitious man wants to make a fortune in the stock market, the first thing he will do is learn. He will read every book he can get his hands on. While his friends are out golfing or fishing, he will be perusing journals, attending seminars, and devouring every magazine on the subject. He will search out friends and make contact with people from whom he can learn.

But what about us workers for the kingdom of God? Do we get up in the morning eager to study God’s Word? Are we shrewdly looking to squeeze in a few minutes with the pastor to learn about God’s kingdom? Are we figuring out ways in which our Lord can use our gifts, our skills – whether teaching, painting, polishing, cooking, climbing ladders, planning finances, coming up with evangelism strategies, or just asking the pastor and the Board of Elders: “How can I help the kingdom of God?”

Do Fortune 500 companies, self-made millionaires, and major sports franchises have to forego board meetings for want of a quorum? Would you want to do business with a company where the workers skate by with the absolute bare minimum? What would be your impression of a business that had to make due with broken down furniture and secondhand castoffs? And what is more important to us Christians, our earthly jobs, or the kingdom of God?

Our Lord is giving us a hard dose of the law today, dear brothers and sisters. He is telling us that the crooks and criminals know what they’re doing, understand their priorities, and have their ducks in a row far better than we Christians.

We must become more shrewd, more aggressive, more committed in our service to the Lord’s kingdom. It is a disgrace that the “sons of this world” outperform and outshine the “sons of light” when it comes to shrewdness and commitment. It should be the other way around. What we have to offer the world is of infinite value, not things of this world that will rust and rot away. And, we give it away for free – unlike the “sons of this world” who are only out to make a buck.

Our Lord is goading us to serve the kingdom – not for what we can get out of it, but rather for the sake of the kingdom itself and for what the kingdom offers to those who need to hear the good news. Serving God’s kingdom is not about increasing your own riches. For we are all already heirs. We already have it all. We have eternal life and the promise of infinite wealth. What more is there for us to strive for? Indeed, in God’s kingdom, we serve so that others might be saved. We “work out our salvation,” in the words of St. Paul, not so we can climb our way up the ladder, but rather because we have already been put on the top rung, and we are now in a position to throw a lifeline to those whom God wants to rope in with the Gospel.

We serve God’s kingdom not out of greed and avarice, but rather out of love and gratitude.

And look at the shrewdest deal of all, the one who paid for the sins of all the world by taking out the bill and writing quickly a settlement in His own blood. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Forgive us our trespasses” – but the word “trespasses” really means “debts.” We pray again and again that the Lord would relieve us of the burden that we could never even so much as hope to pay. And this is exactly what our Lord does, paying our debt with His capital.

It is this shrewdness of our Lord that salvages life from certain death, that parlays what seems to be total defeat on the cross into eternal victory, that uses the murderous devil against himself to bring about the sacrifice that ultimately destroys the devil, bringing about the will of His Father, whose obedience secures eternal life for those who put their faith in Him and not Mammon.

What a joy and a privilege to serve God’s kingdom for the salvation and redemption of all creation! May we be filled with zeal and shrewdness, even as our Lord’s shrewdness won eternal life for us in His kingdom which has no end. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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