Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 9

9 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Desperate times often call for desperate measures.

The threat of losing one’s job is one such motivator. In the face of the loss of income and the loss of face, people who are facing the loss of work can sometimes resort to clever, if not illegal, ways to keep their jobs and incomes.

This is why the Lord’s story, “The Dishonest Manager,” is a perfect parable to teach us about the kingdom of God. For indeed, desperate times call for desperate measures.

In the Lord’s story, the manager is “wasting” the “possessions” of the boss. Whether he is double-dipping, or just plain lazy, we don’t know. But we do know this – the owner of the business has had enough. The owner tells the manager to clean out his desk and find employment elsewhere.

The manager’s options are slim, as he is not physically able to do manual work, and he is too proud to receive assistance. So, in order to try to win his income back, the manager hatches a clever scheme. He figures out a way to bring in a quick and substantial cash flow, perhaps even hoping to change the owner’s mind.

Without any authorization from the boss, the manager cuts deals with those who owe the owner money. He aggressively negotiates with the owner’s debtors. It’s a risky strategy, but the money rolls in.

Though we’re not told for sure, it seems that the owner is so impressed with the clever (and yet unethical) manager’s ability to bring in the cash flow that he “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”

Jesus then points out how lacking we Christians are by comparison to the world when it comes to being shrewd, by making friends with wealth – even unrighteous wealth – for the sake of the kingdom.

For desperate times often call for desperate measures.

When we consider the stakes, the fact that our effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel has a direct bearing on the eternal destiny of those who come in contact with us – we should be anything other than complacent. Like the shrewd manager, we need to be brainstorming, desperately seeking how we can bring people into the kingdom before this age of grace comes to an end. Just as the threat of a loss of work would keep most of us awake at night, we should agonize over the fact that more people are not being reached with the Good News that our Lord Jesus has taken our debt of sin and paid the bill with His own blood.

For spiritually speaking, we are not strong enough to dig. There is no amount of labor that we can do to extricate ourselves from the hole we have gotten ourselves into. Not a one of us has sufficient strength or power to earn our way out of this debt – which is why we pray as our Lord Jesus taught us: “Forgive us our trespasses” – that is, our “debts” – “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

For even as we seek the Lord’s renegotiation of our own debts, so too are we called to tear up the bills of others, and allow the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross to renegotiate the debts owed to us.

And like the dishonest manager, we too are “ashamed to beg.” And that is simply sinful pride. What choice do we have, dear brothers and sisters, but to beg, to plead “Lord, have mercy” and to go before the Owner with hat in hand: “I am heartily sorry… and sincerely repent… and I pray You of Your boundless mercy… to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”

For we are all dishonest managers. We have all squandered the gifts our Lord gives us. We are all guilty of seeing our possessions as things we have earned, not as things the Lord has entrusted to us to manage for the good of His kingdom. We have all spent money foolishly when it comes to things we want, but refuse to give to the Lord from our first fruits, offerings to the Lord made out of a cheerful heart, in gratitude to Him who withheld, and withholds, nothing from us.

We are poor stewards of our time, a gift from God that marches ever forward. We allocate time to everything, work and play alike, ahead of prayer, of worship, of study, and of the giving of ourselves for the sake of the kingdom and of the proclamation of the Good News. We hardly ever consider that people may well go to hell because of our lousy stewardship with our time and our treasure.

And this, dear friends, is why our Lord tells us this parable anew. He isn’t just weaving a tale for our entertainment, or getting us hooked on a story so there can be commercial interruptions. Our Lord is teaching us about the kingdom, and especially, about ourselves. We are indeed dishonest managers, and what’s more, we’re not very good dishonest managers. We lack the shrewdness and the sense of urgency of the world’s crooks. And in this, we can learn from the dishonest of this world. For in order to survive, a crook has to keep his story straight, and he has to remember his priorities. For one slip-up can send him to prison.

Our Lord is telling us to keep our story straight, and to remember our priorities. For we can indeed gain the world and forfeit our souls. We can indeed be so preoccupied by the cares and worries of this life that the Seed of the Word of God is choked out. We are called upon to be both honest and shrewd managers, good stewards of our time and our possessions – keeping the kingdom of God first and foremost in our minds, hearts, and souls.

For the bottom line is that we cannot “serve two masters.” We “cannot serve God and money.” Money ought to serve us, and that means money ought to serve the Church. For we are the Church, and the propagation of the kingdom of God should be the top priority of the Lord’s people, of us as the Lord’s stewards and managers.

For like any employee, we re being tested and tempted on a daily basis. We can be good and faithful servants, or we can be lazy and unfaithful. We can be productive workers for our Master, or we can be worthless employees. We can, by our labor, get results for the greater good of the kingdom, or we can be so self-centered and greedy that we serve only ourselves and do the kingdom of God no good at all.

Dear friends, our Lord Jesus has done better than simply renegotiate our debt. He has liquidated it. He has torn up our bill, and paid the obligation of our sins in full. And now, as His managers, He gives us the power to show others – our families, our neighbors, our friends, and our co-workers – how they too can be relieved of debt and become members of the kingdom.

For we live in the gritty and grimy fallen world. Every dollar and every cent is tainted with sin. Even our best intentions are soiled with dishonesty, pride, and misguided priorities. And all that being said, we are still managers of the Lord’s creation. We still have been entrusted with the Word of God and with the responsibility to be “little Christs” to the world. How we labor in the Lord’s kingdom makes a difference, an eternal difference.

“One who is faithful in a very little,” says our Blessed Lord, “is also faithful in much.” Thanks be to God that He is always faithful, always calling us to repent, always beckoning us with His glorious Word, and always embracing us with His miraculous sacraments. And in light of the forgiveness He has won and earned for us by His own laborious passion, death, and resurrection, let us joyfully labor for Him and for the kingdom, presenting our very lives and treasures as a thank offering to Him who always serves God, who never serves money, who paid all of our debts on the cross, and who gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink unto eternal life.

For the desperate times of our sinful state and eternal peril impelled God to the most desperate measure of all, ransoming us “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” in order to “receive [us] into the eternal dwellings.” Amen.

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


Theophilus Ben Raska said...

"To the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his teachings, in preference to all others." (Thomas Jefferson, 1803 AD)

I am such a Christian. The challenge for every preacher is to discover and then proclaim the GOOD NEWS MESSAGE that Jesus actually proclaimed. Every Sunday I look for that GOOD NEWS, otherwise I am not hearing the gospel. In a nutshell, what was the good news you were trying to proclaim on Trinity 9?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theophilus:

Thomas Jefferson was a truly great man, and one of my own heroes. I have a bust of TJ in my parlor.

But I have a greatly different view of Jesus than Jefferson did. As a result, I am called to preach a different Gospel than that confessed and advocated by Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson did not believe in the supernatural. Among other teachings and deeds of our Blessed Lord, Jefferson denied the Trinity, the atonement, the virgin birth, sin and justification, hell, eternal life, the miracles of Jesus, and the Resurrection.

In Jefferson's religion there is no Gospel, no Good News. Here is how Jefferson's revision of the Bible ends: "Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed."

In Jefferson's mind, Jesus was conquered by death. In Jefferson's "Christianity," there is no Easter, and death retains its sting. In Jefferson's sad worldview, there is no life after death.

Because of this, the only "gospel" Jefferson is left with is summed up in the subtitle of his "Bible": the "life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth" - not Jesus the *Christ* mind you.

For TJ, Jesus is only about moral lessons.

In such religious systems, the "gospel" boils down to morals: "Do unto others..., love your neighbor as yourself," etc. But this is not Gospel, not Good News, but rather Law: rules, requirements, demands, and commands.

And how well do we live up to these teachings?

The Gospel is not "love your neighbor as yourself" nor is it a moral teaching. For strive as we may, we cannot measure up. We are sinners. The disobedience of our ancestors and our own sinfulness has left us in need of a Savior - a point (really *the* point) that Jefferson ignores.

The Gospel is that Jesus, in His passion, cross, death, and resurrection perfectly loves His neighbors, to the point of rescuing them. "No man has greater love than this, that He would die for His friends."

So, for Trinity 9, I preached on the appointed Gospel text: our Lord's Parable of the Dishonest Manager. It is a text with a good dose of the Law. For not all of our Lord's teaching is peaches and cream. But even in this text, we see our Lord's mercy at work, in His proclamation of forgiveness and of the pre-eminence of His kingdom - in which grace and mercy abound.

This is the Gospel you will never read in Jefferson's arrogant attempt to treat the Holy Scriptures like a buffet table (in which he presumes to edit the Word of God to conform to his own tastes and reason):

"the Good News that our Lord Jesus has taken our debt of sin and paid the bill with His own blood.... Dear friends, our Lord Jesus has done better than simply renegotiate our debt. He has liquidated it. He has torn up our bill, and paid the obligation of our sins in full.... Thanks be to God that He is always faithful, always calling us to repent, always beckoning us with His glorious Word, and always embracing us with His miraculous sacraments. And in light of the forgiveness He has won and earned for us by His own laborious passion, death, and resurrection... [He] who never serves money, who paid all of our debts on the cross, and who gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink unto eternal life.... For the desperate times of our sinful state and eternal peril impelled God to the most desperate measure of all, ransoming us “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” in order to “receive [us] into the eternal dwellings.”

I hope this clarifies things for you. And may the peace of the risen and victorious Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and King of the Universe - Victor over sin, death, and the devil - be with you unto eternal life!

Theophilus said...

Thank you for responding to my comment on your sermon of Trinity 9.

Institutional Christianity has a serious problem. It does not really know the content of Jesus’ good news message. Therefore, its preachers tend to end their sermons with St. Anselm’s doctrine of substitution atonement, as though that is Jesus’ message in a nutshell.

Jesus’ message is like a precious diamond with three brilliant facets:

NEW IDENTITY: We have been named the beloved sons of God (covenant language) full of dignity, honor, and worth. There is no superiority or inferiority among the beloved sons of God. We are all equally precious in the sight of our Creator.

NEW LIFE: We have been called to follow Jesus in his way of righteousness, loving our neighbor as ourselves, forgiving even our enemies from the heart, being a blessing to all the families of the earth. The good news is that this new life of righteousness in the following of Jesus and his gospel is the eternal life even now.

PROMISES: Our new life is sustained by God’s gracious promises which will not fail us. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

It is my conviction that Jesus’ good news gospel message is sufficient for our salvation. All additional teachings ABOUT God and ABOUT Jesus are corrupting influences which overshadow and obscure Jesus’ actual message. Furthermore, those additional teachings are the basis for much conflict and innumerable divisions in the church. Only Jesus’ message gives peace and unity to the church.

Christian Soul said...

Father Hollywood,

Thanks for this sermon. I never before quite got the point of this text.

The Law and Gospel came through quite clearly to me.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theophilus:

Thanks for your reply.

I do think you are confusing the "message" of Christ with Christ Himself. For a "message" is only talk *about* God. We have been called to partake of Christ Himself - literally, the Word, the Logos (John 1:1) in Word and Sacrament: "Make disciples, baptizing..." (Matt 28:19), "This is My Body... This cup is the New Testament in My blood..." (Matt 26:26-28), "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, of you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven," (John 20:23) etc. - all parts that ended up on TJ's cutting room floor, thus leaving him a "de-Gospeled" Bible and a de-throned "Jesus."

The Gospel is not a "message," but rather the reality that Jesus is the Christ, the risen Savior, the one who defeated Satan, and that He gives this life and victory to us, by sheer grace and mercy, through His Word and Sacraments.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "institutional Christianity," but Jesus did not found an "institution" nor did He found a "message" - but rather a "Church" (Matt 16:18). This very real Church, which our Lord promises would last forever (again, Matt 16:18) was founded on the apostles (whom Jefferson accuses of having corrupted the teachings of Jesus). But our Lord Himself begs to differ with TJ, saying, concerning these apostles that Jefferson accuses of corruption: "He who hears you hears Me" (Luke 10:16).

Both Jesus and Jefferson cannot be right. And, only one of them has an empty tomb.

If you're trying to find Jesus apart from His body, the Church, apart from submission to His Word (all of it, not the expurgated buffet-style Jefferson version), apart from where He has promised to be bodily present ("Take, eat, this is My body..." Matt 26:26), you will search in vain, and will ultimately, like Jefferson, find a God made in your own image, who conforms to your own logic.

The Church, the "one holy catholic and apostolic church" - bears the true Christ, the living Christ, the Christ with Good News unlike the dead and mouldering fantasy-Jesus of Jefferson's making.

Another part of the Bible that Jefferson chopped out, something we, the Church Universal, say when we gather for His body and blood: "Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). That is the very essence of Gospel of Jesus Christ that Thomas Jefferson denied.

Theophilus said...

I sense that our understanding of “the gospel” differs significantly. It appears to me that your understanding derives from institutional Christianity’s dogma-tradition which interprets “the gospel” as “talk ABOUT God.” My understanding of “the gospel” derives from Jesus’ gospel message, the “good news” he preached and taught throughout the land.

Suppose you were invited into a friend’s home for a dinner feast. The table was filled with delicious food of every kind. However, the host spent the entire time that you were seated at the table “talking ABOUT” each dish of food on the table. He never got around to giving the food to you to eat. That is what “talking ABOUT God” is like. Surely you do not stand at the altar and “talk about” the Lord’s Supper and never get around to giving the bread and wine to the people! Jesus gave the spiritual food to the people to eat. That is, he actually proclaimed the good news that warmed the people’s hearts and satisfied their hunger for righteousness.

Read carefully the following: Matthew 4:23, 9:35; Mark 1:38-39, 1:14; Luke 4:43-44, 8:1;
John 18:37. It is quite clear that Jesus’ primary mission was to proclaim “the good news of the kingdom of God” which made broken lives new and whole. The good news was that we have a new identity of honor as the beloved sons of God, that we have been called to follow Jesus in a new life of righteous relationships, that God’s gracious promises will not fail us. This is the goodness of his good news message.

Note carefully Jesus’ own words: “That is why I have come.” “That is why I was sent.” “For this reason I was born.” “For this I came into the world.” He makes it clear that preaching and teaching his gospel message was his primary mission. Jesus and his life-giving message cannot be separated. Jesus embodied the covenant word of God. He and his message are one.

Our exchange reminds me of Jesus’ exchange with the temple authorities. The temple authorities defended the temple tradition, while Jesus simply went about preaching the good news he received from his Father. Only his message gave new life and wholeness to the people.

I continue to think that Thomas Jefferson was insightful when he said: “To the corruptions of Christianity [later teachings ABOUT God and Jesus], I am indeed opposed; but not to the GENUINE PRECEPTS OF JESUS HIMSELF. I am a Christian, IN THE ONLY SENSE HE WISHED ANYONE TO BE; sincerely attached to HIS TEACHINGS, in preference to all others.” I am such a Christian. Having read all of his writings, rather than what others have said about his faith, I am more favorably inclined toward Jefferson’s self-definition of his faith than you are.

In this regard, we will be wise to agree to disagree, placing the final judgment of our faith in the hands of our merciful and gracious heavenly Father. This exchange has been interesting to me.
Sometime in the future I just may enter into another exchange when I sense that you have gone astray. (..)


Theophilus said...

One final comment on your Trinity 9sermon – Luke 16: 1-13: The issue in this parable is not about earthly money, of course, but as you stated correctly, “We have been entrusted with the word of God and with the responsibility to be ‘little Christs’ to the world.” In the parable, the rich man is God. He entrusted the management of the affairs of his kingdom to a steward – the temple and synagogue leaders. But they mismanaged the covenant word of God entrusted to them. They misinterpreted their God-given name, “son of God” (Exodus 4:22-23), to mean superiority over all other peoples, calling them unclean dogs and avoiding contact with them. They watered down their calling to love God will ALL their heart, soul, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves. Fifty percent would be sufficient in one case, eighty percent in another. Keeping their Sabbath laws, observing their worship festivals, and maintaining their tithes would be sufficient. The “clergy” of temple and synagogue were not interested in serving God, but in maintaining their own superior status and receiving the accolades of the people.

The “good news” inherent in this parable is a reminder to us that we who are the beloved sons of God are called to be faithful stewards of the good news message entrusted to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, which I summarized in a previous comment. We are called to be “little Christs” in all our relationships, as you stated, rejecting the hierarchical levels of superiority and inferiority practiced by the Scribes and Pharisees. The good news is that this way of life is the eternal life in us already now. We are given the assurance that God is our merciful and gracious Father who forgives us for his name’s sake (Psalm 25:11, 79:9) and bestows on us every spiritual gift for the carrying out of our calling.


My primary identity: I have been named a “beloved son” of my heavenly Father, who has identified himself to be merciful and gracious, faithful and forgiving by name and character (Exodus 34:6-7)

My secondary identity: I am a “follower of the way” (Acts 24:10-16). I am not a member of institutional Christianity, not a member of any denomination.

However, I do worship regularly in churches of various denominations to keep in touch with and give encouragement to the one body of Christ. I am distressed that so few sermons I hear set forth Jesus’ “glad tidings of great joy,” for only his message of peace can make broken lives new and whole. Instead, I hear a lot of religious talk ABOUT God and ABOUT Jesus – those “truths” which were formulated in the Greek-Gentile world in councils and conventions and imposed on the church, bringing about much conflict and many divisions in the church. I do hear references to the gospel, but I seldom hear the content of that gospel proclaimed.

I remain hopeful for the church, however, for God’s authentic word, the Old Testament covenant proclaimed by the faithful prophets, which was the New Testament gospel embodied and proclaimed by Jesus faithfully all the way to death on the cross, and vindicated in his resurrection, will not be proclaimed in vain. Like a seed sown on good soil, that message will take root, spring up, and bear an abundant harvest, without our awareness (Mark 4:26-29). God is faithful. He keeps his promises. Not one will fail us (Joshua 23:14).


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christian Soul:

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theophilus:

Thanks for your comment. I replied as a separate post here.