27 July 2016
Text: Luke 16:1-13 (2 Sam 22:26-34, 1 Cor 10:6-13)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Trouble comes to us in this fallen world, and sometimes very quickly. And nobody is exempt. You may enjoy perfect health, but that will fail. And it could happen suddenly. Your family relationships may be perfect, but they can sour in a moment. You may be at the top of your game in terms of your job, but out of nowhere, downsizing and layoffs can and do come.
Father Jacques Hamel, a Roman Catholic priest in Normandy, France, lived a quiet life as a retired pastor. He served the same parish for over 30 years. Though 86 years old, he was still able to conduct the liturgy and preach. He was beloved in the community and lived a peaceful life – until yesterday. During the church service that he was leading, ISIS terrorists stormed in and beheaded the pastor, took hostages, and killed and wounded parishioners. All in a few minutes.
Remember, we live in a fallen world. We are mortal. And no matter how well things are going, they will not always be this way. We cover this reality up by escapism: turning our work and money and family and prosperity and entertainment into gods. We avoid uncomfortable subjects and convince ourselves that no harm will come to us.
But it inevitably does.
And Jesus tells us Christians that we are often stupid about it. He tells us that we can learn a thing or two from the crooks of this world, who though they are crooked, are often wiser in confronting reality than we are.
So, he tells us a story about this guy who had a great life. He was a manager. His boss was rich. And in fact, the manager’s life was even more luxurious because he was a crook. He treated the boss’s assets like they were his own and wasted them. Of course, he never thought he would get caught, but he did. He thought the gravy train would run forever, but it didn’t.
He got word that he was being fired. “What shall I do,” he asked himself, “since my master is taking the management away from me?” He didn’t want to dig ditches, and he was too proud to beg. So this shrewd crook came up with a plan: he had meetings with people who could help him later on, and cut deals with them. He did nice things for the very people who could do nice things back to him. Thus the crooked manager arranged for his own soft landing after being fired.
Of course, he was still cheating his boss right up to the bitter end, but even the boss was amazed, and “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The dishonest manager knew where to turn in order to get what he didn’t deserve and to receive that which he did not earn.
Jesus is telling us that we Christians are foolish. For we know that tough times will come to us – even if all is well now. We are surrounded by a world of evil, and we are harassed by the devil and betrayed by our own sinful nature. We have relationships that go awry, bodies that wear out, we have jobs that disappear, money that dries up, social and political security that can vanish in a moment. Our money won’t save us, our entertainments won’t prevent our suffering, our friends and family may even betray us. We might even find ourselves at the point of a Muslim sword one day.
And even if we live an enchanted and wealthy life until we are 120 years old, our bodies will decline and we will die. We may live long, but we will then outlive our loved ones.
And so what shall we do, dear friends?
Jesus is telling us to be shrewd. Not dishonest, but shrewd. Where do we turn to for help?
Like the dishonest manager, we should know where to go in order to get what we don’t deserve, and to receive that which he we do not earn. And more than just knowing, we ought to act shrewdly on this knowledge.
For where, dear friends, can you go to have your bill torn up, to have your debts forgiven, to be received into a house as a guest, to be fed without paying, and to have your own acts of crookedness and dishonesty covered up?
The truly shrewd sinner makes friends with the one who can give him that which he doesn’t deserve and hasn’t earned. That is called grace. And it comes as a free gift of God. It was earned at the cross and given to you by means of love. It is handed over to you in the form of a torn-up bill and a debt forgiven. You are welcomed under this roof and invited to this table. You are washed by baptismal water, and you are received into the eternal dwellings by the very Christ who shrewdly defeated the devil and won for you the perfect and eternal life that is elusive on this side of the grave.
But how foolish we are, dear friends, when we refuse to pray, instead squandering our time on things that will not be of help to us in times of trouble. Or when we opt not to hear the Word of God, the good news of the Gospel, and turn down the Lord’s gift of Holy Communion because of competing pursuits and desires. How sad it is when we opt to squander opportunities to read and study God’s Word and instead use that time for something that will not bring us help in time of need.
And even money itself can help us when it is used to advance the kingdom instead of only filling our bellies. We should use our time, talent, and treasure in the service of God rather than sacrificing God for time, talent, or treasure.
Father Hamel’s life of struggle is over. As a forgiven sinner, he is truly a saint, and one who is an example for us of confessing Christ in the face of the enemy. He was ready to meet death and evil, even though he did not have much warning of what was to happen.
Such is life in this fallen world, dear brothers and sisters, but we have a Friend in the highest of places, who truly desires that you be in communion with Him in this life, in daily and faithful prayer, in study of His Word, and in a continuous and ongoing commitment to receiving forgiveness, life, and salvation in this holy place.
Be wise. Be shrewd. And receive that which you don’t deserve but that which He nevertheless gives to you by grace. And when those inevitable times of trouble come, you will find peace – the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.