Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 9 - 2017

13 August 2017

Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is not part of today’s Gospel, but it certainly helps us to understand it.  In Matthew 10:16, our Lord says: “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  The word translated as “wise” can also be translated as “shrewd” – as it is in our Gospel reading.

We are to be both shrewd – even like the serpent that beguiled Eve – but not at the expense of innocence – like that of the dove, that since the days of the ark of Noah, has come to represent gentleness and peace.

Shrewd and innocent, dear friends, that is how our Lord instructed the apostles to carry out their work in proclaiming the Gospel.  It is great advice for anyone engaged in any kind of work: be honest but be smart; be innocent, but be clever; be good, but be wise.

In our Gospel, our Lord tells a story, the hero of which is a crook. Some people are scandalized by this – which is exactly what our Lord likes to do.  For in telling a story about the kingdom of God in which the hero is a crook, Jesus gets our attention and actually makes us think.

And if you were listening carefully, the crook is not commended for his crookedness.  He was not praised for his lack of being innocent as a dove, but rather for his being as wise as a serpent.  He was commended for his shrewdness.  And that is our Lord’s lesson for us today, dear friends.

Our Lord is scolding us for not being shrewd.  Hopefully, we are teaching our children to be innocent, to be honest, to be moral, and to upright.  But that is not enough!  Are we also teaching them worldly wisdom: how to navigate a world filled with crooks and liars and thieves, a culture filled with those who hate Christ and who hate Christians.  Are we teaching them to be shrewd – like this dishonest manager?  Or are we setting them up to be eaten alive by predators, like sitting ducks, or doves in this case?

In our text, the dishonest manager is about to be fired.  The jig is up.  The boss is onto him.  But before he gets fired, he shrewdly arranges a soft landing for himself.  He makes friends with his boss’s customers, cutting them special deals, so that when he does get fired, he can call in favors and land on his feet.

Now in order to carry out this plan, he had to be dishonest – which we already know that he is.  He is cheating his boss out of money that is rightfully his.

Of course, the boss is probably most unhappy about this when he finds out, but he is nevertheless amazed at the dishonest manager’s “shrewdness.”  Anyone has to admit that this is a bold and audacious act – or as we might say in the Deep South: “bodacious.”  Like a supervillain in a movie, we may not like him, but we cannot help but admire his ingenuity.

Our Lord tells us that we should be as ingenious, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  The dishonest manager acted with passion and motivation, with calculated intelligence, and with courage – as dishonest as it was.  We Christians ought to be equally passionate and motivated, intelligent and courageous as the enemies of the cross – without surrendering our dovelike innocence, of course.

We should “make friends” with “unrighteous wealth,” so that “when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

We do not serve money, but money can serve the kingdom of God.  And if we aren’t dishonest and greedy, if we don’t serve money as a master, then we can indeed intelligently muster resources of all kinds for use in the kingdom.  

Shrewd, and innocent.  That is how we are to live the Christian faith, how we are to teach our children, and how we are to carry out our vocations in service of the church and of our fellow human beings.  

The greatest example of this shrewdness and innocence is our Lord Himself, dear friends.  For He is sinless, perfectly innocent, the very opposite of our dishonest manager.  And yet He is far more shrewd than the Serpent: the Devil.  As God Himself told Satan in the garden, the Seed of the woman would one day crush the Devil’s head even as this Seed of the woman’s own heel would be bruised in the process.

That came true in such a way that outsmarted the Devil.  For Satan struck the heel of the Lord Jesus on the cross.  He injected the venom of death into His body, shrewdly employing a conspiracy of Jewish priests and scribes and Pharisees, a Roman governor and soldiers, false witnesses, and a betrayer named Judas – in order to strike the heel of the Seed of the woman.  He brought about the death of Jesus on the cross, even as a spike pierced the heel of that Seed of the woman.  But God is more shrewd than the serpent.  In dying, Jesus paid the wages of sin and undid four thousand years of Satan’s evil corruption of mankind.  For by dying on the cross, Jesus shrewdly and sacrificially redeemed mankind from death and restored the communion with God that Satan had destroyed by his own shrewdness and his own wickedness.  In His own shrewdness and innocence, the Lord Jesus Christ defeated the Devil.  And by rising again, He destroyed the power of death, promising a resurrection to all who are baptized and who believe.

Wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.  That is our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is how we, dear friends, are redeemed by the blood of Him who died upon the cross.  

The Father commends His honest Son for His faithful shrewdness, for the Son of God is more shrewd in dealing with our own lost generation than the sons of darkness.  The Holy Cross is our own symbol of innocence and shrewdness, the dove and the serpent, the bruised heel of the Lord and the crushed head of the Devil.  

And in carrying out this bold and audacious plan, the Lord Jesus tells you to take your bill – the wages of your sin – and He tells you to write “zero.”  For by the cross, He has given you a receipt, inscribed with His blood, that your debt is paid in full.  

For He, the Lord Jesus, is the shrewd and honest manager of the universe, the only one who is truly wise as serpents and innocent as doves, through whom we are entrusted with true riches, even unto eternity!


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

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