Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 9 - 2018

29 July 2018

Text: Luke 16:1-13 

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There’s a word we hear a lot today: passion.  I don’t mean our Lord’s passion, which is His suffering that culminated in His death on the cross for our sins.  The “passion” we hear so much about today means something along the lines of things that are really important to you.

Are you passionate about sports or collectables, or your family, or all things Italian?  Do you have a passion for cooking, or real estate, or video games?  “Passion” in that sense means that it is a priority in your life, and you are willing to sacrifice for it.  Maybe you’ll discipline yourself to save up a lot of money to take that vacation.  Maybe you’ll willingly give up your poker games for the good of your family.  Maybe you’ll get up early every day to study to earn that degree.  Passions can also be bad things: maybe you’ll sacrifice your family’s needs to satisfy an addiction.  Maybe you’ll throw away a good career for the sake of being passionate about laziness.  Maybe you have a passion for someone who is not your spouse.

Our Lord’s parable of the dishonest manager is a little bit weird, because we have this crook being praised.  It’s typical of our Lord Jesus Christ to throw us a curve like that.  I mean this with all due respect and affection when I say that our blessed Lord is a rascal.  Jesus loves to send us away scratching our heads, and He wants you to think, to really think, about the kingdom of heaven – and your role in it.

Yes, you have a role: a part to play, a job, a vocation, a calling – in God’s kingdom.  That’s why you were baptized.  In fact, that’s why you were created.  If you weren’t part of God’s grand plan for the universe, you wouldn’t exist.  But you do.  You are here.  You are baptized.  Your life matters.  In fact, you are of infinite value to God.  Jesus has a passion – a literal passion, a  willingness to suffer excruciating pain out of love for you, in order to rescue you.  And He rescues you for some purpose. 

You are an important part of the Lord’s kingdom.  In that sense, your life is not your own.  

To make us all think about the kingdom, our Lord gives us an example: this story, this parable about a man with a passion: a passion for his managerial job.  And in this case, the manager isn’t just really enthralled with wheeling and dealing.  Maybe he is, but in this case, he has a different motivation: he is being fired.  He is losing his livelihood.  That is quite a call to action.  He says to himself: “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”  Being able to earn a living is a powerful motivation.  It turns even people like me who are not morning people into early risers.  It’s better to get up early and contend with traffic rather than get fired and become impoverished.  People all over the world perform jobs they don’t really like because they are paid to do it.

Maybe we’re not so “passionate” about our work, but we are passionate about earning money, keeping a roof over our head and food on the table – especially if others are dependent on us.

The crooked manager is passionate about having a job, and so he figures out a way to make friends with people who can help him start over after he is fired.  Without the boss’s permission, he slashes the bills of his boss’s customers: “How much do you owe my master?”  A hundred?  “Take your bill and sit down and write fifty.”  To another he says, “How much do you owe?  A hundred?”  You, “take your bill and write eighty.”

Of course, this is dishonest.  It is in effect stealing from the boss.  But the boss sees something else in the manager’s behavior, something that the boss calls: “shrewdness.”  To be shrewd is to be wise, although it may be on the dishonest side.  But it doesn’t have to be.  One can be shrewd and honest as well.  What is motivating the dishonest manager to be so shrewd?  He wants another job.  He needs connections.  It is important to him.  In fact, it’s so important to him that he came up with a plan and executed it.  He is so passionate about making a living and not becoming a beggar that he applies himself to getting what he wants.

At the very end of the story, Jesus adds a surprise twist: the boss “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”  Jesus observes: “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”

Jesus is critical of us for our lack of shrewdness when it comes to the kingdom.  We are not shrewd, dear friends, not like the sons of this world.  Jesus criticizes us because we lack passion to apply such shrewdness for the kingdom.  We are not motivated.  Why?  Because we serve two masters.  We all do.  In addition to the true God, we serve ourselves.  Why?  Because we are poor, miserable sinners.  Even this crooked manager acts with more passion and more motivation out of self-preservation than we “sons of light” do in God’s kingdom.

There are things that we would just rather do than study God’s Word, than attend Divine Service every week, than teach our children the catechism, than pray, than forego spending money on ourselves in order to pitch in and give offerings to the church or to charity.  We are not as passionate about God’s kingdom as we ought to be.  All across America, churches are becoming empty, but the malls and the stadiums and the bars and the resorts remain crowded.  On Monday through Friday, the roads and bridges are bumper to bumper with people hustling and bustling to get to work, but on Sunday mornings, the roads are as empty as the churches are.  It’s just not that important.

We are passionate about TV and entertainment and sports, but not so passionate about the kingdom of God.  We are lukewarm.

Jesus warns us that we can’t have two masters, for “either [we] will hate the one and love the other, or… be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  If we love and serve our Master, if we are passionate about God’s kingdom and our place in it, it will be reflected in our shrewdness.  We will devote time and resources and mental and physical energy to expanding God’s kingdom, to finding a way to bring our friends and neighbors into the ark of the church, so that they too might find rescue, a rescue built on the Lord’s passion: His death on the cross.

For the ultimate shrewdness is displayed by Jesus.  When Satan got to mankind through the woman, Jesus rescues mankind by being born of a woman.  When the devil brought evil to the world through eating that which was forbidden by God, Jesus overcomes that evil by bidding us: “Take, eat.”  When man was cursed to make his living by the sweat of his brow to contend with thorns and thistles and live on bread, the Man Jesus defeats this curse by the sweat of His own brow upon the brow of a hill called Golgotha, being crowned by thorns, and giving us that same body that suffered the passion in the form of bread: “Take, eat, this is My body.”  When Satan bruised the heel of our Lord causing Him to bleed out His lifeblood, our Lord crushed the head of the serpent and places His lifeblood – His life-giving blood – in the cup of the New Testament, and offers it to you to drink.  “Take, drink, the New Testament in My blood.”

When the forces of darkness saw the lifeless body of Jesus placed into a tomb, the last thing they expected was to see His deathless body risen and victorious, turning tombs into temporary cots.  

The ultimate shrewd One is our Lord Jesus Christ.  He shrewdly defeats the devil by means of His passion, with the unswerving vision to accomplish His mission of our salvation.  You, dear friends, are that important to Him.  Our Lord is shrewd, but honest.  He calls you to follow Him, to be shrewd, to be motivated to serve the kingdom, to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  The kingdom needs to be important to us, even as the dishonest manager was willing to go to great effort to preserve his income.  For what is more important to us and to our children than eternal life?  Even the things that we’re so passionate in providing for us and them in this life, pale in comparison to being received “into the eternal dwellings.”

Let us be passionate, shrewd, and honest, dear friends.  And let us alone serve our Master who has already served us with His own passion, His own righteousness, and His own shrewdness that has rescued us and has given us everlasting life!  Amen.

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

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