Friday, July 30, 2010

Sermon for 8/1/10--Ninth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The steward had been entrusted with managing his master’s possessions. It was a position of respect and responsibility, and the rewards for faithful service were often considerable. But, that was about to change. He stood accused of wasting his master’s goods. The master sensed that something was not right. There would be an audit; the books would be opened and examined. With speed and shrewdness, he used the time that remained in his position to cut the debt of others and, thus, make friends with them. He called on each of his master’s debtors and cancelled a portion of their debt. Since he was still in the office of steward, his actions carried with them the weight and promise of his master. Although he did it to look out for himself, although he did it with someone else’s possessions, he was still commended by the master for his cleverness.

What does all of this mean? It doesn’t mean that God is teaching us to be dishonest. He has commanded that we not steal or even covet, but receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. What, then, did Jesus mean when He said, "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light"? What was His design in saying to His own disciples, "Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon"? There will come a time, and we all know this, when possessions will become utterly meaningless. They cannot provide for our eternal future. God is concerned about how we use the stewardship He has entrusted to us. As Jesus later said, “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches”? His conclusion was that we cannot serve both God and mammon.

If God called for an accounting tomorrow, if the books were opened on your use of what He has entrusted to you, how would you fare? Are you ready for God’s audit? Would there be any grounds for an accusation that you have been wasting God’s gifts? In this place and this time in which you live, with all of the possessions that surround you, and knowing what it takes to make you content, are you ready for the Master to call in His accounts? Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.

If an accounting of our stewardship was required, would we not be in the same fix as that steward? He was focused on providing for himself; aren’t we? He had wasted some of that which His master had entrusted to him; haven’t we? None of that is what Jesus approved of. What Jesus was commending was this steward’s attitude when he recognized his predicament. The point of praise is not that he selfishly looked out for himself, nor that he pulled a fast one before he was removed from office. Rather, Jesus’ point of praise is this steward’s shrewdness, or wisdom, in depending on one thing and one only, and that was the master’s mercy. The steward knew his master and staked everything on the fact that he would be merciful to those whose debts had been cancelled. Would the master honor the cancellation of the debts he made? The steward trusted that he would, and his trust in that mercy was his only provision for the future. The steward was praised for knowing where his hope was found; in the mercy of the master.

The steward staked everything on the belief that his master would honor the words spoken in his name to cancel the debt. And the master did just that! That is the point of the whole parable: the mercy of the Lord. His is the greatness and the power and the glory. It is in His hands to make great and give to all. Both riches and honor come from Him. It is in this light that Jesus then calls for the sons of light, the faithful, to examine their own single-minded devotion to true riches. After all, the sons of the world calculate and plan and expend all kinds of effort for the sake of earthly security—riches that will always fail! Jesus would have us put the things of this world to an everlasting use in love towards our neighbor, making every effort for the sake of the kingdom of God, to bring eternal riches to others—the riches that will not fail!

Those riches are found in the One who speaks these words to His disciples. Those riches are an absolute trust in the mercy of God through the words and the saving work of Jesus Christ. For Jesus Himself was appointed by the Father as Steward of the Father’s grace. Accusations were brought also against Him. He was, after all, accused of blasphemy, the ultimate abuse of God’s name. While none of the charges were true, there did come a day when He was called to give an account of His stewardship. The court was seated, and the books were opened, and what they revealed was a wretched account of stewardship and life. The truth is, every greedy thought of ours, every withholding from God, every sinful desire to have ever more and more of this world’s possessions, every selfish word and action, every one of our sins, was there on the record. The holy Son of God stood accused of it all, and He was as guilty as sin. In fact, He had become sin for us so that, in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.

In His office of Redeemer, Jesus spoke a word of forgiveness to this whole world of sinners. Guilty of our sin, and not His own, He used His last hours to secure our future, not His own. On the cross He sacrificed Himself to make peace for us debtors with God. By His life and death he canceled all that we by our sins deserved. And just as the steward called his master’s debtors one by one, so Jesus calls us personally before Him in Holy Baptism. He calls us to Himself, and says, "How much do you owe? Take your debt, and write ‘canceled’ on it. Your Baptism, after all, is a Baptism into my all-sufficient death. You have been anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit. Do not write a lesser amount; don’t write, ‘paid in part,’ but, ‘paid in full’."

Jesus trusted absolutely in the Father’s mercy for us sinners. He trusted that in speaking words of forgiveness to us, the Father would honor those words completely. Indeed, in sending out apostles and pastors to speak in His name, that same trust is evident. The Master is merciful. The stewards of the mysteries of God are still there in the Savior’s name to cancel the debts owed to the Master. The word of the ones He has sent will be honored absolutely. This is the truth Jesus gives us in this steward who watched out for his own life and well-being. The crucial factor in all of this was the master’s mercy. He trusted that the master would honor the debts canceled in His name.

God strengthen our trust that our debt is canceled by the Word of Christ. He is still the Redeemer. He still speaks words of forgiveness and life. Risen and reigning over God’s kingdom, He continues to take our debt and write "paid in full," that we may be received with the saints into His everlasting home. Thank God for the mercy of the Master! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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