Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'
"And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes.'
"And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?' And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?' And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.'
"And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings."
Sermon for Ninth Sunday After Trinity 08/01/21
Using What You Have
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Have you ever had a bad day? Of course, you have. But, I am willing to bet that it wasn't as bad a day as the day described by Jesus in the parable in our Gospel lesson this morning. That man was having a really bad day. Jesus tells the parable to make the point about using what you have to the best effect. I want to take you through the lesson and discuss that point. Our theme is, "Using What You have."
In order to make sense of the parable, you need to remember a couple of facts about what Jesus refers to as a "steward" in our Gospel. In English, we might call someone in his position a manager or an administrator. In the day and culture of Jesus' Israel, the office was called, in Aramaic, a "shaliak". A Shaliak would be a manager with extraordinary authority, from the twenty-first-century perspective. He could make deals that his master did not approve of, and the deal was made as surely and with the same authority as though the master had done it himself. That is why the "squandering" of the master's possessions was such a serious thing. His employer had no recourse to recover mismanaged funds.
Everyone in Jesus' day would have known this. The master in the parable discovered the problem in time to keep from going broke, and when he fired the steward, the steward had to leave his employment with the shirt on his back and nothing more.
So, the man was moving from relative wealth to absolute poverty overnight. He faced reality squarely. He was not cut out for heavy labor - probably due to age and long inactivity, and he couldn't bear the thought of begging. Back then, you worked, or you begged and depended on the generosity of the townspeople, or you starved. It was a simple equation.
Our hero faced an existential dilemma. His conduct had deprived him of his livelihood, as the ways of the foolish often do, and he was unable or unwilling to do the things that were left open to him. When he took stock of his situation, he found himself left with only one option; lie, cheat, and steal. He could use the remaining hours of his authority over another man's riches to build a nest egg for himself at his soon-to-be-former master's expense. That is what he did.
He reduced the debts of his master's wealthier debtors by significant amounts, with the understanding that they would owe him for his duplicity on their behalf. He certainly expected a return on his graft. That is what "so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes" meant.
When his duplicity was discovered, "his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly". The parable doesn't tell us if he managed to keep his job, or whether his scheming worked or anything like that, because this is, after all, a parable - and not a real recounting of historical events. The point of the story has been made, so Jesus did not need to add any more to the story.
The point is, "the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light". People tend to exercise more intelligence and realistic thinking when they deal with the passing things of this world than Christians do dealing with the eternal realities of Christ. People manage their portfolios with care. They know where their money is. They calculate cash-flow and appreciation rates and know how this or that action will serve their self-interest before they act. This is not universally true, but generally, people pay attention to their things - and generally, they follow principles for self-preservation and self-advantage.
Christians are not so ‘shrewd'. We often say we believe something, but we then act as though we do not. We frequently value the things of this world in ways that suggest that they are more permanent and significant, and faith and fellowship with our fellow-believers and doctrine, and the life of our congregation take a back seat to toys, and personal pleasures, and ideas and activities, some that directly contradict our faith. We see Christians placing the esteem and society of the unbelieving before the people and things of our faith. And we behave as though life in this world is to be clung to at any cost, seemingly to confess that the promises and hope of the Gospel are not real.
Jesus intends to draw your attention to that by means of this parable. When he says, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings", He is addressing the disconnect between what we confess and what we actually do.
The ‘mammon of unrighteousness' refers to the ‘stuff' of this world. When Jesus says to make friends for yourself with it, He doesn't mean to use it to make friends of society or people around you, but to use it in ways that are consistent with your confession.
If we were to look at the church with the expectation that how we used our gifts of faith, doctrine, forgiveness, and the ‘mammon of unrighteousness' we would come away with an entirely different picture of what the Christian faith was about than what we say we believe. Synods and church bodies would appear to be about the accumulation of buildings and nest eggs filled with cash and promoting a progressive social agenda in society at large. Teaching about that guy in the Bible would not appear to be a priority at all. Sound doctrine and clear confession appear to have no particular place here. Advancing Biblical morality takes a back seat to looking good in the eyes of our neighbors and garnering the esteem of the secular authorities.
Judging by their actions, many congregations would appear to be having a race about size and impressive buildings. Our congregation seems to be about having an optional worship service on Sunday and providing care for a family cemetery next door. Sharing the good news of the grace of God, helping people to hear about their salvation, and encouraging one another to stand firm in the faith once delivered to us does not appear to dominate our congregational activities very often. The most active churches in our community give away food to anyone who wants to take it, provide clothing for those who want to wear hand-me-downs, and host concerts and other cultural events for the community. Garage sales are big, although they rarely seem to be raising funds for the actual spread of the Gospel.
Finally, individual Christians often behave as though everything else in life is more urgent than the faith - - or the other faithful people around them.
The Church is here, and presumably will be tomorrow, and next week, and next month, so the weekend visit to someone in some other place is more urgent. One ‘needs' the things of life, and we can theoretically give more tomorrow, so we buy things today that aren't needs, and treats the Gospel and the fellowship of the faithful like something that you might attend to when there is nothing more exciting - nothing interesting - to do. You really do care about fellow believers, but your projects, your relatives, your vacation get away's, and your (you can fill in the blank here) are urgent, and consume your attention.
But let's talk about the truth: what is more important than God's Word? What do we need more than the gifts of God which He delivers to us in worship? Who is really more important than our brothers and sisters in Christ, given to us by God to love and to care for and to encourage? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and to lose his own soul? Are we dealing with the things of Christ as we will want to when we face that day of accounting? How are you using what you have?
What Jesus is teaching by means of the parable is that we ought to be more shrewd in our dealings with the things of the world in ways that reflect and under gird our confession and our hope.
Being "shrewd in relation to your own kind" as "sons of light" means dealing with one another as beloved brothers and sisters in the household of God. That means we care about one another, and know who is hurting, and who is in need of something we can provide, and understanding – or at least thinking about – what we can do to encourage one another and help each other live lives of peace and contentment here and now as the children of God in Christ Jesus.
Our failures in regard to one another are legion - and when I preach like this, I suspect I stir up a bit of guilt. Some of you probably think that I am preaching down to you, as though I think that I do this stuff all the way it should be, and you are the only ones to miss the mark. But I recognize that I am not as "shrewd" in regard to my brothers and sisters in Christ as I might be either. My only comfort is that we are, together, "sons of light". We are the children of God, redeemed and forgiven for the sake of the death of Christ on the cross on our behalf, and His resurrection for our justification.
So, if you fall short of this shrewd stewardship of the mammon of unrighteousness, take comfort; your sins are forgiven. But take a lesson from Jesus about using what you have. God has given you all that you possess for His purposes, not merely for your own. Think about the parable and ask yourself how will you want to have used what you have when you are called to give an account of your stewardship?
Christians, believers who trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation are going to go to heaven because of Christ, so that is not the issue. The question is, how do you want to be using what you have as one of God's chosen and beloved children?
He that has ears to hear, let him hear.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)