Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Trinity 9

This was preached at the Wednesday evening Divine Service at Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Pleasant Prairie, WI. Pastor Gary Gehlbach preached (same text, different sermon) at the Sunday morning Divine Service.

Sermon on Luke 16:1-9

For Lamb of God Lutheran Church, Pleasant Prairie, WI
August 9, 2009 (The Ninth Sunday after Trinity)

All of us are stewards of God’s gifts. To be a steward is to be a manager, one who realizes that the things he is given responsibility over don’t belong to him but to the one who gave him the responsibility. Most of us are somewhat familiar with the distinction between a company car and our own personal vehicle, or the distinction between a company credit card and a personal one. Some of us may have taken legal and financial responsibility for the affairs of an aged or diseased relative who is no longer able to manage such things for himself. And so we know what it means to be placed in a position of responsibility, of management, for possessions and assets that are not our own, of which we are only taking care in behalf of someone else. We know that to use those things placed in our care for personal use, for reasons that are contrary to the wishes of the one to whom they belong, is to betray the trust that person has placed in us, and is often downright illegal.

What we too soon forget, however, is that everything we have in this life, including our own personal assets and finances, including our own clothing and homes and vehicles, including our very own bodies and even souls, falls into that category, the category of things that don’t belong to us but which we are managing in someone else’s behalf. Everything we have and, yes, even everything we are, is a gift of God and we are only managers or stewards of it in His behalf. In other words, stewardship is not just a matter of whether or not we donate to the Church or to missions, although it is true that what we do in that area shows how much or little we value Christ’s painful and bloody death in our behalf, of course. The fact that from God’s perspective we are merely stewards of everything we are and have means a lot more than that. It means that every decision we make as to what to do with the resources we have should be a decision that’s made with Him in mind. And those resources include, as I’ve said, not only our money and possessions, but our very lives.

So how are you doing in your management of what the Lord has given you? Have you ever used the things God has given you contrary to the ways in which He would have them used? Have you ever used the mouth he gave you for speaking lies rather than the truth? For gossip which tears down your neighbor rather than building him up? Have you ever used the brain He gave to think up ways of taking advantage of your neighbor rather than ways of helping him? Have the other parts of your body ever been used to take what God has not given you, whether in terms of property or in terms of relationships? Has the money He has entrusted into your care ever been used to get you things God has forbidden you to have? In other words, are you a sinner? As you consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments, which the Catechism urges us to do before coming to confess our sins, have you gone contrary to the wishes of Him who gave you everything, in how you have used what He gave you?

Well, if not, you’re in denial, because you are a sinner, as are we all. All of us are basically in the same position as the steward Jesus tells us about in today’s Gospel lesson. This man was accused of being a poor steward, of wasting the resources his master had placed into his care. We don’t know whether the man was crookedly using what was placed into his care for his own selfish purposes, or whether he was simply an incompetent manager. It doesn’t really matter. In either case, he’s like us as we consider our management of the resources our God has given us. However, this man was allowed to continue as steward for a time, to give him a chance to assemble and present the account of his stewardship. He’s like us in this as well. We also are accused by God’s Law of being poor stewards of God’s assets and property, and yet we too are still stewards of it for the time being while we await the coming of the master to whom we will give a final account of our stewardship.

The steward who is in trouble cannot dig, and he is ashamed to beg. There seems to be nothing he can do about his situation. Likewise with us. There is nothing that we can do for ourselves that will do away with the accusation against us. What the man decides to do is to trust in the mercy of his master. Now, it may not look like he is doing that when you first read the parable, but that is really what he is doing. You see, by lowering the debt that these various debtors owe his master, he is making his master look good in their eyes. By the way, scholars don’t agree about whether or not the steward was being dishonest or doing something wrong when he changed the bills. I prefer to take the interpretation that the steward actually had the authority to set and change the amounts that others owed his master, and so he had every right to change the bills. It was part of his area of responsibility which his master had entrusted into his hands. He is also trusting that his master is a forgiving sort who approves of the lowered bills, since what the steward has done makes the debtors grateful to him. What he does relies solely on the mercy of his master. And the result is that the master, in fact, approves of what was done.

Now, to apply this part of the parable to our situation is a little tricky. We will not earn our way back into God’s favor simply by being generous to other people with what God has given to us. God is not impressed by good works done cynically to impress Him. This is where a parable such as this one only tells part of the story. God does not show grace and mercy to us because we are generous and help other people, give to the Church and to the poor, etc. This is where many “stewardship” sermons go very wrong, by giving the impression that giving to the Church, or working for the Church and participating in its activities, is somehow more holy and more noble than simply obeying God’s Commandments in our daily callings in life. Sometimes these sermons even give the false impression that we can earn our way into God’s favor with this kind of so-called “stewardship,” which of course is a denial of the most basic article of our faith, namely that salvation is a free gift from God for the sake of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God has already showed grace and mercy to us while we were sinners, by sending Christ to die on the cross. It is not anything you do that earns you eternal salvation, but the gracious gift of forgiveness which was earned by Jesus Christ and which comes to you know through His Word and His body and blood. This is how God shows His gracious and merciful nature to us. The Second Person of the Trinity Himself becomes man and takes the accusation of poor stewardship upon Himself and bears it to the cross in our place. He gives us nothing less than eternity by forgiving us not just part, but all of the debt we owe His Father, giving us the oil of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and the bread of His body in the Lord’s Supper.

Because we have this gracious and merciful Lord and master whose stewards we are, it changes our whole outlook on how we conduct our stewardship. Our motivations are different from worldly people when it comes to physical possessions, and so our decisions will be different as well. How people use the physical resources they have been given is a confession before God and the rest of the world of what is in their hearts. Just as the steward did what he did because he trusted in the gracious and merciful nature of his master, we do what we do with His blessings to us because we know that He is gracious and merciful. As we relate to other people, we act as representatives of His grace and mercy to them. When you help out someone who is in need, whether that be someone who has lost their job or who is sick and in the hospital, or who just simply needs a shoulder to cry on or an arm to lean upon, you are acting as a representative of God to that person. You show by your actions how God thinks about that person, and by being merciful and generous you are preaching to them the glorious reality that God is merciful and gracious and generous. And as you do these things for those who need your help, you are serving God. Because God is not only the one who has given you what you have; He is also the one who receives what you give. “Insofar as you have done this for the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me.” God is on both sides of the equation. Your money, your possessions, your very health and life, are nothing. The God who gave them to you, and who receives them back in your giving them to others, is everything. You will receive a thousands of thousands times more than you have ever had here in this life when you enter into eternity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost themselves will receive you into the everlasting dwellings, where the blessings in which you will partake are more than you can possibly imagine. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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