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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

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Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Serving Two Masters - September 22, 2013 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Luke 16:1-15

Our text for today is one of those text that may be difficult to understand. So, as we begin we want to remind ourselves that even though we could go many different ways with this text it is important that we look for the one main point of the text, that we let Scripture interpret Scripture and that we keep it in its proper context. With that said, let us begin by putting this text into its proper context and setting. Last week we heard the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. We skipped the parable of the Lost Son, or the Prodigal son and this week we have the parable of the Shrewd Manager. Last week Jesus was speaking specifically to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. This week Jesus turns to speak specifically to His disciples, and that is not to say that the Pharisees were not listening. Please keep this in mind, that Jesus is speaking to His disciples, His close Christian friends, which puts this in the area of sanctification, that is, responding to God, what we do because we are saved, not what we must do in order to be saved.
 
Getting into the account of the dishonest or shrewd manager, we begin at verse one, “1[Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (v. 1-8).
 
The parable begins with the rich man who does not keep an account of his own goods, but hires someone to do it for him. He has heard some rumors that his accountant, his steward, I guess today we would say his CPA, is not being honest so he calls him in and confronts him, asking him to give an account of his business. Today we might say he was being audited.
 
Fearing the loss of his job, the loss of income, and the loss of a good retirement, the steward begins to devise a shrewd plan. Now, a person can look at this plan in two ways, but both ways lead down the same road and have the same meaning. First, it could be that the steward reduced the amount each debtor owed knowing that they would then owe him for this discount. He could later get some of this money back even if he had to blackmail the other debtors. Or it could be that he was merely reducing each debtors debt by the amount of interest which he overcharged in the first place. Either way of looking at what the steward did, the outcome is that he did whatever he believed he had to do in order to secure for himself a good income after he was fired.
 
After he devised his plan, he called in the debtors and put his plan to work. And it was such a good plan that even the master commended the dishonest steward because he had acted so shrewdly. And please keep in mind, it was not that the master was praising the steward for his dishonesty, rather he was praising him because of his resourcefulness, even if it may have been dishonest resourcefulness.
 
Jesus tells the disciples the parable and to make sure they are not confused, that they do not misunderstand, and to make sure we are not confused and so that we do not misunderstand, Jesus then goes on to give the interpretation of the parable. We pick up the account at nine, Jesus says, “9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (v. 9-13).
 
Verse nine is an interesting verse, but let us not misunderstand it. Again, we want to remind ourselves that this is a parable that is talking about sanctification, that is, what we do as a response to what God has first done for us, not what we do in order to gain something from God. Remember, Jesus is speaking to His already converted disciples. Verse nine does not tell us that worldly wealth should be an end in and of itself, rather Jesus is telling us that we should use the gifts of this world that God has given us in order to help others. More specifically, Christians should use worldly wealth in order to increase Christian charity. One more way of saying that is to say that as Christians we are to use our worldly wealth responsibly, to help those in need, understanding that the wealth of this world comes from outside ourselves, from the Lord, and so we are to use it in service to Him and His Kingdom.
 
Are we here as a church in this community to have the community serve us? Are we here as God’s people in this place to have the community bring in their monies to support us, through services provided at a charge, through fund-raisers and the like? or, are we here in the community as God’s people in this place to serve this community? If we are here to serve the community then than means serving the community and not asking the community to pay for services rendered. What wonderful opportunities our Lord has set before us, that He has blessed us and will continue to bless us so that we might be a blessing to the people of this community, reaching out to them and serving them so that they too may come to know Him as their Savior and be a part of His Kingdom as well. And we certainly can trust the fact that as the Lord has provided in the past, He will continue to provide as we go about doing His work in this place.
 
Jesus also talks about the faith factor. Let me paraphrase what He says. He says, “I give little and much to whomever I wish so that whoever can be trusted with the very little that I give to them, can also be trusted with the very much that I give to them, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, if you have not been trustworthy in the faith which I have given you, how can I trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, namely with all that I have given to you and entrusted to you to use while you are living on this earth, how can I give you property of your own, property in heaven?”
 
And all this culminates in the fact that we cannot serve two masters. How important it is that we take a sober look at who or what is our master, at who or what is our God. Is our master this world and the things of this world, or is our master our Lord Jesus? Are we like the Pharisees as our text concludes, “14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (v. 14, 15)? Do we hide our love of money by justifying how we spend what we believe is our money and our lack of charity before others? Or, do we respond with our first fruits and tithes to our Lord, returning a portion as He has first given all to us?
 
What we are talking about is not new. In our Old Testament Lesson for today we read about how the children of Israel were not trustworthy in handling God’s promise of salvation through the Israelites, thus the Good News and the message of salvation is now for the Gentiles.
 
In our Epistle Lesson for today we are reminded to pray for our government and for those in authority over us. I thought it was interesting that this Epistle is included with this text which talks about being honest and trustworthy, but I believe that we need to be in constant prayer to our Lord that He will help those in authority as well as help us to be honest, trustworthy and good stewards of all that He has to give to us.
 
So, What does this mean? This means that we should fear and love God so that we recognize and admit, not just with our lips, but with our hearts and with our actions that all things, even our own salvation comes from outside of us. It is God who gives everything to us. Until we move from mere lip service, saying to ourselves, “yeah, everything is a gift from God,” and thinking in our brains, “I earned it all myself,” until we move from lip service to heart service we will never change. We must first admit with our vary being that everything we have is a gift from God. Then, we are to be good stewards of all that He has given to us.
 
As we are good stewards with the little that He gives to us,  so He will make us stewards of much. So, what are we to be stewards of? We are to be stewards of the gifts of the mysteries of God. We are to be stewards of the faith that He has given to us at our Baptism and through His Word. As we use the faith He has given us, He continually increases that faith. We are to be stewards of the forgiveness of sins He has earned for us and given to us. As we are given the forgiveness that He has to give to us through His death on the cross and as we share that forgiveness with others, He is there always giving us more forgiveness. We are to be stewards of the gifts of Word and Sacrament. As we are given the gifts of His Word and His Sacraments, He gives us even more gifts through them. We are to be stewards of His gifts of salvation and everlasting life. As we are given these gifts from Him and share them with others He strengthens us in them. As we are stewards with little, so He entrusts us with much.
 
For some reason, perhaps it is because we are conceived and born in sin, perhaps it is because we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, for some reason we do not always see things as Jesus sees things. We have a tendency to rely on ourselves or to at least think that we must rely on ourselves. We have a tendency to forget that the Lord has provided us with all that we need and that we can trust that He will continue to provide for us all that we need. Thanks be to God that He continually points us to see how this is true. When we enter this sanctuary the focus of our attention is on the cross. It was on the cross that Christ earned our salvation. After His death, He rose and showed Himself beyond a doubt to be alive. Before He ascended into heaven He promised to send the Holy Spirit and that He would return. Now, by the power of the Holy Spirit and with Him working in and through us, we are encouraged to use every means, which He supplies, to share the Good News of salvation.
 
Our response is to serve Him, not the things of this world. We serve Him by coming to be given the gifts that He has to give to us especially through Divine Service and Bible Class. We serve Him by acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from Him. We serve Him by not refusing the Holy Spirit, but by letting Him work in us so that we can serve Him.
 
We have an amazing God. We have a God who gives us each and every day and He is always there ready to forgive us and help us to start over. He is there, ready always to give us all His gifts.
 
How can I say this? We have a God who has so much that He wants to give to us. As our text for today reminds us, if He can trust us with a little, He can trust us with a lot. Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, simply to be given the gifts that God has to give to you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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