PENTECOST 18, C – September 18, 2016

 SCRIPTURES – Ps. 119:137-144; Amos 8:4-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15

 

Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live. Ps. 119:44

 

Do you ever take your bulletin home and give it to a friend to inform him/her about your church? That would be a good thing to do. Do you ever share the green sheet with the Scripture readings? I’ll bet you’d be a bit hesitant to share today’s readings. “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control... I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…” – oh, these are words we want to share, aren’t they? You’ll be seen as sexist, and perhaps even as dangerous! Maybe it’d be better to just share the Gospel reading. Jesus’ teaching is always good. And today… He seems to encourage dishonesty!

 

Wait a minute. That can’t be right. That’s not our God, our Jesus! Then again, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness,” Jesus says. And to this we say, “Praise to You, O Christ!” Do you mean this when you say it?

 

God wants you to mean it. He wants you to have a deep, and not a superficial, faith. He wants your faith to shape your life, and not be shaped by your life. “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God,” says Jesus. God challenges us with His words to reveal such abominations and separate us from them.

 

So, let’s get at these challenging words of Jesus. What is He teaching us? You always need to ask this when you read the Bible. Approach God’s words with the attitude expressed in our Introit, Psalm 119:144: “Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” So: what does Jesus want us to understand with His parable of the dishonest manager? He wants us to trust. The manager is not commended because he is dishonest, but because he acts on the basis of his master’s trustworthiness.

 

Who was this manager? He was a man who was given complete control of his master’s possessions. All that was his master’s was at his disposal, and his word was his master’s word. Of course, the master would expect him to manage his wealth wisely. Apparently, he didn’t, and when his master found out he fired him.

 

It’s at this point that the story sounds strange. After he fires him the master lets him still have control of his books. So, the manager calls in those who are in debt to his master and reduces their debts. He does this for his own benefit, so that they will be grateful and help him out after he loses his position. But, this will only help him if his master allows his decisions to stand; and the manager is sure that he will. He knows his master to be kind and faithful in keeping his word, even when it hurt. “He knows my decisions will be considered his decisions, and he’ll let them stand,” the manager believes. It is for this confidence, this trust that the manager is commended.

 

God is your Master, and there is none better. There is none more good and kind and loving, and none more faithful to His promises. And, He has made you a manager. He has put all that is His at your disposal. You see, when Jesus died for you it’s not as if He did so simply to take away your sins and give you a new start with a clean slate. You’re not on your own, responsible to make your own way through life and gain your way to heaven. Jesus not only came to take away, you see; He came to give, to fill. In your Baptism into Him you were joined to Him. He took to Himself all that is yours – the debt of your failures and sins; your guilt; God’s anger and punishment, and the hell that threatens you – and in return He gave you all that is His – His complete goodness and perfect obedience; His Father’s love and constant presence and support; His Holy Spirit to fill you. In Christ, you are more than a manager, for you are filled with God! God is yours, and all that is His is at your disposal to use. You are not empty, but full!

 

Now: like that dishonest manager, use what is your Lord’s – honestly and rightly, of course, and for the blessing of others and not just for yourself – and trust that He will stand behind you and with you as you do. One of the things that we are most concerned with managing, of course, is money. We spend the majority of our time earning and gaining it, planning how to use it, and then actually using it. Money is obviously very important. But, it is actually one of the least of God’s blessings. It can be lost; or stolen; or lose its value because of a bureaucrat’s decision. Jesus calls it “unrighteous wealth,” for, although people (and sometimes you yourself) might think a lot of you if you are wealthy, God will not be impressed. And, you can’t take it with you. Rich and poor will both die and stand before a God who considers the heart, not the wallet. The heart that loves God and trusts in Him because of Jesus is full and rich, and will receive the praise and eternal blessing of God.

 

The greatest blessing your Lord gives you is His holy Word. God’s testimonies “are righteous forever,” Psalm 119 says. Forever; this means that God not only stands behind them; He and His eternal life are in these words! This is why Jesus calls them “the true riches.”

 

Use the eternal words of God! As you do, begin with the prayer, “give me understanding that I may live.”  You need to do this, for they are challenging words. They condemn what people praise and praise what people condemn. God tells us, for instance, that one of the most important things for us to do is to set aside time to honor Him with our worship and to listen to Him. Work and the desire for money are not to get in the way of this. Our Old Testament reading from Amos deals with this. Amos’s people sort of obeyed. They did stop working to go to church; but they were not happy to do so. “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?” Their hearts were far from God; they did not trust God to provide for them. They did not believe that His words were their life. The Lord swore that He would not forget this or forgive this sin.

 

Paul urged the people to pray for and give thanks for kings and those who were in high positions. This was not easy, for many of them, including Caesar, were not particularly good or just. Even so, “this is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” Paul said. “Knowledge of the truth” – not of how to best manage your money; or who to vote for; or any other worldly thing. Those who use God and religion for their own earthly benefit are, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, condemned as an abomination in God’s sight. God gives us His Word and worship and Church so that we might know that in Jesus we have a God we can count on to be with us and forgive us and bring us to eternal life. Trusting in Him, in His life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven for you, you are rich, and God “will receive you into the eternal dwellings!” This is what matters above everything else.

 

We have such great wealth – God Himself! – in Jesus. In His Word and worship we are given this wealth in abundance. Receive this! And then, share this! To the praise and honor of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who shares with us the eternal life and love of the Father, in and through the Holy Spirit. Amen.